Dustin Tracy

Profiles Google Scholar IDEAS ORCiD theCGO

Publications, Economics

A Reassessment of the Potential for Loss-Framed Incentive Contracts to Increase Productivity:
a Meta-Analysis and Real-Effort Experiment.
PDF (with Paul J. Ferraro) Experimental Economics 21 April, 2022

Abstract: Substantial productivity increases have been reported when incentives are framed as losses rather than gains. Loss-framed contracts have also been reported to be preferred by workers. The results from our meta-analysis and real-effort experiment challenge these claims. The meta-analysis' summary effect size of loss framing is a 0.16 SD increase in productivity. Whereas the summary effect size in laboratory experiments is a 0.33 SD, the summary effect size from field experiments is 0.02 SD. We detect evidence of publication biases among laboratory experiments. In a new laboratory experiment that addresses prior design weaknesses, we estimate an effect size of 0.12 SD. This result, in combination with the meta-analysis, suggests that the difference between the effect size estimates in laboratory and field experiments does not stem from the limited external validity of laboratory experiments, but may instead stem from a mix of underpowered laboratory designs and publication biases. Moreover, in our experiment, most workers preferred the gain-framed contract and the increase in average productivity is only detectable in the subgroup of workers (~20%) who preferred the loss-framed contracts. Based on the results from our experiment and meta-analysis, we believe that behavioral scientists should better assess preferences for loss-framed contracts and the magnitude of their effects on productivity before advocating for greater use of such contracts among private and public sector actors.

An Investigation of Health Insurance Policy and Behavior PDF
(with Kevin James, Hillard Kaplan and Stephen Rassenti) PLoS ONE 16(4) April 2021

Abstract: We introduce a new experimental approach to measuring the effects of health insurance policy alternatives on behavior and health outcomes over the life course. In a virtual environment with multi-period lives, subjects earn virtual income and allocate spending, to maximize utility, which is converted into cash payment. We compare behavior across age, income and insurance plans—one priced according to an individual’s expected cost and the other uniformly priced through employer-implemented cost sharing. We find that 1) subjects in the employer-implemented plan purchased insurance at higher rates; 2) the employer-based plan reduced differences due to income and age; 3) subjects in the actuarial plan engaged in more health-promoting behaviors, but still below optimal levels, and did save at the level required, so did realize the full benefits of the plan. Subjects had more difficulty optimizing choices in the Actuarial treatment, because it required more long term planning and evaluating benefits that compounded over time. Contrary, to model predictions, the actuarial priced insurance plan did not increase utility relative to the employer-based plan.

Working Papers

Uncertainty and Reputation Effects in Credence Goods Markets. PDF (with Eric Schniter and Vojtěch Zíka)

Abstract: Credence-goods experiments have focused on stylized settings in which experts can perfectly identify the buyer's best option and that option works without fail. However, in nature credence goods involve uncertainties that complicate assessing the quality of service and advice. We introduce two sources of uncertainty into a credence goods experiment. The first is diagnostic uncertainty; experts receive a noisy signal of buyer type so might make an 'honest’ mistake when advising what is in buyers' best interests. The second is service uncertainty; the services available to the buyer do not always work. Both sources of uncertainty make detection of expert dishonesty more difficult, so are expected to increase dishonesty by experts and decrease buyer trust (willingness to consult experts for advice and to follow expert advice) -- decreasing efficiency of the interactions. We also analyze how buyers use ratings and whether ratings restrain both dishonesty and distrust by creating reliable reputations. In contrast to predictions, we find that uncertainty decreases dishonesty and increases trust. Also in contrast to predictions, ratings do not improve efficiency of the transactions under uncertainty -- in part due to buyers' tendency to 'shoot the messenger' (give low ratings) when they buy service that does not work due to bad luck, and to give experts the 'benefit of the doubt' (high ratings) when they buy service that may have been intentionally over-provided (not in the buyer's best interest).

Agency, Benevolence and Justice. PDF (with Prithvijit Mukherjee)

Abstract: We test for social norms regarding how Agents should select between risky prospects for Principals, including norms consistent with observations by Adam Smith. We elicit norms from subjects serving as "impartial spectator[s]" about the choice of risky prospects selected by the Agents. We find strong evidence for the existence of norms, consistent with Smith's observations. Furthermore, we find that Agents are more likely to select more normative options. In contrast, we find that Principals' allocation for bonuses depends on the realization of the risky prospect rather than whether the Agents' choice was consistent with the norm.

Publications, Health Metrics

Identifying bedrest using waist-worn triaxial accelerometers in preschool children
J. Dustin Tracy, Thomas Donnelly, Evan C. Sommer, William J. Heerman, Shari L. Barkin and Maciej S. Buchowski PloS One, January 2021.

Identifying bedrest using 24-h waist or wrist accelerometry in adults.
J Dustin Tracy, Sari Acra, Kong Y Che and Maciej S. Buchowski. PloS One, March 2018.

Novel patterns of physical activity in a large sample of preschool-aged children.
Rachel M Ruiz, Evan C Sommer, J Dustin Tracy, Jorge A Banda, Christina D Economos, Meghan M JaKa, Kelly R Evenson, Maciej S Buchowski and Shari L Barkin. BMC Public Health, Febuary 2018.

Separating Bed Rest from Wake Using Wrist or Waist-Worn Accelerometers in Youth.
J Dustin Tracy, Zhiyi Xu, Leena Choi, Sari Acra, Kong Y Chen and Maciej S. Buchowski. PloS One, April 2014.

A Novel Approach to Characterize Physical Activity Patterns in Preschool-Aged Children.
Rachel M Ruiz, J Dustin Tracy, Evan C Sommer and Shari L Barkin. Obesity, November 2013.

Other Publications

Keeping a Clean Reputation: More Evidence on the Perverse Effects of Disclosure
(with Cary Deck) Center for Growth and Opportunity Working Paper January 2021 PDF

Abstract: In many settings where a principal relies on the advice of an agent, a conflict of interest can encourage the agent to provide advice that is biased in a self-serving manner. Conventional wisdom suggests that such behavior can be minimized with disclosure requirements. However, disclosure has been shown to exacerbate self-serving bias and actually lead to greater harm for the principal in one-shot interactions. But in many naturally occurring market settings, agents form reputations, a mechanism that is expected to diminish the incentive to provide biased advice. In this paper, we test for bias in the advice agents provide when faced with reputation concerns, and examine the impact of disclosure in such an environment. In controlled laboratory experiments, we find little evidence of self-serving bias in the absence of disclosure when (1) agents form reputations and (2) principals use that information in selecting agents. Somewhat surprisingly, we find that the introduction of disclosure leads to self-serving biased advice in a form that is difficult for principals to detect.

Work in Progress

Real Effort and Daily Life Activities.
(with Kevin James, Hillard Kaplan and Stephen Rassenti) plilot data collected

Determinates of Effort to Prevent Chronic Disease a Laboratory Experiment.
(with Kevin James, Hillard Kaplan and Stephen Rassenti) data collected

Underestimating Incentives, Overestimating Overconfidence. (with Vojtěch Zíka) data collected

The Equilibrium of Overconfidence. (with Vojtěch Zíka) data collected