Sustainability as a Dynamic Game

Last registered on January 18, 2022


Trial Information

General Information

Sustainability as a Dynamic Game
Initial registration date
January 18, 2022

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 18, 2022, 6:37 PM EST

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


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Primary Investigator

Université de Fribourg

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Fribourg
PI Affiliation
PI Affiliation
University of Fribourg

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Sustainability is a crucial concept in the environmental domain, but also in other areas such as financial matters or regarding personal health. Sustainability means using resources in a way that does not compromise the availability of those resources tomorrow. We propose a dynamic threshold public goods game that captures essential features of sustainability. First, the game is dynamic in the sense that the actions played in each period have consequences for future periods. Second, over-using given resources (i.e. above a certain threshold) leads to a decline of these resources. Finally, in many applications, such as the climate and environment preservation, cooperation between many individuals is required to reach a sustainable path, while the temptation to over-use resources is strong. Our game reflects this with its public goods character when there is more than one decision maker. We derive equilibrium behavior and test the predictions in a lab experiment. Our experimental design includes a single versus multi-player game treatment to assess the role of strategic interactions and a high versus low threshold treatment. We want to investigate whether sustainability is achieved more often when it is an equilibrium strategy, and how different personality traits moderate the chosen strategies.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Buechel, Berno et al. 2022. "Sustainability as a Dynamic Game." AEA RCT Registry. January 18.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details


We study the sustainability game on the online platform Prolific.

Our experimental design includes three treatments.
T-Baseline: 4-player groups with high threshold
Treatment T-OnePlayer: 1-player "groups" with high threshold
Treatment T-LowThreshold: 4-player groups with low threshold

The baseline treatment represents a pure social dilemma: it is socially optimal for the group to contribute the threshold amount but it is individually rational for each player to defect, i.e. contributing zero. Treatment T-OnePlayer eliminates strategic interactions between players and has a unique equilibrium that coincides with the social optimum.Treatment T-LowThreshold lowers the threshold that must be met to achieve sustainability and has both defection and cooperation (i.e. contributing according to the threshold) as equilibria.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Individual Level: Contribution share, equilibrium play (cooperation or defection)
Group Level: Endowment, threshold met, contribution share
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Contribution share is the number of points a player contributes to the common account divided by the endowment in the current period.
Equilibrium play is a binary variable that equals 1 if a player's contribution share is approximately equal to a given strategy (either cooperation or defection) and 0 otherwise.
Threshold met is a binary variable that equals 1 if the total number of points contributed by a group equals or exceeds the threshold in a given period.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Individual Level: Gains
Group Level: Sustainability, waste, standard deviation of contributions
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Gains in a given period is the number of points a player kept on his private account.
Sustainability is a binary variable that equals 1 if the group has reached the threshold in all preceding periods.
Waste is the amount a group has contributed minus the threshold amount, conditional on having met the threshold.
Standard deviation of contributions is measured within group for each period of the game.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The experiment will be run online and include 270 participants randomly assigned to the three treatment groups: T-Baseline, T-OnePlayer, and T-LowThreshold. The experiment lasts about one hour and includes 4 parts:

Part 1: Sustainability game.
Participants read the instruction for the sustainability game and respond to comprehension questionnaire. The computer then forms groups of 4 players (in T-Baseline and T-T-LowThreshold) or 1 player (in T-OnePlayer).
The sustainability game is a dynamic game played over a random number of periods. In each period, players are given a certain number of points as an endowment and must decide how to split these points between a private and a special account. The private account represents individual gains while the special account, which is common for all members of a group, determines future endowments. At the end of the period, players are informed about the contributions of the other members in their group (in T-Baseline and T-LowThreshold), the total contribution of their group, whether the threshold was met or not and their endowment for the next period. In relative terms the stage game is the same in every period.
The whole game is repeated 6 times.

Part 2: Elicitation of risk aversion
Players receive 100 points and must decide how many to invest in a profitable but risky project. We measure risk aversion with the amount invested by each player.

Part 3 Measuring cognitive abilities
We measure cognitive abilities using 12 questions out of the Set 2 of the Raven Advanced Progressive Matrices.

Part 4: Personality, ecological and demographic questionnaires
Personality test: The test uses 24 items from the International Personality Item Pool to measure two aspects of participants’ personality (Agreeableness and Conscientiousness).
New ecological paradigm: 15 items to measure pro-environmental orientation, following Dunlap et al (2000)
CO2 footprint questionnaire: 6 questions based on the WWF Swiss footprint calculator, based on Berger and Wyss (2021)
Demographic questionnaire
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Treatments are randomly assigned to separate sessions. Randomization within the game (number of periods) is done by the computer.
Randomization Unit
Treatment assignment is randomized on the experimental sessions. Number of periods that a game lasts is randomized at group level.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
30 groups per treatment, i.e. 90 groups in total.
Group size is four for T-Baseline and T-LowThreshold and one for T-OnePlayer. Number of participans should therefore be 270.
Sample size: planned number of observations
270 participants
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
30 groups per treatment.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials

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Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Unidistance ethics committee
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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