NBER Working Papers by Justin Rao

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Working Papers

October 2013Measuring the Effects of Advertising: The Digital Frontier
with Randall Lewis, David H. Reiley: w19520
Online advertising offers unprecedented opportunities for measurement. A host of new metrics, clicks being the leading example, have become widespread in advertising science. New data and experimentation platforms open the door for firms and researchers to measure true causal effects of advertising on a variety of consumer behaviors, such as purchases. We dissect the new metrics and methods currently used by industry researchers, attacking the question, "How hard is it to reliably measure advertising effectiveness?" We outline the questions that we think can be answered by current data and methods, those that we believe will be in play within five years, and those that we believe could not be answered with arbitrarily large and detailed data. We pay close attention to the advances in compu...
December 2012The Economics of Faith: Using an Apocalyptic Prophecy to Elicit Religious Beliefs in the Field
with Ned Augenblick, Jesse M. Cunha, Ernesto Dal Bó: w18641
We model religious faith as a "demand for beliefs," following the logic of the Pascalian wager. We then demonstrate how an experimental intervention can exploit standard elicitation techniques to measure religious belief by varying prizes associated with making choices contrary to one's belief in a, crucially, falsifiable religious proposition. We implemented this approach with a group that expected the "End of the World" to happen on May 21, 2011 by offering prizes payable before and after May 21st. The results suggest the existence of a demand for extreme, sincere beliefs that was unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.
December 2011Avoiding The Ask: A Field Experiment on Altruism, Empathy, and Charitable Giving
with James Andreoni, Hannah Trachtman: w17648
What triggers giving? We explore this in a randomized natural field experiment during the Salvation Army's annual campaign. Solicitors were at one or both of two main entrances to a supermarket, making the solicitation either easy or difficult to avoid. Additionally, solicitors were either silent, or asked "please give" to passersby. We observed over 17,000 passings over four days, and found dramatic avoidance of the solicitors, but only during a direct ask. Furthermore, asking increased donations 75%. Across all conditions, seeking the solicitor was exceedingly rare. The results do not support static views of altruism, such as inequity aversion, and instead highlight the importance of social cues and psychological features of the giver-receiver interaction. We argue that avoidance could e...
September 2010The Power of Asking: How Communication Affects Selfishness, Empathy, and Altruism
with James Andreoni: w16373
To understand the “pure” incentives of altruism, economic laboratory research on humans almost always forbids communication between subjects. In reality, however, altruism usually requires interaction between givers and receivers, which clearly must influence choices. Charities, for example, speak of the “power of asking.” Indeed, evolutionary theories of altruism are built on human sociality. We experimentally examine communication in which one subject allocates $10 between herself and a receiver, and systematically altered who in the pair could speak. We found that any time the recipient spoke, giving increased – asking is powerful. But when only allocators could speak, choices were significantly more selfish than any other condition. When empathy was heightened by putting allocators “in...

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