Christine L. Exley - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
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Christine L. Exley

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Negotiation, Organizations & Markets

Christine Exley is an assistant professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit.  She teaches the Negotiation course in the MBA elective curriculum.

Professor Exley's research explores how behavioral motivations often have nuanced implications in the realm of prosocial behavior, with a particular focus on charitable giving and volunteer decisions.  Prior to joining HBS, she received her PhD in Economics from Stanford University and co-founded www.wagaroo.com to combat the inefficiency in the pet adoption market and help dogs find homes.

Journal Articles
  1. Observability Increases the Demand for Commitment Devices

    Christine L Exley and Jeffrey K. Naecker

    Previous research often interprets the choice to restrict one’s future opportunity set as evidence for sophisticated time inconsistency. We propose an additional mechanism that may contribute to the demand for commitment technology: the desire to signal to others. We present a field experiment where participants can choose to give up money if they do not follow through with an action. When commitment choices are made public rather than kept private, we find significantly higher uptake rates.

    Keywords: Motivation and Incentives; Behavior; Decision Choices and Conditions; Attitudes;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., and Jeffrey K. Naecker. "Observability Increases the Demand for Commitment Devices." Management Science 63, no. 10 (October 2017): 3262–3267.  View Details
  2. Excusing Selfishness in Charitable Giving: The Role of Risk

    Christine L. Exley

    Decisions involving charitable giving often occur under the shadow of risk. A common finding is that potential donors give less when there is greater risk that their donation will have less impact. While this behavior could be fully rationalized by standard economic models, this paper shows that an additional mechanism is relevant: the use of risk as an excuse not to give. In a laboratory study, participants evaluate risky payoffs for themselves and risky payoffs for a charity. When their decisions do not involve tradeoffs between money for themselves and the charity, they respond very similarly to self risk and charity risk. By contrast, when their decisions force tradeoffs between money for themselves and the charity, participants act more averse to charity risk and less averse to self risk. These altered responses to risk bias participants towards choosing payoffs for themselves more often, consistent with excuse-driven responses to risk. Additional results support the existence of excuse-driven types.

    Keywords: charitable giving; prosocial behavior; altruism; risk preferences; Risk and Uncertainty; Philanthropy and Charitable Giving;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L. "Excusing Selfishness in Charitable Giving: The Role of Risk." Review of Economic Studies 83, no. 2 (April 2016): 587–628.  View Details
Working Papers
  1. When Gender Discrimination Is Not About Gender

    Katherine B. Coffman, Christine L Exley and Muriel Niederle

    We use an experiment to show that employers prefer to hire male over female workers for a male-typed task even when they have identical resumes. Using a novel control condition, we document that this discrimination is not specific to gender. Employers are simply less willing to hire a worker from a group that performs worse on average, even when this group is instead defined by birth-month, a non-stereotypical characteristic. A reluctance to discriminate emerges if workers share the gender or birth month of the worker from the worse-performing group, but even then, a small "excuse" counters this reluctance.

    Keywords: Gender; Demographics; Attitudes; Prejudice and Bias;

    Citation:

    Coffman, Katherine B., Christine L Exley, and Muriel Niederle. "When Gender Discrimination Is Not About Gender." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-054, December 2017.  View Details
  2. Equity Concerns Are Narrowly Framed

    Christine L Exley and Judd B. Kessler

    What are individuals' preferences over the payoffs of others? We show that individuals aim to achieve equity but that they narrowly bracket their equity concerns. Rather than equalize overall budgets, individuals equalize the time component or money component of budgets. Individuals believe that achieving equity within these narrow brackets is more socially appropriate than achieving overall equity. Furthermore, individuals care more about achieving equity in time than equity in money. Narrow bracketing of equity concerns and more inequity aversion in time than in money persist when individuals make allocation choices between themselves and others. Our results can help explain a variety of behavioral phenomena including the structure of social insurance programs, patterns of public good provision, and why transactions that turn money into time are often deemed repugnant.

    Keywords: Equality and Inequality; Fairness; Perception; Outcome or Result; Resource Allocation; Behavior;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., and Judd B. Kessler. "Equity Concerns Are Narrowly Framed." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-040, November 2017.  View Details
  3. The Better Is the Enemy of the Good

    Christine L Exley and Judd B. Kessler

    In standard economic theory, information helps agents optimize. But providing agents with information about the benefits of an action often fails to encourage that action. This paper proposes a far-reaching behavioral explanation: information may make salient that the benefits of taking an action could be improved and agents may see the potential for improvement as a reason to avoid the action. In an experiment, making more salient how a donation could be improved significantly decreases giving. Self-serving motives dramatically magnify the effect, suggesting why information may be particularly ineffective at encouraging privately costly actions with social or future benefits.

    Keywords: Information; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Philanthropy and Charitable Giving;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., and Judd B. Kessler. "The Better Is the Enemy of the Good." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-017, August 2017.  View Details
  4. Knowing When to Ask: The Cost of Leaning-in

    Christine L. Exley, Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund

    Gender differences in the propensity to negotiate are often used to explain the gender wage gap, popularizing the push for women to “lean-in" and negotiate more. In an environment where women who negotiate achieve positive returns, we find that negotiating more is costly: women appear to know when to ask. Relative to women, men enter negotiations more often and experience less financial harm from negotiating more. While both genders positively select into negotiations on observable characteristics of the negotiation environment, only women positively select on unobservables such as their ability to negotiate.

    Keywords: gender; negotiations; leaning-in; selection; Negotiation Participants; Negotiation Style; Gender;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., Muriel Niederle, and Lise Vesterlund. "Knowing When to Ask: The Cost of Leaning-in." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-115, March 2016. (Revised July 2017.)  View Details
  5. The Impact of a Surprise Donation Ask

    Christine L. Exley and Ragan Petrie

    Individuals frequently exploit "flexibility" built into decision environments to give less. They use uncertainty to justify options benefiting themselves over others, they avoid information that may encourage them to give, and they avoid the ask itself. In this paper, we examine whether a reluctance to give may arise even when such explicit flexibility is absent. We investigate whether merely alerting individuals to an upcoming prosocial ask - that is neither avoided nor occurs in an environment with flexibility - results in reduced prosocial behavior. That is, we investigate whether individuals use time to quickly find ways to decline prosocial asks and thus whether surprising individuals with prosocial asks increases compliance. Results from a field study and complementary online studies provide a clear answer: yes.

    Keywords: charitable giving; prosocial behavior; self-serving biases; excuses; Behavior; Philanthropy and Charitable Giving;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., and Ragan Petrie. "The Impact of a Surprise Donation Ask." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-101, March 2016. (Updated December 2017.)  View Details
  6. Understanding Conformity: An Experimental Investigation

    B. Douglas Bernheim and Christine L Exley

    Some theories of conformity hold that social equilibrium either standardizes inferences or promotes a shared understanding of conventions and norms among individuals with fixed heterogeneous preferences (belief mechanisms). Others depict tastes as fluid and hence subject to social influences (preference mechanisms). Belief mechanisms dominate discussions of conformity within economics, but preference mechanisms receive significant attention in other social sciences. This paper seeks to determine whether conformity is attributable to belief mechanisms or preference mechanisms by exploiting their distinctive implications for the process of convergence. Laboratory experiments suggest that economists have focused too narrowly on explanations for conformity involving belief mechanisms.

    Keywords: conformity; norms; image motivation; prosocial behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Behavior; Standards;

    Citation:

    Bernheim, B. Douglas, and Christine L Exley. "Understanding Conformity: An Experimental Investigation." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-070, December 2015.  View Details
  7. Observability Increases the Demand for Commitment Devices

    Christine L. Exley and Jeffrey K. Naecker

    Previous research often interprets the choice to restrict one's future opportunity set as evidence for sophisticated time-inconsistency. We propose an additional mechanism that may contribute to the demand for commitment technology: the desire to signal to others. We present a field experiment where participants can choose to give up money if they do not follow through with an action. When commitment choices are made public rather than kept private, we find significantly higher uptake rates.

    Keywords: field experiment; commitment; signaling; Time inconsistency; Motivation and Incentives; Behavior;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., and Jeffrey K. Naecker. "Observability Increases the Demand for Commitment Devices." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-064, November 2015. (Revised March 2016.)  View Details
  8. Incentives for Prosocial Behavior: The Role of Reputations

    Christine L Exley

    Do monetary incentives encourage volunteering? Or, do they introduce concerns about appearing greedy and crowd out the motivation to volunteer? Since the importance of such image concerns is normally unobserved, the answer is theoretically unclear, and corresponding empirical evidence is mixed. To help counter this ambiguity, this paper proposes that the importance of image concerns – such as the desire to appear prosocial and not to appear greedy – relates to individuals' volunteer reputations. Experimental results support this possibility. Individuals with past histories of volunteering are less responsive to image concerns if their histories are public, or if their prosocial tendencies are already known. Consistent with a decreased importance of appearing prosocial, they are less likely to volunteer. Consistent with a decreased importance of not appearing greedy, they are less likely to be discouraged by public incentives.

    Keywords: incentives; image motivation; volunteer; prosocial behavior; altruism; gender; reputations; Motivation and Incentives; Behavior; Reputation;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L. "Incentives for Prosocial Behavior: The Role of Reputations." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-063, November 2015. (Revised September 2016.)  View Details
  9. Wage Elasticities in Working and Volunteering: The Role of Reference Points in a Laboratory Study

    Christine L. Exley and Stephen J. Terry

    We experimentally test how effort responds to wages—randomly assigned to accrue to individuals or to a charity—in the presence of expectations-based reference points or targets. When individuals earn money for themselves, higher wages lead to higher effort with relatively muted targeting behavior. When individuals earn money for a charity, higher wages instead lead to lower effort with substantial targeting behavior. A reference-dependent theoretical framework suggests an explanation for this differential impact: when individuals place less value on earnings, such as when accruing earnings for a charity instead of themselves, more targeting behavior and a more sluggish response to incentives should result. Results from an additional experiment add support to this explanation. When individuals select into earning money for a charity and thus likely place a higher value on those earnings, targeting behavior is muted and no longer generates a negative effort response to higher wages.

    Keywords: reference points; wage elasticities; labor supply; effor; volunteering; prosocial behavior; Wages; Motivation and Incentives; Nonprofit Organizations; Behavior;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L., and Stephen J. Terry. "Wage Elasticities in Working and Volunteering: The Role of Reference Points in a Laboratory Study." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-062, November 2015. (Revised June 2017.)  View Details
  10. Using Charity Performance Metrics as an Excuse Not to Give

    Christine L. Exley

    There is an increasing pressure to give more wisely and effectively. There is, relatedly, an increasing focus on charity performance metrics. Via a series of three experiments, this paper provides a caution to such a focus: charity performance metrics may serve as excuses not to give. This paper further shows that providing individuals with an opportunity to reallocate their giving to a more effective charity does not counter excuse-driven responses and that excuse-driven responses are particularly likely among more "marginal" donors.

    Keywords: charitable giving; prosocial behavior; altruism; excuses; self-serving biases; Decision Choices and Conditions; Philanthropy and Charitable Giving;

    Citation:

    Exley, Christine L. "Using Charity Performance Metrics as an Excuse Not to Give." Working Paper, December 2016.  View Details