The Health of Democracies During the Pandemic: Results from a Randomized Survey Experiment (joint with Marcella Alsan, Sarah Eichmeyer, Mingjeon Joyce Kim, Stefanie Stantcheva, and David Yang

AEA - Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 113 (May 2023), pages 572-576

Abstract: "Concerns have been raised about the "demise of democracy," possibly accelerated by pandemic-related restrictions. Using a survey experiment involving 8,206 respondents from 5 Western democracies, we find that subjects randomly exposed to information regarding civil liberties infringements undertaken by China and South Korea to contain COVID-19 became less willing to sacrifice rights and more worried about their long-term erosion. However, our treatment did not increase support for democratic procedures more generally despite our prior evidence that pandemic-related health risks diminished such support. These results suggest that the start of the COVID-19 crisis was a particularly vulnerable time for democracies."

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Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis (joint with Marcella Alsan, Sarah Eichmeyer, Mingjeon Joyce Kim, Stefanie Stantcheva, and David Yang

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Vol. 15, No. 4 (October 2023), pages 389-421 

Abstract: "Major crises --- from terrorist attacks to epidemic outbreaks --- bring the trade-off between individual civil liberties and societal well-being into sharp relief. In this paper, we study how willing citizens are to restrict civil liberties to improve public health conditions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We design and conduct representative surveys involving approximately 550,000 responses across 15 countries, including China and the United States, during many months of the COVID-19 pandemic, from March 2020 until January 2021. We document significant heterogeneity across countries and demographic groups in willingness to sacrifice rights for public welfare. Citizens disadvantaged by income, education, or race are less willing to sacrifice rights than their more advantaged peers in every country, as are those with prior experience in communist regimes. Leveraging naturally-occurring variation as well as experimental approaches, we estimate that a one standard deviation increase in health security concerns increases willingness to sacrifice civil liberties by approximately 68%-83% of the difference between the average Chinese and U.S. citizen. Stated preferences correlate with observed behavior including demand for tracing apps, donations, and petitions."

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Social Media and Mental Health (joint with Ro'ee Levy and Alexey Makarin) 

American Economic Review, Vol. 112, No. 11 (November 2022), pages 3660-3693

Abstract: "We provide quasi-experimental estimates of the impact of social media on mental health by leveraging a unique natural experiment: the staggered introduction of Facebook across U.S. colleges. Our analysis couples data on student mental health around the years of Facebook's expansion with a generalized difference-in-differences empirical strategy. We find that the roll-out of Facebook at a college had a negative impact on student mental health. It also increased the likelihood with which students reported experiencing impairments to academic performance due to poor mental health. Additional evidence on mechanisms suggests the results are due to Facebook fostering unfavorable social comparisons."

Download online appendix. Download replication code. Ungated version. VoxEU column.

Media Coverage: New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian, NPR, Scientific American, Psychology Today, Yahoo Finance, Morningstar, AP News, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Atlantico

Policy mentions: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health

A Theory of Chosen Preferences (joint with B. Douglas Bernheim, Alejandro Martinez-Marquina, and David Zuckerman)

American Economic Review, Vol. 111, No. 2 (February 2021), pages 720-754.

Abstract: "We propose and develop a dynamic theory of endogenous preference formation in which people adopt worldviews that shape their judgments about their experiences. The framework highlights the role of mindset flexibility, a trait that determines the relative weights the decision maker places on her current and anticipated worldviews when evaluating future outcomes. The theory generates rich behavioral dynamics, thereby illuminating a wide range of applications and providing potential explanations for a variety of observed phenomena. "

Download online appendix. Download 2019 working paper version (includes additional material). Ungated version.

The Welfare Effects of Social Media (joint with Hunt Allcott, Sarah Eichmeyer and Matthew Gentzkow)

American Economic Review, Vol. 110, No. 3 (March 2020), pages 629-676.

Abstract: "The rise of social media has provoked both optimism about potential societal benefits and concern about harms such as addiction, depression, and political polarization. In a randomized experiment, we find that deactivating Facebook for the four weeks before the 2018 US midterm election (i) reduced online activity, while increasing offline activities such as watching TV alone and socializing with family and friends; (ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization; (iii) increased subjective well-being; and (iv) caused a large persistent reduction in post-experiment Facebook use. Deactivation reduced post-experiment valuations of Facebook, suggesting that traditional metrics may overstate consumer surplus."

Download online appendix. Download replication code. Download survey instruments. Ungated version.

Media coverage: New York Times, Economist, Washington Post, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox News, London Times, Guardian, Newsweek, New York Post, Yahoo Finance, TechCrunch, Inc, Fortune, Fast Company, Salon, Vice, La Presse, la Repubblica. Video made by Econimate.

Working papers

Political Correctness, Social Image, and Information Transmission - Revised and Resubmitted at the American Economic Review

Abstract: "A prominent argument in the debate about political correctness is that people may feel pressure to publicly espouse views on a set of sensitive political topics that they may not privately hold, and that such misrepresentations may render public discourse less vibrant and informative. This paper provides a formalization of the argument in terms of social image and evaluates it experimentally in the context of college campuses, where the debate about political correctness has been particularly heated. The results of the experiment show that: i) social image concerns indeed drive a wedge between the sensitive political attitudes that college students report in private and in public; ii) public utterances are less informative than private utterances according to a host of canonical measures of informativeness; iii) information loss is exacerbated by (partial) audience naiveté."

Biased Decoding and the Foundations of Communication, 2023, CESifo WP n. 10432

Abstract: "One-way communication between an informed sender and an uninformed receiver involves two fundamental processes: a process of encoding – whereby the sender maps states of the world or concepts into arbitrary signals – and a process of decoding – whereby the receiver makes inferences about the state of the world conditional on each signal realization. In this paper, I develop machinery to study the process of decoding for an agent who might have inaccurate beliefs about the information environment (a biased decoder) and show how such machinery can help shed light on foundational aspects of communication. Thus, the paper is divided into two main parts. In the first part, I take canonical objects in statistical decision theory – such as the Expected Value of Sample Information (EVSI), the Expected Value of Perfect Information (EVPI), and a host of measures of information transmission – and I extend them to encompass the possibility that the agent is a biased decoder. In the second part, I show how such machinery can be deployed to study foundational concepts in communication such as successful communication, vagueness, misunderstanding, deception, and lies. I conclude by providing examples of how to estimate meaningful information transmission on empirical data."

Work in progress

Against Totalitarianism: the Value of a History Education in Countering Extremist Ideologies (joint with Sarah Eichmeyer)

Demand for Online News, Inertia, and Misperceptions (joint with Ro’ee Levy and Hannah Trachtman)

How Slanted is Online News Consumption? (joint with Sarah Eichmeyer, Ro’ee Levy, Markus Mobius, Jacob Steinhardt, Ruiqi Zhong)

Talking across the Aisle (joint with Peter Schwardmann and Egon Tripodi)

Papers Laid to Rest

Targeted Advertising and Price Discrimination in Intermediated Online Markets (2019)

Abstract: "Online tracking technologies (e.g. HTTP cookies) allow firms to engage in both targeted advertising and price discrimination. By adopting anonymizing technologies, consumers can prevent firms from tracking them. This paper analyzes firms’ pricing decisions and consumers’ adoption of anonymizing technologies in markets where advertising slots are sold by a two-sided intermediary. In equilibrium, firms engage in price discrimination and the introduction of tracking technologies is Pareto improving for consumers. Introducing behavioral consumers in the market imposes a negative externality on rational consumers and may completely overturn the welfare effects of the introduction of tracking technologies."

Democratic Institutions, Reciprocity, and Prosocial Behavior (2018)

Abstract: "Recent experimental research suggests that people behave more cooperatively when the rules governing a strategic interaction (e.g. a public goods game) are modified democratically than when they are modified exogenously. In a related experiment, I show that people are less likely to unilaterally destroy surplus for personal gain when a provisional allocation is chosen democratically than when an identical provisional allocation is imposed exogenously. I also develop a theory of reciprocity that can rationalize the main findings of the endogenous institutions literature, including the ones from this experiment. "