Cognitive mediators of scarcity and economic decision-making; A lab experiment

Last registered on May 07, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Cognitive mediators of scarcity and economic decision-making; A lab experiment
Initial registration date
February 09, 2023

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
February 13, 2023, 10:41 AM EST

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

Last updated
May 07, 2023, 4:30 PM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.


Primary Investigator

Ferdowsi university of Mashhad

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Ferdowsi university of Mashhad (FUM), Iran
PI Affiliation
Ferdowsi university of Mashhad (FUM), Iran
PI Affiliation
Ferdowsi university of Mashhad (FUM), Iran

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Over the past decade, several studies have been conducted on the topic of scarcity and its impact on behavior and decision-making. The expansion of interdisciplinary studies of economics and psychology with the advancement of the tools and methods of behavioral and cognitive experiments, especially in the field of brain research, has led to interesting information in this area. Researchers have used the scarcity literature to study and better understand the behavior of consumers, workers, farmers, shoppers, villagers, retailers, etc. in various situations when they experience scarcity of time, food, money, income, liquidity, and so on.
Financial and income fluctuations such as bankruptcy, loss of agricultural products due to natural disasters, high inflation, financial pressure due to large expenses such as buying a house, marriage, and illness, and periods of unemployment due to changing jobs or economic recession, all of these cases which can influence people's perception of resource scarcity. Investigating whether people in such conditions are more prone to make non-optimal decisions is one of the results that studies in the field of decision-making in scarcity can lead to. Since poverty is defined as financial scarcity in its chronic and acute forms, several studies have been conducted with the aim of investigating the behaviors of the poor using the literature on scarcity.
According to the survey conducted by the researchers among the charity's clients in Mashhad, lack of effort to get out of adversity situations, use of employment loans for consumption expenses, marriage of children at a young age, unwillingness to study and skill training, employment in low-income activities Without insurance, despite the offer of better jobs and multiple addictions were ineffective behaviors of clients.
Although the scarcity in the real world can be different from the laboratory conditions in terms of intensity and duration, but studying in a laboratory experiment is always a prerequisite for the accurate and appropriate design of Community-based and field interventions in each area. The cognitive approach to the problem of scarcity and the non-optimal behavior of people in the conditions of scarcity is a new explanation for the phenomenon of persistence of poverty, which complicates the analysis of this phenomenon and policies to reduce it.
In spite of the fact that significant studies have been conducted in recent years about people's behavior in scarcity conditions with laboratory methods, the way financial scarcity affects economic preferences and cognitive mechanisms that mediate the effect still requires field and laboratory studies and designing creative experiments to explain some contradictory effects is (Brijan and Antonides, 2021). Therefore, in the current research, the focus is on measuring the effect of scarcity on working memory and inhibitory control to better understand the relationship between a scarcity and decision-making. In this study, the effect of scarcity due to cognitive load on time and risk preferences is investigated, since risk preferences and time preferences have been mentioned as important functions in shaping decisions (Glimcher, 2015, 260). It has been noted to check whether cognitive load leads to changes in economic preferences in scarcity conditions, two factors of working memory and inhibitory control, which are executive functions and mental bandwidth components, will be evaluated.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Feizi, Mehdi et al. 2023. "Cognitive mediators of scarcity and economic decision-making; A lab experiment." AEA RCT Registry. May 07.
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Experimental Details


Our primary goal is to measure the effect of scarcity on cognitive load, and in the second step, the effect of possible changes in cognitive load on people's economic decisions. Therefore, our experiment consists of manipulating scarcity among two groups of participants and then measuring cognitive load and observing their decisions in time and risk-discounting tasks.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
We measure participants' performance and choices under conditions of scarcity and control in four tasks: cognitive load including working memory and inhibitory control - economic preferences including time discounting and risk discounting.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We will conduct a controlled trial in which participants are randomly assigned to two groups scarcity and abundance. Then both groups will participate in four tasks. Two tasks of cognitive load and two tasks of economic preferences.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
the treatment is not clustered.
Sample size: planned number of observations
200 students
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
100 students will be in the control group and 100 students will be in the test group.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Department of Economics, Faculty of Administrative and Economic Sciences, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials