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 wellbeing.
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
10785 Berlin, Germany
Investigating the Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Academic Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial, with Lea Cassar and Vanessa Valero (2020)
We test the effects of an 8-week mindfulness meditation course that has been shown to improve mental health on the academic performance of university students. Contrary to our expectations, while the intervention improved students’ mental health (stress, anxiety, and depression), cognitive skills (focus and concentration) and non-cognitive skills (self-control, conscientiousness, and neuroticism), it decreased academic performance. Surprised by these results, we investigate potential underlying mechanisms. We show that the negative effect on performance is entirely driven by students whose mental health at baseline was relatively good, while students with worse mental health saw the largest improvements to their mental health at no cost to their performance. Suggestive evidence on self-reported behaviors implies that the intervention increased health-promoting behaviors, some of which may compete with studying.
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.
Two Field Experiments on Self-Selection, Collaboration Intensity, and Team Performance, with Rainer Michael Rilke and B. Burcin Yurtoglu (2020)
[watch recent online presentation here]
We analyze how the team formation process influences the ability composition and performance of teams, showing how self-selection and random assignment affect team performance for different tasks in two natural field experiments. We identify the collaboration intensity of the task as the key driver of the effect of self-selection on team performance. We find that when the task requires low collaborative efforts, the team performance of self-selected teams is significantly inferior to that of randomly assigned teams. When the task involves more collaborative efforts, self-selected teams tend to outperform randomly assigned teams. We observe assortative matching in self-selected teams, with subjects more likely to match with those of similar ability and the same gender.
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.
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.
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)
"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.