Kate Barasz


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Doctoral Student

Kate is a sixth-year doctoral student in the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School. Her dissertation, "The Continuum of Choice," looks at choice from three perspectives: the unseen factors that influence the choices we make, the ways we can affect choice at the moment of execution, and the signals our choices convey about us (both correctly and incorrectly) to others. 

In one paper, Kate and her coauthors (Tami Kim and Leslie John) examine the (mistaken) inferences we make about others' preferences after observing their choices. Consider this scenario: you come across a consumer choosing between two products, Widget A and Widget B. The consumer chooses A; what do you infer about her preferences for B? As it turns out, people infer entirely different things about Widget B depending on its perceived (dis)similarity to Widget A. Widget B is perceived as a well-liked second choice when it is relatively similar, but predicted to be an actively rejected and disliked option when it is relatively dissimilar. However, as the paper also demonstrates, this intuition is often incorrect: people readily like dissimilar options for themselves, but mistakenly predict that others do not. This leads to a distinct and pervasive prediction error, whereby people predict that others will forgo value and quality for the sake of similarity, turning down an option that is a better price or more highly rated simply because it is dissimilar—and mistakenly assumed to be disliked.

In another paper, Kate and her coauthors (Leslie John and Michael Norton) examine the effect of "pseudo-set framing" — or arbitrarily grouping discrete items together as part of an apparent set. Using cues both verbal (e.g., “there are four tasks in every set”) and visual (e.g., progress depicted in a four-slice pie chart that “fills in” as tasks are completed), they show that pseudo-set framing significantly changes the point at which people decide to quit in an ongoing series of tasks. Pseudo-set framing changes perceptions of completeness, making intermediate progress or effort (e.g., “3 of 4 tasks done”) appear less complete relative to a control (e.g., “3 tasks done”); in turn, this feeling of incompleteness motivates people to persist until the pseudo-set has been fulfilled. The paper demonstrates that this simple framing effect can change the number of goods and dollars people donate, the number of tasks they voluntarily complete, and the amount of risk they are willing to assume. Moreover, pseudo-set framing impacts behavior despite the fact that the sets are completely arbitrary in size and nature (e.g., “four tasks” or “five books” make up a set), and even though participants receive no incentive for completion.  

In addition to general judgment and decision-making applications, Kate is also interested in applying her findings to a medical domain, examining how patients and physicians can make more transparent and less stressful health decisions. 

Kate received her A.B. in Economics and Public Policy Studies from Duke University in 2006.  After graduating, she worked as a management consultant in Bain & Company's Atlanta and Boston offices. She lives in Brookline with her husband and two children.


Journal Articles

  1. Hiding Personal Information Reveals the Worst

    Leslie K. John, Kate Barasz and Michael I. Norton

    Seven experiments explore people's decisions to share or withhold personal information and the wisdom of such decisions. When people choose not to reveal information—to be "hiders"—they are judged negatively by others (experiment 1). These negative judgments emerge when hiding is volitional (experiments 2A and 2B) and are driven by decreases in trustworthiness engendered by decisions to hide (experiments 3A and 3B). Moreover, hiders do not intuit these negative consequences: given the choice to withhold or reveal unsavory information, people often choose to withhold, but observers rate those who reveal even questionable behavior more positively (experiments 4A and 4B). The negative impact of hiding holds whether opting not to disclose unflattering (drug use, poor grades, and sexually transmitted diseases) or flattering (blood donations) information including across decisions ranging from whom to date to whom to hire. When faced with decisions about disclosure, decision makers should be aware not just of the risk of revealing but of what hiding reveals.

    Keywords: disclosure; transparency; trust; policy-making; privacy; Information; Corporate Disclosure; Decision Choices and Conditions; Trust;


    John, Leslie K., Kate Barasz, and Michael I. Norton. "Hiding Personal Information Reveals the Worst."Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113, no. 4 (January 26, 2016): 954–959. View Details
  2. The Role of (Dis)similarity in (Mis)predicting Others' Preferences

    Kate Barasz, Tami Kim and Leslie K. John

    Consumers readily indicate liking options that appear dissimilar—for example, enjoying both rustic lake vacations and chic city vacations or liking both scholarly documentary films and action-packed thrillers. However, when predicting other consumers’ tastes for the same items, people believe that a preference for one precludes enjoyment of the dissimilar other. Five studies show that people sensibly expect others to like similar products but erroneously expect others to dislike dissimilar ones (Studies 1 and 2). While people readily select dissimilar items for themselves (particularly if the dissimilar item is of higher quality than a similar one), they fail to predict this choice for others (Studies 3 and 4)—even when monetary rewards are at stake (Study 3). The tendency to infer dislike from dissimilarity is driven by a belief that others have a narrow and homogeneous range of preferences (Study 5).


    Barasz, Kate, Tami Kim, and Leslie K. John. "The Role of (Dis)similarity in (Mis)predicting Others' Preferences."Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) (forthcoming). View Details
        12 Apr 2016
        Harvard Gazette
        01 Jun 2015
        HBS Working Knowledge
        26 Aug 2015
        Harvard Magazine

        Area of Study

        • Marketing
        • Consumer Behavior