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Shutting down social preferences in the lab: an experimenter demand approach
Initial registration date
September 01, 2019
October 07, 2019 9:44 AM EDT
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Stockholm School of Economics
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Social preferences pose a challenge for any lab testing of theoretical predictions that are based on unobservable vNM utilities. Depending on the theory being tested, the unobservable mapping of laboratory payoffs to vNM utilities will, at best, introduce considerable noise, and at worst, bias the results. I investigate the efficacy of a very straightforward method for reducing the influence of social preferences on decision-making in the lab: instructing subjects to behave selfishly. The question is a simple one: does maximization of one's own payoff better predict subjects' behavior in experiments when they are explicitly instructed to achieve this goal?
To answer this, a first experiment will be conducted in which subjects play a one-shot prisoner's dilemma with one of three treatments: (1) social framing of actions, (2) neutral framing of actions, and (3) neutral framing of actions with explicit instructions to behave selfishly. Registration Citation
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Degree of cooperation in PD
Beliefs about opponent cooperation in PD
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
The primary outcomes are the degree of cooperation (defection) in actions as well as beliefs.
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Survey questions designed to distinguish between types of motives (see separate file for minor hypotheses)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Pen-and-paper experiment in which subjects play a one-shot prisoner's dilemma with one of three treatments: (1) social framing of actions, (2) neutral framing of actions, and (3) neutral framing of actions with explicit instructions to behave selfishly (see enclosed instructions for exact phrasing). After choosing their own action, subjects state their beliefs about the distribution of actions among other participants. Payment is based on payoff in the PD and on the accuracy of beliefs.
Subjects also answer an exit survey composed mainly of likert scale items about motives behind action choice.
Experimental Design Details
Envelopes ordered randomly
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
83-100 students in each treatment arm
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)