Free Money: Part 2

Free Money trial 2

  • We made this nice banner because I think my poorly drawn signs and our addition of “no joke, no questions” was a bit deterring. But I’ve gleamed an interesting observation from this: even when the sign (albeit drawn in color pencil and sharpie) specified no questions, people asked questions. Perhaps the two of us (senior blogger Nicky and I) didn’t seem intimidating to back up the “no questions” rule, I don’t think that’s true though. What is clear is that participants just want to know what the heck we’re up to.
    “Come on guys, somethings up.”
    “There’s a tracking device in the dollar.”
    “You want me to do something.”
    “What’s the catch?”

Well, we wanted to know how many people would talk to us after reading our sign which read “Free Money”, how many participants would take money, and how much money did people want to take. Along the way we learned that we needed to take away distractions like large bills, questionable signs, and change the look of our project.

During our last tabling session the project encountered a major issue: when we placed a distraction, the very large bills in the money jar, a lot of participants began asking if they could take it. The only issue is that the blog fund isn’t a large pool of money, it’s pretty much what we need, but we also needed to spread it across multiple trials. Out of 142 participants 22 accepted free money, and participants accepted no less than 10 cents and no more than $1.50.

The second trial did push the smallest “take” to $0.25 and the largest amount to $2.00. Perhaps due to the nice banner, printed sign, and pile of $1 bills.
Note: we added a similar amount into the jar each session. A large amount of change and $18 dollars in bills were placed in the jar in Session 1. Then in Session 2 we used whatever change was left over and $20 in one dollar bills on the side. So how did people treat this free money?

A couple new participants in Session 2 ran away from us, others passed us several times and never approached the table, or approached the table yet still asked for answers. Other returning participants were happy to see us again.

The 14 out of 63 participants in session 2 took free money, some gave us a purpose for taking the money. Almost everyone asked more than two questions, some even ran away from us after not receiving what could be considered unreasonable answers. Here’s a sample answer, though some questions don’t apply to this answer:

“We’re running a project with the student run blog Sound Economics. It’s the free money experiment and you’re a participant. Yeah, you can take some money.”

Other common assumptions after that are that we are suspecting something of them, or that one behavior is correct over another. Most everyone who didn’t know about our project before asked many more questions, with the exception of one interaction which went like this:

“So, this is free money.”
“Yeah, it is.”

And they took a dollar and left.
This interaction was the closest we’ve gotten to a pure homo-economicus rationale. Across 142 participants only one “taker” didn’t care much about what we were doing. There was a broad spectrum of behavior across Session 2, much like Session 1. Across both sessions some people were jokingly suspicious, and others where thankful, many needed to outsmart us somehow and tap into our equations and experimental predictions.

Those were the highlights, we hope you’ve enjoyed Nicholas Smit and Janne Deng’s Free Money Tabling Project. It was an experiment to see what would happen if we put out a jar of free money, with a sign that say so, and sat there to explain what was going on. For a report of the first Session, please read Nicky’s earlier post! Thank you participants, for helping two student bloggers answer an honest question.

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