Seminars

Here you will find a full list of seminar speakers, along with the title, description, and presenter biography.

Please check back in early September for the most up to date list.

September 10, 2020

Incentives for Civil Servants: The Role of Behavioral Insights and Training Programs

Carlos Scartascini (Inter-American Development Bank) (with Paula Zamora)

We evaluate the effect of introducing a behaviorally informed notification, that uses salience, framing, social norms, and loss aversion, on the timeliness of responses of civil servants in the City of Buenos Aires to information requests.  We also examine the effect of a civil service training program and how it interacts with the treatment.  The results indicate that the behavioral intervention changed the distribution of responses and increased the share of requests answered exactly on the deadlines. The training workshops decreased timeliness for both the treated and control groups. In particular, treated participants who attended workshops with a larger share of control participants took longer to respond.

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September 24, 2020

What Do People Want to Know? An International Survey

Cass R. Sunstein (Harvard Law School)

What information would people like to have? What information would they prefer to avoid? And how does the provision of information bear on people’s welfare? Nationally representative surveys of eleven nations find that substantial percentages of people do not want to receive information even when it bears on personal health, on sustainability, and on consumer welfare. At the same time, people’s willingness to pay for information, contingent on their wanting it, is almost always higher than people’s willingness to pay not to receive information, contingent on their not wanting it. We develop a model and estimate the welfare effects of information for selected items. We find substantial benefits and costs, with the former outweighing the latter.

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September 24, 2020

Do The Effects of Social Nudges Persist? Theory and Evidence From 38 Natural Field Experiments

Alec Brandon (Johns Hopkins) (with Paul J. Ferraro, John A. List, Robert D. Metcalfe, Michael K. Price, and Florian Rundhammer)

This study examines the mechanisms underlying long-run reductions in energy consumption caused by a widely studied social nudge. Our investigation considers two channels: physical capital in the home and habit formation in the household. Using data from 38 natural field experiments, we isolate the role of physical capital by comparing treatment and control homes after the original household moves, which ends treatment. We find 35 to 55 percent of the reductions persist once treatment ends and show this is consonant with the physical capital channel. Methodologically, our findings have important implications for the design and assessment of behavioral interventions.

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October 8, 2020

When Nudges Aren't Enough: Incentives and Habit Formation in Public Transport Usage

Christina Gravert (Univ of Copenhagen) (with Linus Olsson Collentine)

In three large-scale field experiments with over 32,500 individuals, we investigate whether public transport uptake can be influenced by behavioral interventions and by economic incentives. Despite their effectiveness in other domains, we find a tightly estimated zero for social norms and implementation intentions on ridership. Increasing the economic incentive significantly increases uptake and long-term usage. This increase is sustained for months after removing the incentive. The effect is mainly driven by initial low users, which is evidence for habit formation and highlights the heterogeneous effects of the policy. While there is scope for long-term behavior change, nudging might not be the right approach.

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October 8, 2020

The $100 Million Nudge: Increasing Tax Compliance of Businesses and the Self-Employed using a Natural Field Experiment

This paper uses a natural field experiment to examine the effectiveness of specific nudges on tax compliance amongst firms and the self-employed in the Dominican Republic. In collaboration with the Dominican Republic’s tax authority, we designed messages for more than 28,000 self-employed workers and over 56,000 firms. Leveraging administrative tax data, we find evidence that our nudges (increasing the salience of prison sentences or public disclosure of tax evaders) have large effects on increasing tax compliance, primarily working through the channel of decreasing claimed tax exemptions. Interestingly, we find that firms are more impacted than the self-employed, and that firm size is critically linked to nudge effectiveness: larger firms are considerably more influenced by nudges than smaller firms. We find this latter result noteworthy given the paucity of evidence showing significant behavioral impacts of nudges amongst the largest players in a market. Overall, our messages increased tax revenue by $193 million (roughly 0.23% of the Dominican Republic’s GDP in 2018), with over $100 million constituting income that the government would not have received without our field experimental nudges.

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October 22, 2020

Measuring the Welfare Effects of Shame and Pride

Robert Metcalfe (USC) (with Luigi Butera, William Morrison, and Dmitry Taubinsky)

Public recognition is a frequent tool for motivating desirable behavior, yet its welfare effects are rarely measured. We develop a portable money-metric approach for measuring the direct welfare effects of shame and pride, which we deploy in a series of experiments on exercise and charitable behavior. In all experiments, public recognition motivates desirable behavior but creates highly unequal emotional consequences. High-performing individuals enjoy significant utility gains from pride, while low-performing individuals incur significant utility losses from shame. We estimate structural models of social signaling, and we use the models to explore the social efficiency of public recognition policies.

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October 22, 2020

Lean In or Don’t Lean Out? Opt-out Framing Eliminates Gender Differences in Competition

Joyce He (Rotman)

In most organizations, promotion into leadership typically requires self-nomination and competition via an application. However, past research on gender differences in self-promotion and preference for competition suggests that the default opt-in process might result in fewer women choosing to compete for promotions. Drawing from well-established findings on behavioural nudges, we hypothesized that changing promotion schemes from a default where applicants must opt-in (i.e., self-nominate) to a default where applicants must opt-out (i.e., those who pass a qualification threshold are automatically considered for promotion, but can choose not to be considered) will attenuate gender differences in participation in competition. Across a series of studies, we find that women are less likely to compete and put themselves forward under the traditional opt-in framing. However, when the choice is described using opt-out framing, gender differences are eliminated, and men and women choose to remain in the competition pool at equal rates. These results suggest that organizations could make use of “opt-out” promotion schemes as a behavioral intervention to reduce the gender gap in promotion rates and ascension to leadership positions.

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November 5, 2020

Can Making Family Salient Increase Financial Savings? Quantifying Heterogeneous Treatment Effects in Voluntary Retirement Contributions Using a Field Experiment in Mexico

Dilip Soman and Avni Shah (Rotman)

We use evidence from two large-scale field experiments in Mexico (N=131,300) to test the effectiveness of a previously undocumented behavioral intervention designed to improve retirement savings contributions: framing retirement savings as a way to ‘secure your family’s financial future’. In our first experiment (N=34,151), we find that a family security SMS intervention significantly improves the likelihood of making a voluntary contribution relative to a status quo, control condition by nearly double. In our second field experiment (N=97,149), we benchmark the effectiveness of a family SMS intervention against SMS’ that contain other previously successful behavioral interventions (e.g., basic alerts, pennies-a-day, fresh start, individual goal security). Once again, we find that a family security SMS intervention significantly increases voluntary contribution savings overall, and prove either just as effective, if not more so effective than these previously used behavioral approaches. However, we find that while our treatment significantly improves contributions in the aggregate, there is significant heterogeneity in treatment response. Using recently developed machine-learning techniques to quantify the heterogeneity in the treatment, we find that women under the age of 29 were nearly 67% less likely to contribute when given this family intervention compared to no intervention at all, while individuals between 29-41 were 68% more likely to contribute, regardless of gender. The heterogeneity in the treatment effects has important managerial implications: We demonstrate that sending this intervention to all account holders would increase profits by $375,800 pesos ($19,032 USD). In contrast, a strategic application of this intervention to profitable individuals only would increase profits by $4,887,000 pesos ($246,000 USD). From a consumer welfare perspective, this strategic application would also generate 4,597 new voluntary retirement contributors (the blanket approach would generate 2,340 new contributors).

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November 5, 2020

Altruism or Money? Reducing Teacher Sorting using Behavioral Strategies in Peru

Nicolás Ajzenman (São Paulo School of Economics) (with Eleonora Bertoni, Gregory Elacqua, Luana Marotta, and Carolina Méndez Vargas, IADB)

Inequality in access to high-quality teachers is an important driver of student socioeconomic achievement gaps. We experimentally evaluate a novel nation-wide low-cost government program aimed at reducing one of its causes: teacher sorting. Specifically, we tested two behavioral strategies designed to motivate teachers to apply to job vacancies in disadvantaged schools. These strategies consisted of an "Altruistic Identity" treatment arm, which primed teachers’ altruistic identity by making it more salient, and an "Extrinsic Incentives" arm, which simplified the information and increased the salience of an existing government monetary-incentive scheme rewarding teachers who work in underprivileged institutions. We show that both strategies are successful in triggering teacher candidates to apply to such vacancies, as well as make them more likely to be assigned to a final in-person evaluation in a disadvantaged school. The effect among high-performing teachers is larger, especially in the "Altruistic" arm. Our results imply that low cost behavioral strategies can enhance the supply and quality of professionals willing to teach in high-need areas.

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November 19, 2020

The Importance of Tightness-Looseness for Understanding Cross-Cultural Variation in COVID-19 Cases and Deaths

Michele Gelfand (Univ Maryland)

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a global health crisis, yet certain countries have had far more success in limiting COVID-19 cases and deaths. We suggest that collective threats require a tremendous amount of coordination, and that strict adherence to social norms is one key mechanism that enables groups to do so. Here we examine how the strength of social norms—or tightness-looseness—was associated with countries’ success in limiting cases and deaths by Fall 2020. Tight cultures have strict norms and punishments whereas loose cultures have weaker norms and are more permissive. We expected that tight cultures would have fewer cases and deaths per million compared to loose cultures. We estimated the relationship between cultural tightness and COVID-19 case and mortality rates as of October 16th using OLS regression. We fit a series of stepwise models to capture whether cultural tightness explained variation in case and death rates above and beyond other covariates including measures of underreporting, wealth, inequality, government efficiency, population density and size, mandated BCG vaccination, average age, climate, and other cultural factors. The results indicated that nations with high levels of looseness had 3.09 times the cases and 6.16 times the deaths as compared to nations with high levels of tightness. Specifically, nations with high levels of looseness had an average of 12,060 cases and 357 deaths per million whereas nations with high levels of tightness had an average of 3,903 cases and 58 deaths per million. These results were robust to a number of sensitivity analyses which controlled for underreporting, demographics, geopolitical factors, other cultural dimensions, and climate. A formal evolutionary game theoretic model suggested that tight groups coordinate on cooperative norms much faster and have higher survival rates than loose groups. The results suggest that tightening social norms confers an evolutionary advantage in times of collective threat.

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November 19, 2020

Hate Trumps Love: The Impact of Political Polarization on Social Preferences

Eugen Dimant (Penn)

Political polarization has ruptured the fabric of U.S. society. The focus of this paper is to examine various layers of (non-)strategic decision-making that are plausibly affected by political polarization through the lens of one's feelings of hate and love for Donald J. Trump. In several pre-registered experiments, I examine three layers of polarization in novel ways across multiple settings: I document the behavioral-, belief-, and norm-based mechanisms through which perceptions of interpersonal closeness, altruism, and cooperativeness are affected by polarization, both within and between political factions. To separate ingroup-love from outgroup-hate, the political setting is contrasted with a minimal group setting. I nd strong heterogeneous effects: ingroup-love occurs in the perceptional domain (how close one feels towards others), whereas outgroup-hate occurs in the behavioral domain (how one helps/harms/cooperates with others). In addition, the pernicious outcomes of partisan identity also comport with the elicited social norms. Noteworthy, the rich experimental setting also allows me to examine the drivers of these behaviors, suggesting that the observed partisan rift might be not as forlorn as previously suggested: in the contexts studied here, the adverse behavioral impact of the resulting intergroup conflict can be attributed to one's grim expectations about the cooperativeness of the opposing faction, as opposed to one's actual unwillingness to cooperate with them.

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December 3, 2020

Structuring Decisions to Encourage Action: Providing Quantity-Based Choices Can Substantially Increase Desired Behaviors

Kristen Duke (Rotman)

Individuals often must decide not only whether to act, but also the quantity or magnitude of that action. Athletes consider not only whether to run, but for how long; shoppers consider not only whether to buy toilet paper, but also the number of rolls; individuals consider not only whether to contribute to retirement savings, but also how much to contribute. This research compares two choice formats: quantity-sequential—which asks individuals first whether they’d like to act, and then to choose the quantity—and quantity-integrated—which asks individuals to simultaneously indicate whether and how much to act. Across lab and field experiments, we demonstrate that the quantity-integrated format substantially increases desired behavior.

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December 3, 2020

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of a Commercially Available Canadian Health Application

Renante Rondina (Rotman)

Carrot Rewards was a Canadian health and wellness app that rewarded users with loyalty rewards points for reaching their personalized daily step goals. They were active for three years before closing in June 2019 and mostly operated in British Columbia and Newfoundland-Labrador. The Canadian government invested $5 million to develop the app and purchase reward points, and a recent study of the program's first year revealed that users who used the app for at least six months showed an increase of 3,141 to 6,192 steps per week. However, questions remain as to whether the program would have been cost-effective if it continued to operate. In this study, we input data from the one-year study into a Markov state transition model to examine the cost-effectiveness of the Carrot Rewards Steps program. This talk will seek to answer the following questions: (a) What are the long-term health benefits of using financial health incentives? (b) How much would the program have cost, and would it have saved the public healthcare system in direct medical expenses? and (c) At what level of willingness-to-pay would it have been favourable to keep the program operating? This study has implications for employers that offer health rewards to their employees. Assumptions and limitations of our model are discussed.

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December 17, 2020

Behavioural Science and Ethics in the Context of Covid-19

Liam Delaney (London School of Economics) (with Leonhard K. Lades)

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented effort to change human behaviour at mass level in a short period of time to promote physical distancing, hand-washing and other protective health behaviours. This paper discusses the ethics of applying ideas from behavioural science in this context. Drawing on the FORGOOD framework by Lades and Delaney (2020), we consider issues of fairness, openness, respect, goals, other options, opinions and delegation. The Covid-19 response led to a sometimes confused discussion of the definition of behavioural science, the ties between behavioural science and other interventions and the appropriate deployment of expertise. We discuss these points with illustrations from applications of behavioural science to Covid-19 responses in different countries, focusing on Ireland and the UK. We draw from the examples and the broader ethical literature to derive principles that could inform behavioural science responses to ongoing pandemic policies and future emergencies.

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December 17, 2020

I’m a Woman: The Career Consequences of Highlighting Identity

Erika Kirgios (Wharton)

Although many organizations make public commitments towards diversity, women and racial minorities continue to be underrepresented in many industries and positions of power. What strategies can underrepresented candidates use to increase their chances of success? Prior work and conventional wisdom would suggest that underrepresented candidates should obscure or de-emphasize their demographic identities to reduce their likelihood of experiencing bias or discrimination. However, a preregistered audit study (N = 2,477) demonstrates that underrepresented candidates are more likely to receive instrumental help and career advice when they explicitly highlight their identity than when they do not. Furthermore, pre-registered lab experiments (N = 2,738) suggest that candidates foresee the benefits of making their identity more salient and seek opportunities to stand out based on their demographic identity in competitive contexts.

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January 14, 2021

Tentative title: Beliefs vs life experiences: What role do identity and shocks play in influencing behavioral change, support for government policies, and understanding of a crisis?

Guglielmo Briscese (UChicago) (with Marianne Bertrand , Maddalena Grignani, and Salma Nassar)

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