Self-Affirmation and Productivity

Last registered on October 02, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Self-Affirmation and Productivity
Initial registration date
September 20, 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
October 02, 2023, 8:47 AM EDT

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



Primary Investigator

University of Cologne

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Cologne, Germany
PI Affiliation
Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn, Germany
PI Affiliation
Phillips University Marburg, Germany
PI Affiliation
University of Alicante, Spain; University of Bern, Wyss Academy for Nature, Switzerland

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
We study the effects of a psychological self-affirmation intervention on performance in a real-effort task. The study is motivated by a previously conducted field experiment among a poor and stigmatized group in Namibia, in which a standard self-affirmation intervention (recalling successful experiences) backfired by reducing productivity. In an online experiment, we study whether this backfiring can be explained by a failure to adequately respond to the self-affirmation prompt. Subjects may either fail to adequately respond when they have difficulty recalling successful experiences (“ease-of-retrieval”) or when subjects do not fill the time allocated to talk about positive experiences.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Rockenbach, Bettina et al. 2023. "Self-Affirmation and Productivity." AEA RCT Registry. October 02.
Experimental Details


Participants are asked to recall experiences that made them feel successful and proud. Subsequently, participants can work on a real-effort task with substantial piece-rate incentives. In the real-effort task, participants are asked to count the number of zeros in a series of 3x10 matrices filled with randomly generated zeros and ones for a maximum of ten minutes.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Number of correctly solved real-effort tasks
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
- Self-reported feelings of success and pride, and ease or difficulty of recall
- Mistakes/attempts in real-effort task
- Heterogeneous treatment effects with respect to gender, self-efficacy, and socioeconomic status (e.g., income per household member)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
In a 2x2 design, we vary the number of experiences participants have to recall in which they felt successful and proud (3 vs. 8), and whether participants are given a salient time limit of 5 minutes. A control treatment asks participants to describe their daily routine on a typical day of the week.
Experimental Design Details
The 2x2 design is structured as (3 vs. 8 experiences) x (salient timer vs. no salient time limit).
In particular, participants are asked to "describe three / eight experiences that made [them] feel successful and proud".
In all treatments, participants are asked to spend five minutes in total to describe their experiences. In the treatment arms with a salient time limit, participants are given a five-minute timer that is displayed on the screen and automatically ends the writing stage after five minutes.

Our primary interest is in comparing performance in the real-effort task in treatments with three vs. eight experiences in the respective treatment arms with/without salient time limit.

We expect lower performance of the eight-experience treatment in comparison to the three-experience treatment when there is no timer. We expect higher performance of the eight-experience treatment in comparison to the three-experience treatment when there is a timer.

As a secondary research interest, we analyze how the self-affirmation treatments compare to the control treatment.

The experiment will be conducted online with participants from Prolific. We sample participants with an after-tax household income of <40.000 USD and a self-reported socioeconomic status in the lower half of the scale (i.e., 1-5 on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being the highest position). If we are not able to sample the number of pre-registered observations from this pool, we will expand the pool to participants with larger after-tax household incomes.
Randomization Method
Participants will be randomly assigned to a treatment by Qualtrics. We stratify by sex.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
1870 individual participants, ITT
Sample size: planned number of observations
1870 individual participants, ITT
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We aim for 374 participants (ITT) in each of the 2x2 treatments as well as the control treatment. Taking into account a conservatively estimated drop-out rate of 10% (after exposure to the treatment), our goal is to have 340 participants in each treatment who complete the experiment.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
With 374 participants (ITT) in each treatment, we are able to detect a minimum effect size of d=0.205 at conventional levels (alpha = 0.05 and power = 80%).

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences, University of Cologne
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

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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