Job Market Paper

"Words that work: Using language to generate hypotheses," with J. Ross

In this paper, we examine how specific features of language drive consumer behavior. Our contribution, however, lies not in testing specific hypotheses; rather, it is in demonstrating a data-driven process for generating them. We devise an approach that generates interpretable hypotheses from text by integrating large-language models (LLMs), machine learning (ML), and psychology experiments. Using a dataset with over 60,000 headlines (and over 32,000 A/B tests), we produce human-interpretable hypotheses about what features of language might affect engagement. We then test a subset of these hypotheses out-of-sample using two datasets: one consisting of 1,600 A/B tests and another containing over 5,000 social media posts. Our approach indeed facilitates discovery. For instance, we find that describing physical reactions significantly increases engagement. In contrast, focusing on positive aspects of human behavior decreases it. A third hypothesis posited that referring to multimedia (e.g., GIFs, videos) would influence engagement, and it does, only it significantly increases engagement in one domain while significantly decreasing it in another. This approach extends beyond a single application. In general, it offers a data-driven method for discovery that can convert unstructured text data into insights that are interpretable, novel, testable, and generalizable. It does so while maintaining a transparent role for both human researchers and algorithmic processes. This approach offers a practical tool to researchers, organizations, and policymakers seeking to aggregate insights from multiple marketing experiments.

Publications and Working Papers

"Self-other differences in perceptions of wealth," with A. Sussman and J. Trueblood, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (JESP)

People evaluate their own wealth differently from how they evaluate the wealth of others. Across six experiments, we find evidence that people focus disproportionately on debt when thinking about their own (vs. another person's) wealth. In Experiments 1–3, participants predicted how wealthy they or someone else would be in one year, assuming they had the same amount in assets and debt today. While participants were generally optimistic about the future, they believed debt would shrink faster for themselves than for others. Participants focused more on paying down debt than growing assets when thinking about their own wealth. Further, when asked to consider what they would do with a windfall, they allocated more towards repaying debt than they believed others would. In Experiments 4 and 5, participants assessed their own wealth or that of another person after purchasing a car or a house and borrowing to do so. In every case, participants considered others (vs. oneself) as better off financially when holding the price and amount borrowed constant. As debt increased, the gap between self and others widened. In Experiment 6, a separate group of participants also reported their beliefs about how others might see them. When actively considering another person's perspective, people saw themselves as wealthier. We conclude by discussing the role that different evaluations of wealth might play in patterns of conspicuous consumption.

"Keeping Cash and Revolving Debt: Examining Co-holding in the Field and in the Lab," with E. Mao and A. Sussman, Revise & Resubmit, Journal of Marketing Research (JMR)

This paper investigates the puzzling behavior of "co-holding," in which individuals simultaneously maintain low-yield liquid assets and high-interest revolving debt. Using data from a large retail bank, we observe over 7% of all customers and 23% of customers with a credit card co-hold amounts greater than $500. Despite the financial implications, co-holders appear to deliberately engage in this behavior. A large-scale field experiment (n = 125,328) reveals that informing customers about their co-holding behavior and its associated costs does not significantly alter co-holders' debt repayment behavior. We propose a psychological explanation for co-holding, rooted in the principles of mental accounting. Our analysis of transaction-level data and a field survey suggests that co-holders mentally separate their spending into 'debit' and 'credit' categories. Specifically, we find that a preference for using debit cards for everyday transactions is correlated with co-holding. Furthermore, we provide experimental evidence that this preference can cause consumers to co-hold. Our online experiment shows that inducing a preference for debit spending can lead consumers to retain higher asset balances and pay off less of their debt. A mental categorization of expenses as 'debit' or 'credit' could, therefore, explain why some consumers simultaneously save and borrow. More broadly, our findings contribute to the understanding of how consumers manage their assets and debt, suggesting that everyday payment preferences may influence decisions to save and borrow. This paper offers valuable insights for both a theoretical understanding of co-holding and practical applications in the design of financial products and services.

"Misarticulation: Why we sometimes feel our words don't match our thoughts," with J. Schroeder, A. Mittal, and S. Mullainathan

People do not always say what they mean. In everyday conversations, people regularly sense that they have not fully communicated what they had in mind—a subjective experience we refer to as “misarticulation.” Understanding the nature and causes of misarticulation is crucial, as it affects people’s decisions to communicate. We propose that it is not enough to know something to feel it can be communicated well; rather, misarticulation is also influenced by the way concepts are represented in one’s mind (e.g., the complexity of a concept or the typicality of its constituent objects). Studies 1a-b (n=600) examine when, where, with whom, and why people experience misarticulation. Studies 2-3 (n=1,341) then teach participants concepts of varying complexity and typicality, respectively, before tasking them with articulating the concepts. More complex and atypical concepts elicited stronger misarticulation. Overall, misarticulation is a common, consequential experience influenced by the structure of thought.

Work in Progress

"Who's at fault? Assignment of responsibility in miscommunication," with S. Li and J. Schroeder

"A psychology of stasis: A theory of behavioral maintenance"

"Harnessing conceptual models for behavior change" with Y. Winet

"Reasons versus rationalizations: Untangling justifications for everyday decisions" with J. Risen