PhD defence: Essays in Behavioral- and Neuro Economics: Areas of Dishonesty, Recurring Charity Donations, and Uncertainty in Value Based Decision Making

PhD defence

Catrine Normann


Human beings make decisions all the time. We decide what to eat when we are hungry, if we want to donate money to a charity, and what to do when facing moral temptations to cheat and lie for material gains. When it comes to understanding behavior, it is important to look at what people actually do in various situations, not what they think they will do, and also to take the decision process into account. In this PhD I have looked at both these aspects of behavior. I have examined behavior and the factors that changes behavior in both positive and negative directions. I have used experimental methods to measure behavior of people exposed to different framings of information. I have also looked at the decision making process leading to choices using eye-tracking, which involves tracing how we use our eyes to look at information on a computer screen, when making choices. Half of my scientific work looks at what people do and the other half looks at how people make choices. I find that human behavior change depending on the informational framing provided: For example, people are more likely to donate to a charity a second time when provided with feedback about the impact of their first donation. They give more when they get feedback about where the donation helped, than what the donation provided. In a different project. I find that humans cheat more and report higher earnings than they are entitled to, when high earnings are subject to a fee, but only if this fee is called a 'tax'. However, when the explanation is given that the charge is imposed to discourage over-reporting of actual earnings, people are more honest. The other half of this PhD looks at the decision process of choices. For example, the pattern with which we examine options with our eyes matters to what we choose. We find that people who are hesitant in their decision process become more dishonest if their decision process is cut-off while they look at the dishonest option. Furthermore, I find that we use our attention to guide uncertain decisions. If we are uncertain about which type of product we prefer we shift our attention between options more frequently. Finally, if we are asked to reflect on the certainty of a choice, we use this reflection to change our minds in the future if we are highly uncertain. If we are not very certain we wanted the Mars bar over the Snickers, we use this explicit evaluation to make sure we change our minds, and pick a Snickers the next time we face a similar choice. In conclusion, to get a fuller picture behavior should, to a larger extent, be studied together with the process leading to behavior.


Lars Gårn Hansen, Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Marco Piovesan, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Toke Reinholt Fosgaard, Assistant Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Assesment Committee

Sinne Smed, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Shaul Shalvi, Associate Professor, University of AMtserdam, Netherlands

Marie Claire Villeval, Professor, Center for Scientific Research, France

If you are interested in a full copy of the thesis, you can contact the PhD student or the supervisor.