Student Projects

********************* Economics Thesis (Middlebury 2021) ****************

Title: “Hidden Benefits: The Effect of Face Masks and Racial Discrimination”
Author: Zhewei Yang
Abstract: I ask 900 participants to evaluate White American and Chinese candidates. Applicants give identical scripted interview answers with and without wearing face masks. Evaluators are randomly matched with applicants and are asked to rate their performance on a range of personality ratings and overall hireability. My findings show that face masks have a robust negative effect on ratings. Additionally, without masks, white candidates score higher than Chinese candidates on hireability and subjective characteristics including speech intelligibility, confidence, and likability. Importantly, face masks reduce this racial gap in the overall assessment. This is driven by a convergence in likability ratings. These results suggest that reducing visual cues can help reduce racial hiring discrimination.


Title: “Black Lives Matter: The Consumer Impacts of Corporate Activism”
Author: Emily Bian
Abstract: In the wake of the growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, we have seen a dramatic increase in corporate activism as many businesses make an effort to support the movement. To examine the extent to which consumer attitudes change, I hire 753 participants and randomize which firm’s BLM stance they see. I measure the effect of this information on willingness to buy, perceived authenticity, social responsibility, as well as an incentivized outcome to test purchasing behavior. While the information lowers perceived buying and authenticity intentions for all firms, we find that the companies that give both vocal and monetary support perform the best. Consumers who learn about their stance are about 70% more likely to choose these brands in a gift card lottery. These positive effects are mainly driven by people with liberal views. Overall, results suggest that corporate activism can pay off but only if firms are willing to dedicate resources to it.


Title: “Coughing while Asian: The Spread of Xenophobia through Media and the Impact of Anti-Asian Hate on AAPI Identity and Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Author: Ho June (Sean) Rhee
Abstract: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) not only face a deadly virus, but also are burdened with baseless accusations propagated through media and a disturbing upsurge of anti-Asian racism. In response to these appalling events, I investigate the impact of media narratives on inciting xenophobic expressions such as blaming foreign groups and supporting isolationist policies (Part 1) and that of witnessing anti-Asian violence on the mental health and behaviors of AAPI (Part 2). In Part 1, I randomize participants to read an article that frames China through either a positive narrative or a negative one.  I find that exposure to an article with a negative narrative increases the likelihood of blaming foreign groups while the positive narrative does not yield significant effects. However, these attitude changes do not translate into support for exclusionist policies. In Part 2, I randomly assign participants to watch a video of anti-Asian hate whose content is divided into verbal harassment and physical violence. Results indicate that videos of anti-Asian hate have short term negative influences on participants’ memorization performance, emotion, sense of safety in the U.S., and engagement with mental health resources. Likewise, I observe that participants exposed to these disturbing contents are less likely to donate to the CDC Foundation but are more likely to donate to an organization with a specific agenda to support AAPI (Stop AAPI Hate). Across all outcomes, I observe that the estimated effects of the two treatment videos are not statistically distinguishable from each other, alluding that any manifestation of racial discrimination has unsettling impact on AAPI individuals. Through empirical evidence, I raise concern about the media as a vehicle of fearmongering and foreground the ramifications of anti-Asian hate during the pandemic.


Title: Gender Discrimination in the Hiring Process in Tech Industry
Author: Keun Young (Jennifer) Ko [LinkedIn Profile]
Abstract: This paper examines an presence of gender discrimination in the hiring process in the tech industry. I randomly assign 639 participants to four groups with variation in time available to review candidates, and candidate’s strength and gender. In an incetivized experiment, I then measure whether reviewers choose a female or male candidate with their resumes side by side and how they justify their reasoning. About 54% of the participants prefer female, and women are 41.7% more likely to be chosen than men because of their ambition. Thus, I find positive gender discrimination towards women but with gendered attributions. My findings also show underlying mechanisms, such as the participants’ beliefs in the relationship between team performance and gender balance.


Title: “What is Wrong with Muslims? Investigating the Mechanisms behind US Labor Market Discrimination Against Muslims Using Information Updating
Author: Youssef Halim
Abstract: Given the thin literature on the mechanics of discrimination against Muslims, this project sets out to shed some light on the nuances that make up biased behavior through an experiment in which participants respond to a series of trivia-style questions and are offered the option to substitute their response with that of another player in order to potentially increase their payout. The main results suggested that the target population has discriminatory tendencies that are homogeneous across sub-groups on average: they lean towards the English-sounding option most often. However, in situations where a Muslim is perceived to be able to perform better than the English-sounding control, some sub-groups have shown malleable behavior: they disregarded their bias and trusted the Muslim individual. An example of such sub-groups are older participants and liberals. Moreover, comparing identical scenarios in which player get a question wrong, participants update their beliefs more negatively if the person has a Muslim-sounding name. This type of bias updating dynamic is what this paper will attempt to decorticate.


Title: “Unconcerned or Uninformed? The Effect of Increased Transparency on Personal Data Value”
Author: Wyllis McKissick
Abstract: Data breaches, political extremism, and new regulation has increased concern about the data collection practices in today’s economy. In order to explore the ability of consumers to value their personal data and rationally participate in the data economy we conduct an experiment in which we present people with summaries of their personal internet data. One group is presented with detailed information from data they previously sold, including detailed search histories, photos, personal chats, and location data (T1). In addition to this personal information, a second group (T2) is also told how this data may be used for purposes of commercial targeting, discrimination or surveillance. We measure the effect of these treatments on how much participants value their data. Specifically, we find that T2 increases the average amount people would demand for their data by about $212 (83%) and reduces the share willing to sell their data for $10 from 52% to 20% compared to a control group. The effects of T1 have the same direction but only increase the amount people would demand for their data by about $83 (33%), indicating the importance of educating consumers about how their data may be exploited. Our findings have important policy implications for regulators aiming to empower consumers and increase competition in the data economy. 


Title: “West Africa’s Post-colonial trade dependency”
Author: Abdoul Nasser Bounia Yahaya
Abstract: In this paper, we attempted to answer the very important question of neocolonialism; to what extent can colonial heritage differences between French colonial style and British colonial style explains trade dependency patterns in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) free trade area? We calculated various trade intensity indexes between ECOWAS British former colonies with the UK and between ECOWAS French former colonies with France to establish visual comparative trends by looking at aggregate trade data from 1960 to 2018. We found out that trade between ECOWAS former French colonies (FFC) is on average twice as intense as the trade between ECOWAS former British colonies (FBC) and the UK. We then proceeded to qualitatively examine colonial heritage impact on these trade differences by looking at governance indicators and exchange rate systems. The results indicate that FBC’s better governance indicators and floating exchange rate system played a big role in limiting FBC’s trade dependency and helped provide a more competitive economic environment through which specific industries such as Ghana’s cocoa industries prevailed where Senegal’s peanut industry declined. Overall, ECOWAS free region has yet to fully implement a trading system that equally incorporates all its 15 member countries. A system that will provide economic independence for the member countries thereby breaking away from the long-term negative effects of post-colonial trade dependency with former colonizers. Improved trade diversification and decreased vertical[1] trade dependency for the FBC and even more for the FFC can be achieved through a common currency system[2] that will allow for a consistent control over the region’s monetary policy and thereby decrease external socks impact. ECOWAS needs to create infrastructure and economic institutions that will establish consistent regulations, harmonize member countries’ political agenda, and control corruption to allow for a competitive ECOWAS market that can attract investors and thereby establish a global presence.

********************* COVID-19 Projects ****************
As part of my senior seminar, my students helped to design an online survey with more than 1,600 respondents from all 50 U.S. states. Here is a selection of studies.

Title: “Coronavirus Blame Game and its Policy Implications”
Author: Ho June (Sean) Rhee
Summary: Ho June analyzes who is blaming either national or foreign entities for the current health crisis. College-educated and liberal respondents are less likely to blame foreign governments and individuals. While support for strict migration policies are divided along familiar party lines, it is surprising that college-educated respondents are more likely to support strict measures, including travel restrictions for foreigners.

Title: COVID-19 through the Lens of Political Leaning and Media Consumption
Author: Katy Hughes
Summary: Katy investigates how political leaning and media consumption is correlated with misinformation about the mortality risk of COVID-19. She finds that more conservative people and those watching conservative media have the most incorrect risk perceptions. Interestingly, those watching moderate news sources are best informed. Also, once she is controlling for both news consumption and political leaning simultaneously, news sources are the only significant predictors of being misinformed.

Title: Who is Acting Pro-socially During the Coronavirus Pandemic (and Why)?
Author: Haley McCreary
Summary: Haley explores what characteristics predicts pro-social behavior such as donations to the CDC Emergency Fund. Women and college-educated people are more likely to donate, while political leaning and economic uncertainty are not predictive of pro-social behavior. Analyzing the rationale for acting pro-socially, Haley finds that when individuals consider whether they have enough resources, they are less likely to donate.

Title: “COVID-19: Overestimating your own risk – Underestimating the risk for the elderly.”
Author: Maria Andersen
Summary: Maria compares how people assess their own risk vs. that of the elderly during the current pandemic. Across all age groups, respondents overestimate their own risk, but underestimate the risk of the elderly. Maria discusses how these misconceptions may put older people at risk and she concludes that the government and media need to do a better job communicating age-specific risk information.