Recent and Current Research
Our research seeks to improve personal, societal, and environmental well-being, primarily through improving self-control. Below we summarize a few recent and ongoing projects. Please see our publications page for a complete list of projects and papers. Please feel free to send us an email if you would like to learn more!
Why is Self-Control Important?
What do healthy eating, exercising, financial saving, honesty, social harmony, and sustainability all have in common? Self-control! That is, they all require people to forego an immediate desire (e.g., skipping an unnecessary purchase or illegally dipping into the company coffers) in order to implement the behavior that is beneficial in the long-run (e.g., financial and environmental well-being or honesty).
Because self-control failure generates substantial personal and societal costs, we try to understand how self-control works so we can improve it. In this way, we can try to help people live their best lives, such as by eating healthier (e.g., Mead and Patrick 2016), being more productive and happy (Mead, Patrick, Gunadi, and Hoffman 2016), and saving more money (Garbinsky, Mead, and Gregg 2021).
Below we provide an overview of ongoing work in two areas where a better understanding of self-control may help to solve some timely and pressing problems, particularly among vulnerable people. Please see our publications page for more details.
Improving Financial Well-Being
Undersaving has negative consequences for people, their families, and society. We seek to uncover barriers to saving, and we develop interventions to offset those barriers and spur saving.
For example, in developing and developed countries we found that people undersave because they think they are more financially responsible than they actually are (Garbinsky, Mead, and Gregg 2021). Using this insight, we developed a short, scalable, and simple intervention that popped that positive illusion and increased saving. For example, in a 3-week daily diary study with coffee growers in Uganda, we found that those who completed our savings intervention saved more than they would have otherwise, and they also saved more than their peers who did not receive the intervention.
In a different paper, we find that carrying coins (vs. banknotes) of the same denomination causes people to spend more because people find the coins to be a pain to hold onto (Zenkić, Millet, and Mead working paper). This is important because, despite the proliferation of digital money, cash is still the prevalent form of payment in many continents. More important, it is especially prevalent among vulnerable populations, such as poor Americans and those living in developing countries. Indeed, in a field study in rural India with transient workers, we endowed them with 100 rupees in either coins or notes. Those who were given predominantly coins (vs. notes) spent more in the store, even though Indians living in poverty report that they should save rather than spend the money.
Understanding and Mitigating the Human Role in the Climate Crisis
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in August 2021 which concluded that humanity is "unequivocally" responsible for climate change. It will continue to get worse unless green-house gas pollution is reduced. At the same time, societies are facing unprecedented challenges including loneliness, inequality, uncertainty over AI, and housing affordability. Is there a relationship between these factors?
We suggest the answer is yes. We find that when people feel the social contract is broken (such as when discrimination occurs, jobs are taken by robots, or people are unable to afford houses even though previous generations could) they are less willing to behave in environmentally friendly ways. We are currently working on developing interventions that can restore the social contract and improve sustainability.
Associate Professor of Marketing
SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
Director/Founder of Econ-Lab Economic Analysis and Interventions
Director/Co-Founder of Intersection Traders (smallholder-inclusive coffee supply chains)
University of New England, Australia