Exchange Rules and the Incentive Compatibility of Choice Experiments

Environmental and Resource Economics
2010 47(2), 197-220


The incentive properties of stated-preference surveys continue to be a central debate in the valuation of public goods. The majority of empirical studies have focused on incentive properties of contingent valuation questions in relation to situations where answers have monetary consequences. This research explores the incentive properties of repeated, attribute-based choice questions when subjects are provided with an explicit connection between choices and outcomes. Two market/provision-rules are investigated: a posted-price market and a plurality-rule vote. These two provision rules are contrasted to treatments in which no provision rule is discussed—subjects are simply asked to choose their preferred alternative. These three hypothetical choice treatments are compared with a binding choice treatment. While none of the public good treatments are theoretically incentive compatible, we include a comparison of hypothetical and binding choices for a private-good that is incentive compatible. The private good experiments indicate that marginal willingness to pay (WTP) estimates from the hypothetical treatment are larger, but not statistically different than corresponding estimates in the binding choice treatment. Results for the public good experiments indicate that marginal WTP estimates from the hypothetical treatments are much larger, and statistically different than corresponding estimates in the binding choice treatment. The bias is largest when no provision rule is discussed. The bias is reduced with the inclusion of a provision rule, but surprisingly, there was no difference across provision rule treatments. Overall, our results indicate that choice experiments involving a public good should include a provision rule to reduce bias, but the resulting marginal WTP estimates may still be more biased, on average, than those arising from contingent valuation survey formats.