University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students can play the role of a corporate firm, stock market trader or consumer for a day while contributing to economics research, and receive monetary compensation at the same time. These economics experiments are hosted by the UH Mānoa Department of Economics in the College of Social Sciences. All students are eligible to participate (certain studies have limitations on participants), and may participate in as many studies as they are able to every semester.

“Our experiments are simple, fun and educational! You make simple decisions and interact with other participants online or in the lab via computer terminals in a group environment,” said UH Mānoa Economics Professor Ekaterina Sherstyuk, who manages several experimental economics projects. “Your payoffs depend on your decisions and those of other participants. You are paid in real money at the end of the experiment. Most students enjoy the activity and also get to make some money!”

Benefits to researchers and participants

four people with masks sitting in front of computers

The experiments have been happening at UH Mānoa for decades and students have contributed to groundbreaking research, including coordinating capacity decisions for major airlines following the September 11 terrorist attacks and the sustainability of long-term international environmental agreements for climate change mitigation.

Binh Le is an economics graduate student currently working on a research project on peer interactions in a work setting, and Binierose Cacho is a junior economics and psychology major who previously participated in an experiment and is now working on coordinating her own experiment to study the mechanisms of the Honolulu fish auction.

“The controlled laboratory experiment is employed for this study. We will observe their behavior in the experimental environment. By eliminating the contaminating factors which are often observed in reality, we can identify the clearer mechanisms of peer effect given the experimental setting,” Le said.

Cacho added, “As a student who has previously participated in a market simulation experiment, each round involved a new set of parameters and insights from the previous round. With the progression of each round I was able to identify new strategies that I could utilize as well as understand the general pattern of how the market simulation would work. This process was highly insightful but also enjoyable since there was a monetary incentive to be collected at the end of the game.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, experiments were mainly conducted in-person. However, during the pandemic, experiments transitioned to an online platform. As a postdoctoral fellow and coordinator on several economic experiments, Krit Phankitnirundorn understands first-hand the value these experiments provide.

“In addition to getting experiences related to participating in economic experiments, they will also see how the experiments are designed and conducted,” Phankitnirundorn said. “They can also enjoy the tasks designed for the experiment which resemble real world economic scenarios. I believe those who joined our experiment will get inspired for their future career.”

How to sign up

Interested students are encouraged to sign up on the economics experiments database. Recruitment ramps up at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters, and students who register will be notified as opportunities become available. For more information, visit the economics experiments website.

“It is a fun, hands-on way for students to see how markets work, and sometimes malfunction, all while earning a little side money,” said UH Mānoa Professor Michael Roberts, who manages several experimental economics projects. “The evidence is pretty clear that once students have some experience with experimental markets, they can trade as well as professionals. And make similar mistakes as the professionals, too!”

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Marc Arakaki