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What does “clean” really mean? The implicit framing of decontextualized experiments


  • Engel, Christoph
  • Rand, David G.


It is standard in experimental economics to use decontextualized designs where payoff structures are presented using neutral language. Here we show that cooperation in such a neutrally framed Prisoner’s Dilemma is equivalent to a PD framed as contributing to a cooperative endeavour. Conversely, there is substantially less cooperation in a PD framed as a competition. We conclude that in a decontextualized context, our participants by default project a cooperative frame onto the payoff structure.

Suggested Citation

  • Engel, Christoph & Rand, David G., 2014. "What does “clean” really mean? The implicit framing of decontextualized experiments," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 122(3), pages 386-389.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolet:v:122:y:2014:i:3:p:386-389 DOI: 10.1016/j.econlet.2013.12.020

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Roch, Sylvia G. & Lane, John A. S. & Samuelson, Charles D. & Allison, Scott T. & Dent, Jennifer L., 2000. "Cognitive Load and the Equality Heuristic: A Two-Stage Model of Resource Overconsumption in Small Groups," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 185-212, November.
    2. James Andreoni, 1995. "Warm-Glow versus Cold-Prickle: The Effects of Positive and Negative Framing on Cooperation in Experiments," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 1-21.
    3. Dufwenberg, Martin & Gächter, Simon & Hennig-Schmidt, Heike, 2011. "The framing of games and the psychology of play," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 459-478.
    4. Robin Cubitt & Michalis Drouvelis & Simon Gächter, 2011. "Framing and free riding: emotional responses and punishment in social dilemma games," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(2), pages 254-272, May.
    5. John Horton & David Rand & Richard Zeckhauser, 2011. "The online laboratory: conducting experiments in a real labor market," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(3), pages 399-425, September.
    6. Fischbacher, Urs & Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst, 2001. "Are people conditionally cooperative? Evidence from a public goods experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 397-404, June.
    7. Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Munkhammar, Sara, 2012. "Social framing effects: Preferences or beliefs?," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 117-130.
    8. R. Cookson, 2000. "Framing Effects in Public Goods Experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 3(1), pages 55-79, June.
    9. Jonathan Schulz & Urs Fischbacher & Christian Thöni & Verena Utikal, 2011. "Affect and Fairness," TWI Research Paper Series 68, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
    10. Park, Eun-Soo, 2000. "Warm-glow versus cold-prickle: a further experimental study of framing effects on free-riding," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 405-421, December.
    11. Schulz, Jonathan F. & Fischbacher, Urs & Thöni, Christian & Utikal, Verena, 2014. "Affect and fairness: Dictator games under cognitive load," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 77-87.
    12. Rege, Mari & Telle, Kjetil, 2004. "The impact of social approval and framing on cooperation in public good situations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1625-1644, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Christoph Engel, 2016. "Experimental Criminal Law. A Survey of Contributions from Law, Economics and Criminology," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_07, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    2. Huck, Steffen & Lünser, Gabriele & Spitzer, Florian & Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2016. "Medical insurance and free choice of physician shape patient overtreatment: A laboratory experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 131(PB), pages 78-105.
    3. Christoph Engel, 2007. "Tacit Collusion. The Neglected Experimental Evidence," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2007_14, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, revised Jan 2015.
    4. Alekseev, Aleksandr & Charness, Gary & Gneezy, Uri, 2017. "Experimental methods: When and why contextual instructions are important," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 48-59.
    5. Eirik Strømland & Sigve Tjøtta & Gaute Torsvik, 2016. "Cooperating, Fast and Slow: Testing the Social Heuristics Hypothesis," CESifo Working Paper Series 5875, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Bartke, Simon & Bosworth, Steven J. & Snower, Dennis & Chierchia, Gabriele, 2016. "The influence of induced care and anger motives on behavior, beliefs and perceptions in a public goods game," Kiel Working Papers 2054, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    7. Sebastian Goerg & David Rand & Gari Walkowitz, 2017. "Framing effects in the Prisoner's Dilemma but not in the Dictator Game," Working Papers wp2017_02_01, Department of Economics, Florida State University.
    8. repec:jdm:journl:v:13:y:2018:i:1:p:99-111 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Cooperation; Framing; Social dilemmas; Social preferences;

    JEL classification:

    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • D80 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - General
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods


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