Overcoming empathy failures to improve trust: Experimental evidence from Colombia

Last registered on March 02, 2020


Trial Information

General Information

Overcoming empathy failures to improve trust: Experimental evidence from Colombia
Initial registration date
February 26, 2020

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
March 02, 2020, 4:04 PM EST

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



Primary Investigator

University of Navarra

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Pennsylvania
PI Affiliation
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
PI Affiliation
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
In the last few years, Colombia has seen a wave of migrants entering the country from Venezuela (more than four million have entered the country and 1.4 million have stayed in the country by the end of 2019.) This adds to the number of internally displaced people, victims of the civil conflict who also usually live in poor conditions and in the poorest areas of the big cities, as well as former combatants of the FARC and paramilitaries that have rejoined civilian life. The presence of migrants and former combatants in the cities, together with the fact that interpersonal trust in Colombia is very low, led to the question of what impact does their presence has on people’s levels of trust and their preferences for redistribution. We are implementing a lab-in-the-field experiment with a representative sample in Bogotá to measure prosocial behavior (such as preferences for redistribution) and trust among Colombian citizens and four groups: Venezuelan migrants, former combatants, internally displaced people and the very poor. This will allow us to study whether how much Colombians trust Venezuelan migrants compares to how much they trust other migrants (such as internally displaced people) or other poor people (that are Colombian.) It will also allow us to study how trust in former combatants compares to another group that is connected to the Colombian civil conflict, which is internally displaced people, most of whom are victims of the civil conflict and were forced to flee their homes and move to the cities (such as Bogotá.) We use one intervention to test a mechanism that can explain and increase interpersonal trust: an improvement in empathy levels among citizens towards the target groups via videos of them (former combatants and Venezuelan migrants).
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Alonso, Santiago et al. 2020. "Overcoming empathy failures to improve trust: Experimental evidence from Colombia." AEA RCT Registry. March 02. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.5486-1.0
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Experimental Details


We will implement one treatment focused on increasing empathy towards the out-group individuals by using videos that educate and inform and will challenge the negative perceptions held by the subjects about the target groups.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
We will use economic experiments and surveys in the field to measure trust. The main outcomes are:
Altruism: Amount sent by Player 1 in a Dictator Game.
Trust: Amount sent by Player 1 in a Trust Game.
Trustworthiness: Amount sent back by player 2 in a Trust Game
Preferences for redistribution: If Player 3 accepts or rejects the distribution in a Dictator Game.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
The dictator game (DG) and trust game (TG) are the standard economic games. The distribution game is the Third-Party Redistribution Game (TRG). It is designed in order to measure preferences for income redistribution by the controls towards migrants or ex combatants. There is extensive literature on the effects of ethnic diversity on demand for redistribution and also a decrease in redistribution and welfare state reform can be predicted. We aim to study whether preferences for redistribution could be alleviated by solving empathy failures among the groups. The basic game is based on the Third-party allocator: the initial distribution of earnings is the same, one worker (i.e. control) has earned all the money, and the other worker has earned nothing (10 USD, 0 USD). The task of the spectator is to determine whether to redistribute some of the initial earnings from the worker with 10USD to the worker with 0 USD, where the treatments only differ with respect to who the worker with 0 USD is: an ex-combatant, a refugee, the poorest or control.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Survey measures on Empathy and Trust
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
A video about Venezuelan migrants (TR) or ex-combatants (TE). The video intervention is aimed towards increasing empathy towards the target groups in the target city and we will observe if this leads to an improvement in trust and prosocial behavior towards them. Empathy levels among certain groups are positively related to prosocial behavior. For treatment 1 and 2 we will use a short video about ex-combatants and migrants, respectively.
We will have a control group with no video, a control group with a neutral video and groups TR (participants that watch the video on Venezuelan migrants) and TE (participants that watch the video on Excombatants). All participants will play economic games and answer survey questions that measure empathy level and trust.

Experimental Design Details
All participants will be Player 1 in the games and will interact with 4 people (Player 2): 1) SES low, low education level, from Bogota, 2)
SES low, low education level, internally displaced person, 3) SES low, low education level, Ex-combatant, 4) SES low, low education level, Venezuelan migrant.
Randomization Method
Allocation into treatment, the order of the decisions, and matching will be randomized in office by a computer.
Randomization Unit
We have one unit of randomization: the individual that could be assigned to control, control+video, TE, or TR.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
700 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
700 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
175 individuals control,175 individuals control+video, 175 individuals TR, 175 individuals TE
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
H1: Citizens will be less prosocial when interacting with a migrant or an ex-combatant. We use a 5%-level one-sided test with 80% power, and an alternative pretreatment mean of 0.367. For an estimated sample size of 175 for a two-sample paired-means test assuming the same standard deviation (of .308) and the respective target mean difference in the amount sent by Player 1 in the Trust Game and two possible correlations between paired observations, 0.15 and .4. , the Minimum Detectable effect size is 19% and a target mean difference that lies in the interval (-0.06, 0.07). H2: In the baseline, at the task, citizens will be more prosocial after treatment We use a 5%-level one-sided test with 80% power, an alternative pretreatment mean of 0.367 and a standard deviation of 0.308. With a sample size of 175 we will obtain a Minimum Detectable effect size of 8.2%.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Comité de Investigación y ética de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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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