Powered by ProofFactor - Social Proof Notifications

Exploring the Generalizability of Economic Laboratory Experiments

Aug 9, 2023 | 0 comments

blog banner

Aug 9, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


The experiments from the laboratory can be used to tackle different economic questions. A good example is its application as the determinant of whether there is consistency of behavior when dealing with assumptions and different theory predictions and how various institutions and mechanisms affect economic agents’ behavior. The experimental laboratory has proven crucial to productive dialogue and economics (Kesller and Vesterlund, 2015). In most cases, results acquired from these laboratory experiments are published in leading economics journals. However, some authors have questioned what people can learn from these studies done in the library. In the middle of their critique, there is a statement stating that the assumption underlying data interpretation from experiments from the laboratory is that there is a possibility for the acquired results can be estimated to the world. This paper majored on how far quantitative results can be validated externally. Interestingly, most authors comparing and talking about this topic have not disagreed on how far laboratory results are valid externally.


People Also Read


In this particular situation, I support and believe that laboratory findings generalize beyond the lab and expand into the real world. When talking about the external validity of laboratory results, different authors have various opinions on its definition. A laboratory result can be considered externally valid when the person undertaking the experiment allocates the production of sample B as an effect of the main factor. At the same time, sample A is the real cause of sample B in the experiment setup (Campbell & Stanley, 2015). In this case, the experiment is considered externally valid.

On the other hand, if sample A causes sample B in the final results in a case of different circumstances, then the result is internally valid. Extremely demanding external validity definitions need the quantitative relationship between sample A and sample B as identified in a single setup clasp in comparable settings. List and Levit describe laboratory experiments as having the highest standards compared to other experiments (Horton et al., 2011). In the conclusion of their work, they agree that experiments from the laboratory meet the first definition of external validity. They further argue that experiments from the lab that majorly center on qualitative insights can give a very first understanding that is crucial, and they give mechanisms that have the possibility of being at work when the observation of specific patterns of data are being observed (Samahi, 2011).
Despite these, they continue their argument and suggest that; experiments from the lab sometimes fail to meet the expected standards, which makes people wonder whether the findings and results are descriptive of the world. They further state that, for the experiments our concerns affect, there are higher chances that qualitative findings from the laboratories can be considered generalizable even in cases where quantitative magnitudes are considered not (Levitt & List, 2015). Considering experiments from the lab are expected to uncover overall behavior principles, it is hard not to give external validity as much as studies done in the laboratory may not offer quantitative external validity; in most cases, if not all, they are obligated to offer qualitative external validity. In comparing opinions from authors on whether laboratory experiments inform us about the world outside the lab, authors have come up with two conditions where we can estimate from the laboratory to different environments. Falk and Heckman (2011) give a summary of these conditions.
They argue that when the population under study and the particular question being addressed are shown in an experiment, the acquired information can be informative and very clear (Falk & Heckman, 2011). Otherwise, to transport the findings of an experiment to a new population or environment, one needs a different model. A different author also elaborates that estimation is only warranted when the environment and population under examination in the laboratory reflect on the environment of interest and only when an individual uses already done studies to explain the available differences in the field and laboratory work (Denzin, 2017). List and Levitt also emphasize the importance of models in the estimation of laboratory results, and they quote, “even in situations where results from the laboratory are taken to have very minimal generalizability, some number is so much better than no number as long as the right theoretical model is put in use when making inferences.


Results from the laboratory are externally valid just as much as results from other research results are. However, many people do not consider them as effective compared to other research methods. Many researchers tend to consider them as too artificial and have had doubts about whether the results from the laboratory have effects on the real world. Results from the lab have been found to meet the required standards, and therefore it is more effective than how it is portrayed. Laboratory experiments inform us about the world outside the lab; authors have come up with two conditions where we can estimate from the laboratory to different environments.


Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2012). The external validity of” trivial” experiments: The case of laboratory aggression. *Review of General Psychology*, *1*(1), 19.
Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (2015). *Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research*. Ravenio Books.
Denzin, N. K. (2017). *The research act: A theoretical introduction to sociological methods*. Routledge.
Falk, A., & Heckman, J. J. (2011). Lab experiments are a major source of knowledge in the social sciences. *science*, *326*(5952), 535-538.
Horton, J. J., Rand, D. G., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (2011). The online laboratory: Conducting experiments in a real labor market. *Experimental economics*, *14*(3), 399-425.
Kessler, J., & Vesterlund, L. (2015). *The external validity of laboratory experiments: The misleading emphasis on quantitative effects* (Vol. 18, pp. 392-405). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Levitt, S. D., & List, J. A. (2015). On the generalizability of lab behavior to the field. *Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d’économique*, *40*(2), 347-370.

Levitt, S. D., List, J. A., (2013). *“Field experiments in economics: The past, the present, and the future.” *European Economic Review53, 1–18.
Sahami, S. (2011). *Modeling adaptation behavior to driving simulators and effect of experimental practice on research validity* (Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia).

Wagoner, B. (2015, August). Qualitative Experiments in Psychology: The Case of Frederic Bartlett’s Methodology. In *Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research* (Vol. 16, No. 3).

5/5 - (12 votes)