Jeff DeWitt

Jeff DeWitt is a 5th year student in the social psychology PhD program.  He is interested in the motivations underlying pro-social behavior, conformity to social norms, and the public’s preferences regarding the allocation of scarce medical resources.  Health applications of this work include donating blood, organ donation, and vaccinating to promote herd immunity.

Research Highlights

Pro-social Behavior

One line of research explores the conditions under which agents will sacrifice their own welfare for others utilizing game theoretic experiments.  Our early work focused on three questions:

  • Is pro-social behavior different for monetary vs. non-monetary goods?  
  • Does monetizing a non-monetary good result in choice behavior that is closer to monetary decisions than non-monetary ones?
  • Do extrinsic incentives to behave pro-socially in the lab “crowd out” intrinsic motivation to do so once they are removed?

Our current work has focused on the role of social norms in answering these and related questions.  A number of researchers have explained the pro-social behavior observed in lab tasks by modeling agents as if they were optimizing utility functions that include “social preferences.”  However, the behavioral consistencies that these models capture could be due to agents conforming to social norms instead of maximizing an underlying preference for the welfare of others.  Our current work seeks to test the norm-based utility function of Dr. Cristina Bicchieri at the University of Pennsylvania.

A tangential line of research has investigated the motivation behind gift giving behavior with an emphasis on understanding the stigma against giving cash as a gift.  We have conducted both hypothetical and actual gift giving studies examining how the stigma against cash gifts is affected by manipulations based on signaling theory*.  We are currently expanding on our initial studies in this area.

*The signaling account of gift giving argues that gifts are chosen partially because they reveal private information about the type of relationship the giver has with the recipient.

Allocation of Scarce Resources

Our lab has examined the consistency of public preferences for the allocation of scarce medical resources and my focus has been on organ allocation decisions.  With organ allocation there is a tradeoff between promoting equal access to the resource (e.g. using a waiting list) and promoting the efficient use of each donor organ (e.g. by transplanting it in the patient with the highest expected Life Years From Transplant).  Prior work has emphasized the public’s consistent concern for equality, but our work suggests that this preference is not stable and that concerns for efficiency can be significantly increased based on how the problem is framed and the procedures used to elicit preferences.


Department of Psychology, Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey

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