Research

Publications

Abstract:

Many public goods can be provided at different spatial levels. Evidence from social identity theory and in-group favoritism raises the possibility that when higher-level provision is more efficient, subjects’ narrow concern for local outcomes could undermine efficiency. Building on the experimental paradigm of multi-level public good games and the concept of “neighborhood attachment,” we conduct an artefactual field experiment with 600 participants in a setting conducive to routine parochial behavior. In an inter-neighborhood intra-region design, subjects allocate an endowment between a personal, a local, and a regional public good account. The between-subjects design crosses two treatment dimensions: One informs subjects that the smaller local group consists of members from their own neighborhood, while the other varies the relative productivity at the two public goods provision levels. We find evidence for parochialism, but contrary to our hypothesis, parochialism does not interfere with efficiency: The average subject responds to a change in relative productivities at the local and regional levels in the same way, whether they are aware of their neighbors’ presence in the small group or not. The results even hold for subjects with above-median neighborhood attachment and subjects primed on neighborhood attachment.


Abstract:

Some recent experimental papers have claimed that contribution decisions in a public goods game (PGG) are more likely to be cooperative if based on intuition rather than reflection. In light of conflicting findings, this paper (i) reinvestigates the behavioral impact of so-called cognitive style in the PGG; and (ii) connects it with an earlier literature on the role of cognitive failure (confusion). This is motivated by the possibility that the method of time pressure, commonly used to identify cognitive style, invites confusion as a confounding factor. Two channels for such confounds are identified and experimentally tested: A heterogeneous treatment effect of time pressure depending on subjects’ confusion status and a direct impact of time pressure on subjects’ likelihood of being confused. Our reinvestigation of the behavioral impact of time pressure confirms that cognitive style matters, but that deliberation rather than intuition drives cooperation. The confounding effect of confusion is not found to be direct, but to operate through a heterogeneous treatment effect. Time pressure selectively reduces average contributions among those subjects whose contributions can confidently be interpreted as cooperative rather than confused.


Abstract:

Evidence from response time studies and time pressure experiments has led several authors to conclude that “fairness is intuitive”. In light of conflicting findings, we provide theoretical arguments showing under which conditions an increase in “fairness” due to time pressure indeed provides unambiguous evidence in favor of the “fairness is intuitive” hypothesis. Drawing on recent applications of the Drift Diffusion Model (Krajbich et al. in Nat Commun 6:7455, 2015a), we demonstrate how the subjective difficulty of making a choice affects decisions under time pressure and time delay, thereby making an unambiguous interpretation of time pressure effects contingent on the choice situation. To explore our theoretical considerations and to retest the “fairness is intuitive” hypothesis, we analyze choices in two-person binary dictator and prisoner’s dilemma games under time pressure or time delay. In addition, we manipulate the subjective difficulty of choosing the fair relative to the selfish option. Our main finding is that time pressure does not consistently promote fairness in situations where this would be predicted after accounting for choice difficulty. Hence, our results cast doubt on the hypothesis that “fairness is intuitive”.


Abstract:

While preferences for conformity are commonly seen as an important driver of pro-social behaviour, only a small set of previous studies has explicitly tested the behavioural mechanisms underlying this proposition. In this paper, we report on two interconnected experimental studies that jointly provide a more thorough and robust understanding of a causal mechanism that links social information (i.e., information about the generosity of others) to donations via changing the perception of a descriptive social norm. In a modified dictator game, Experiment 1 re-investigates this mechanism adding further robustness to prior results by eliciting choices from a non-student sample and by implementing an additional treatment that controls for potential anchoring effects implied by the methods used in previous investigations. Experiment 2 adds further robustness by investigating the link between social information, (descriptive) norm perception and giving at the individual, rather than the group average, level. We find that an exogenous variation of social information influences beliefs about others’ contributions (descriptive social norm) and, through this channel, actual giving. An exploratory analysis indicates that this causal relationship is differently pronounced among the two sexes. We rule out anchoring effects as a plausible confound in previous investigations. The key findings carry over to the individual level.


Abstract:

In an anonymous 4-person economic game, participants contributed more money to a common project (i.e., cooperated) when required to decide quickly than when forced to delay their decision (Rand, Greene & Nowak, 2012), a pattern consistent with the social heuristics hypothesis proposed by Rand and colleagues. The results of studies using time pressure have been mixed, with some replication attempts observing similar patterns (e.g., Rand et al., 2014) and others observing null effects (e.g., Tinghög et al., 2013; Verkoeijen & Bouwmeester, 2014). This Registered Replication Report (RRR) assessed the size and variability of the effect of time pressure on cooperative decisions by combining 21 separate, preregistered replications of the critical conditions from Study 7 of the original article (Rand et al., 2012). The primary planned analysis used data from all participants who were randomly assigned to conditions and who met the protocol inclusion criteria (an intent-to-treat approach that included the 65.9% of participants in the time-pressure condition and 7.5% in the forced-delay condition who did not adhere to the time constraints), and we observed a difference in contributions of −0.37 percentage points compared with an 8.6 percentage point difference calculated from the original data. Analyzing the data as the original article did, including data only for participants who complied with the time constraints, the RRR observed a 10.37 percentage point difference in contributions compared with a 15.31 percentage point difference in the original study. In combination, the results of the intent-to-treat analysis and the compliant-only analysis are consistent with the presence of selection biases and the absence of a causal effect of time pressure on cooperation.


Abstract:

Does it matter whether contribution decisions regarding environmental public goods are arrived at through intuition or reflection? Experimental research in behavioral economics has recently adopted dual-system theories of the mind from psychology in order to address this question. This research uses response time data in public good games to distinguish between the two distinct cognitive processes. We extend this literature towards environmental public goods by analyzing response time data from an online experiment in which over 3400 subjects from the general population faced a dichotomous choice between receiving a monetary payment or contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. Our evidence confirms a strong positive link between response times and contributions: The average response time of contributors is 40 % higher than that of non-contributors. This suggests that reflection, not intuition, is at the root of pro-environmental contributions. This result is robust to a comprehensive set of robustness checks, including a within-subjects analysis that controls for potentially unobserved confounds and recovers the relationship at the individual level.


Abstract:

This paper examines the relationship between public good game (PGG) contributions and cognitive abilities assessed by the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT). Employing two additional treatment conditions, the paper explores (i) whether CRT-scores are linked to preferences for cooperation or to a better understanding of the incentive structure; and (ii) the association between CRT-scores and contributions, if choices are elicited under time pressure. A time limit should make it harder for participants to base their choices on cognitive reflection. I find a strong and positive relationship between CRT-scores and contributions in a standard one-shot PGG. This relationship is fully moderated by the presence of time pressure. Thus, features of the decision environment can affect the link between cognitive abilities and PGG contributions. Finally, there is only a weak relationship between CRT-scores and the ability to understand the incentive structure.


Abstract:

Given the coincidence of the demographic change and climate change in the upcoming decades the aging voter gains increasing importance in climate change mitigation and adaptation processes. It is generally assumed that information status and comprehension of complex processes underlying climate change are prerequisites for adopting pro-environmental attitudes and taking pro-environmental actions. In a cross-sectional study, we investigated in how far (1) environmental knowledge and comprehension of feedback processes underlying climate change and (2) pro-environmental attitudes change as a function of age. Our sample consisted of 92 participants aged 25–75 years (mean age 49.4 years, SD 17.0). Age was negatively related to comprehension of system structures inherent to climate change, but positively associated with level of fear of consequences and anxiousness towards climate change. No significant relations were found between environmental knowledge and pro-environmental attitude. These results indicate that, albeit understanding of relevant structures of the climate system is less present in older age, age is not a limiting factor for being engaged in the complex dilemma of climate change. Results bear implications for the communication of climate change and pro-environmental actions in ageing societies.

Working Papers


Abstract:

Evidence from public good game experiments holds the promise of instructive and cost-effective insights to inform environmental policy-making, for example on climate change mitigation. To fulfill the promise, such evidence needs to demonstrate generalizability to the specific policy context. This paper examines whether and under which conditions such evidence generalizes to voluntary mitigation decisions. We observe each participant in two different decision tasks: a real giving task in which contributions are used to directly reduce CO2 emissions and a public good game. Through two treatment variations, we explore two potential shifters of generalizability in a within-subjects design: the structural resemblance of contribution incentives between the tasks and the role of the subject pool, students and non-students. Our findings suggest that cooperation in public good games is linked to voluntary mitigation behavior, albeit not in a uniform way. For a standard set of parameters, behavior in both tasks is uncorrelated. Greater structural resemblance of the public goods game leads to sizable correlations, especially for student subjects.


Abstract:

In a laboratory experiment, using a game in which a “decider” determines her own payoff and the payoff of a “stakeholder” by choosing between two payoff allocations, we analyze the effect of time pressure on self-serving behavior under two transparency conditions. Under “transparent consequences” the decider instantly observes that her payoff maximizing (“self-serving”) option is payoff minimizing for the stakeholder. Under “hidden consequences” there is initial uncertainty whether that option is payoff minimizing or maximizing for the stakeholder, but the information is obtainable at no cost. We find that (i) time pressure has no effect under transparent consequences, but (ii) significantly increases self-serving behavior under hidden consequences, (iii) despite having no effect on the frequency of information revelation. These results have major ramifications for organizational design and contribute to the understanding of the cognitive and motivational aspects of pro-social behavior.


We study spatially differentiated competition between charities by partnering with two foodbanks in two neighboring cities to conduct a field experiment with roughly 350 donation appeals. We induce spatial differentiation by varying the observability of charities' location such that each donor faces a socially close 'home' and a distant 'away' charity. We find that spatially differentiated competition is characterized by sorting, crowding-in, and an absence of spill-overs: Donors sort themselves by distance; fundraising (through matching) for one charity raises checkbook giving to that charity, irrespective of distance; but checkbook giving to the unmatched charity is not affected. For lead donors, this implies that the social distance between donors and charities is of limited strategic important. For spatially differentiated charities, matching 'home' donations maximizes overall charitable income. Across both charities, however, the additional funds raised fail to cover the cost of the match, despite harnessing social identity for giving.

Ongoing research

  • "Communication and advice giving in a dynamic common pool resource task", with Helen Fischer
  • "The effects of political uncertainty on firm's hiring choices. Evidence from a field experiment during Brexit negotiations.", with Michalis Drouvelis and Rebecca McDonald
  • "Social identity and fake news. Experimental evidence.", with Rebecca McDonald
  • "Risk taking vs. risk accepting. Mode of choice effects in risk tasks", with Anna Merkel and Christian König