Thomas Neuber

Thomas Neuber

PhD candidate, University of Bonn

Bonn Graduate School of Economics
Kaiserstr. 1
53113 Bonn

About Me

I am a PhD candidate in economics at the Bonn Graduate School of Economics (BGSE ). My research fields are applied microeconomics and, in particular, behavioral economics. For more detailed information, please download my CV .


Thomas Dohmen (University of Bonn), Armin Falk (briq – Institute on Behavior & Inequality and University of Bonn), Felipe Valencia Caicedo (University of British Columbia), and Philipp Strack (Yale University)



Diffusion of Being Pivotal and Immoral Outcomes

with Armin Falk and Nora Szech
Review of Economic Studies, Volume 87, Issue 5, October 2020, Pages 2205–2229

We study how the diffusion of being pivotal affects immoral outcomes. In our main experiment, subjects decide about agreeing to kill mice and receiving money versus objecting to the killing and foregoing the monetary amount. In a baseline condition, subjects decide individually about the life of one mouse. In the main treatment, subjects are organized into groups of eight and decide simultaneously. Eight mice are killed if at least one subject opts for killing. The fraction of subjects agreeing to kill is significantly higher in the main condition compared with the baseline condition. In a second experiment, we run the same baseline and main conditions but use a charity context and additionally study sequential decision-making. We replicate our finding from the mouse paradigm. We further show that the observed effects increase with experience, i.e., when we repeat the experiment for a second time. For both experiments, we elicit beliefs about being pivotal, which we validate in a treatment with non-involved observers. We show that beliefs are a main driver of our results.

Working Papers

Limited Self-knowledge and Survey Response Behavior

with Armin Falk and Philipp Strack

We study response behavior in surveys and show how the explanatory power of self-reports can be improved. First, we develop a choice model of survey response behavior under the assumption that the respondent has imperfect self-knowledge about her individual characteristics. In panel data, the model predicts that the variance in responses for different characteristics increases in self-knowledge and that the variance for a given characteristic over time is non-monotonic in self-knowledge. Importantly, the ratio of these variances identifies an individual’s level of self-knowledge, i.e., the latter can be inferred from observed response patterns. Second, we develop a consistent and unbiased estimator for self-knowledge based on the model. Third, we run an experiment to test the model’s main predictions in a context where the researcher knows the true underlying characteristics. The data confirm the model’s predictions as well as the estimator’s validity. Finally, we turn to a large panel data set, estimate individual levels of self-knowledge, and show that accounting for differences in self-knowledge significantly increases the explanatory power of estimates. Using a median split in self-knowledge and regressing risky behaviors on self-reported risk attitudes, we find that the R2 can be multiple times larger for above- than below-median subjects. Similarly, gender gaps in risk attitudes are considerably larger when restricting samples to subjects with high self-knowledge. These examples illustrate how using the estimator may improve inference from survey data.

Egocentric Norm Adoption

Social norms pervade human interaction, but their demands are often in conflict. To understand behavior, it is thus crucial to know how individuals resolve normative tradeoffs. This paper proposes that sincere judgments about the relative importance of conflicting norms are shaped by personal interest. We show that people tend to follow norms from which they benefit themselves, even in contexts where their own decisions only affect others. In a (virtual) laboratory experiment, each subject makes two decisions over allocations of points within a group of two other participants. The sets of possible allocations entail different normative tradeoffs, and subjects have no personal stakes in their own decisions. However, they are affected by others' decisions: each subject is part of a group, and the members of different groups simultaneously decide over others' allocations along a circle. We find that subjects' decisions are biased towards the normative principles aligned with their own interests, thereby favoring other players whenever these share those interests. Subjects' beliefs about the choices made by others suggest a largely unconscious mechanism. Moreover, survey answers indicate that the effects are driven by self-centered reasoning: subjects who report pronounced perspective-taking are less biased.

Motivated by Others' Preferences? An Experiment on Imperfect Empathy

with Jana Hofmeier

People care about others. But how do they assess the utility of others when making other-regarding decisions? Do they apply their own preferences or do they adopt the preferences of the other person? We study this question in a laboratory experiment where subjects in the role of senders can pay money to avoid harm arising to receivers. In a first step, we elicit all subjects' willingness to pay (WTP) for not having to eat food items containing dried insects. We then show senders the WTPs of receivers and repeat the elicitation procedure, but now with receivers having to eat the food items and senders stating their WTPs to spare the receivers from having to eat them. We find that not only receivers' preferences matter for decisions but also senders' own preferences, a phenomenon for which we use the term imperfect empathy. In motivating prosocial transfers, senders' and receivers' WTPs act as complements by reinforcing each other. Conversely, pairs of sender and receiver who are dissimilar generate lower transfers than others. Since transfers usually benefit receivers more than they cost senders, we also find that dissimilarity within pairs reduces welfare. Our results complement the extensive literature on prosocial preferences, which so far abstracts from heterogeneous valuations. The implications might be far-reaching. For example, systematic differences in consumption preferences between net payers and recipients could undermine public support for public welfare systems.

Work in Progress

State Institutions and the Evolution of Patience

with Thomas Dohmen

The degree to which people behave patiently is a crucial determinant of various economic outcomes at both the individual and the aggregate level. This paper contributes to our understanding of this important economic concept by studying the persistent effect that statehood during the last two millennia has had on patience around the globe. We show that state history and individuals’ levels of patient behavior exhibit a humped shaped relationship, consistent with recent findings for the association between historical statehood and economic development. The relationship is robust to various controls, including contemporary institutions and even economic development. We then turn towards identifying the geographically portable component of the effect by comparing migrants from different origins that now reside in the same country. We find a pronounced negative effect of home countries’ state history on patient behavior, which is significant and robust to controls. It is shown that our results are consistent with a model where state history has a persistently positive effect on patient behavior through the emergence of patience-promoting norms, which are substitutes for intrinsic patience but not portable. The overall effect of state history on present-day patient behavior masks partial crowding-out of intrinsic patience.