Research

Publications, most recent first

with Alexander Gotthard-Real
Forthcoming at Management Science

Can an organization avoid blame for an unpopular action when an adviser advises them to do it? We present experimental evidence suggesting this is the case -- advice to be selfish substantially decreases punishment of being selfish. Further, this result is true despite advisers' misaligned incentives, known to all: Through a relational contract incentive, advisers are motivated to tell the decision-makers what they want to hear. Through incentivized elicitations, we find suggestive evidence that advice moves punishment by affecting beliefs of how necessary the selfish action was. In follow-up treatments, however, we show advice does not decrease punishment solely through a beliefs channel. Advice not only changes beliefs of what happened, but also the perceived morality of it.  Finally, in treatments where advisers are available, selfish decision-makers act more selfishly.


Management Science, October 2017, 63(10): 3168 - 3186.
Measuring sexual orientation, behavior, and related opinions is difficult because responses are biased towards socially acceptable answers. We test whether measurements are biased even when responses are private and anonymous and use our results to identify sexuality-related norms and how they vary. We run an experiment on 2,516 U.S. participants. Participants were randomly assigned to either a “best practices method” that was computer-based and provides privacy and anonymity, or to a “veiled elicitation method” that further conceals individual responses. Answers in the veiled method preclude inference about any particular individual, but can be used to accurately estimate statistics about the population. Comparing the two methods shows sexuality-related questions receive biased responses even under current best practices, and, for many questions, the bias is substantial. The veiled method increased self-reports of non-heterosexual identity by 65% (p<0.05) and same-sex sexual experiences by 59% (p<0.01). The veiled method also increased the rates of anti-gay sentiment. Respondents were 67% more likely to express disapproval of an openly gay manager at work (p<0.01) and 71% more likely to say it is okay to discriminate against lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals (p<0.01).The results show non-heterosexuality and anti-gay sentiment are substantially underestimated in existing surveys, and the privacy afforded by current best practices is not always sufficient to eliminate bias. Finally, our results identify two social norms: it is perceived as socially undesirable both to be open about being gay, and to be unaccepting of gay individuals.

Assessing the Rate of Replications in Economics

with James Berry, Cornell, Rania GihlebDouglas Hanley, and Alistair J Wilson, Pittsburgh
American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, May 2017, 107(5): 27-31.
We assess the rate of replication for empirical papers in the 2010 American Economic Review. Across seventy empirical papers, we find that 29 percent have one or more citation that partially replicates the original result. While only a minority of papers has a published replication, a majority (sixty percent) have either a replication, robustness test or an extension. Surveying authors within the literature we find  substantial uncertainty over the number of extant replications.

A Proposal to Incentivize, Promote, and Organize Replications
with Muriel Niederle, Stanford and Alistair J Wilson, Pittsburgh
American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, May 2017, 107(5): 41-45.
We make a two-pronged proposal to (i) strengthen the incentivizes for replication work and (ii) better organize and draw attention to the replications that are conducted. First we propose that top journals publish short "replication reports." These reports could summarize novel work replicating an existing high-impact paper, or they could highlight a replication result embedded in a wider-scope published paper.  Second, we suggest incentivizing replications with the currency of our profession: citations.  Enforcing a norm of citing replication work alongside the original would provide incentives for replications to both authors and journals.

Can Subtle Provision of Social Information Affect What Job You Choose (and Keep)? Experimental Evidence from Teach For America  (Appendix)

with Clayton Featherstone, Wharton, and Judd Kessler, Wharton
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, January 2017, 9(1): 96-117.
It has been well documented that information about the actions of others can affect small-stakes decisions. We show that a subtle provision of such social information can also influence a very high-stakes decision: whether to take (and keep) a job as a public school teacher. In an experiment involving thousands of admits to Teach For America (TFA), those provided with data about the high matriculation rate in the previous year are more likely to accept the job. Moreover, this effect persists into the second semester of teaching, even though one-sixth of those in the control group who initially accepted the job have left TFA by then. As expected, the effects are stronger for those more marginal in their decision to join TFA. Our results suggest that social information can have a powerful effect on high-stakes behavior and should be considered as a potential tool for policy.

Economic InquiryJanuary 2017, 55(1): 409-424.
Charitable donations are frequently raised by an intermediary: a fundraiser (that is not the charity) solicits and accepts donations and subsequently sends the proceeds to the charity -- e.g. a workplace campaign for United Way, a 5km walk for Susan G. Komen, or a cookie-selling campaign by a Girl Scout troop. Such fundraisers can greatly increase donations received by a given charity, but how do they affect what types of charities we support? This paper shows intermediary fundraisers can make donors insensitve to charity quality: Unattractive charities can receive the same financial support as an attractive charity. In a series of experiments, when donations are framed as going directly to the charity, attractive charities receive larger (between 68% and 91% larger average donation across studies) and more (between 19% and 25% higher likelihood of receiving a gift across studies) contributions relative to unattractive charities; however, when donations for the same charities are collected by (meaningless) intermediary fundraising campaigns, donations become statistically indistinguishable across charities. The fundraising campaign does not affect donor recall of charity identity or evaluation of charity quality; it simply precludes donors from using these data in the donation decision. Follow-up experiments suggest it is a superfluity of information in the intermediary fundraiser context that clouds the judgment of the donor.

"Pre-Analysis Plans Have Limited Upside especially where Replications are Feasible"
Journal of Economic Perspectives, July 2015, 29(3): 81-98.
How and when do pre-analysis plans, hypothesis registries, and replications help us know what we know and what we don’t know? A few simple models suggest the following take-aways: (i) Pre-analysis plans are most valuable for hypotheses that will not be tested multiple times and when the pre-analysis plans effectively eliminate researcher bias (not just reduce it), (ii) Pre-analysis plans can be valuable for replication efforts, and (iii) very few replications, typically three to five, are required to achieve precise, correct beliefs about the hypothesis, even with modestly biased replication attempts.
This paper experimentally analyzes the schooling decisions of poor households in urban Brazil. We elicit parents’ choices between monthly government transfers conditional on their adolescent child attending school and guaranteed, unconditional transfers of varying sizes. In the baseline treatment, an overwhelming majority of parents prefer conditional transfers to larger unconditional transfers. However, few parents prefer conditional payments if they are offered text-message notifications whenever their child misses school. These findings suggest important intergenerational conflicts in these schooling decisions, a lack of parental control and observability of school attendance, and an additional rationale for conditional cash transfer programs: the monitoring they provide.
Intermediation Reduces Punishment (And Reward)
American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 3(November 2011): 77-106.
This paper shows moral decision-making is not well predicted by 
the overall fairness of an act but rather by the fairness of the 
consequences that follow directly. In laboratory experiments, third 
party punishment for keeping money from a poorer player decreases 
when an intermediary actor is included in the transaction. This 
is true (i) for completely passive intermediaries, (ii) even though 
intermediation decreases the payout of the poorest player and hurts 
equity, and (iii) because intermediation distances the transgressor 
from the outcome. A separate study shows rewards of charitable 
giving decrease when the saliency of an intermediary is increased.

Working Papers
While economic theories of persuasion emphasize self-interest, others posit an important role for other-regard. For example, a salesperson might describe product features but also try to build rapport. We study these two mechanisms within a simple but rich experimental framework in which sellers, in a free-form conversation, try to convince buyers to raise their valuations for objects. We find that sellers benefit from communication despite their material conflict of interest. Communication affects both buyers’ self-interest and their other-regard. Changes in other-regard are mean zero, but interestingly a minority of sellers target other-regard and substantially outperform their peers. More generally, however, who is buying is actually a better predictor of persuasion than who is selling. Buyer-seller homophily also strongly predicts persuasion: gender-match, for example, more than doubles the sellers’ expected gain.

“Marketing Schooling: An At-Scale Experiment in the Dominican Republic”
with Jim Berry, Cornell University, Daniel Morales, Barna, and Chris Neilson, Princeton University
funded by research grants from the International Growth Centre, $1.26M grant from US AID, and Fundacion INICIA
We conduct an at-scale evaluation of interventions that present accurate, clear information on the potential benefits and costs of schooling to 7th to 12th grade students in the Dominican Republic. The two-year evaluation includes 1,812 schools in middle school, 75 percent of all public middle schools in the country, and 678 schools at the high school level, 65 percent of all public high schools. The broadest intervention consists of four 15-minute videos that discuss the benefits and costs of additional schooling, watched by classes altogether. We vary whether these videos present the benefits qualitatively -- e.g. schooling may increase wages -- or quantitatively -- for example, wage averages and distributions at different levels of schooling -- allowing us to isolate the impact of providing concrete, numerical information on the value of schooling. We also conduct one-on-one interviews through a novel tablet application, both with parents and children (about 7,000 students total). Half of these interviewees also watch a short video with quantitative information. To understand the mechanics behind our results, as well as the schooling decision in general, we conducted surveys to 80,000 students across our sample. We created a panel series of surveys covering roughly 38,000 of these students to measure beliefs of the potential value of education and students' educational plans. We present preliminary results of these interventions on beliefs, aspirations, matriculation, and standardized test scores.

"A Model of Information Nudges"
with Clayton Featherstone, Wharton, and Judd Kessler, Wharton
Nudge-style interventions are popular, but they are often criticized for being atheoretical. We present a model of information nudges (i.e., providing a noisy signal about the utility of taking an action) based on Bayesian updating in a setting of binary choice. We use reduced-form and structural methods to conduct a meta-analysis of 67 information interventions and find that the sign and magnitude of the treatment effect varies in exactly the way our model predicts: treatment effects of nudges are more likely to be negative in settings when agents are unlikely to take the action in the absence of the nudge. Additionally, as we look across settings with higher and higher rates of taking the the action in the absence of the nudge, the treatment effect starts out negative, becomes positive, peaks, and declines back to zero, producing a negative hump shape followed by a positive hump shape. From the theory and meta-analysis, we provide guidance for practitioners about the environments in which information nudges will positively affect a desired behavior and those in which they may backfire.

“Liquidity and Job Choice”

With John Conlon, NY Fed, Clayton Featherstone, Wharton, and Judd Kessler, Wharton

Do liquidity constraints affect what jobs people choose? We partner with Teach for America (TFA), a highly selective teacher-placement program, and test whether providing grants and short-term loans to recent college graduates and young professionals can affect whether they accept the TFA job offer. In a field experiment involving over 6,000 TFA admits, we find that small increases in either grants or loans have a large effect on whether the admits with the highest financial need choose to enter and remain in the two-year program. High need admits offered an additional $600 in grants or loans were between 7 and 9 percentage points more likely to show up for their first day of teaching (on a base of 63%), and those offered $1,200 more in grants were 15 percentage points more likely to do so. Two aspects of our results suggest that the intervention works by easing liquidity constraints. First, additional grants and short-term loans have an equally large effect on behavior. Second, the grants and loans only influence the 10% highest-need admits and the remainder are unaffected by the additional funds. Our results suggest that substantial job choice and mobility constraints exist for the less wealthy. Further, easing liquidity constraints by offering short-term loans could provide a low-cost method to increase the supply of potential workers into industries that require an up-front investment or a duration without earnings. Finally, policy makers are increasingly concerned with growing the supply of teachers in the US; we estimate that using short-term loans to induce the marginal teacher to join the profession would cost about $300 in interest payments.

“Expectations Do Not Determine Punishment”
This paper reports a series of laboratory experiments investigating the hypothesis that expectations affect punishment. Despite support from Moral Psychology and recent reference-dependence experiments in Economics, I find third party punishment does not respond to exogenous changes in expectations of the targeted party's behavior. I use a random process for revealing the true action taken by the actor. This process varies the expectation the punisher holds just before the truth is revealed. Expectations are shown to vary significantly and substantially. However, in non-parametric and instrumental variables regression analyses, expectations are shown not to affect punishment at all. This is true either when expectations are exceeded or failed.


Book Chapters
with Neeru Paharia, Harvard Safra Center, and Max Bazerman, Harvard Business School
in The Oxford Handbook of Economic Conflict Resolution, 2012, Oxford Press, Rachel Croson & Gary Bolton eds.