Doctoral Student

Kate Barasz

Kate is a fifth-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 working 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.