Opting-in: Participation bias in economic experiments

Robert Slonim, Carmen Wang, Ellen Garbarino, Danielle Merrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Assuming individuals rationally decide whether to participate or not to participate in lab experiments, we hypothesize several non-representative biases in the characteristics of lab participants. We test the hypotheses by first collecting survey and experimental data from a typical recruitment population and then inviting them to participate in a lab experiment. The results indicate that lab participants are not representative of the target population on almost all the hypothesized characteristics, including having lower income, working fewer hours, volunteering more often, and exhibiting behaviors correlated with interest in experiments and economics. The results reinforce the commonly understood limits of laboratory research to make quantitative inferences. We also discuss several methods for addressing non-representative biases to advance laboratory methods for improving quantitative inferences and consequently increasing confidence in qualitative conclusions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-70
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Participation bias
  • Laboratory experiments


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