UCSC hosts experimental economics conference, researchers probe choices

ESA conference poster

Experimental economists from around the world will gather in Santa Cruz next weekend for the 2013 North American Economic Science Association Conference.

They'll spend two days presenting and discussing research papers, most on laboratory experiments that investigate a wide variety of issues in economics, especially in behavioral economics, political science, and psychology, said conference co-organizer Dan Friedman, a UCSC economics professor.

The conference is co-sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Economics Department and its Learning and Experimental Economics Projects lab (LEEPs). Co-sponsors are the UCSC Social Sciences Division, Stanford University, and Santa Clara University.  It takes place at the Paradox Hotel beginning Thursday evening October 24, and runs through Saturday.

Al Roth, who shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in economics, will deliver the plenary address Saturday morning. Roth is an expert in game theory as a part of empirical economics, and experimental economic theory. Friday's plenary session will feature Rachel Croson, of the University of Texas Arlington, speaking on "Experimental Economics Imperialism."

Friedman, who directs UCSC's LEEPs lab, said more than 275 researchers are registered to attend, ranging from Nobel laureate Roth, formerly of Harvard now of Stanford University, to fourth-year Ph.D. students. Most are based in the U.S., but others come from universities or research institutions in Europe and Asia. More than 250 papers have been submitted for discussion.

The annual conference was held in Tucson for historic and sentimental reasons, Friedman said, "but this year we moved it to the Bay Area in recognition of its increasing profile in experimental economics." There are now many researchers in this field at UCSC, UC Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco State, University of San Francisco, Santa Clara University, and at such companies as Google and HP labs, he said.

At UCSC, with funding mostly from the National Science Foundation, LEEPs creates laboratory games for human subjects and keeps track of the choices that people make. It began in 1986 with the Double Auction Asset Market, the world's second fully computerized market system.

The research emphasizes the learning processes people use within various institutions, including markets, multiplayer games, and individual choice tasks–how people learn and adjust their actions depending on variables in the experiment.

Friedman said analyzing the choices people make in the lab helps researchers better understand the decision processes and outcomes in the wider world.