Urs Fischbacher talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Breaking Paper in the field of Economics
Article Title: z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for
ready-made economic experiments
Journal: EXP ECON
Year: JUN 2007
* Inst Empir Res Econ, Blumlisalpstr 10, CH-8006 Zurich,
* Inst Empir Res Econ, CH-8006 Zurich, Switzerland.
Why do you think your paper is highly cited? Does
it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of
The article describes a free software, that I developed, which is used to
program and to conduct behavioral—and in particular
economic—experiments. Experiments play an increasingly important role
in economics, and the software is widely used in experimental economics. It
is a methodology, actually a specific product.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
In economic experiments, human participants make economic decisions; for
instance, they bargain or interact in markets. Two features are typical for
economic experiments: They are interactive, which means that people get
feedback about other participants' decisions, and that they are paid
according to their decisions and the decisions of other participants. For
this reason these experiments are mostly conducted with networked
"Neuroeconomics is certainly one of
the most fascinating new
The development of programs for these experiments is a crucial task in an
experimental economics project. At the time when I started developing
programs for economic experiments, the programming of an experiment was
difficult and time-consuming. Usually, programmers were needed and it took
weeks to develop a new experiment. My software could simplify and speed up
the process considerably. Programming can now be done by the researchers
within a reasonable amount of time, which has helped to increase the
research activity in experimental economics.
How did you become involved in this research, and were
there any problems along the way?
Before I developed the program, I worked as a programmer in industry. So I
had the engineering knowledge to write the software. Furthermore, since I
also did my own research in experimental economics, I was interested in the
development of features that are useful for economic experiments.
Programming should be as easy and, in particular, as quick as possible.
Where do you see your research leading in the
My personal research is focused on experimental and behavioral economics.
Nevertheless, the development of the software continues in collaboration
with Stefan Schmid, a professional software engineer. The development of
the software is guided by the needs of experimental economics. So, the
current developments in the software reflect new directions in this field.
Neuroeconomics is certainly one of the most fascinating new directions.
This requires, for instance, a better control of time—with regard to
measurement and presentation, and more elaborate ways to communicate with
external hardware such as fMRI scanners.
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
The product itself does not have a direct social or political implication.
Yet it does support the use of experiments in the field of economics. These
experiments were crucial in questioning the assumptions of the economic
model of humans, they show that not all people are rational and selfish,
and they determine how people deviate from these assumptions. Experiments
will help to develop better, more adequate models of human behavior, and to
design institutions that are better suited for us.
Prof. Dr. Urs Fischbacher
University of Konstanz
Konstanz, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Thurgau Institute of Economics
Kreuzlingen, Switzerland Web