Frequently Asked Questions

What is experimental economics?

Economists study how value (derived, for example, through goods, services and wealth) is produced, distributed, and consumed. This requires an understanding of how people and resources interact through institutions, governments, and other systems in economic settings.

As a science, economics is driven by theory and data. Theories concern how people and institutions are expected to behave (i.e., what should happen). Data comes from observing what actually happens.

Instead of relying in naturally occurring data, experimental economists generate data in a controlled, or "laboratory," setting in much the same way physical scientists conduct laboratory research. We create real economic interactions by paying subject based on outcomes of their interactions in a controlled economic situation.

What kind of experimental economics research is being conducted at the University of Iowa?

A number of researchers are working on a variety of areas. The easiest way to see what is going on is to go to the researchers' own websites (see Thomas Rietz and Joyce Berg) or view our working paper series and published research.

How does experimental economics contribute to our understanding of economics, to policy making and/or business decisions, and to education?

Experimental economics attempts to understand how people actually behave and why. When behavior differs from theory, experimental economics can help revise theories of economic behavior. Policy makers often look to experiments to study effects of policies before they actually implement policies that might impact the entire economy. The same ideas hold for business decisions. Experiments can provide a low cost way to learn how workers, customers, or profits might react to proposed changes or simply to understand why they behave the way they do.

There is an important educational side benefit to experimental economics: subjects in experiments learn about research in general and about behavior in the specific economic situations studied. This provides an opportunity for students to "learn by doing." This educational component is sufficiently valuable that experimental economics exercises are often used in classes. There are textbooks and, sometimes, courses devoted entirely to it.

How can I get involved?

University of Iowa students can participate in economics experiments by joining the experimental economics subject pool.

Once you are in the subject pool, researchers may contact you to participate in experiments. Contract lists are generated randomly by the subject pool database. At the time of contact, you will be given more information about the specific experiment. At that time, you are free to decide whether to participate in the specific experiment. You are under no obligation to participate in any particular experiment. However, if you do agree to participate in a specific experiment, we do ask that you honor that commitment.

Researchers need to complete human subjects research training, be added to the experimental economics protocol, and follow the procedures therein. For information, contact Thomas A. Rietz at (319) 335-0856 or

What if I have more questions?

If you have any questions about experimental economics research projects or to report a research related problem, please contact Thomas A. Rietz at (319) 335-0856 or

If you have questions about the rights of research subjects, please contact the Human Subjects Office, 105 Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, 600 Newton Rd., University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1098, (319) 335-6564, or e-mail