Thomas Buser was appointed professor of Behavioural Applied Microeconomics at Amsterdam School of Economics in May. He tells us about his background, reasons for choosing this field of research, and his current research projects.
Most of my research is concerned with individual differences in economic preferences and personality traits, and how these differences affect career outcomes. A lot of my work focuses on competitiveness: whether someone likes or dislikes being in competition with others. It turns out that this trait varies strongly among people and predicts which careers they choose and how much they earn.
Much of my research is quite interdisciplinary. First, because it integrates insights from personality psychology into economics. And second, because I use a variety of data sources and methods. I regularly conduct experiments, which is common in behavioural economics, but I also work with administrative and survey data and use econometric methods from applied microeconomics.
The research on competitiveness shows that many people dislike competitive environments, even if they expect to perform well, and that this more common for women than for men. Organisations that use competitive incentives or otherwise create a very competitive work environment will therefore miss out on many potentially qualified employees and have a harder time recruiting a diverse work force.
I am currently working on projects that establish the economic importance of preferences that economists haven’t yet studied in detail. In one project with my PhD student Huaiping Yuan, we look into people’s fear of public speaking. We show that many people are willing to forgo large sums of money to avoid speaking in front of others and how their aversion to public speaking could predict their career plans. In another current project with my PhD student Yang Zhong, we are looking into aversion to working under time pressure. I am also working on new ways of determining the causal effects of established personality traits such as extroversion and of cognitive skills on labour market outcomes.