Can Prosocial Incentives and Self-chosen Goals Improve Performance? An Online Real Effort Experiment

Last registered on September 08, 2022


Trial Information

General Information

Can Prosocial Incentives and Self-chosen Goals Improve Performance? An Online Real Effort Experiment
Initial registration date
September 04, 2022

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
September 08, 2022, 11:31 AM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

SKEMA Business School

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Claremont Graduate University
PI Affiliation
The World Bank

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial is based on or builds upon one or more prior RCTs.
We study incentive schemes that combine self-chosen goals with prosocial rewards. We design a real-effort task experiment with MTurk workers. Upon achieving self-chosen goals, rewards are paid to the worker in the monetary treatments or to charities in the prosocial treatments. To explore the mechanisms whereby rewards can improve performance with prosocial incentives, we develop a theoretical model with goal dependence and earning reference points. Our results show that when rewards are paid to charities, performance improvements happen through workers setting higher goals. This effect is stronger for those whose interests are matched with the charity’s mission. Our findings have important implications for incentivizing workers in the gig economy.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Cao, Yu, Monica Capra and Yuxin Su. 2022. "Can Prosocial Incentives and Self-chosen Goals Improve Performance? An Online Real Effort Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. September 08.
Experimental Details


In this paper, we study the performance of workers who set their own goals and are incentivized with rewards that are paid to a charity.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
prosocial incentives, self-chosen goals, workers' performance
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Our treatments consisted of: small monetary incentive (MONE-S), large monetary incentive (MONE-L), small prosocial incentive (PROS-S), large prosocial incentive (PROS-L), and a control treatment (NOINC) with no incentives.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization done by computer
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
244 (the number of participants)
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
small monetary incentive (MONE-S): 50 participants;
large monetary incentive (MONE-L): 50 participants;
small prosocial incentive (PROS-S): 48 participants ;
large prosocial incentive (PROS-L): 48 participants ;
control treatment (NOINC):48 participant
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Claremont Graduate University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number