Megan Adamo is an economics and math major researching mood swings and risk aversion for an economics thesis. Her adviser is Assistant Professor of Economics Collin Raymond.
Q: What are you researching?
A: I’m writing a thesis in economics about the relationship between magnitude of mood swings and risk aversion. In the fall, I ran an experiment and recruited a bunch of Amherst participants — 80 of you participated in it. The first week, I sent out texts three times a day, just asking for your mood on a one to eight scale, and tallied the responses to get a baseline mood rate. Then they ended up coming in to sessions in Val [Valentine Hall] common room for three weeks after that, and I would give them a 50/50 lottery to win three dollars or not depending on ... mood swing. I also asked them a bunch of economic indicator questions. When you throw a bunch of variables together, you’re going to get a correlation of something. The main ones I was looking at were the mood swings, and … risk aversion, which is kind of like, I would ask them questions — “Would you rather have this amount of money for sure, or this gamble?” Obviously the gamble was the riskier choice. You would give them a series of those, and you would see where they would switch from the riskier choice to the “for sure” option. That would give me a proxy of their risk aversion. It’s fun. I have a lot of data. It’s a disgusting Excel sheet. … With my regression, I can control for a ton of stuff, because I’d ask them about gender, year, major, income, political views and tons of other stuff. I did a lot of just raw correlations, between looking at even time discounting or risk aversion under loss — “Big Five” characteristics. A lot of this stuff is not very correlated, so I might not go much farther with it, except saying, “Look, existing literature also says that many of these indicators are not really correlated.” So I guess I found evidence supporting that as well.
Q: Have you gotten a conclusion yet?
A: There is a ... positive significant correlation that I found between your risk aversion switch point and your mood swing, which is nice to see. … With econ theses, you just refine, refine. I add more controls. I’m looking at theory behind it. I’m looking at weird pieces of my data ... even though we see this, why do we see it? I want to tease out the individual effects. The main conclusion is yes, positive significant result, but [I’m] still just going forward with it.
Q: When you say you’re controlling for something, what does that mean?
A: If I just look at a correlation, I’m just going to look at how mood swing is related to risk aversion. Obviously ... there’s a million things that contribute to mood swings. … For example, gender … I found that females have larger mood swings. I want to control for that … the more things you control for, the more that you see is just from your “risk aversion switch point.” So the more things [that] I control for potentially could make that correlation weaker. So far it hasn’t, which is a good thing. You want to tease out the main effect of the main variable that I’m looking at.
Q: How did you convince people to sign up for the study?
A: I started off and I think that [in] a lot of the intro econ classes, the professors were like, “Hey, sign up for this study.” I reached out to a lot of [sports] teams and they sent it to their listservs, a lot of major listservs like math [and] econ. ... I posted in [an Amherst Facebook group] “Free and For Sale” … and I got a ton of responses ... so people in need of thesis recruiting, do “Free and For Sale” and word-of-mouth. I definitely harassed a lot of my friends to do it. I was like, “You’re taking my study,” even though my advisor was like, “Try not to get people who know what you’re doing.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s impossible — sorry. I already told everyone.”
Q: What would you say has been the hardest part of your thesis?
A: I was running the experiment for four weeks, and it was a lot of busy work that wasn’t necessarily hard, but it was the best way. … Data entry, and even sending out the texts ... Sometimes you don’t realize what’s going to go wrong until you actually do it, and then you’re scrambling, and the printer’s broken or the stapler’s broken. It’s dumb stuff like that. Now the hardest part is ... [that] it’s relatively unstructured. I know I need a draft done by probably spring break ... Experimental econ theses aren’t super common. I’m just kind of following what my advisor wants me to think about. He’ll be like, “Think about this,” and then I end up writing it up, and I’m kind of like, “Is this right?” … You don’t get a ton of feedback until a draft is in. So it’s like, “Okay, I have 23 pages of writing, but is it good writing?” That’s the hardest part for now.
Q: What advice do you have for future thesis writers?
A: Kind of the cliché advice … what I like to say is make sure you feel personally victimized by your topic and you’re super devoted to it, because you’re going to think about it a lot, you’re going to tell it to a million people and you’re going to get so invested in it that you get confused about it. You need to be willing to stick with it. … I’m a really moody person who’s really risk-averse, and so I think that’s kind of cool, right? Just make sure you’re really interested in it. ... It helps to like your advisor, because you’re going to have to spend a lot of time with him, and you should be comfortable with him. I feel comfortable enough to just be like, “Colin, you’re not helping me. Help me here.”
Q: Do you want to do anything like your thesis in the future, such as more economics research?
A: My advisor has definitely mentioned … the prospect of getting it published, which would be cool. … I’ve definitely had thoughts of maybe econ grad school, which would be more econ research. Not sure about that anymore, but I’m doing econ consulting next year so it’s a different type of research. I can always see it being part of my life, but I’m not sure I’ll explicitly go do econ research in the future. It’s been a good experience for sure, better than I expected.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: The thing that I thought was really fun was the experimentation process. So I guess another piece of advice would be do an experimentation if you can. You have to realize that working with people is tough, and dealing with missing data, but it was really nice. I say that through my thesis I got to make 80 new friends, which was kind of cool. To those that took it — thank you, and I swear you’ll get debriefed before the end of the year. Don’t be afraid to be passionate about a topic, because it’s really cool to have this topic and have it be your own. I’ve definitely bonded with the other thesis students in econ, and you end up learning the other econ thesis students’ topics so well as well, which is kind of cool.