Carnegie Mellon University


The CMU Department of Social & Decision Sciences presents the Hilliard Family Speaker Series on Behavioral Economics:

More events will be posted in the fall.

Previous speakers in this series

Lost in Transmission

Chris RothChristopher Roth 

Professor of Economics and Management 
University of Cologne

Co-hosted with the Center for Behavioral & Decision Research (CBDR)

March 21, 2024
TEP 4242 (In Person)
12:30 pm 



For many decisions, people rely on information received from others by word of mouth. How does the process of verbal transmission distort economic information? In our experiments, participants listen to audio recordings containing economic forecasts and are paid to accurately transmit the information via voice messages. Other participants listen either to an original recording or a transmitted version and then state incentivized beliefs. Our main finding is that, across a variety of transmitter incentive schemes, information about the reliability of a forecast is lost in transmission more than twice as much as information about the forecast’s level. This differential information loss predictably distorts listeners’ belief updates: following transmission, reliable and unreliable messages converge in influence and average belief updates from new information are weakened. Mechanism experiments show that the differential loss is not driven by transmitters deliberately trading off the costs and benefits of transmitting different kinds of information. Instead, it results from memory constraints during transmission, which can be overcome through targeted reminders.

Uncertainty Motivates Morality

Songfa ZhongSongfa Zhong

Professor of Economics
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Associate Professor of Economics and Dean's Chair (On Leave)
National University of Singapore

Co-hosted with the Center for Behavioral & Decision Research (CBDR)

November 9, 2023
TEP 2202 (In Person)


We propose an uncertainty-motivated morality hypothesis whereby individuals behave more morally under uncertainty than under certainty, as if moral behavior will yield a better outcome as the result of uncertainty. We test this hypothesis in a series of experiments and observe that individuals are more honest under uncertain situations than degenerate deterministic situations. We further show that this pattern is best explained by our hypothesis and is robust and generalizable. These results are incompatible with standard models and consistent with quasi-magical thinking and related notions. Our study contributes to the literature of decision-making under uncertainty and with moral considerations.

Mixed Signals -- How Incentives Really Work

Uri Gneezy, photo by Noam GneezyUri Gneezy

Epstein/Atkinson Chair in Management Leadership
Professor of Economics and Strategy
Rady School of Management, UC San Diego

April 13, 2023
Giant Eagle Auditorium - Baker Hall A51




An informative and entertaining account of how actions send signals that shape behaviors and how to design better incentives for better results in our life, our work, and our world.

Incentives send powerful signals that aim to influence behavior. But often there is a conflict between what we say and what we do in response to these incentives. The result: mixed signals.

Consider the CEO who urges teamwork but designs incentives for individual success, who invites innovation but punishes failure, who emphasizes quality but pays for quantity. Employing real-world scenarios just like this to illustrate this everyday phenomenon, behavioral economist Uri Gneezy explains why incentives often fail and demonstrates how the right incentives can change behavior by aligning with signals for better results.

Drawing on behavioral economics, game theory, psychology, and fieldwork, Gneezy outlines how to be incentive smart, designing rewards that are simple and effective. He highlights how the right combination of economic and psychological incentives can encourage people to drive more fuel-efficient cars, be more innovative at work, and even get to the gym. “Incentives send a signal,” Gneezy writes, “and your objective is to make sure this signal is aligned with your goals.”

Sludge: Behavioral Science under the Star-Spangled Banner

Cass Sunstein headshotCass Sunstein

Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School

October 27, 2022
Giant Eagle Auditorium, Baker Hall A51

(Photo by Rose Lincoln)


"Sludge" consists of administrative burdens, or frictions, that prevent people from getting where they want to get, or from obtaining something that they think they need. Examples include complex and confusing forms; hidden terms; phone appointments; waiting time; in-person interview requirements; mail-in forms; slides with lots of words on them; jargon-filled language. Sludge greatly decreases social welfare and is associated with disproportionate harms on vulnerable communities; it also raises a host of unresolved empirical issues in social science. This talk will explore the need for Sludge Audits and urge that sludge reduction is essential to improving people's lives, not least by protecting their rights.

COVID, Schools, Learning Loss, and the Value of Data

Emily Oster headshotEmily Oster

Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence and Professor of Economics, Brown University Executive Director, COVID-19 School Data Hub

Bestselling author of Expecting Better, Cribsheet, and The Family Firm

March 30, 2022
Baker Hall 136A (Adamson Wing) 




This talk will discuss the landscape of data on COVID in schools during the pandemic and research on the consequences of school closures. It will delve into why it was so difficult to get reliable data on these topics and detail the process of creating a usable empirical dataset on schools from disparate sources. The talk will also cover what we have learned so far about the consequences of school closures in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CMU Department of Social & Decision Sciences co-organizes the CBDR seminar.

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