Mislearning from Silence and Misperceived Social Norms

Last registered on April 08, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Mislearning from Silence and Misperceived Social Norms
Initial registration date
October 05, 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
October 17, 2022, 3:56 PM EDT

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

Last updated
April 08, 2023, 9:34 PM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.



Primary Investigator

Harvard University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of California, Berkeley

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
The study aims to understand how silence, interacting with social norms around holding specific views, shape political discourse. Specifically, we hypothesize that individuals who hold socially acceptable views are more likely to vocalize their views while those who hold socially sanctioned views are more likely to stay silent. If people are not sufficiently sophisticated about selection into expression or silence, this will lead to misperceptions about the distribution of political views, which in turn affects political choices of political expression and action. Taken together, this can lead to self-reinforcing loops of political expression and action in equilibrium. We propose a field experiment on college campuses to test whether drawing attention to the silent majority shift perceived social norms and political discourse in equilibrium.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Ho, Yuen and Yihong Huang. 2023. "Mislearning from Silence and Misperceived Social Norms." AEA RCT Registry. April 08. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.9505-1.2
Experimental Details


Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
We will recruit college students as participants and the key outcome variables include:
1. private beliefs and second-order beliefs on the a set of socioeconomic and political topics
2. public expression of views in group chats.
3. willingness to take certain political expression actions (signing a petition and donating to a charitable cause)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We will conduct a lab-in-the-field experiment through Xlab with UC Berkeley students.

Our study consists of two parts, “first movers” (10% of participants) and “second movers” (90% of participants), which allows us to study the dynamic effects of increasing attention on silence on political expression and action. Specifically, all respondents will participate in Zoom sessions where they have the opportunity to express their views on various political and socioeconomic topics. However, “first movers” will participate in these Zoom sessions without any additional information while “second movers” will first receive anonymized summaries of the views expressed by “first movers” before participating in their own Zoom discussions. To isolate the causal effects of increasing attention to silence, we will randomly assign "second movers" to different information treatment groups where they see different summary statistics about "first movers". We will also ask all participants to complete a baseline survey (prior to the Zoom sessions) about their private views on these topics and their beliefs about the views of other participants as well as an endline survey (after the Zoom sessions) that again elicits beliefs about the views of other participants as well as willingness to engage in other types of political expression and action.
Experimental Design Details
Specifically, our experimental design is as follows:

1. Baseline survey: We will ask participants about their private beliefs on various socioeconomic and political topics. Participants can choose “agree”, “disagree” or “prefer not to say” for each statement. Participants will also be incentivized to guess how other study participants privately answer each topic. We will also collect demographic data, including gender, ethnicity, school year, major, and self-identified political affiliation.

2. After participants complete the baseline survey, we will randomly split participants into three subsamples: 1) First movers (10% of participants); 2) Second movers - Control group (45% of participants), and 3) Second movers - Treatment group (45% of participants).

3. First movers - public expression: The “first-movers” will be asked to attend a Zoom session. Each session will have 12 participants. During the Zoom sessions, we will read participants a statement related to a specific topic and participants will send a private chat message to the moderator indicating whether they ”agree” or ”disagree” with the statement if they would like to share their views publicly. If they do not want to share their views, they simply do not send any messages to the moderator. All participants who respond in the chat will be called upon to share their views with the rest of the Zoom room. The order in which participants are called upon will be randomly chosen to shut down potential dynamic effects within a Zoom session.

4. Summary Statistics about the previous discussion: We randomly assign the remaining 90% of the participants to two treatment groups where we show them different versions of summary statistics about the Zoom expression decisions of the first movers.
- Control participants will be provided with information about how many “first movers” said “agree” and “disagree” respectively for each topic. For example: “10 publicly said agree, 6 publicly said disagree.”
- Treatment participants will be provided with the same information as the control group plus additional information about how many “first movers” stayed silent for each topic. For example, “10 publicly said agree, 6 publicly said disagree, and 8 stayed silent.”

5. Control/Treatment groups - public expression: All second movers will then attend a Zoom session with other participants assigned to the same information treatment group (i.e. “control” Zoom sessions consisting of only participants assigned to the control group or “treatment” Zoom sessions consisting of only participants assigned to the treatment group). Upon entering the Zoom sessions, we will send a survey link in the chat which includes the corresponding summary statistics above and elicits their second order beliefs about other participants’ views. The protocol for the Zoom sessions is otherwise identical to the “first movers”. At the end of each Zoom session, participants will complete an endline survey where we will ask them again about their beliefs about the distribution of others’ views, their recollections of the Zoom discussions they participated in, and their willingness to take certain political actions, such as signing a petition, donating to a cause, or attending a public meeting.
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
The randomization will be done at the individual level.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
We plan to recruit 500 Berkeley students. Assuming a 20% attrition rate, we estimate that about 400 students will complete the study.
Sample size: planned number of observations
Recruit 500 students, estimate that we will have 400 observations in the endline.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We will recruit 50 first-movers, 225 students in the control group and 225 students in the treatment group.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Harvard IRB
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Name
Berkeley CPHS
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

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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