Rational Behavior?

Laura Gee, Assistant Professor of Economics
Assistant Professor of Economics Laura Gee poses on campus.

“Yes, I have a favorite.” When asked about the courses she teaches, Laura Gee makes her top pick without hesitation. “It’s Behavioral Economics, where psychology and economics intersect.”

Gee, an assistant professor of economics, explains that traditional economic studies assume everyone is 100 percent rational when predicting outcomes. Behavioral economics assumes people make mistakes. “They might be prone to procrastinate, dislike risk, or spend more than they plan.” Gee’s class covers these topics and asks if we can do a better job of predicting what people do in real-world situations. Spoiler alert: We usually can.

Much of Gee’s research explores motivation and behavior, providing insight into how we can more effectively understand and influence outcomes. For one project, she partnered with the Tufts Student Giving Program to observe group dynamics and charitable giving. The study, run by graduate and undergraduate researchers, shows that current students who are paid to participate in a study are more likely to donate a portion of their earnings if they feel pivotal to achieving a goal.

Another project used Facebook to look at the importance of networking in the labor market. By analyzing friends relative to places of employment, Gee’s team discovered that while most placements are linked to weak ties (or acquaintances), a single strong tie (or close friend) is the best individual advocate in a job search.

Gee loves what she does and where she does it. She describes Tufts as a research university with a small-college feel, emphasizing the cutting-edge work of her fellow faculty, small class sizes, and her students: “They’re bright and motivated. I can involve them in graduate student-level research, and teach them everything from the basics of economics to the latest topics in the field.”