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 economics, organizational economics, and political attitudes. I use field and lab experiments as well as analysis of survey and administrative data to study institutional determinants of changes in people's beliefs, preferences and behavior, and how these affect skill development and mental health.
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
10785 Berlin, Germany
Keep Calm and Carry On: The Short- vs. Long-Run Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on (Academic) Performance, with Lea Cassar and Vanessa Valero (2022)
Mindfulness-based meditation practices are becoming increasingly popular in Western societies, including in the business world and in education. While the scientific literature has largely documented the benefits of mindfulness meditation for mental health, little is still known about potential spillovers of these practices on other important life outcomes, such as performance. We address this question through a field experiment in an educational setting. We study the causal impact of mindfulness meditation on academic performance through a randomized evaluation of a well-known 8-week mindfulness meditation training delivered to university students on campus. As expected, the intervention improves students' mental health and non-cognitive skills. However, it takes time before students' performance can benefit from mindfulness meditation: we find that, if anything, the intervention marginally decreases average grades in the short run, i.e., during the exam period right after the end of the intervention, whereas it significantly increases academic performance, by about 0.4 standard deviations, in the long run (ca. 6 months after the end of intervention). We investigate the underlying mechanisms and discuss the implications of our results.
Understanding the Response to High-Stakes Incentives in Primary Education, with Maximilian Bach (2020)
This paper studies responses to high-stakes incentives arising from early ability tracking. We use three complementary research designs exploiting differences in school track admission rules at the end of primary school in Germany's early ability tracking system. Our results show that the need to perform well to qualify for a better track raises students' math, reading, listening, and orthography skills in grade 4, the final grade before students are sorted into tracks. Evidence from self-reported behavior suggests that these effects are driven by greater study effort but not parental responses. However, we also observe that stronger incentives decrease student well-being and intrinsic motivation to study.
The E-Word: On the Public Acceptance of Experiments, with Elisabeth Grewenig, Philipp Lergetporer and Katharina Werner (2019)
Randomized experiments are often viewed as the “gold standard” of scientific evidence but people’s scepticism towards experiments has compromised their viability in the past. We study preferences for experimental policy evaluations in a representative survey in Germany (N>1,900). We find that a majority of 75% supports the idea of small-scale evaluations of policies before enacting them at a large scale. Experimentally varying whether the evaluations are explicitly described as “experiments” has a precisely estimated overall zero effect on public support. Our results indicate political leeway for experimental policy evaluation, a practice that is still uncommon in Germany.
Salience of Ability Grouping and Biased Belief Formation (2017)
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.
"When, and Why, do Teams Benefit from Self-Selection" (with R. M. Rilke and B. B. Yurtoglu), Experimental Economics, 2023
We investigate the effect of team formation and task characteristics on performance in high-stakes team tasks. In two field experiments, randomly assigned teams performed significantly better than self-selected teams in a task that allowed for an unequal work distribution. The effect was reversed if the task required the two team members to contribute more equally. Investigating mechanisms, we observe that teams become more similar in ability and report to cooperate better when team members can choose each other. We show how different levels of skill complementarity across tasks may explain our results: If team performance largely depends on the abilities of one team member, random team assignment may be preferred because it leads to a more equal distribution of skills across teams. However, if both team members’ abilities play a significant role in team production, the advantage of random assignment is reduced, and the value of team cooperation increases.
"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)
"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)
“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.
Selected Work in Progress
The effect of failure in a high-stakes application procedure on perceived procedural efficiency, with Robert Stüber
Some of my Presentations to Watch Online
Discussion of Michael Sanders's Keynote at the 1st Behavior Change Science & Policy Symposium in Helsinki, May 2019: "Policy Experiments and Behaviorally Informed Policies"
ESA Junior Faculty Webinar, July 2020: "Two Field Experiments on Self-selection, Collaboration Intensity and Team Perfomance"
Introduction to Ernst Fehr's WZB Distinguished Lecture in Social Sciences, October 2020