Links to USDA, Forest Service, and Rocky Mountain Research Station Link to USDA Forest Service Link to U.S. Department of Agriculture Link to Rocky Mountain Research Station


A group of the Human Dimensions Program




Selected Projects

A Primer on Nonmarket Valuation

Discussion Papers




How to Contact Us

Experimental Materials

The text below contains some of the scripts used by Brown, et. al., 2001 (see also their Appendix A):

Description of Referendum

Description of Voting Procedure Outcomes

Cheap Talk Script

Brown, Thomas C., Icek Aizen, and Dan Hrubes (2001).
Obtaining Unbiased Contingent Values: Further Tests of Entreaties to Avoid Hypothetical Bias.
DP-01-1, RM-4851.
(203 KB PDF file)

To top of page  To top of page

Description of Referendum
($8 payment version)

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst receives applications from a broad range of prospective students. Many of these applicants come from poor families who cannot afford the tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses of attending the University. A 1998 survey conducted for the State Board of Higher Education found that as many as 23% of all high school graduates fail to go on to college, or drop out of college, for financial reasons. The State of Massachusetts is heavily dependent on an educated workforce for its high-tech industries and cannot afford to lose this potential source of qualified workers.

As a State University, UMass-Amherst is committed to providing accessible higher education to every qualified resident. Not only does this help to prepare a well trained work force, it is also an essential tool for social mobility and equity. To achieve these goals, UMass-Amherst tries to provide full or partial scholarships to as many needy and deserving students as possible. Although the University receives some State funds for scholarships, the amount available is woefully inadequate. Consequently, UMass-Amherst maintains a general scholarship fund and is actively soliciting donations to increase the number of scholarships it can offer.

If everyone in this room were to contribute $8.00, these moneys would be added to the UMass- Amherst Scholarship Fund and would be used to help deserving students attend the University.

To top of page  To top of page

Description of Voting Procedure Outcomes
(hypothetical $8 payment version)

1. If more than 50% of you were to vote YES on this proposition, all of you would pay $8.00 - I would collect $8.00 from each of you - and we would give this money to the University of Massachusetts - Amherst with instructions that the money is to be credited to the University Scholarship Fund.

We wouldn't send cash. We would take your cash, write a check for the total amount of money, and the check would be mailed to the University Development Office which manages all donations. I would put the check in this stamped envelope addressed to the Development Office. <HOLD UP ENVELOPE> I would ask one of you to put the envelope in the mail box on the third floor. When I received a receipt for the money from the Development Office, I would make it available for your inspection on the bulletin board near Room 623 in Tobin Hall.

2. If 50% or fewer of you were to vote YES on this proposition, no one would pay $8.00, and we would not send a check to the UMass Scholarship Fund.

To top of page  To top of page

Cheap Talk Script
($8 payment version)

Slightly modified from Cummings and Taylor (1999):

Before we have our vote, I want to talk to you about a problem that we have in studies like this one. As I told you a minute ago, this is a hypothetical referendum - not a real one. No one will actually pay money at the end of the vote. But I also asked you to respond to the vote as though the result of your vote could involve a real cash payment by you.

And that's the problem. In most studies of this kind, people seem to have a hard time doing this. They vote differently in a hypothetical referendum, where they don't really have to pay money, than they do in a real referendum, where they really could have to pay money. For example, in a recent study, several different groups of people voted on a referendum just like the one you are about to vote on. Payment was hypothetical for these groups, as it will be for you. No one had to pay money if the referendum passed. <SHOW OVERHEAD OF SURVEY RESULTS> The results of these studies were that on average, across the groups, 45% of them voted YES. With another set of groups with similar people voting on the same referendum as you will vote on here, but where payment was real and people really did have to pay money if the referendum passed, the results on average, across the groups were that 27% voted YES. That's quite a difference, isn't it?

We call this a "hypothetical bias". "Hypothetical bias" is the difference that we continually see in the way people respond to hypothetical referenda as compared to real referenda. In the real referendum, where people knew they would have to pay money if the referendum passed, 27% voted yes and 73% voted no. When payment was hypothetical and people knew they would not pay anything if the referendum passed, just like your vote today, 45% voted yes and 55% voted no.

How can we get people to think about their vote in a hypothetical referendum like they think in a real referendum, where if enough people vote YES, they'll really have to pay money? How do we get them to think about what it means to really dig into their pocket and pay money, if in fact they really aren't going to have to do it?

Let me tell you why I think that we continually see this hypothetical bias, why people behave differently in a hypothetical referendum than they do when the referendum is real. I think that when we hear about a referendum that involves doing something that is basically good - helping people, improving environmental quality, or anything else - our basic reaction in a hypothetical situation is to think: sure, I would do this. I really would vote YES to spend the money - I really, really, think I would. What our YES vote really means in this case is that we are basically good people, and that we would like to see good things happen.

But when the referendum is real, and we would actually have to spend our money if it passes, we think a different way. We basically still would like to see good things happen, but when we are faced with the possibility of having to spend money, we think about our options: if I spend money on this, that's money I don't have to spend on other things. If I spend money to help needy students, that's money I don't have to spend on groceries, go to a movie, or perhaps give to some environmental organization. So when the payment is real if the referendum passes, we vote in a way that takes into account the limited amount of money we have. We vote realizing that we just don't have enough money to do everything we might like to do. This is just an opinion, of course, but it's what may be going on in hypothetical referenda.

In any case, the only way that we know to get people like you to vote in our hypothetical referendum just like you'd vote if the referendum was real is to simply ask you: in the vote that we're going to take in a few minutes, please do the following:

  • Think about what you're voting on. If this were real-if more than 50% of you voted YES, you would actually have to dig into your pocket and pay $8.00 right now-do you really want to support the UMass-Amherst Scholarship Fund enough that you would be willing to spend the money?
  • Also, let me make clear that the $10.00 participation fee that you were paid today is your money. You've spent your time helping us in our research, and you've earned it! You were told that the money is yours, believe it! So, if I were in your shoes, and I was asked to vote YES or NO on this proposition that requires all of us to pay $8.00, I would think about how I feel about spending my money this way. When I got ready to vote, I would ask myself: if this were a real referendum, and I had to pay $8.00 if the referendum passed, do I really want to spend my money this way. If I really did, I would vote YES; if I didn't, I would vote NO - I wouldn't throw my money around. That's just my opinion, of course. You must do whatever you want to do.
  • In any case, I ask you to vote just exactly as you would vote if you were really going to face the consequences of your vote: which is to pay money if the proposition passes.

To top of page  To top of page

Home | Personnel | Projects | Publications | Nonmarket Valuation | Discussion Papers | Software | Seminars | Links | Contacts

Questions or comments? Contact Webmaster

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Forest Service
Rocky Mountain Research Station