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Benefiting Now or Later – An Experimental Study of Cooperation and Punishment with Delayed Benefits
Last registered on March 15, 2019


Trial Information
General Information
Benefiting Now or Later – An Experimental Study of Cooperation and Punishment with Delayed Benefits
Initial registration date
March 13, 2019
Last updated
March 15, 2019 10:48 AM EDT
Primary Investigator
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Cologne
Additional Trial Information
In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
In many economic decision situations people are forced to make intertemporal trade-offs between costs and benefits occurring at different points in time. Numerous studies, both theoretically and empirically, have investigated these trade-offs in the context of individual decision making in which choices only affect oneself. The timing of when costs and benefits realize, however, is also important in strategic decision situations in which outcomes are interdependent. For instance, the challenges of climate change are not only characterized by a conflict of interest between individual and social efficiency, but also by the fact that the costs and benefits of the collective action occur at different points in time. Yet, so far relatively little is known about cooperative behavior in settings in which the social and the time dimension operate at the same time.
This study strives to gain insights into this question by investigating how delaying the benefits of cooperation affects collective action. It builds on a recent paper by Kölle and Lauer (2018) who find that delaying the costs (benefits) of cooperation by 12 months substantially reduces (increases) cooperation. The authors focus on a series of one-shot games to isolate the different underlying mechanisms. Many human interactions outside the lab, however, take place in repeated contexts, in which factors like reputational concerns or learning affect behavior, too. Previous evidence from static contexts shows that while cooperation typically starts out high at the beginning of repeated interactions, it typically decreases over time. If, however, people are given the opportunity to punish each other, cooperation can be stabilized as many cooperators are willing to punish free riders even at own material costs. The main aim of this study is to experimentally investigate the extent to which these insights from repeated public goods games with and without punishment translate into a context in which the benefits of cooperation are delayed into the future.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Fischer, Fabian Johannes and Felix Kölle. 2019. "Benefiting Now or Later – An Experimental Study of Cooperation and Punishment with Delayed Benefits." AEA RCT Registry. March 15. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.4006-1.0.
Former Citation
Fischer, Fabian Johannes, Fabian Johannes Fischer and Felix Kölle. 2019. "Benefiting Now or Later – An Experimental Study of Cooperation and Punishment with Delayed Benefits." AEA RCT Registry. March 15. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/4006/history/43382.
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Experimental Details
Laboratory experiment
Treatment: Delay of benefits
Control: No delay of benefits
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
contributions to the public good, punishment points, time preferences, delay sensitivity
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The experiment is based on a standard linear public good game in which groups of four participants repeatedly interact with each other. The matching of participants into groups is thereby held constant across all periods within one part (partner matching protocol). Two types of repeated interactions are studied, one with and one without punishment.
This basic decision setup will be tested in two different treatments: NoDelay and BenefitDelay. The treatments differ with respect to when the benefits from cooperation realize. In NoDelay, the baseline treatment, both the benefits and the costs will realize immediately, alike many previous studies. In BenefitDelay, the benefits of cooperation will be delayed by 3 months, while the costs of cooperation will realize immediately.
Experimental Design Details
In the case without punishment, in each period subjects simply decide how much they want to contribute to the public good and how much they want to keep for themselves. After each period, subjects receive feedback about the other group members’ contributions. After that, a new period starts. The case, in which punishment is possible, is identical except for the fact that after subjects are informed about the others’ contributions, there is a second stage in which they can assign costly punishment points to the other group members (1:3 impact-to-cost ratio). Testing for the role of punishment is done in a within-subjects design, i.e., all participants play both versions of the game (with and without punishment).

Furthermore, a multiple price list for eliciting individual time preferences will be used and the beliefs about the time preferences of other subjects are collected. In addition, the sensitivity of different delays is investigated by varying the delay of costs and benefits in a public good game.
Randomization Method
Randomization Unit
Subjects are randomly assigned into groups of 4
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
48 groups
Sample size: planned number of observations
192 students
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
96 students no delay,
96 students benefit delay
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)