Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Bradley Kamp, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Haiyan Liu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lu Lu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xin Jin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Zantedeschi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andrei Barbo, Ph.D.


Behavioral Economics, Communication, Context Effects, Income Targeting, Prosocial Behavior


Throughout this dissertation I explore a significant departure from the standard model of rationality known as reference-dependence. The theory reference-dependence asserts that an individual’s choice is dependent on their frame of reference established through factors divorced from their rational cost and benefit. This behavior is inefficient as individuals fail to rationally optimize their payoffs. This behavior is understudied in natural settings where isolating specific stimuli which may establish a reference is challenging. However, digital platforms contain limited stimuli which are fully observable to researchers and present an ideal setting to study the theory of reference-dependence. Thus, I introduce three new datasets of human behavior in natural settings on digital platforms to show that references direct choice in scenarios where it is irrational for them to do so.