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Of Rats and Economists

  • Terrence McDonough (a1)

When the article “Experimental Confirmation of the Existence of a Giffen Good,” authored by Raymond C. Battalio, John H. Kagel, and Carl A. Kogut, appeared in 1991 in the American Economic Review it represented the culmination of two separate and seemingly unrelated traditions in the economics literature. The first is a now-venerable tradition of attempting to locate Giffen behavior in the real world. The second is a more truncated modern tradition of animal experimentation in economics. In their article, Battalio et al. combine these traditions through setting out to discover Giffen behavior in a laboratory setting using white rats as experimental subjects. The authors (p. 962) describe their experimental procedure:

Subjects were placed in an experimental chamber for approximately three hours each day, during which time they received their entire daily liquid food ration … A rat obtained quinine and root beer by pressing either of two levers mounted on a wall in the experimental chamber … Income was controlled by restricting the number of lever presses that would result in obtaining liquid. Prices were changed by varying the amount of liquid obtained at each lever press.

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