Natural experiments on airplanes

If someone beside you ordered a snack or a film, Gardete was able to see whether later you did, too. In this natural experiment, the person sitting directly in front of you was the control subject. Purchases were made on a touchscreen; that person wouldn’t have been able to see anything. If you bought something, and the person in front of you didn’t, peer pressure may have been the reason.

Because he had reservation data, Gardete could exclude people flying together, and he controlled for all kinds of other factors such as seat choice. This is purely the effect of a stranger’s choice — not just that, but a stranger whom you might be resenting because he is sitting next to you, and this is a plane.

By adding up thousands of these little experiments, Gardete, an assistant professor of marketing at Stanford, came up with an estimate. On average, people bought stuff 15 to 16 percent of the time. But if you saw someone next to you order something, your chances of buying something, too, jumped by 30 percent, or about four percentage points.

Stephen By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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