A framed experiment simulating retail market competition in Vietnam suggests that competitors use social pressure to force higher-ability entrepreneurs to under-perform

Alex Oo and Russell Toth (both University of Sydney, 2013) conduct a framed lab-in-field experiment to explore the hypothesis that a number of stylized facts about microenterprise behaviour in developing countries – including product market homogeneity and lack of growth and innovation – can be explained by a social institution in which micro-entrepreneurs share the market to “buy a job.” The interactions are framed to simulate real-world retail market competition. The participants compete in an effort task, with performance determining market returns. A highly incentivized individual round allows us to extract a measure of individual “ability” in the effort task. The subjects then compete in successive treatments, where in the final treatment the losing participant in a round can elect to “burn” their competitors’ output, which is framed as the application of social pressure. The behavioural responses are significant and fitting with a theoretical model of the social institution that the researchers have in mind: even though subjects are from the same community they are willing to punish (“apply social pressure”), the probability of punishment is increasing in the gap in ability in the pair, and this leads to a decrease in performance from higher-ability individuals. The study provides an example of the use of framed lab experiments to shed light on market behaviour in developing countries, for which full-blown RCTs may face serious feasibility or ethical challenges.

By Alex Oo and Russell Toth (2013)