The Labor Productivity Cost of Worrying About an Epidemic

Last registered on November 25, 2020

Pre-Trial

Trial Information

General Information

Title
The Labor Productivity Cost of Worrying About an Epidemic
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0006558
Initial registration date
November 24, 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
November 25, 2020, 10:34 AM EST

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

Locations

Region

Primary Investigator

Affiliation
University of Bonn

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

Status
In development
Start date
2020-11-25
End date
2021-06-30
Secondary IDs
Abstract
This project makes use of the current COVID-19 situation to study how worrying about an epidemic affects labor productivity. In an online experiment, participants will be able to work on a cognitively demanding task for a piece-rate wage. Before they start working, a subject-level intervention will present them with real media reports selected to either amplify or alleviate their concerns about the virus. In the analysis, I will then compare participants' task productivity after the intervention across the two experimental conditions. An additional cross-randomized manipulation will allow for an exploratory analysis of whether the high salience of the pandemic in the media exacerbates the effect of worry.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Citation
Apenbrink, Christian. 2020. "The Labor Productivity Cost of Worrying About an Epidemic." AEA RCT Registry. November 25. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.6558
Experimental Details

Interventions

Intervention(s)
In the experiment, subjects can work on a cognitively demanding mental arithmetic task for a piece-rate wage. The main intervention presents participants with real media reports selected to either amplify (in condition "High concern") or alleviate (in condition "Low concern") their worries about COVID-19 before they start working on the task. This identifies the causal effect of worrying about COVID-19 on labor productivity.
Intervention Start Date
2020-11-25
Intervention End Date
2020-12-04

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The primary outcome is the average number of correctly solved mental arithmetic problems in task blocks 1 and 2 of the second session.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
"productivity in news blocks": the average number of correctly solved mental arithmetic problems in task blocks 3 and 4 of the second session.

"attentional reaction time": the average reaction time to the display of the blurred arithmetic problem per attempted task in blocks 1 and 2 of the second session (i.e., the number of milliseconds until participants press keys to display the unblurred problem).

"working memory reaction time": the average number of milliseconds participants display the arithmetic problem per attempted task in blocks 1 and 2 of the second session.

"working memory error rate": the fraction of attempted tasks in blocks 1 and 2 of the second session that are answered incorrectly.

"worry": self-reported level of worry about health consequences of COVID-19 for oneself or one's loved ones after the main intervention, elicited on a scale from 0 to 10.

"happiness": self-reported level of momentary happiness after the main intervention, elicited on a scale from 0 to 10.

"beliefs about the danger of COVID-19": beliefs about the probability of infection, the probability of lasting health damage conditional on infection, the probability of death conditional on infection, and the number of months until a vaccine becomes widely available in Germany.

"bookmarked articles": the number of articles bookmarked in task blocks 3 and 4 of the second session.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Some of the secondary outcomes described above depend on the number of attempted tasks within a block. For this purpose, attempted tasks are defined as tasks that are completed entirely within the 5 minute time limit of the block, i.e., I discard data from tasks during which the block time limit runs out before the answer prompt disappears.

In addition to the aforementioned outcomes, I also elicit measures of preferences for working (the number of tasks subjects plan to complete in the second session and their willingness to work for an additional payment), measures of worry about the economic consequences of the pandemic (with respect to one's own financial situation and job prospects), and measures of reciprocity. These outcomes are collected to assess potential alternative explanations. I also elicit satisfaction and beliefs about self-perceived productivity in the second session relative to baseline.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The online experiment consists of two sessions on two consecutive days. In each session, participants can work on a cognitively demanding task. The task consists of multiple consecutive 5 minute blocks during which participants are supposed to solve as many mental arithmetic problems as they can for a piece-rate wage.

The first session measures participants' baseline productivity in the task and elicits baseline measures of worry about COVID-19 and happiness.

The second session contains the two interventions outlined above and collects the outcome measures of the study, which are also outlined above. At the end, participants also complete a short questionnaire that elicits additional measures.
Experimental Design Details
The course of events for each arithmetic problem is as follows: First, participants face a blank screen. After a few seconds, a blurred text appears. Participants can then display the unblurred arithmetic problem by simultaneously holding down the keys "Q" and "Enter" on their keyboard. As soon as they stop holding down "Q" and "Enter" or press any other key, the arithmetic problem is replaced by an answer prompt, and participants have 5 seconds to type in their answer.
Randomization Method
randomization by a computer
Randomization Unit
individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
280 individuals from the BonnEconLab subject pool (before applying the sample exclusion criteria outlined in the analysis plan)
Sample size: planned number of observations
280 individuals from the BonnEconLab subject pool (before applying the sample exclusion criteria outlined in the analysis plan)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
70 individuals in each of the four treatment cells that arise from the 2x2 cross-randomized design
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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Post-Trial

Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Intervention

Is the intervention completed?
No
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?
No

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials