Need some extra cash? Check out UAA’s Experimental Economics Lab

After paying for tuition, books and living expenses, it’s not hard for students to be short on cash, but the Experimental Economics Laboratory at UAA might be a solution for a quick buck.

By signing up to participate in experiments, UAA students can get paid while helping researchers learn more about average individuals’ economic decisions.

Rather than hooking participants up to gadgets and wires, the subjects have their own computer stations where they take part in the experiments, which professor and former Rasmuson Chair of Economics Jim Murphy likens to games.

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Students take part in an experiment at the UAA Experimental Economics Laboratory. Photo credit: Ammon Swenson

“We actually put [students] in a situation where they’re making economic decisions, and the amount of money that [they] earn is based on how things go in the game,” Murphy said.

The times and time commitments for experiments vary, but a participant will make $5 just for showing up on time, which is essential.

“After that, it’s up to you to earn your money,” Murphy said.

The experiments can include competitive or cooperative market simulations and individual decision-making exercises, but you don’t need to be an expert on the subjects. The researchers try to make the games as simple and understandable as possible.

“It’s definitely not the case that business majors and economics majors have a strategic advantage in these types of games,” Murphy said.

Garrison Thoreoux is a mechanical engineering student at UAA and has participated in three experiments so far.

“My friend told me he got like 40 bucks for half an hour worth of work, so I was hooked instantly,” Thoreoux said.

The most recent experiment Thoreoux attended was a buyer and seller situation. Using the computer software in the lab, the room was divided into buyers and sellers with the goal of making as much profit as possible.

While students might not make stacks of cash after an experiment, there’s usually enough for a bite to eat.

“Most times you make enough to go buy a Subway sandwich,” Thoreoux said.

Unlike some experiments where the participant might not get all of the information regarding the goal of the exercise, Murphy said the researchers aren’t trying to deceive anyone. Doing so would only negatively affect the results of the experiment.

“We never have any tricks up our sleeve and we try to be as open and transparent about what we’re doing,” Murphy said.

The researchers are often assisted by a handful of economics undergraduates who work from a control room off of the lab. Economics students can sometimes take the lead on experiments and the experience they get can be valuable on a resume or when applying to graduate school. Some of the exercises are even incorporated in class work, as using games to apply certain principles is more engaging than graphs on a whiteboard.

The Experimental Economics Laboratory was started in 2003 with the help of 2002 Nobel laureate in economics and first UAA Rasmusen Chair of Economics Vernon Smith.

UAA’s Experimental Economics program is ranked in the top 10 percent of it’s type internationally by RePEc, an independent resource for economic research.

For more information on taking part in experiments or the Experimental Economics Laboratory go to econlab.uaa.alaska.edu.

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