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Complexity as a Contract Design Factor: A Human-to-Human Experimental Study



Despite being theoretically suboptimal, simpler contracts (such as price-only contracts and quantity discount contracts with limited number of price blocks) are commonly preferred in practice. Thus, exploring the tension between theory and practice regarding complexity and performance in contract design is especially relevant. Using human subject experiments, Kalkancı et al. (2011) showed that such simpler contracts perform effectively for a supplier interacting with a computerized buyer under asymmetric demand information. We use a similar set of experiments with the modification that a human supplier interacts with a human buyer. We show that human interactions strengthen the supplier's preference for simpler contracts. We find that suppliers have fairness concerns even when they interact with computerized buyers. These fairness concerns tend to be even stronger when suppliers interact with human buyers, particularly when the complexity of the contract is low. We also find that suppliers are more prone to random decision errors (i.e., bounded rationality) when interacting with human buyers. In the absence of social preferences, Kalkancı et al. identified reinforcement and bounded rationality as key biases that impact suppliers' decisions. In human-to-human experiments, we find evidence for social preference effects. However, these effects may be secondary to bounded rationality.