THEORY: New Haven trick-or-treaters get a trick as treatment

by Lindsey

I may be biased because he’s my boss, but I’m into Dean Karlan‘s Halloween behavioral experiments. This year:

The purpose of the experiment, in which over 300 trick-or-treaters participated, was to test the strength of the “follow the leader” effect by determining whether people were more likely to donate to wealthy charities or poorer ones …

In the experiment, trick-or-treaters formed a line in front of Karlan’s steps and were asked by volunteers whether they wanted to “play a game.” At the front of the line they received a slip of paper randomly assigning them to either one of two tables or telling them to choose between the two tables. Volunteers then gave each child five Tootsie Rolls and led them to their table. Both tables had two orange pumpkin buckets, with the one representing the wealthy charity already containing 360 Tootsie Rolls and the “poor charity” bucket containing just 15 Tootsie Rolls. Children were randomly assigned to either the full bucket or the mostly empty one, and each trick-or-treater was given the choice of how many Tootsie Rolls, if any, to donate to kids who did not have any.

A cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama was featured at one table. The role of the Obama cutout … was to see if his presence inspired children to donate more candy.

Results forthcoming. In the meantime,  you can read two of Karlan’s Halloween working papers now: one on 2007’s ambiguity experiment, and the other on the trust and political symbolism experiment run during the 2008 election year.