Impact of the Awareness of Rational Selflessness on Individuals’ Marginal Propensity to Reciprocate

Last registered on January 02, 2024


Trial Information

General Information

Impact of the Awareness of Rational Selflessness on Individuals’ Marginal Propensity to Reciprocate
Initial registration date
December 29, 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
January 02, 2024, 11:01 AM EST

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


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Primary Investigator

Corvinus University of Budapest

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
In this study, I examine the effect of awakening people’s awareness of the rationalities of selfless behavior on their actual willingness to share (split) rewards. The trial is a combination of a behavioural experiment (classroom setting) with the observations of reciprocal and sharing behavior from prior studies. At the core of the experiment is a version of the prisoner’s dilemma, the „split or steal” game, played in two shots, with the intervention for the treatment group in-between. A higher increase of „split” choices in the treatment arm than in the control arm would support the hypothesis that the awareness of rational selflessness increases individual’s marginal propensity to reciprocate.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Hajnal, Zsófia. 2024. "Impact of the Awareness of Rational Selflessness on Individuals’ Marginal Propensity to Reciprocate." AEA RCT Registry. January 02.
Experimental Details


The rational selflessness seminar.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The number of split choices for individuals, corresponding to more (1), less (-1), or equally (0) cooperative (sharing) behaviors.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The applied structure in the study has similar ordinal payoffs as the classical prisoner’s dilemma, but the narrative and the games conducted resemble „split or steal” games, with potential rewards only, and without punishments.
The research question and the hypothesis are as follows:
RQ: To what extent does the awareness of rational selflessness increase individuals’ marginal propensity to reciprocate?
H0: The awareness of rational selflessness does not increase individuals’ marginal propensity to reciprocate to a significant extent.
H1: The awareness of rational selflessness significantly increases individuals’ marginal propensity to reciprocate.
The term „propensity to reciprocate”, and the related „propensity to cooperate” have been used in economic literature in different contexts before. When I hypothesize that the awareness of rational selflessness significantly increases individuals’ marginal propensity to reciprocate, I mean the noteworthy rise in their additional willingness to share rewards, after they have been delivered a seminar on rational selflessness.
The seminar contains knowledge on the mechanisms, origins, contexts, and benefits of rational selflessness. I wish to confirm that people aware of the nature of rational selflessness will act more selflessly than those unaware, whenever the situation allows them to.
The participants of the experiment will be randomly assigned into two groups of equal size: the control group, i.e. the untreated subjects, and the treatment group. The two groups are both even-numbered, so that pairs can be assigned within each group. Thus, the total number of participants is divisible by four.
In a classroom environment (seated with one seat in-between, one row in-between, and in columns directly behind one another), treated subjects are given a 20 minute moderately interactive seminar, i.e. the intervention. (The classroom setting is deemed sufficiently „sterile” for the experiment, for the „ceteris paribus” condition in particular, as compared to laboratory settings.)
The seminar is held on the rational selflessness concept (its definition, origins, processes, and benefits – in a purely secular context). Before and after the seminar they play a „split or steal” game, in random pairs, but with pairs assigned in the first round being fixed for the second game.
They are offered a financial award or vouchers (the sums are to be specified – calculated and feasibility-assessed) each time and each pair, and have to choose individually, simultaneously, whether they would want to steal the award from, or share (split) it with their partner. Steal-steal choices would result in no awarding, share-share in halving the award between the two players, and a steal-share combination would “redeem” only the person who chose to steal.
The results of the treated group are compared with a control-group, who do not receive rational selflessness training. The results of this control group can be double-checked with the generally observed tendency of people to steal or share, from previously conducted scientific experiments, or scientifically observed gameshows.
The experiment is expected to last for 40 minutes for the control group, and for approximately one hour for the subjects treated.
The expected mechanism, or pathway is that treated subjects become aware of their inherent need to help others and rational selflessness (by means of the seminar), and act accordingly, more selflessly, resulting in a significantly greater increase of share (split) choices from the first to the second round of the games.
The causal variable (or treatment variable, x) is thus the awareness of rational selflessness, whilst the outcome variable (y) is the (change in the) propensity to share (or to reciprocate). The individual treatment effect is expected to be an increase in the marginal propensity to share (or to reciprocate), varying in the extent (or intensity) across subjects.
The experiment is conducted in-person, with a paper-based technique (only on the spot) – pre-numbered and paired sheets with pre-printed options can be used.
The marginal propensity to reciprocate can be measured by the ratio of subjects in the treated group who have changed their choice/strategy from „steal” to „share”, or by the increase of „share” choices in general. (The revenge type „steal” choices in the second round are expected to be offset by the „share” choices that result from a conversion of reciprocity.) It is a percentage value that is expected to increase with the awareness of rational selflessness.
Because I focus on, observe primarily, and measure the change in the behavior of the participants, initial differences between them – in terms of how much emphasis they put on others’ welfare – should not influence the overall outcome, in comparison to the controls.
This two-shot, two-person experiment is conducted for both the control, and the treatment group within the same week, at the same time of the day, and in the same classroom, in line with the ceteris paribus condition.
In general, the validity of the data from the untreated (control) group is to be verified by the results in the preliminary data sources, which will be collected and processed (from previously conducted scientific experiments, or scientifically observed gameshows).
Under the potential outcomes framework, the current potential outcomes (the difference of split or steal choices for each individual, between the two experiments) are: more (1), or less (-1), or equally (0) cooperative (sharing) behaviors.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Random assignment, randomization is planned to happen prior to conducting the sessions, by computational means (through the R software).
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
36 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
Overall: 72 choices of 36 individuals.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Treatment arm: 18 individuals.
Control: 18 individuals.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
A power analysis is previously conducted to determine the sample size. The desired level of statistical power is 0.80, and the significance level is 0.05, as commonly adhered to in behavioral studies and beyond. The effect size to be detected is determined as 0.35 (an approximate average value of the mean standardized effect sizes of original studies and replications in behavioral experiments. For the standard deviation of the binary outcomes, a conservative assumption will be made, estimating it to be relatively high at first, taking on the value of 0.55.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number