Journal of Political Economy, June 2012, 120(3): 359-397.
Intermediation Reduces Punishment (And Reward)
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.
(Web Appendix), (Data, do file, and read me)
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.
"Can Subtle Provision of Social Information Affect What Job You Choose (and Keep)? Experimental Evidence from Teach For America" (Appendix)
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, January 2017, 9(1).
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."The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated"
Forthcoming, Management Science
"Pre-Analysis Plans Have Limited Upside especially where Replications are Feasible"
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
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.
(Email me for print version)
Economic Inquiry, January 2017, 55(1): 409-424.
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.
"Assessing the Rate of Replications in Economics"
with James Berry, Cornell, Rania Gihleb, Douglas Hanley, and Alistair J Wilson, Pittsburgh"A Proposal for Promoting and Incentivizing Replications"
forthcoming in American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings
with Muriel Niederle, Stanford and Alistair J Wilson, Pittsburgh
forthcoming in American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings
in The Oxford Handbook of Economic Conflict Resolution, 2012, Oxford Press, Rachel Croson & Gary Bolton eds.
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.
“Beliefs, Information and the Education Plans of Middle School Children in the Dominican Republic”
funded by research grants from the International Growth Centre, $1.26M grant from US AID, and Fundacion INICIA
conduct a large-scale evaluation of interventions that present information on
the potential benefits of schooling to 7th and 8th grade students in the
Dominican Republic. The evaluation includes 600 schools, 25 percent of all
public middle schools in the country. The broadest intervention consists of
four 15-minute videos that discuss the benefits 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 quantitative information on the returns to schooling. We also conduct
one-on-one video sessions through a novel tablet application, both with parents
and children. Finally, we also hang posters in classes, designed to highlight
and reinforce key information provided in the videos. To understand the
mechanics behind our results, as well as the schooling decision in general, we
also conduct a panel series of surveys covering 30,000 students to measure
beliefs of the potential value of education and students’ educational plans. We present preliminary results of the impacts
of the interventions on both the survey outcomes and dropout.
"A Model of Information Nudges"
with Clayton Featherstone, Wharton, and Judd Kessler, Wharton
A growing empirical literature has demonstrated that providing decision-makers with information (e.g. about the actions of others or the returns to different actions) can affect behavior. However, the literature lacks a theory that can explain when such interventions will have a large effect or even the sign of the effect. We introduce such a theory, based on simple Bayesian updating in a setting of binary choice. It yields the following intuitive insight: the sign of the effect depends on whether the intervention causes the marginal agent to update her belief up or down. Further, the magnitude of the effect depends on both the density of agents at the margin and how much those agents’ beliefs move when treated. We also show that when it is prohibitively costly or impossible to directly measure the beliefs of marginal agents, we can proxy for these beliefs with the fraction of agents taking the action in the uninformed group. Utilizing this intuition, our model makes a strong prediction about how treatment effect sign and magnitude will vary with the proportion taking the action in the control group. Our model reasonably rationalizes results from the literature: we perform a meta-analysis of informational nudges and find that, even across very different experimental settings, the magnitude of the treatment effect varies in a way our theory predicts (Note: More data to come soon).
“Expectations Do Not Determine Punishment”
"Moral Perceptions of Advised Actions"
with Alexander Gotthard-Real
The standard rationale for, and measure of, consultants is the
information and insight they provide. We identify an additional role: Reducing
the punishment faced by those they advise. Through a series of experiments, we
show that selfishness is heavily punished, but that much of this punishment can
be avoided by hiring a consultant to advise selfish behavior. This is true
despite, by virtue of the design, the consultant is not an unbiased third
party: Through a relational contract incentive, consultants are motivated to
tell the principals what they want to hear. Further, the reduction in
punishment is not driven by information asymmetries: Not only does the
consultant not have any more information than the principal, punishment is
lessened whether or not the punisher knows with certainty the principal acted
selfishly, or whether she has to rely on the advise as a signal. The upshot of
these results is that, across our treatments, when consultants are available,
selfishness increases significantly.
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.
Works in Progress
With Hannu Kivimäki, Stanford
“Declined Options as Reference Points”
With Etan Green, Microsoft Research
"Aggregating the Sands of Time: Small Consequence Decision-Making and Intertemporal Choice"