Research in Progress

“’It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message!’: Unpacking the components of revenge” (with Andras Molnar and George Loewenstein). Invited Revision at Management Science. Available at SSRN:

We examine whether belief-based preferences–caring about what transgressors believe–play a crucial role in punishment decisions: Do punishers want to make sure that transgressors understand why they are being punished, and is this desire to affect beliefs often prioritized over distributive and retributive preferences? We test whether punishers derive utility from three distinct sources: material outcomes (their own and the transgressor’s payoff), affective states (the transgressor’s suffering), and cognitive states (the transgressor’s beliefs about the cause of that suffering). In a novel, preregistered experiment (N = 1, 959) we demonstrate that consideration for transgressors’ beliefs affects punishment decisions on its own, regardless of the considerations for material outcomes (distributional preferences) and affective states (retributive preferences). By contrast, we find very little evidence for pure retributive preferences (i.e., to merely inflict suffering on transgressors). We also show that people who would otherwise enact harsh punishments, are willing to punish less severely, if by doing so they can tell the transgressor why they are punishing them. Finally, we demonstrate that the preference for affecting transgressors’ beliefs cannot be explained by deterrence motives (i.e., to make transgressors behave better in the future).

“The Lesser of Two Evils: Revealing the Choice Set to Signal Good Intentions” (with Andras Molnar). R&R at Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. Available at PsyArXiv:

Making the right choice sometimes involves selecting the “lesser of two evils,” and only seeing the chosen option can lead others to misunderstand the decision maker’s intentions. Are decision-makers intrinsically driven to fix this misjudgment by revealing the choice set?  If so, why, and what is the effect on the audience?  Previous studies could not examine this desire to be understood because the research designs did not isolate the decision to reveal information from the original choice. In two experiments (N=448 pairs), we show that people are willing to pay ex post to reveal their choice set to the recipient, even after a one-shot anonymous interaction with no reputational consequences, and in some cases even when doing so reveals their selfish intentions.  We find that this revealing behavior is effective at improving recipients’ rating of their outcome when it signals generous intentions, but not when it signals selfish intentions.  The choice to reveal is driven by concern for the beliefs of strangers, but only when revealing signals generous intentions; those who reveal a choice that appears selfish report doing so out of a desire to be or appear honest.  And though some people leave a misunderstanding in place when it is self-enhancing to do so, almost no one is willing to create a misunderstanding (by hiding the other option), even when it could conceal selfish behavior.

“Why Punishing Bystanders is Psychologically Different than Punishing Transgressors” (with Lauren Kaufmann).  (Manuscript available upon request.)

Pervasive anecdotal evidence and one recent study have demonstrated the existence of demand for punishing uninvolved bystanders who failed to punish transgressors. Remaining unknown is how the demand for punishing bystanders relates to existing theories of altruistic punishment, and no psychological rationale has been generated to understand why differences might arise. This is the first project to uncover differences between the demand for punishing bystanders and punishing transgressors and to explain the psychological underpinnings of these patterns. Across 5 studies (N = 5,809), we document that demand for punishing bystanders is consistently lower than that for punishing transgressors; further, there is greater disagreement (less consensus) about whether to punish bystanders than transgressors. In Studies 2-4, we found evidence that these patterns are consistent with counterfactuals being more accessible for transgressors than bystanders: judgments of bystanders consistently evidenced lower clarity of perceived intent, less tendency to spontaneously think about intent, greater tendency to consider exonerating possibilities, and longer reaction times. By manipulating the accessibility of certain counterfactuals, we eliminated the gap in punishment between bystanders and transgressors (S4). We found that these differences may not only be due to perceiving bystanders as omitters, but also to perceiving them as “higher order,” one stage removed from the original transgression (S5). This paper provides insight broadly into why we condemn some bystanders while accepting the silence of others, and expands the scope of the current discussion on altruistic punishment, offering insight that links both cognitive and evolutionary perspectives on why we punish.


“Apologizing first (but not second) is a risky choice” (with Valeria Burdea)

“‘Making a brag believable: Disclaimers increase the effectiveness of seemingly untrue brags” (with Kristina Wald and Jane Risen)

“Thanks, but no thanks: The taboo of thanking close others in some cultures creates a barrier to expressing gratitude” (with Jiaqi Yu)