At Bank Underground:
When studying the effects of interventions on individual behavior, the experimental research template is typically: Gather a bunch of people who are willing to participate in an experiment, randomly divide them into two groups, assign one treatment to group A and the other to group B, then measure the outcomes. If you want to increase precision, do a pre-test measurement on everyone and use that as a control variable in your regression. But in this post I argue for an alternative approach—study individual subjects using repeated measures of performance, with each one serving as their own control.
As long as your design is not constrained by ethics, cost, realism, or a high drop-out rate, the standard randomized experiment approach gives you clean identification. And, by ramping up your sample size N, you can get all the precision you might need to estimate treatment effects and test hypotheses. Hence, this sort of experiment is standard in psychology research and has been increasingly popular in political science and economics with lab and field experiments.
However, the clean simplicity of such designs has led researchers to neglect important issues of measurement . . .
One motivation for between-subject design is an admirable desire to reduce bias. But we shouldn’t let the apparent purity of randomized experiments distract us from the importance of careful measurement. Real-world experiments are imperfect—they do have issues with ethics, cost, realism, and high drop-out, and the strategy of doing an experiment and then grabbing statistically-significant comparisons can leave a researcher with nothing but a pile of noisy, unreplicable findings.
Measurement is central to economics—it’s the link between theory and empirics—and it remains important, whether studies are experimental, observational, or some combination of the two.
I have no idea who reads that blog but it’s always good to try to reach new audiences.