Michael I. Norton's research while affiliated with Harvard University and other places

Publications (227)

Article
Seven preregistered studies ( N = 2,890, adult participants) conducted in the field, in the lab, and online documented opportunity neglect: a tendency to reject opportunities with low probability of success even when they come with little or no objective cost (e.g., time, money, reputation). Participants rejected a low-probability opportunity in an...
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Over the past several decades, scholars have highlighted the obligations and opportunities for marketing as a discipline to play a role in creating a better world-or risk becoming irrelevant for the largest problems facing consumers and society. This paper provides a framework to enhance the relevance and rigor of research in marketing that not onl...
Preprint
A great deal of work has demonstrated that charitable giving is often driven by egoistic, affective motivations such as the desire to feel good about oneself. Here, we demonstrate how this feature of the psychology giving can be leveraged to increase donations. Affective giving is subject to steeply diminishing marginal returns – once you have dona...
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Whether and which university to attend are among the most financially consequential choices most people make. Universities with relatively larger endowments can offer better education experiences, which can drive inequality in students' subsequent outcomes. We first explore three interrelated questions: the current educational inequality across U.S...
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Rather than just informing customers about their corporate social responsibility initiatives, many for-profit firms have sought to engage their customers in these activities. Previous research assessing the impact of these programs has focused on short-run effects on customer behavior, typically documenting positive effects. We report the results o...
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Engagement in leisure offers a host of benefits for mental and physical health, yet many people view leisure as wasteful and unproductive. Four studies (n = 1310) demonstrate that believing leisure is wasteful undermines enjoyment of enacted leisure activities. Studies 1 and 2 document that people with a general tendency to find leisure wasteful re...
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Four experiments examine the impact of a firm deciding to no longer pay salaries for executives versus employees on consumer behavior, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Study 1 explores the effect of announcing either pay cessations or continued pay for either CEO or employees, and shows that firms’ commitment to maintaining emp...
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Economic inequality affects not only how individuals judge and behave in their own lives, but also how those individuals’ judge and behave toward others – both people and firms. First, the consumption decisions of others are often evaluated through a moral lens, such that lower‐income consumers are held to more negative, restrictive standards of wh...
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The many benefits of finding meaning in work suggest the importance of identifying activities that increase job meaningfulness. The current paper identifies one such activity: engaging in rituals with workgroups. Five studies (N = 1,099) provide evidence that performing group rituals can enhance the meaningfulness of work, and that in turn this mea...
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Many products and services are designed to make caregiving easier, from premade meals for feeding families to robo-cribs that automatically rock babies to sleep. Yet, using these products may come with a cost: consumers may feel they have not exerted enough effort. Nine experiments show that consumers feel like better caregivers when they put more...
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Consumers often cite insufficient time or money as an excuse for rejecting social invitations. We explore the effectiveness of these excuses in preserving interpersonal relationships. Six studies – including perceptions of couples planning their wedding – demonstrate that using time scarcity as an excuse (e.g., “I don’t have time”) is less effectiv...
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From Catholics performing the sign of the cross since the 4th century to Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance since the 1890s, group rituals (i.e., predefined sequences of symbolic actions) have strikingly consistent features over time. Seven studies (N = 4,213) document the sacrosanct nature of rituals: Because group rituals symbolize sacre...
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We document a unique driver of consumer behavior: the public disclosure of a firm’s gender pay gap. Four experiments provide causal evidence that when firms are revealed to have gender pay gaps, consumers are less willing to pay for their goods, a reaction driven by consumer perceptions of unfairness. Unlike reactions to CEO‐to‐worker wage gaps, th...
Preprint
From Catholics performing the sign of the cross since the fourth century to Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance since the 1890s, group rituals (i.e., predefined sequences of symbolic actions) have strikingly consistent features over time. Seven studies (N = 4,213) document the sacrosanct nature of rituals: Because group rituals symbolize sa...
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Problem definition: As trust in government reaches historic lows, frustration with government performance approaches record highs. Academic/practical relevance: We propose that in coproductive settings such as government services, people’s trust and engagement levels can be enhanced by designing service interactions to allow them to see the often-h...
Preprint
Whether and which university to attend are among the most financially consequential choices most people make, influencing their debt and future income. Universities with relatively larger endowments can offer better education experiences (e.g., scholarships, facilities, jobs), which can drive inequality in students’ subsequent outcomes, including i...
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The current political discourse in the United States focuses on extreme political polarization as a contributor to ills ranging from government shutdowns to awkward family holidays. And indeed, a large body of research has documented differences between liberals and conservatives–primarily focused on Republicans and Democrats in the United States....
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Research indicates that spending money on others-prosocial spending-leads to greater happiness than spending money on oneself (e.g., Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008, 2014). These findings have received widespread attention because they offer insight into why people engage in costly prosocial behavior, and what constitutes happier spending more broadly....
Preprint
Research indicates that spending money on others—prosocial spending—leads to greater happiness than spending money on oneself (e.g., Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008; 2014). These findings have received widespread attention because they offer insight into why people engage in costly prosocial behavior, and what constitutes happier spending more broadly....
Article
Firms are increasingly giving consumers the vote. Eight studies show that, when firms empower consumers to vote, consumers infer a series of implicit promises—even in the absence of explicit promises. We identify three implicit promises to which consumers react negatively when violated: representation (Experiments 1A–1C), consistency (Experiment 2)...
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How do the very wealthy spend their time, and how does time use relate to well-being? In two studies in the Netherlands, the affluent ( N = 863; N = 690) and the general population ( N = 1,232; N = 306) spent time in surprisingly similar ways such as by spending the same amount of time working. Yet the nature of their time use differed in critical...
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Nudges have become a popular tool for behaviour change; but, some interventions fail to replicate, even when the identical, previously successful intervention is used. One cause of this problem is that people default to using some of or all of the previously-successful existing nudges for any problem—the “kitchen sink” approach. We argue that the s...
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Four experiments examine how lack of awareness of inequality affect behaviour towards the rich and poor. In Experiment 1, participants who became aware that wealthy individuals donated a smaller percentage of their income switched from rewarding the wealthy to rewarding the poor. In Experiments 2 and 3, participants who played a public goods game –...
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How do consumers assess their mastery of knowledge they have learned? We explore this question by investigating a common knowledge consumption situation: encountering opportunities for further learning. We argue and show that such opportunities can trigger a feeling‐of‐not‐knowing‐it‐all (FONKIA), which lowers consumers’ confidence in their mastery...
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We examine how a simple handshake—a gesture that often occurs at the outset of social interactions—can influence deal-making. Because handshakes are social rituals, they are imbued with meaning beyond their physical features. We propose that during mixed-motive interactions, a handshake is viewed as a signal of cooperative intent, increasing people...
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We identify and document a novel construct—pettiness, or intentional attentiveness to trivial details—and examine its (negative) implications in interpersonal relationships and social exchange. Seven studies show that pettiness manifests across different types of resources (both money and time), across cultures with differing tolerance for ambiguit...
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Rituals are predefined sequences of actions characterized by rigidity and repetition. We propose that enacting ritualized actions can enhance subjective feelings of self-discipline, such that rituals can be harnessed to improve behavioral self-control. We test this hypothesis in 6 experiments. A field experiment showed that engaging in a pre-eating...
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Consider two types of happiness: one experienced on a moment-to-moment basis, the other a reflective evaluation where people feel happy looking back. Though researchers have measured and argued the merits of each, we inquired into which happiness people say they want. In five studies (N = 3351), we asked people to choose between experienced happine...
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Spending money on time saving purchases improves happiness. Yet, people often fail to spend their money in this way. Because most people believe that the future will be less busy than the present, they may underweight the value of these purchases. We examine the impact of debiasing this previously unexplored barrier of consumer decisions to ‘buy ti...
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In 2014 in theJournal of Experimental Psychology: General, we reported 2 studies demonstrating that the diversity of emotions that people experience-as measured by the Shannon-Wiener entropy index-was an independent predictor of mental and physical health, over and above the effect of mean levels of emotion. Brown and Coyne (2017) questioned both o...
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Decisions about paying taxes represent one of the most common moral quandaries faced by citizens. In the present research, we argue that taxpayer compliance can be raised by increasing “voice”: allowing taxpayers to express non-binding preferences about the way their taxes are used. We first test for effects of preference expression on tax complian...
Chapter
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The Global Happiness Policy Report is produced by the Global Happiness Council and contains papers by expert working groups on happiness for good governance. Our chapter on work and well-being provides evidence and policy recommendations on best practices to promote happiness and well-being in the workplace. The first Global Happiness Policy Report...
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We document a novel driver of consumer behavior: pay ratio disclosure. Swiss corporation performance data gathered during a legally mandated pay ratio referendum reveals that salient high pay ratios are associated with decreased firm sales (Pilot Study). An incentive-compatible field experiment shows that, when ratios are revealed, consumers avoid...
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Two samples of more than 4,000 millionaires reveal two primary findings: First, only at high levels of wealth—in excess of US$8 million (Study 1) and US$10 million (Study 2)—are wealthier millionaires happier than millionaires with lower levels of wealth, though these differences are modest in magnitude. Second, controlling for total wealth, millio...
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We document the existence and consequences of brand flirting: a short-lived experience in which a consumer engages with and/or indulges in the alluring qualities of a brand without committing to it. We propose that brand flirting is exciting, and that when consumers flirt with a brand other than their typically preferred brand in the same product c...
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Pseudo-set framing—arbitrarily grouping items or tasks together as part of an apparent “set”—motivates people to reach perceived completion points. Pseudo-set framing changes gambling choices (Study 1), effort (Studies 2 and 3), giving behavior (Field Data and Study 4), and purchase decisions (Study 5). These effects persist in the absence of any r...
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Self-presentation is a fundamental aspect of social life, with myriad critical outcomes dependent on others' impressions. We identify and offer the first empirical investigation of a prevalent, yet understudied, self-presentation strategy: humblebragging. Across 9 studies, including a week-long diary study and a field experiment, we identify humble...
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Four studies document an asymmetry in givers' and receivers' evaluations of gifts: Givers underestimate the extent to which receivers perceive partial (but more desirable) gifts to be thoughtful, valuable, and worthy of appreciation. Study 1 documents this asymmetry and suggests that givers underestimate the extent to which partial gifts signal tho...
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People believe that future others' preferences and beliefs will change to align with their own. People holding a particular view (e.g., support of President Trump) are more likely to believe that future others will share their view than to believe that future others will have an opposing view (e.g., opposition to President Trump). Six studies demon...
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The publisher regrets that this article has been temporarily removed. The article will be reinstated on another publisher’s platform as soon as possible. The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at https://www.elsevier.com/about/our-business/policies/article-withdrawal.
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Around the world, increases in wealth have produced an unintended consequence: a rising sense of time scarcity. We provide evidence that using money to buy time can provide a buffer against this time famine, thereby promoting happiness. Using large, diverse samples from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and The Netherlands (n = 6,271), we show th...
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Laypeople's beliefs about the current distribution of outcomes such as income and wealth in their country influence their attitudes towards issues ranging from taxation to healthcare–but how accurate are these beliefs? We review the burgeoning literature on (mis)perceptions of inequality. First, we show that people on average misperceive current le...
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In people’s imagination, dying seems dreadful; however, these perceptions may not reflect reality. In two studies, we compared the affective experience of people facing imminent death with that of people imagining imminent death. Study 1 revealed that blog posts of near-death patients with cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were more positive...
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Long-established rituals in preexisting cultural groups have been linked to the cultural evolution of group cooperation. We tested the prediction that novel rituals-arbitrary hand and body gestures enacted in a stereotypical and repeated fashion-can inculcate intergroup bias in newly formed groups. In four experiments, participants practiced novel...
Article
Are individuals more sensitive to losses than gains in terms of economic growth? We find that measures of subjective well-being are more than twice as sensitive to negative as compared to positive economic growth. We use Gallup World Poll data from over 150 countries, BRFSS data on 2.3 million US respondents, and Eurobarometer data that cover multi...
Preprint
Long-established rituals in pre-existing cultural groups have been linked to the cultural evolution of group cooperation. Here we test the prediction that novel rituals – arbitrary hand and body gestures enacted in a stereotypical and repeated fashion – can impact intergroup bias in newly formed groups. In four studies, participants practiced novel...
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Consumers are often surrounded by resources that once offered meaning or happiness but that have lost this subjective value over time—even as they retain their objective utility. We explore the potential for social recycling—disposing of used goods by allowing other consumers to acquire them at no cost—to transform unused physical resources into in...
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Paltering is the active use of truthful statements to convey a misleading impression. Across 2 pilot studies and 6 experiments, we identify paltering as a distinct form of deception. Paltering differs from lying by omission (the passive omission of relevant information) and lying by commission (the active use of false statements). Our findings reve...
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Agent-based modeling is a longstanding but under-used method that allows researchers to simulate artificial worlds for hypothesis testing and theory building. Agent-based models (ABMs) offer unprecedented control and statistical power by allowing researchers to precisely specify the behavior of any number of agents and observe their interactions ov...
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Although many experiments have explored risk preferences for money, few have systematically assessed risk preferences for everyday experiences. We propose a conceptual model and provide convergent evidence from 7 experiments to suggest that, in contrast to a typical "zero" reference point for choices on money, reference points for choices of experi...
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Rituals are central to family life. Three studies (N = 1,098) tested the relationship between family rituals and holiday enjoyment and demonstrated that family rituals improve the holidays because they amplify family closeness and involvement in the experience. In study 1, participants who reported having family rituals on Christmas were more likel...
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Research yields ample evidence that individual's behavior often reflects an apparent concern for moral considerations. A natural way to interpret evidence of such motives using an economic framework is to add an argument to the utility function such that agents obtain utility both from outcomes that yield only personal benefits and from acting kind...
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Does “liking” a brand on Facebook cause a person to view it more favorably? Or is “liking” simply a symptom of being fond of a brand? The authors disentangle these possibilities and find evidence for the latter: brand attitudes and purchasing are predicted by consumers’ preexisting fondness for brands, and these are the same regardless of when and...
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Contrary to the tendency of mediators to defuse negative emotions between adversaries by treating them kindly, we demonstrate the surprising effectiveness of hostile mediators in resolving conflict. Hostile mediators generate greater willingness to reach agreements between adversaries (Experiment 1). Consequently, negotiators interacting with hosti...
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We posit that the modern airplane is a social microcosm of class-based society, and that the increasing incidence of "air rage" can be understood through the lens of inequality. Research on inequality typically examines the effects of relatively fixed, macrostructural forms of inequality, such as socioeconomic status; we examine how temporary expos...
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Seven experiments explore people's decisions to share or withhold personal information, and the wisdom of such decisions. When people choose not to reveal information-to be "hiders"-they are judged negatively by others (experiment 1). These negative judgments emerge when hiding is volitional (experiments 2A and 2B) and are driven by decreases in tr...
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Baumeister et al. propose that individual differentiation is a crucial determinant of group success. We apply their model to processes lying in between the individual and the group – vicarious processes. We review literature in four domains – attitudes, emotions, moral behavior, and self-regulation – showing that group identification can lead to vi...
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jats:title>Abstract Four experiments examine how lack of awareness of inequality affect behaviour towards the rich and poor. In Experiment 1, participants who became aware that wealthy individuals donated a smaller percentage of their income switched from rewarding the wealthy to rewarding the poor. In Experiments 2 and 3, participants who played a...