Prosociality Predicts Health Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Forthcoming in Journal of Public Economics
Top 10 SSRN download list for Behavioral and Experimental Economics as well as Law and Psychology
Pol Campos-Mercade, Florian Schneider and Erik Wengström
University of Zurich, Department of Economics, WP No. 346
Socially responsible behavior is crucial for slowing the spread of infectious diseases. However, economic and epidemiological models of disease transmission abstract from prosocial motivations as a driver of behaviors that impact the health of others. In an incentivized study, we show that a large majority of people are very reluctant to put others at risk for their personal benefit. Moreover, this experimental measure of prosociality predicts health behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, measured in a separate and ostensibly unrelated study with the same people. Prosocial individuals are more likely to follow physical distancing guidelines, stay home when sick, and buy face masks. We also find that prosociality measured two years before the pandemic predicts health behaviors during the pandemic. Our findings indicate that prosociality is a stable, long-term predictor of policy-relevant behaviors, suggesting that the impact of policies on a population may depend on the degree of prosociality.
Coverage: The Conversation
Emotions and Risk Attitudes (previously: Emotions, Risk Attitudes, and Patience)
Revised and resubmitted to American Economic Journal: Applied Economics
Previous work has shown that preferences are not always stable across time, but surprisingly little is known about the reasons for this instability. I examine whether variation in people’s emotions over time predicts changes in preferences. Using a large panel data set, I find that within-person changes in happiness, anger, and fear have substantial effects on risk attitudes and patience. Robustness checks indicate a limited role of alternative explanations. I further address potential endogeneity concerns by exploiting information about the death of a parent or child. This identification strategy confirms a large causal impact of emotions on preferences.
Coverage: Uni Nova, Qiio Magazin
Anticipation of COVID-19 Vaccines Reduces Social Distancing
Ola Andersson, Pol Campos-Mercade, and Erik Wengström
IFN Working Paper No. 1378
We show that the anticipation of COVID-19 vaccines reduces voluntary social distancing. In a large-scale pre-registered survey experiment with a representative sample, we study whether providing information about the safety, effectiveness, and availability of COVID-19 vaccines affects compliance with public health guidelines. We find that vaccine information reduces peoples’ voluntary social distancing, adherence to hygiene guidelines, and their willingness to stay at home. Vaccine information induces people to believe in a swifter return to normal life and puts their vigilance at ease. The results indicate an important behavioral drawback of the successful vaccine development: An increased focus on vaccines can lead to bad health behaviors and accelerate the spread of the virus. The results imply that, as vaccinations start and the end of the pandemic feels closer, existing policies aimed at increasing social distancing will be less effective and stricter policies might be required.
Coverage: RTS 19h30, NZZ, Swedish Radio (Sverige Radio), Omni, Näringsliv Börs, Norra Skåne, Nyheter 24, Dagens Industri, Placera
Early Release and Recidivism
first author with Jonathan Levav, Stephan Meier and Liora Avnaim-Pesso
IZA Discussion Paper No. 13035
Does early release decrease or increase the probability that ex-convicts will return to prison? We exploit unique data from Israeli courts, where appearance before the judge throughout the day has an arbitrary component. We first show that judges more often deny parole requests of prisoners appearing further from the judges‘ last break. We then use this variation in instrumental variable estimations and find that early releases reduce the propensity of prisoners to return to prison. Robustness checks suggest that later and earlier cases are largely comparable and that potential selection is unlikely to explain the results.
Peer Gender and Mental Health
WWZ Discussion Paper No. 2020/15
Adolescent mental health is key for later well-being. Yet, causal evidence on environmental drivers of adolescent mental health is scant. We study how an important classroom feature–the gender composition in compulsory-school–affects mental health. We use Swedish administrative data (N=576,285) to link variation in gender composition across classrooms within cohorts to mental health. We find that a higher share of female peers in a classroom increases the incidence of mental health diagnoses, particularly among boys. The effect persists into adulthood. Peer composition is thus an important and persistent driver of mental health.
Tobacco Sales Prohibition and Teen Smoking
R&R at Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization
Reto Odermatt and Alois Stutzer
IZA Discussion Paper No. 12231
We evaluate one of the most prevalent prohibitory policies: banning the sales of tobacco to teens. We exploit the staggered introduction of sales bans across Switzerland and the European Union from 1990 to 2016. The estimates indicate a less than 1 percentage point reduction in teen smoking because of the bans. The reduction is substantially lower than the 5 percentage point reduction expected by health officials. We examine additional outcomes relevant to assessing any prohibitory policy. We find that teens circumvent the bans through peers. Moreover, they consider smokers less cool but do not think smoking is more dangerous.
Selected Work in Progress
Medical Guidelines and Doctor Behavior
first author with Ziad Obermeyer, Devin Pope, and Kevin Volpp
Discrimination, Emotions and Decision-making
Douglas Bernheim, Jonathan Levav, and Florian Schneider
Gender Socialization and Wage Inequality
Emotions and Patience (previously: Emotions, Risk Attitudes, and Patience)
Rain, Emotions and Voting for the Status Quo
European Economic Review 119, 2019.
Lukas Schmid and Alois Stutzer
Do emotions affect the decision between change and the status quo? We exploit exogenous variation in emotions caused by rain and analyze data on more than 870,000 municipal vote outcomes in Switzerland to address this question. The empirical tests are based on administrative ballot outcomes and individual postvote survey data. We find that rain decreases the share of votes for political change. Our robustness checks suggest that changes in the composition of the electorate or changes in information acquisition do not drive this result. In addition, we provide evidence that rain might have altered the outcome of several high-stake votes. We discuss the psychological mechanism and document that rain reduces the willingness to take risks, a pattern that is consistent with the observed reduction in the support of change.
Overstrained Citizens? The Number of Ballot Propositions and the Quality of the Decision Process in Direct Democracy
European Journal of Political Economy 59, 2019.
Michael Baltensperger and Alois Stutzer
We study how the number of ballot propositions affects the quality of decision making in direct democracy, as reflected in citizens‘ knowledge, voting behavior, and attitudes toward democracy. Using three comprehensive data sets from Switzerland with over 3,500 propositions, we exploit variation in the number of federal and cantonal propositions. Voters know the most about the content of federal propositions when they are exclusively presented and less with a high number of concurrent cantonal propositions on the ballot. Across other outcomes we find no consistent indications that – for the observed variation in the exposure to popular votes – a high number of propositions impedes the quality of decision making in Swiss federal direct democracy. In the medium to longer term, more federal propositions on the ballot rather relate to higher perceived political influence and satisfaction with democracy.
Limited Self–Control, Obesity and the Loss of Happiness
Health Economics 25(11), 2016.
Is obesity the consequence of an optimally chosen lifestyle or do people consume too much relative to their long-term preferences? The latter perspective accepts that people might face self-control problems when exposed to the immediate gratification from food. We exploit unique survey data for Switzerland in multinomial logit and ordered probit regressions to study (i) the covariates of obesity including indicators of self-control and (ii) the consequences of obesity on the subjective well-being of people with limited willpower. Our main finding is that obesity decreases the well-being of individuals who report having limited self-control, but not otherwise.