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February 2014

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Dr. Angela Smith Designs Class on Experimental Economics

Economics Professor Angela SmithDr. Angela Smith, Assistant Professor in the Economics Department, designed and is currently teaching a new course that covers experimental economics, a field that uses experiments with financially motivated subjects to explore decision-making behavior and economic choices.

The course, ECON 400, is a standing “topics” course within the Economics Department. Each semester the department can choose a specific topic to cover within the class.

“It is very useful as it gives professors a chance to try out a new course subject before adding a new course to our regular course offerings,” said Smith. “It also gives professors the opportunity to teach courses on interesting subjects they feel are important.”

Smith has always found experimental economics intriguing. She was introduced to the relatively new and rapidly growing field while receiving her bachelor’s degree in economics at the College of William and Mary and continued to research the topic while receiving both her master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Virginia.

“I believed the subject matter would be useful, interesting and very accessible to students,” said Smith on why she developed the course. “Experimental economics has contributed a great deal to the discipline and to our understanding of human behavior…it is important for the students to be educated on the methods and results in this field.”

Students enrolled in Smith’s class are learning how to conduct experiments in economics using financial incentives to examine how people make decisions in different situations. The course also covers previous literature about experimental economics and focuses on multiple applications, such as risk, bargaining and information.

“I love learning about how to apply theory to the imperfect conditions of the real world,” said current student Shevy Chaganti. “This is what I want to do in my future career, so being able to conduct these experiments through a game-theoretic lens has been incredibly helpful.”

The students enrolled will benefit from taking the class because they can apply the material they learn to every day scenarios. The class is research-based, so students can enhance their data collection skills using experiments and also gain experience analyzing data using different models and thinking critically. 

“[Developing new courses] keeps the curriculum up-to-date with significant advances in the discipline and allows students to learn new, interesting and valuable concepts,” said Smith. “It can also give faculty a new and refreshed perspective on a subject relevant to their research.”

By Alix Carlin (Communication Students, '14)