Publications

Working Paper
Simon Hedlin. Working Paper. “Calorie Overestimation Bias and Fast Food Products: The Effects of Calorie Labels on Perceived Healthiness and Intent to Purchase”. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that chain restaurants with 20 or more locations would be required to put calorie labels on the menu. The merits of the policy depend in large part on three empirical issues: 1) if calorie labels help correct calorie under- or overestimation biases; 2) if the labels lead to changes in consumer behavior, which may improve physical health; and 3) if they have an impact on psychological health. This paper presents data from an online experiment (N = 1,323) in which participants were randomly presented with pictures of food and drink items from major fast-food companies either with or without calorie labels. 

The following findings are reported. First, there was calorie overestimation bias among participants, and the respondents thought, on average, that products contained more calories than was actually the case. Second, calorie labels both made participants perceive the products as healthier, and made them more likely to intend to purchase said items. Third, calorie labels did not have any discernible effects either on the expected utility from consuming the products, or on the participants’ experienced well-being. 

Thus, while calorie labels did not appear to have any negative effects on psychological health, they did seem to correct a calorie overestimation bias, which may inadvertently improve the perceived healthiness of foods and beverages high in calories, and could also potentially lead consumers to buy more, rather than fewer, such products.

Simon Hedlin. Working Paper. “The Relationship between Prostitution Laws and Sex Trafficking: Theory and Evidence on Scale, Substitution, and Replacement Effects”. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Sex trafficking is a pervasive problem in many parts of the world. This study investigates the relationship between different types of prostitution laws and the prevalence of sex and human trafficking across European countries using data that covers 2008-2010. The Article attempts to make three contributions to the literature.

First, it builds on existing theories of the link between the demand for purchased sex and the supply of sex trafficking to create a simple ordinal measure of prostitution laws that better reflects the actual cross-country variation in prostitution laws compared with a binary variable that merely indicates whether prostitution is legal or illegal. The measure is called the Prostitution Law Index and is based on a very rudimentary framework that analyzes forms of scale, substitution, and replacement effects in the market for prostitution. Scale refers to increases in the prevalence of trafficking that are caused by growth in the overall size of the market for prostitution. Substitution refers to when current consumers begin to purchase sex with individuals who voluntarily sell sex rather than with trafficking victims. Replacement refers to when new voluntary sellers of sex enter the market and crowd out trafficking victims. The index ranks prostitution laws across countries on a four-point scale (from 1 to 4) based on expected effectiveness (from least to most effective) in terms of reducing the prevalence of sex trafficking.

Second, the study uses a new dataset provided by the European Union to study the relationship between Prostitution Law Index scores and prevalence of sex trafficking. Cross-country analyses suggest that there generally appears to be a negative relationship between a country’s Prostitution Law Index score and the prevalence of trafficking. Greater legislative efforts to reduce scale and to increase substitution and replacement — as captured by a higher score in the index — appear to, on average, be associated with lower levels of sex trafficking.

Third, the Article presents a basic Difference-in-Differences analysis — with very limited data and thus with many caveats — that seeks to study the causal impact of Norway’s implementation in 2009 of a set of prostitution laws that made it legal to sell sex, but illegal to buy sex (the category of laws that receives the highest index score). Tentative results suggest that this legal reform may potentially have caused some reduction in the prevalence of trafficking.

2016
Simon Hedlin. 10/17/2016. “Why Legalizing Prostitution May Not Work.” Forbes Magazine. Publisher's Version simon_hedlin_why_legalizing_prostitution_may_not_work.pdf
Simon Hedlin and Cass R. Sunstein. 4/1/2016. “Does Active Choosing Promote Green Energy Use? Experimental Evidence.” Ecology Law Quarterly. Full TextAbstract

Many officials have been considering whether it is possible or desirable to use choice architecture to increase use of environmentally friendly (“green”) products and activities. The right approach could produce significant environmental benefits, including large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and better air quality. This Article presents new data from an online experiment (N=1,245) in which participants were asked questions about hypothetical green energy programs. The central finding is that active choosing had larger effects than green energy defaults (automatic enrollment in green energy), apparently because of the interaction between people’s feelings of guilt and their feelings of reactance. This finding is driven principally by the fact that when green energy costs more, there is a significant increase in opt-outs from green defaults, whereas with active choosing, green energy retains considerable appeal even when it costs more.

More specifically, we report four principal findings. First, forcing participants to make an active choice between a green energy provider and a standard energy provider led to higher enrollment in the green program than did either green energy defaults or standard energy defaults. Second, active choosing caused participants to feel more guilty about not enrolling in the green energy program than did either green energy defaults or standard energy defaults; the level of guilt was positively related to the probability of enrolling. Third, respondents were less likely to approve of the green energy default than of the standard energy default, but only when green energy cost extra, which suggests reactance towards green defaults when enrollment means additional private costs. Fourth, respondents appeared to have inferred that green energy automatically would come at a higher cost and/or be of worse quality than less environmentally friendly energy. 

These findings raise important questions both for future research and for policymaking. If they reflect real-world behavior, they suggest the potentially large effects of active choosing — perhaps larger, in some cases, than those of green energy defaults.

2014
Simon Hedlin. 11/8/2014. “Performance indices: Ranking the rankings.” The Economist. Publisher's Version
S.H. 7/28/2014. “Poverty measures: Width, not depth.” Economist. Publisher's Version
Simon Hedlin. 7/23/2014. “Why Swedish men take so much paternity leave.” The Economist. Publisher's Version