Leslie K. John

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Unit: Negotiation, Organizations & Markets

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(617) 495-6394

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Leslie John is an assistant professor of business administration in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets unit. She teaches the Negotiations course in the MBA elective curriculum, as well as in various Executive Education courses.

In the past, she has taught the core Marketing course in the MBA required curriculum.

Professor John’s research centers on how consumers’ behavior and lives are influenced by their interaction with firms and with public policy. Her work has been published in academic journals including the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Social Psychological and Personality Science, and The Journal of the American Medical Association. It has also received media attention from outlets such as The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine. 

Professor John holds a Ph.D. in behavioral decision research from Carnegie Mellon University, where she also earned an M.Sc. in psychology and behavioral decision research. She completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Waterloo. 

Featured Work

Publications

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, and 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; Decisions; Trust;

    Citation:

    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. Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through

    Todd Rogers, Katherine L Milkman, Leslie John and Michael I. Norton

    Many intend to stay fit but fail to exercise or eat healthfully; students intend to earn good grades but study too little; citizens intend to vote but fail to turnout. How can policymakers help people follow through on intentions like these? Plan-making, a tool that leverages research on memory and cognition as well as mechanical benefits of scheduling, is one underappreciated solution. We review experiments showing that forming specific, concrete plans increases follow through across a range of domains—from vaccinations to voting. Plan-making prompts are simple, inexpensive, and powerful tools for changing behavior, which preserve the autonomy of decision makers.

    Keywords: Behavior; Success; Planning;

    Citation:

    Rogers, Todd, Katherine L Milkman, Leslie John, and Michael I. Norton. "Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through." Behavioral Science & Policy (forthcoming). View Details
  3. The Role of (Dis)similarity in (Mis)predicting Others' Preferences

    Kate Barasz, Tami Kim and Leslie 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).

    Citation:

    Barasz, Kate, Tami Kim, and Leslie John. "The Role of (Dis)similarity in (Mis)predicting Others' Preferences." Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) (forthcoming). View Details
  4. What is Privacy Worth?

    Alessandro Acquisti, Leslie John and George Loewenstein

    Understanding the value that individuals assign to the protection of their personal data is of great importance for business, law, and public policy. We use a field experiment informed by behavioral economics and decision research to investigate individual privacy valuations and find evidence of endowment and order effects. Individuals assigned markedly different values to the privacy of their data depending on (1) whether they were asked to consider how much money they would accept to disclose otherwise private information or how much they would pay to protect otherwise public information and (2) the order in which they considered different offers for their data. The gap between such values is large compared with that observed in comparable studies of consumer goods. The results highlight the sensitivity of privacy valuations to contextual, nonnormative factors.

    Keywords: Safety; Valuation; Identity;

    Citation:

    Acquisti, Alessandro, Leslie John, and George Loewenstein. "What is Privacy Worth?" Journal of Legal Studies 42, no. 2 (June 2013): 249–274. View Details
  5. Converging to the Lowest Common Denominator in Physical Health

    Leslie John and Michael I. Norton

    Objective: This research examines how access to information on peer health behaviors affects one's own health behavior. Methods: We report the results of a randomized field experiment in a large corporation in which we introduced walkstations (treadmills attached to desks that enable employees to walk while working), provided employees with feedback on their own and their co-workers' usage, and assessed usage over six months. We report how we determined our sample size, as well as all data exclusions, manipulations, and measures in the study. Results: Walkstation usage declined most when participants were given information on co-workers' usage levels, due to a tendency to converge to the lowest common denominator—their least-active co-workers. Conclusion: This research demonstrates the impact of the lowest common denominator in physical activity: people's activity levels tend to converge to the lowest-performing members of their groups. This research adds to our understanding of the factors that determine when the behavior of others impacts our own behavior for the better—and the worse.

    Keywords: Information; Behavior; Decision Choices and Conditions; Health; Health Industry;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, and Michael I. Norton. "Converging to the Lowest Common Denominator in Physical Health." Special Issue on Health Psychology Meets Behavioral Economics. Health Psychology 32, no. 9 (September 2013): 1023–1028. View Details
  6. Cheating More for Less: Upward Social Comparisons Motivate the Poorly Compensated to Cheat

    Leslie John, George Loewenstein and Scott Rick

    Intuitively, people should cheat more when cheating is more lucrative, but we find that the effect of performance-based pay rates on dishonesty depends on how readily people can compare their pay rate to that of others. In Experiment 1, participants were paid 5 cents or 25 cents per self-reported point in a trivia task, and half were aware that they could have received the alternative pay rate. Lower pay rates increased cheating when the prospect of a higher pay rate was salient. Experiment 2 illustrates that this effect is driven by the ease with which poorly compensated participants can compare their pay to that of others who earn a higher pay rate. Our results suggest that low pay rates are, in and of themselves, unlikely to promote dishonesty. Instead, it is the salience of upward social comparisons that encourages the poorly compensated to cheat.

    Keywords: dishonesty; decision making; social comparison; fairness; pay secrecy; Motivation and Incentives; Fairness; Decision Making; Compensation and Benefits;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, George Loewenstein, and Scott Rick. "Cheating More for Less: Upward Social Comparisons Motivate the Poorly Compensated to Cheat." Special Issue on Behavioral Ethics. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 123, no. 2 (March 2014): 101–109. View Details
  7. Effects of Description of Options on Parental Perinatal Decision-Making

    Marlyse F. Haward, Leslie John, John M. Lorenz and Baruch Fischhoff

    Objective: To examine whether parents' delivery room management decisions for extremely preterm infants are influenced by (a) the degree of detail with which options-comfort care (CC) or intensive care (IC)-are presented or (b) their order of presentation. Methods: 309 volunteers, 18-55 years old, were each randomized to one of 4 groups: 1. detailed descriptions, CC presented first; 2. detailed descriptions, IC presented first; 3. brief descriptions, CC presented first; and 4. brief descriptions, IC presented first. Each received the description of a hypothetical delivery of a 23-week gestation infant and chose either IC or CC. Open-ended and structured questions elicited reasoning. Data were analyzed by chi-square and logistic regression analysis. Results: Neither degree of detail, comparing groups 1+2 with 3+4 (37% v 41%, OR=0.85, 95%CI=0.54-1.34, p=0.48), nor order, comparing groups 1+3 with 2+4 (40% v 37 %, OR=0.88, 95%CI=0.56-1.39; p=0.59), influenced the likelihood of choosing IC. Participants choosing IC were more likely to invoke sanctity of life and religiosity as personal values. Additional reasons for choosing IC were experiences with infants born at later gestational ages, giving the baby a chance, not watching their baby die, and equating CC with euthanasia. Some choosing CC wanted to avoid infant suffering. Conclusions: The degree of detail and order of presentation had no effect on treatment decisions, suggesting that individuals bring well-articulated preexisting preferences to such decisions. Understanding beliefs and attitudes motivating these preferences can assist physicians in helping parents make informed decisions consistent with their values.

    Keywords: Decision Making; Values and Beliefs; Personal Characteristics; Attitudes; Motivation and Incentives; Family and Family Relationships; Health Care and Treatment;

    Citation:

    Haward, Marlyse F., Leslie John, John M. Lorenz, and Baruch Fischhoff. "Effects of Description of Options on Parental Perinatal Decision-Making." Pediatrics 129, no. 5 (May 2012): 891–902. View Details
  8. Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices with Incentives for Truth-telling

    Leslie K. John, George Loewenstein and Drazen Prelec

    Cases of clear scientific misconduct have received significant media attention recently, but less flagrant transgressions of research norms may be more prevalent and in the long run more damaging to the academic enterprise. We surveyed over 2,000 psychologists about their involvement in questionable research practices, using an anonymous elicitation format supplemented by incentives for honest reporting. The impact of incentives on admission rates was positive and greater for practices that respondents judge to be less defensible. Using three different estimation methods, we find that the proportion of respondents that have engaged in these practices is surprisingly high relative to respondents' own estimates of these proportions. Some questionable practices may constitute the prevailing research norm.

    Keywords: Research; Practice; Motivation and Incentives; Surveys; Values and Beliefs; Measurement and Metrics;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie K., George Loewenstein, and Drazen Prelec. "Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices with Incentives for Truth-telling." Psychological Science 23, no. 5 (May 2012): 524–532. View Details
  9. Empirical Observations on Longer-term Use of Incentives for Weight Loss

    Leslie John, George Loewenstein and Kevin Volpp

    Behavioral economic-based interventions are emerging as powerful tools to help individuals accomplish their own goals, including weight loss. Deposit contract incentive systems give participants the opportunity to put their money down toward losing weight, which they forfeit if they fail to lose weight; lottery incentive systems enable participants to win money if they attain weight loss goals. In this paper, we pool data from two prior studies to examine a variety of issues that unpublished data from those studies allow us to address. First, examining data from the deposit contract treatments in greater depth, we investigate factors affecting deposit frequency and size and discuss possible ways of increasing deposits. Next, we compare the effectiveness of both deposit contract and lottery interventions as a function of participant demographic characteristics. These observations may help to guide the design of future, longer-term, behavioral economic-based interventions.

    Keywords: weight loss; obesity; Behavioral economics; intervention; Personal Development and Career; Economic Growth; Contracts; Motivation and Incentives; Banks and Banking; Organizational Design; Strategic Planning;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, George Loewenstein, and Kevin Volpp. "Empirical Observations on Longer-term Use of Incentives for Weight Loss." Preventive Medicine 55, Supplement 1 (November 2012): S68–S74. View Details
  10. Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial

    Leslie John, George Loewenstein, Andrea Troxel, Laurie Norton, Jennifer Fassbender and Kevin Volpp

    Keywords: Finance; Health; Motivation and Incentives;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, George Loewenstein, Andrea Troxel, Laurie Norton, Jennifer Fassbender, and Kevin Volpp. "Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial." Journal of General Internal Medicine 26, no. 6 (June 2011): 621–626. View Details
  11. Good Intentions, Optimistic Self-Predictions, and Missed Opportunities

    Derek Koehler, Rebecca White and Leslie John

    Self-predictions are highly sensitive to current intentions but often largely insensitive to factors influencing the readiness with which those intentions are translated into future behavior. When such factors are under a person's control, they could be used to increase the probability that desired future behavior will be undertaken, but they will be underused if self-predictions underestimate their impact. This hypothesis was borne out in two experiments involving working students attempting to achieve a savings goal: They strongly intended to save, made overly optimistic self-predictions even when it was costly to do so, and were willing to pay very little for a service that could help them save more because they did not anticipate its impact on their future behavior. By contrast, students who were informed of the service's actual impact were willing to pay more for it, and students did not underestimate the impact of the service on fellow students.

    Keywords: Planning; Saving; Behavior; Forecasting and Prediction;

    Citation:

    Koehler, Derek, Rebecca White, and Leslie John. "Good Intentions, Optimistic Self-Predictions, and Missed Opportunities." Social Psychological & Personality Science 2, no. 1 (January 2011): 90–96. View Details
  12. Financial Incentive Based Approaches for Weight Loss: A Randomized Trial

    Kevin Volpp, Leslie John, Andrea Troxel, Laurie Norton, Jennifer Fassbender and George Loewenstein

    Keywords: Finance; Health; Motivation and Incentives;

    Citation:

    Volpp, Kevin, Leslie John, Andrea Troxel, Laurie Norton, Jennifer Fassbender, and George Loewenstein. "Financial Incentive Based Approaches for Weight Loss: A Randomized Trial." JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association 300, no. 22 (December 10, 2008): 2631–2637. View Details

Book Chapters

  1. The Consumer Psychology of Online Privacy: Insights and Opportunities from Behavioral Decision Theory

    Leslie K. John

    Citation:

    John, Leslie K. "The Consumer Psychology of Online Privacy: Insights and Opportunities from Behavioral Decision Theory." In The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Psychology, edited by Michael I. Norton, Derek D. Rucker, and Cait Lamberton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. View Details
  2. Toward Transparent Reporting of Psychological Science

    Etienne P. LeBel and Leslie John

    In this chapter we make a case for increased transparency of the methods used to obtain research findings. Although comprehensive reporting facilitates accurate assessment of a paper’s claims, the current reporting norm is secrecy, not openness. We begin by putting this situation into historical context, comparing reporting norms from a bygone era to those of today. Next, we explain why transparency is desirable, even if full compliance is not achieved. We then outline the obstacles—both psychological and institutional—to comprehensive reporting. We go on to discuss possible remedies and end by drawing connections between the disclosure problem and other ongoing challenges within psychological science and allied fields.

    Citation:

    LeBel, Etienne P., and Leslie John. "Toward Transparent Reporting of Psychological Science." In Psychological Science under Scrutiny: Recent Challenges and Proposed Solutions, edited by S.O. Lilienfeld and I.D. Waldman. New York: John Wiley & Sons, forthcoming. View Details
  3. Using Decision Errors to Help People Help Themselves

    George Loewenstein, Leslie John and Kevin Volpp

    Keywords: Decisions; Welfare or Wellbeing;

    Citation:

    Loewenstein, George, Leslie John, and Kevin Volpp. "Using Decision Errors to Help People Help Themselves." Chap. 21 in The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy, edited by Eldar Shafir, 361–379. Princeton University Press, 2012. View Details

Working Papers

  1. Lifting the Veil: The Benefits of Cost Transparency

    Bhavya Mohan, Ryan W. Buell and Leslie K. John

    A firm's costs are typically tightly-guarded secrets. However, across a field study and six laboratory experiments we identify when and why firms benefit from revealing unit cost information to consumers. A natural field experiment conducted with an online retailer suggests that cost transparency boosts sales. Six subsequent controlled lab experiments replicate this basic effect (Studies 2-6) and provide evidence for why it occurs: just as interpersonal disclosure of intimate information increases attraction, cost transparency by a firm increases brand attraction, in turn boosting consumer purchase interest. This relationship persists even after controlling for perceptions of price fairness and product quality (Study 3). Study 4 suggests that the beneficial effect of cost transparency holds when firms spend more on "less desirable" costs relative to "more desirable" costs. Studies 5-6 show that the effect of cost transparency weakens when high profit margins are made salient. Finally, Study 7 shows that the beneficial effect reverses (i.e. cost transparency backfires) when it is revealed that a firm's profit margins are high relative to those of its competitors.

    Keywords: cost transparency; operational transparency; purchase intentions; brand attraction; customers; Cost; Corporate Disclosure; Marketing;

    Citation:

    Mohan, Bhavya, Ryan W. Buell, and Leslie K. John. "Lifting the Veil: The Benefits of Cost Transparency." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-017, September 2014. (Revised May 2015.) View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Marketing Reading: Marketing Intelligence

    Robert J. Dolan and Leslie John

    This Reading provides the basic knowledge a marketing manager needs in order to choose the right combination of research methods, as well as the best way to present research findings to stakeholders. Furthermore, this Reading shows how effective decision making hinges on marketing intelligence, which is defined as a deep and informed understanding of the relationship among the customer, the marketing environment, and the company's offerings.

    Citation:

    Dolan, Robert J., and Leslie John. "Marketing Reading: Marketing Intelligence." Core Curriculum Readings Series. Harvard Business Publishing 8191, 2015. View Details
  2. CVS Health: Promoting Drug Adherence

    Leslie John, John Quelch and Robert Huckman

    The case describes a program that CVS Health recently implemented to improve medication adherence, an important problem from a societal, public policy, and firm perspective. A test of the program, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement, increased the proportion of adherent customers by 1.4 percentage points. Students are asked to quantify the system-wide economic benefit of this improvement and draw upon insights from behavioral science to examine approaches for boosting medication adherence.

    Keywords: marketing strategy; medication adherence; Affordable Care Act (ACA); Marketing Strategy; Communication Strategy; Customer Value and Value Chain; Decisions; Health Care and Treatment; Goals and Objectives; Resource Allocation; Marketing Communications; Consumer Behavior; Measurement and Metrics; Service Delivery; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Social Issues; Information Technology; Value Creation; Health Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Insurance Industry; Public Relations Industry; Retail Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, John Quelch, and Robert Huckman. "CVS Health: Promoting Drug Adherence." Harvard Business School Case 515-010, January 2015. (Revised March 2015.) View Details
  3. CVS Health: Promoting Drug Adherence

    Leslie John, John Quelch and Robert Huckman

    Keywords: marketing strategy; medication adherence; Affordable Care Act (ACA); Marketing Strategy; Communication Strategy; Customer Value and Value Chain; Decisions; Health Care and Treatment; Goals and Objectives; Resource Allocation; Marketing Communications; Consumer Behavior; Measurement and Metrics; Service Delivery; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Social Issues; Information Technology; Value Creation; Health Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Insurance Industry; Public Relations Industry; Retail Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, John Quelch, and Robert Huckman. "CVS Health: Promoting Drug Adherence." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 515-086, March 2015. View Details
  4. Making stickK Stick: The Business of Behavioral Economics

    Leslie John, Michael Norton and Michael Norris

    stickK.com, a website that uses behavioral economics to help users achieve their goals, must choose between a direct-to-consumer or business-to-business model. The case includes a discussion of how principles of behavioral economics can be used to influence behavior, and how an understanding of behavioral economics can inform managerial decisions about product adoption and diffusion.

    Keywords: Behavioral economics; behavior change; B2B vs. B2C; human resource management; marketing of innovations; health & wellness; weight loss; charitable giving; Marketing; Consumer Behavior; Entrepreneurship; Internet; Health; Business Model; Sales; Human Resources; Health Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, Michael Norton, and Michael Norris. "Making stickK Stick: The Business of Behavioral Economics." Harvard Business School Case 514-019, April 2014. (Revised June 2015.) (request a courtesy copy.) View Details
  5. Making stickK Stick: The Business of Behavioral Economics

    Leslie John and Michael I. Norton

    Keywords: Behavioral economics; behavior change; B2B vs. B2C; human resource management; marketing of innovations; health & wellness; weight loss; charitable giving; Marketing; Consumer Behavior; Entrepreneurship; Internet; Health; Business Model; Sales; Human Resources; Health Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, and Michael I. Norton. "Making stickK Stick: The Business of Behavioral Economics." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 515-088, February 2015. View Details

    Research Summary

  1. Current Research

    by Leslie K. John

    Marketing and Public Policy

    Professor John uses behavioral decision theory and both laboratory and field studies to investigate questions that are at the intersection of marketing and public policy. Specifically, she asks how firms’ behavior and policy initiatives interact to affect consumer well-being. Within this arena, she has developed three research streams.

    Consumer privacy

    As people spend more time shopping, gaming, and socializing online – and as data gathering technology has become more sophisticated – consumer privacy has become an ever more important issue. Gathering consumer data creates marketing opportunities for firms, but surrendering this information can be perilous for consumers. Professor John has examined why and in what situations consumers are willing to divulge sensitive personal information, highlighting a tension between their best interests and marketers’ motivations. She is interested in developing ways to deal with personal information that are beneficial to firms and consumers alike.

    Consumer health

    Escalating health care costs have focused attention on changing unhealthy but modifiable behaviors. Tobacco use, obesity, and alcohol abuse together account for nearly one-third of all deaths in the United States. Professor John has demonstrated that it is possible to exploit people’s decision biases, such as overconfidence and aversion to financial loss, to help them adopt more healthy behaviors.

    Professional dishonesty

    In her newest stream of research, Professor John is studying dishonesty in the workplace, building on mounting evidence that it cannot be fully explained by a rational, cost-benefit perspective.