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. What is Privacy Worth?

    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
  2. Converging to the Lowest Common Denominator in Physical Health

    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
  3. Cheating More for Less: Upward Social Comparisons Motivate the Poorly Compensated to Cheat

    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
  4. The Impact of Relative Standards on the Propensity to Disclose

    Two sets of studies illustrate the comparative nature of disclosure behavior. The first set investigates how divulgence is affected by signals about others' readiness to divulge. Study 1A shows a "herding" effect, such that survey respondents are more willing to divulge sensitive information when told that previous respondents have made sensitive disclosures. We provide evidence of the process underlying this effect and rule out alternative explanations by showing that information on others' propensity to disclose affects respondents' discomfort associated with divulgence (Study 1B) and not their interpretation of the questions (Study 1C). The second set of studies suggests that divulgence is anchored by the initial questions in a survey; people are particularly likely to divulge when questions are presented in decreasing order of intrusiveness. Study 2B suggests that the effect arises by affecting people's judgments of the intrusiveness of the inquiries; Study 2C goes further by showing that the effect is altered when privacy concerns are primed at the outset of the study. This research helps understand how consumers' propensity to disclose is affected by continual streams of requests for personal information and by the equally unavoidable barrage of personal information about others.

    Keywords: Judgments; Surveys; Consumer Behavior; Standards; Corporate Disclosure; Management Practices and Processes;

    Citation:

    Acquisti, Alessandro, Leslie John, and George Loewenstein. "The Impact of Relative Standards on the Propensity to Disclose." Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) (April 2012). View Details
  5. Effects of Description of Options on Parental Perinatal Decision-Making

    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; Presentations; Mathematical Methods; Personal Characteristics; Attitudes; Motivation and Incentives; Family and Family Relationships; Value; 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 (2012). View Details
  6. Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices with Incentives for Truth-telling

    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). View Details
  7. Empirical Observations on Longer-term Use of Incentives for Weight Loss

    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
  8. Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial

    Keywords: Finance; Health; Motivation and Incentives;

    Citation:

    John, Leslie, Laurie Norton, Jennifer Fassbender, Andrea Troxel, George Loewenstein, 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
  9. The Price of Good Intentions

    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. "The Price of Good Intentions." Social Psychological & Personality Science 2, no. 1 (January 2011). View Details
  10. Financial Incentive Based Approaches for Weight Loss: A Randomized Trial

    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 (2008): 2631–2637. View Details

Book Chapters

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Making stickK Stick: The Business of Behavioral Economics

    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. View Details

    Research Summary

  1. Current Research

    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.

    1. Grant from Small Grants Program, Center for Behavioral and Decision Research: Awarded a 2009 Center for Behavioral Decision Research at Carnegie Mellon Small Grant for "Social Exclusion & Self-Disclosure."

    2. Grant from Small Grants Program, Center for Behavioral and Decision Research: Awarded a 2009 Center for Behavioral Decision Research at Carnegie Mellon Small Grant for "Survey of Questionable Research Practices."

    3. Financial Incentives for Weight Loss Reseach Grant (USDA): Awarded a 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Grant for "Financial Incentives for Weight Loss" ($70,000) with Kevin Volpp (PI) and George Loewenstein.

    4. Financial Incentives for Weight Loss Research Grant (Wharton School): Awarded a 2007 Research Grant from the NICHD Population Studies Center, NIA Population Aging Research Center, and the Pension Research Council of Wharton at University of Pennsylvania for “Financial Incentives for Weight Loss” ($30,000) with Kevin Volpp (PI) and George Loewenstein.

    5. Financial Incentives for Weight Loss Research Grant (Hewlett Foundation): Awarded a 2007 Hewlett Foundation Research Grant for "Financial Incentives for Weight Loss" ($28,000) with Kevin Volpp (PI) and George Loewenstein.

    23 Jun 2014
    Boston Public Radio
    26 Mar 2011
    Wall Street Journal