Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science (ICES)
Department of Economics
George Mason University
4400 University Dr., MSN 1B2
Fairfax, VA 22044
Phone:+1 7817337685
Email: jchenw@gmu.edu

Research Interests

Primary: Behavioral Game Theory, Experimental Economics

Secondary: Applied Microeconomics, Behavioral Economics

I will be joining University of Exeter Business School in the United Kingdom as Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Economics in the Fall 2014.

Journal Publications

2012, "Non-human Primate Studies Inform the Foundation of Fair and Just Human Institutions", with Daniel Houser Social Justice Research, 25:3, 277-297.

Book Chapers

Forthcoming, "Ethics and Advances in Economic Science: The Role of Two Norms", with Angelina Christie and Daniel Houser, in George DeMartino and Deirdre McCloskey (Eds.), The Handbook of Professional Economic Ethics, Oxford University Press.

Working Papers

Under Review, "Promises and Lies: Can Observers Detect Deception", with Daniel Houser.

"Broken Contracts and Hidden Partnership: Theory and Experiment", with Daniel Houser.

"Beware of Popular Kids Bearing Gifts - A Framed Field Experiment", with Daniel Houser, Natalia Montinari and Marco Piovesan.

Works In Progress

"Does Thinking About Money Make Your More Selfish: An Experiment", with Daniel Houser.

"Parental Investment in Children: Theory and Experiment", with Daniel Houser.

"Experiments on Money, Leverage and Deviations from the Law of One Price", with Marco Cipriani, Daniel Houser and Ana Fostel.

Research Statement

(PDF version)

Deception is part of many important economic interactions, for example, insurance claims, job interviews, labor negotiations, regulatory hearing, and tax compliance. In those settings, people may increase their expected material gain by providing information that they believe to be false, a behavior predicted by standard economic theory. Yet, life experience as well as recent academic literatures shows that sometimes people do tell the truth at a cost to self. This stands in contrast to standard economic theory predictions. To better understand these behaviors, my current research focuses on deception and commitment within the context of free-style communication, and contribute to our understanding of deception and promises (e.g.Gneezy (2005), Charness and Dufwenberg (2006), Gibson et al.(2013)).

My research combines experimental methodology, game theory and insights from psychology and sociology. With those tools, I am able to further my understanding of pro-social behaviors (particularly deception and promises). My research involves testing implications of relevant behavioral theories, devising mechanism to foster pro-social behaviors, and identifying the limits of such mechanism.

My job market paper, "Broken Contracts and Hidden Partnership: Theory and Experiment" explores people’s tendency to break informal contracts and deceive their partners in a dynamic environment. With this new game, I derive testable predictions from, and investigate the empirical relevance of, existing behavioral theories. Previous research shows that unenforceable informal contracts promote trust and reciprocity. While this can benefit existing exchange, in dynamic environments such contracts are constraints that might hinder one’s ability to explore Pareto improving opportunities. This arises not only in business (e.g., industry non-compete agreements), but also in social contexts, including personal relationship commitment decisions. I report data from an experiment using a novel three-person trust game (I call it the Mistress Game) where in different treatments different players are able to communicate to each other. I find that without new information about profitable opportunities, people are overwhelmingly likely to follow upon informal contracts and avoid exploring potentially Pareto improving opportunities. Under dynamic environment where new and profitable information arises, however, people are significantly more likely to deviate from their informal contract; I also observe a ”contingency effect”, where the likelihood with which people follow an informal contract declines in the number of contingencies that must occur in order for the contract to be realized. Finally, the data only provide limited support for existing behavioral theories I test.

In a companion paper - “Promises and Lies: Can Observers Detect Deception”, I use the rich free-style messages received from the above experiment to investigate whether receivers of messages from the Mistress Game can predict the trustworthiness of the senders. My analysis informs why receivers can (or can not) predict trustworthiness accurately. Receivers report both their perception of the trustworthiness of the messages (whether they consider them promises), as well as the confidence they have in their own judgments. Building on the crowding-out and group-identity literature, I hypothesize that the mention of money, the use of encompassing words and message length all influence both senders’ behaviors as well as observers’ perceptions. I find (i) messages that use encompassing terms, or a greater number of words, are significantly more likely to be viewed as promises by observers; (ii) promises that mention money are significantly more likely to be trusted by observers. However, (iii) players whose promises mention money are significantly less likely to keep their word. Overall, receivers respond to cues of trustworthiness but in the wrong way. My findings in this chapter have broad implications for areas including advertising, political campaigns and consumer protection.

Following upon the surprising results that players whose promises mention money are significantly less likely to keep their word, my third chapter “Let’s Talk Money:The Effect of Money on Trustworthiness” researches whether selfish people who break promises are more likely to mention money, or does the act of thinking about money make people more prone to break promises? Using a standard two-person trust game, I design three treatments that differ only by pre-game communication. In the baseline, players are free to write any type of messages on a blank sheet of paper to be passed on to their matched partner. In treatment one, players include mention of monetary payoffs in their messages. In treatment two, players cannot include any mention of monetary payoffs in their messages. The results show that the process of thinking about money may induce people to behave in a more self-interested manner.

In addition to my dissertation work studying the pro-social behaviors of adults (trust, deception and commitment), I have also studied several other pro-social behaviors with children and non-human primates.

One of my working papers “Beware of Popular Kids Bearing Gifts - A Framed Field Experiment” looks at the impact of popularity and age on children’s pro-social tendencies. Our results reveal that popularity promotes pro-social behavior only when decisions are made in public. Further, older children on average display greater generosity. We also observe a positive interaction effect of popularity and age, but only when decisions are public.

Another paper of mine “Non-human Primate Studies Inform the Foundations of Fair and Just Human Institutions” published in Social Justice Research (Vol. 25, Issue 3, 2012) argues that we can use non-human primates’ pro-social research data as additional evidence to support the essential role of pro-social preferences in the emergence of fair and just human institution.

I am currently developing follow-up studies using the Mistress Game as a platform to shed light on the effects of social distance on deception and commitment over the life-cycle. One of my works in progress takes the Mistress Game to a continuous time environment. Instead of one-shot decisions, players communicate prior to the game and make decisions in continuous time. The result of this study may have important implications for policies that affect commitment over the life-cycle.

I am actively seeking external support for my research activities and preparing applications for grants to the National Science Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation. In view of the novely of my research, and the high level of current interest in this area, I am optimistic that my research program will compete successfully for external funding.

Teaching Experience

Summar 2012InstructorPrinciples of MacroeconomicsGMU
Summer 2011Co-LecturerICES High School Workshop in EconomicsGMU
Summer 2007Assistant LecturerIntroduction to EconomicsSJTU

Teaching Statement

(PDF version)

Economics, as Alfred Marshall puts it, “is the study of people in the ordinary business of life”: how people choose to allocate scarce resources and evaluate tradeoffs. It is relevant to our everyday life, powerful and sometimes surprisingly counterintuitive. As an instructor, I make it a priority to share these perceptions with my students and create enthusiasm for economics. At the same time, it is of the utmost importance that my students not only learn the materials covered in the course, but also understand and even apply the economic way of thinking. Given that my research focuses on individual decision-making using economic experiments, I apply the knowledge I glean from my research to facilitate interactions with my students. In short, my teaching philosophy highlights the following aspects: 1) Trigger the intrinsic motivation; 2) incorporate fun economic games (experiments) in classroom; 3) provide extrinsic motivation in terms of fair and encouraging grading policy; 4) start the class with passion and energy; 5) Improvment through feedback.

What we learn today matters. Large literatures in psychology and economics suggest the importance of intrinsic motivation and its enduring effects on performance. A student with innate interest in economics may not need much external rewards/stimulation to take on the “economic journey”. However, not all students share the same enthusiasm. It is then the instructor’s job to make the class relevant and intriguing. One of the unexpected questions that I encountered during my very first teaching experience for ICES high school workshop in Economics was: why are those convoluted concepts relevant and why should we care? At that time, I was talking about demand and supply and how two of them work together to determine the equilibrium price. I realized that just as a research paper, merely going through the analysis and stating the results are not enough, it is essential to provide a motivation and convince the readers of its relevance and value. From then on, whenever I started a new topic, I always made sure that I intertwined ample examples, or stories that my students can relate to into the course of teaching. When we talk about economic inequality, I bring about the example of Panem in Hunger Games to illustrate that economic inequality is bad for business; when we talk about asymmetric information, I give an example about disagreements in relationships. I have found that in doing so my students develop greater interest in the course material and become eager to learn more.

Learning with games is fun and productive. Running economic experiments in the lab tells me that students love economic games. Combining games into the curriculum not only raises students’ interests, but also helps to illustrate abstract concepts and principles. After experiencing environments where those concepts and principles emerge, my students have an easier time grasping the picture intuitively. To demonstrate gains from trade, I have students voluntarily initiate gift card exchanges and compare their happiness ratings before and after; to explain the concept of dominant strategies in game theory, students play the prisoners’ dilemma once and to demonstrate a trigger strategy, students play the prisoners’ dilemma repeatedly with the same partner. In addition to hand-run experiments, I also bring students to the lab to play double-auction game to show that in competitive markets price is determined by market clearing conditions. To give them incentives to take the games seriously, I allow students to earn extra credit points that depend on their performance. My students embraced the game and even had heated discussions after class.

Keep students extrinsically motivated. One of the first important economic principles is that incentives matter. To encourage students to invest time and effort for the class, I administer surprise quizzes, assign homework, design small extra credit projects for which students can opt to earn additional points and give three exams, two of which are grade relevant and are selected by the students. Surprise quizzes are unannounced at the beginning of the class, and they are usually either about the materials covered from last lecture or introductory questions to the next lecture. By giving students unpredictable surprise quizzes, I hope to incentivize them review the lectures after class and preview the next lecture before class. For homework, I assign problems that both provide practice and extend the concepts taught in lecture. After an assignment is turned in, I grade and return it to the students as quickly as possible, and provide solutions and feedback as appropriate. Students appreciate this, and it also gives me a chance to determine what areas, if any, I need to reemphasize. At the end of each chapter, I give students an optional extra credit project as a small challenge for advanced students and also an additional opportunity to improve class performance. For the exams, I give the students more flexibility by allowing them choose two out of three with the consideration that sudden unforeseen events may occur and it may impact students’ single exam results. My students appreciated the flexibility of the exam arrangements.

Always bring passion and enthusiasm. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious. I still remember the first introductory economics class I signed up for only to fulfill a general education requirement. I walked into the class as a first year finance major who knew little about economics. When the class started, I was captivated by the professor’s enthusiasm. Under the influence of his passionate lecturing, even some convoluted theoretical concepts become easy to interpret and dry equations turned lively, and time passed rapidly. As a result, when I teach, I always try to emulate that kind of enthusiasm and share my excitement about economics with my students.

Keep on learning. I enjoy teaching and always look for ways to improve. Only though feedback can one become better. Teaching is also a learning process. One student group may require a different pace than another, as well as different teaching strategy. I welcome feedback from my students through in-class discussions, email exchanges and regular office hours.

Finally, my hope is that through these various techniques, I can make the task of learning and applying economics as easy and enjoyable for my students as it has been for me. By making the material accessible through clear explanations and insightful examples, I can not only teach my students economics principles, but also convey to them an economic way of thinking.

(PDF version)

Curriculum Vitae

Jingnan Chen

October 2013
Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science (ICES) & Economics Department
George Mason University
4400 University Drive, , MSN 1B2 Fairfax VA 22030
Phone:
(781) 733 7685
Email:
jchenw@gmu.edu
Website:
www.jingnanchen.com
Citizenship:
China. USA Permanent Resident
Gender:
Female
Year of Birth:
1986

Education

Degree Field Institution Year
Ph.D.EconomicsGeorge Mason University (GMU)2014 (Expected)
M.AEconomicsGeorge Mason University (GMU)2011
B.SFinanceShanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU)2008

Employment

2008 -Research Assistant for Professor Daniel Houser, ICES, GMU

Research Fields

Behavioral Game Theory, Applied Microeconomics, Experimental Economics, Behavioral Economics

Refereed Publications

2012"Non-human Primate Studies Inform the Foundation of Fair and Just Human Institutions", with Daniel HouserSocial Justice Research, 25:3, 277-297.

Book Chapters

Forthcoming"Ethics and Advances in Economic Science: The Role of Two Norms", with Angelina Christie and Daniel Houser, in George DeMartino and Deirdre McCloskey (Eds.) The Handbook of Professional Economic Ethics, Oxford University Press.

Working Papers

Works In Progress

  • "Let's Talk Money: The Effect of Money on Trustworthiness", with Daniel Houser.
  • "Parental Investment in Children: Theory and Experiment", with Daniel Houser.
  • "Experiments on Money, Leverage and Deviations from the Law of One Price", with Marco Cipriani, Daniel Houser and Ana Fostel.

Teaching Experience

Summar 2012InstructorPrinciples of MacroeconomicsGMU
Summer 2011Co-LecturerICES High School Workshop in EconomicsGMU
Summer 2007Assistant LecturerIntroduction to EconomicsSJTU

Grants, Honors and Awards

2008 - Pre-doctoral Scholar, International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics (IFREE)
2013Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Scholorship
2013Southern Economic Association (SEA) Graduate Student Award
2012APEE 2012 Young Scholar Award
2010ICES Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship
2009ICES Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship
2005-2007Academic Excellence Scholarship (top 5%), SJTU

Conference Presentations

Broken Contracts and Hidden Partnership: Theory and Experiment:
  • Southern Economic Association Conference, Tampa, USA. Nov. 2013
  • North American Economic Science Association Conference, Santa Cruz, USA. Oct. 2013
  • Deception, Incentives and Behavior conference, UCSD, San Diego, USA. Apr. 2012
  • Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) conference, Las Vegas, USA. Mar. 2011
Promises and Lies: Can Observers Detect Deception:
  • North American Economic Science Association Conference, Tuscon, USA. Dec. 2012
  • Research Workshop: Mainz Workshop in Behavioral Economics, Mainz, Germany. Sep. 2012
  • International Economics Science Association Conference, New York, USA. Jul. 2012
Beware of Popular Kids Bearing Gifts - A Framed Field Experiment:
  • ICES End of Year Conference, Arlington VA, USA. May 2013

Professional Activities

Referee for: European Economic Review, Management Science, Journal of Neuroscience, Phychology and Economics.

Languages

English (Fluent), Mandarin Chinese (Native)

Computer Skills

STATA, Z-Tree, LaTex, Matlab

Other Activities

Accomplished Hulusi player and performer (the Hulusi is a traditional free reed Chinese instrument with a clarinet-like sound).

References

Daniel Houser
Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science (ICES) & Department of Economics
George Mason University
(703) 993-4856
dhouser@gmu.edu
Kevin McCabe
Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics (CSN) & Department of Economics
George Mason University
(703) 993-9441

kmccabe@gmu.edu
Mary Rigdon
Department of Psychology & Deparment of Economics
Rutgers University


mrigdon@rci.rutgers.edu