Mira Fischer


Welcome to my website!

I am a postdoctoral research associate at WZB Berlin and a research affiliate at IZA. My research interests are in education, labor markets, organizations, and public policy. I use lab and field experiments as well as analysis of survey and administrative data to study institutional determinants of changes in people's beliefs and behavior, and how these affect individual and social outcomes.

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WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Research Unit on Market Behavior

Reichpietschufer 50

10785 Berlin, Germany

Email: firstname.lastname@wzb.eu


Working Papers

Effects of Timing and Reference Frame of Feedback: Evidence from a Field Experiment (job market paper), with Valentin Wagner, submitted

Information about past performance has been found to sometimes improve and sometimes worsen subsequent performance. We hypothesize that two factors may help to explain this puzzle: which aspect of one's past performance the information refers to and when it is revealed. In a field experiment, students received information about their absolute rank in the last math exam (level feedback), their change in ranks between the second last and the last math exam (change feedback), or no feedback. Feedback was given either 1-3 days (early) or immediately (late) before the final math exam of the semester. Both level feedback and change feedback significantly improve students' grades in the final exam when given early and tend to worsen them when given late. The largest effects are found for negative change feedback and are concentrated on male students, who adjust their ability beliefs downwards in response to feedback.

Salience of Ability Grouping and Biased Belief Formation

Recent research in economics has found that a higher ordinal rank within one's class affects subsequent skill acquisition positively and has linked this finding to the “big-fish-little-pond-effect”, a popular proposition in psychology claiming that assignment to a peer group with lower skills increases one's confidence in academic ability. Findings from a lab experiment suggest that salience of the group assignment mechanism matters for how ability grouping affects ability beliefs. If the assignment mechanism is non-salient, it does not matter for subjects' confidence whether they are assigned to the weaker or the stronger group, however, when the group assignment mechanism is salient, weaker group assignment makes people less confident. Subjects are on average less confident when the group assignment mechanism is salient than when it is non-salient. This is found to be the case due to weaker group assignment making people more underconfident than stronger group assignment making people overconfident, indicating that people overweigh negative information as compared to positive information. These findings may help to understand the effects of ability grouping in the field and may inform the design of educational and workplace environments.



"Confidence in Knowledge or Confidence in the Ability to Learn: An Experiment on the Causal Effects of Beliefs on Motivation" (with D. Sliwka), Games and Economic Behavior, 111, 2018: 122-142 (non-paywalled version here)

Previous research has shown that feedback about past performance has ambiguous effects on subsequent performance. We argue that feedback affects beliefs in different dimensions – namely beliefs about the level of human capital and beliefs about the ability to learn – and this may explain some of the ambiguous effects. We experimentally study the causal effects of an exogenously administered change in beliefs in both of these dimensions on the motivation to learn. We find that confidence in the ability to learn raises incentives, while confidence in the level of human capital lowers incentives for individuals with high levels of human capital.

"Support for Free-market Policies and Reforms: Does the Field of Study Influence Students’ Political Attitudes?” (with B. Kauder, N. Potrafke, and H.W. Ursprung), European Journal of Political Economy, 48, 2017: 180-197 (non-paywalled version here)

Since opinion leaders are usually university graduates, the field of study has an influence on public support for economic policies and policy reforms intended to enhance efficiency because advocating such policies often requires appreciation of the beneficial roles of markets and economic freedom. We investigate whether the field of study influences German university students' political attitudes. We disentangle self-selection from learning effects and reveal systematic differences between incoming students' political attitudes across eight fields of study. In a second step we explore how the students' political attitudes change as they progress in their academic training. Only studying economics has an unambiguous pro-market influence on political attitudes: by the time of graduation, economics students are some 6.2 percentage points more likely than they were in their initial year of study to agree with free-market policy positions. Studying humanities and natural sciences has a pro-leftist influence.

Effects of German Universities’ Excellence Initiative on Ability Sorting of Students and perceptions of Educational Quality” (with P. Kampkötter), Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 173(4), 2017: 662-687 (non-paywalled version here)

We investigate potential spillover effects from the German Excellence Initiative on university education. Using data from a representative student survey, we find that winning the competition allows universities to enroll significantly better high-school graduates in three subsequent admission terms. We then investigate a possible channel explaining the effect on admissions by studying whether the excellence label improves students' perception of educational quality. We find that the label significantly improves students' ratings of a university's educational quality and their job market expectations immediately following the award. However, ratings largely return to previous levels when students are surveyed three years later, although the status persists.

Ist sanfter Paternalismus ethisch vertretbar? Eine differenzierende Betrachtung aus Sicht der Freiheit” (with S. Lotz), Sozialer Fortschritt/German Review of Social Policy, 63(3), 2014: 52-58

-- English version -- : Is Soft Paternalism Ethically Legitimate? - The Relevance of Psychological Processes for the Assessment of Nudge-Based Policies, Cologne Graduate School Working Paper, 5(2), 2014

In this article we develop a taxonomy of behavioral policy measures proposed by Thaler and Sunstein (2008). Based on this taxonomy, we discuss the ethical legitimacy of these measures. First, we explain two common reservations against nudges (choice architecture) rooted in utilitarian and Kantian ethics. In addition to wellbeing, we identify freedom of action and freedom of will (autonomy) as relevant ethical criteria. Then, using practical examples, we develop a taxonomy that classifies nudges according to the psychological mechanisms they use and separately discuss the legitimacy of several types of behavioral policy measures. We hope to thereby make a valuable contribution to the debate on the ethical legitimacy of behavioral policy making.

Work in Progress (selected)

Peer Selection and Academic Performance: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment, with Rainer Michael Rilke and Burcin Yurtoglu

We run a natural field experiment to study the influence of two group assignment mechanisms on academic performance. Students can either choose a study partner or are assigned a partner randomly to form a study group. During the semester, study groups work on different tasks that contribute to their final grade. Preliminary results show that performance in group tasks is significantly better when partners are assigned randomly although satisfaction and self-reported cooperation are significantly worse. When we allow for self-selection, peer ability is not significantly more homogeneous although students who are more able and/or more pro-social tend to get more able and pro-social partners and students tend to choose a partner of the same gender. We find no significant effects on exam performance.

School Competition (based on the National Pupil Database), with Alex Bryson, Lucy Stokes and David Wilkinson

Increasing Cooperation in Polarized Groups (lab experiment)

Side-effects of Strategic Information Revelation (lab experiment), with Thomas de Haan

Effects of Meditation on Academic Performance (field experiment), with Lea Cassar and Vanessa Valero

The E-Word: On the Public Acceptance of Experiments, with Elisabeth Grewenig, Philipp Lergetporer and Katharina Werner

Contributions to Education Policy (in German)

Fischer, M. & Geis, W.: Bestimmungsgrößen der Bildungsmobilität in Deutschland, IW-Trends, 1/2013 [Determinants of educational mobility in Germany, IW-Trends – Quarterly for Empirical Economic Research of the Cologne Inst. for Econ. Research]

Anger, C., Fischer, M. Geis, W., Lotz, S., Plünnecke A. & Schmidt, J.: Gesamtwirtschaftliche Effekte einer Ganztagsbetreuung von Kindern von Alleinerziehenden, Gutachten des Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln in Kooperation mit dem Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (BMFSFJ) und dem Deutschen Roten Kreuz, 2012 [Macroeconomic effects of day care for children of single parents, Report to the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and the German Red Cross]

Anger, C., Esselmann, I., Fischer & M. Plünnecke, A.: Bildungsmonitor 2012. Infrastruktur verbessern – Teilhabe sichern – Wachstumskräfte stärken, Forschungsbericht des Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln im Auftrag der Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft, 2012 [Education Monitor 2012. Improving the infrastructure – securing participation – fostering growth, Report]