Research

Published

with Leonardo Bursztyn, UCLA Anderson
Journal of Political Economy, June 2012, 120(3): 359-397.
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

"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
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.

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.

"Intermediaries in Fundraising Inhibit Quality-Driven Charitable Donations"
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.

“Recent Expectations Do Not Determine Punishment: Reference-Points Are not What You’d Expect”
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

"Formation of Beliefs of Returns to Schooling: Experimental Evidence from the Dominican Republic and India"
with Jim Berry, Cornell University
funded by a research grant from the International Growth Centre
In the developing world, school is often not perceived to be as valuable as it actually is.  Many households hold downwardly biased beliefs of how much wages increase across level of schooling attained.  Importantly, it has been shown that changing beliefs of average wages can greatly increase schooling attainment. In the Dominican Republic, we design and run novel experiments to understand the source of the bias. The main questions are - what data do they have access to (e.g. neighborhood effects), do they understand how these data are biased, and what of these data do they use when they form their beliefs (e.g. availability bias)?  Further, how do they control for sampling problems, namely the selection into schooling. The second stage of this project will be to develop a tool to de-bias people most effectively.

"Interpersonal Influence"
with Paul Niehaus, UCSD

"Path-Dependence in Policy: Precluding Policy by Defining a Status Quo"
with Alvin E. Roth, Stanford
Often a policy-maker may oppose an efficiency-increasing policy change if the change makes an identified group strictly worse off. For example, many doctors would prefer that a kidney from a nondirected donor would go to the person atop the waiting list (the current policy) rather than using that kidney to start a chain of kidney exchanges (e.g. see Roth, Alvin E., Tayfun Sonmez, and M. Utku Unver, "Kidney Exchange," 2004). Even though the latter may produce more kidneys, it also reallocates a kidney away from the person highest on the waiting list who could receive it, greatly decreasing her welfare. In these experiments, we develop tools to study the source of this repugnance.  Using unincentivized anecdotes, subjects strongly prefer to send a kidney to the waiting list recipient if that is the current policy, but if there is no current policy, they overwhelmingly prefer to send the kidney to the kidney exchange.  We are not able to replicate these notions of repugnance using lab games with cash payouts; subjects are strictly surplus-seeking over others' payouts in the games with money.

"Aggregating the Sands of Time: Small Consequence Decision-Making and Intertemporal Choice"
with Daylian Cain, Yale SOM, George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon SDS, and Muriel Niederle, Stanford


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.