Research with PPE People

Current PPE Projects

PPE is currently engaged in several ongoing research projects. Please reach out to the program if you're interested in becoming a research assistant. Many, though not all, of these projects are housed in the Penn Social Norms Group (Penn SoNG) run by PPE's director and Penn SoNG's founding director, Cristina Bicchieri.

Social Norms and Sanitation in India

Penn SoNG is engaged in a multi-year study of the social factors - networks and norms - supporting open defecation in rural and urban India. Our ultimate goal is to design an effective, research-based intervention promoting the social drivers of latrine use.

Freedom, Norms and Social Change

We are excited to begin a new research project in Spring 2018 investigating the relationship between perceptions of inequality and perceptions of freedom. Our main hypothesis is that perceptions of freedom and autonomy shape perceptions of inequality, and vice versa. As people perceive themselves and others as having less autonomy/freedom – they also perceive greater inequality, especially inequality of opportunity.

Conversely, when people perceive themselves as having greater freedom, they also perceive less inequality and enhanced opportunity. A corollary of this hypothesis is that changes in perceived inequality over time affect people’s perception of autonomy such that perceptions of increasing inequality will further decrease perceptions of autonomy/freedom. Does perceiving an “inequality trajectory” affect our sense of autonomy/freedom? How much? 



Examples of Past PURM Projects

Summer 2018

Project 1: Betting and Match-Fixing in Professional Sports

Corruption in general but in sports in particular is a ubiquitous issue in both amateur and professional sports, especially in the form of match-fixing. With higher stakes involved, such distortions create negative externalities not only on the individual but also on the aggregate level, such as loss of media interest, and erode the inherent principle of fair and competitive sports. Betting on sports is a steadily growing business (the market volume for regulated sports betting worldwide is estimated at $58 billion per year) and has become an integral tool in making money off fixed matches. Recently, investigations showed evidence that match-fixing has run rampant in the tennis sport for years and triggered a general discussion regarding the extent to which match-fixing has generally soaked through sports.

We are in possession of a huge one-of-a-kind data set on betting volumes across 50 different sports and hundreds of leagues that allows us to study this topic for the first time and trace suspicious instances of betting behavior. The data spans a time period of 9 years and provides detailed betting data (including the betting volume). The purpose of this PURM project is to capitalize on this data and help the PPE team to look into issues including but not limited to match-fixing. For students, this is a great opportunity to analyze big data, investigate suspicious patterns, and ultimately work at the forefront of crime analysis.

Requirements: prior knowledge in working with R (or related programs) as well as programming experience.

 

Project 2: Changing social norms: Combating open defecation in India with data. Stage 2

Working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we are conducting a massive three-year project designed to provide a clear understanding of the underlying social factors that support open defecation and barriers that prohibit latrine use in rural and urban India.

Open defecation (OD) is a serious public health issue in India, and over 300 million people practicing in the country alone. OD contributes to many serious health issues, with India reporting the highest number of diarrheal deaths in children under-five in the world. It is not simply an infrastructure limitation either, as many latrines that have been built in affected areas go unused.

Using an individual-level survey, we explore how beliefs, expectations, cultural factors, and group membership may contribute to OD’s persistence. Specifically, we will use a social norms framework to attempt to distinguish between different kinds of socially motivated behavior.

Additionally, we measure and analyze the structure of target communities so as to better understand what sort of intervention would be most effective. Our measurements and analyses will ultimately be used to advise on and design an intervention to most effectively encourage OD abandonment.

This is an exciting project in terms of both its scope and importance. An interested student will have opportunities to research relevant aspects of Indian culture, help construct professional surveys to assess factual beliefs, social expectations, and community structure, and/or help analyze data. We are particularly interested to compare our findings with prior literature and survey data and explain any observed differences in terms of real improvements and differences in methodologies. As such, we would be interested in taking on students who have some training and interest in statistics or data science.

 

Summer 2017 

Project 1: Changing social norms: Combating open defecation in India

Working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we have recently started a massive three-year project designed to provide a clear understanding of the underlying social factors that support open defecation and barriers that prohibit latrine use in rural and urban India. Open defecation (OD) is a serious public health issue in India, and nearly 500 million people practicing in the country alone. OD contributes to many serious health issues, with India reporting the highest number of diarrheal deaths in children under-five in the world. It is not simply an infrastructure limitation either, as many latrines that have been built in affected areas go unused.

Using household surveys and mobile telephone responses, we will explore how beliefs, expectations, and cultural factors may contribute to OD’s persistence. Specifically, we will use a social norms framework to attempt to distinguish between different kinds of socially motivated behavior. Additionally, we will measure and analyze the structure of target communities so as to better understand what sort of intervention would be most effective. Our measurements and analyses will ultimately be used to advise on and design an intervention to most effectively encourage OD abandonment.

This is an exciting project in terms of both its scope and importance. An interested student will have opportunities to research relevant aspects of Indian culture, help construct professional surveys to assess factual beliefs, social expectations, and community structure, and/or help analyze data.

Project 2: Betting and Match-Fixing in Professional Sports

Corruption in general but in sports in particular is a ubiquitous issue in both amateur and professional sports, especially in the form of match-fixing. With higher stakes involved, such distortions create negative externalities not only on the individual but also on the aggregate level, such as loss of media interest, and erode the inherent principle of fair and competitive sports. Betting on sports is a steadily growing business (the market volume for regulated sports betting worldwide is estimated at $58 billion per year) and has become an integral tool in making money off fixed matches. Recently, investigations showed evidence that match-fixing has run rampant in the tennis sport for years and triggered a general discussion regarding the extent to which match-fixing has generally soaked through sports.

We are in possession of a huge one-of-a-kind data set on betting volumes across 50 different sports and hundreds of leagues that allows us to study this topic for the first time and trace suspicious instances of betting behavior. The data spans a time period of 9 years and provides detailed betting data (including the betting volume). The purpose of this PURM project is to capitalize on this data and help the PPE team to look into issues including but not limited to match-fixing. For students, this is a great opportunity to analyze big data, investigate suspicious patterns, and ultimately work at the forefront of crime analysis. Prior knowledge in working with STATA (or a related program) and econometric knowledge is helpful.

Summer 2016

Do Local Elections Increase Inequality?

This project is co-mentored with Marc Meredith. Two factors distinguish mayoral elections from other American contests: turnout is remarkably low and more affluent voters tend to participate at higher rates than other voters. At the same time, states and local jurisdictions have wide leverage to conduct elections as they see fit. This combination of features leads to a question relevant to scholarly and policy debates on elections: can we identify policy interventions (i.e. election day registration and convenience voting reforms) that reduce inequality in local elections? Knowledge of this question is limited in the academic literature, but advances in management and analysis of big data may be helpful to expand on what we already know about local elections. Interested students will assist with assembling a set of data from academic sources and official election results and with preliminary analyses of the data. Familiarity with Stata is beneficial, but not required.