Thesis defense

The effect of resources on psychological preferences and behavioral strategies, from theory to empirical investigations

Mélusine Boon Falleur
Practical information
25 June 2024

ENS, Dussane, 45 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris



Extensive research has shown that access to material resources significantly influences life outcomes, such as health, education, and social trust. Across the globe, we observe a stark socioeconomic gradient: individuals with fewer resources often face worse health, lower educational achievements, and diminished trust in others and institutions, highlighting a link between material wealth and both behavioral and psychological outcomes. For instance, lower income often correlates with higher consumption of alcohol and cigarettes despite their high cost, suggesting that socioeconomic impacts extend beyond simple financial constraints to influence people’s behavioral strategies.

My thesis builds upon the contextually adaptive approach by proposing a model of optimal resource allocation, arguing that the amount of resources influences optimal behavioral strategies. People with more resources develop traits such as patience and risk tolerance, conducive to long-term planning and cooperation, while those with fewer resources may exhibit risk aversion and focus on immediate needs. This leads to distinct societal norms and values, with resource-rich societies encouraging innovation and democratic principles, and resource-scarce communities leaning towards conservatism and authoritarianism.
Subsequent chapters of my thesis empirically investigate how ecological conditions affect behavior. In the second chapter, I explore how perceptions of mortality and morbidity during the COVID-19 pandemic influenced people's risk-taking and patience. By analyzing a survey of 5,000 individuals in France and employing an instrumental variable method with local COVID-19 death rates to address endogeneity, I find that perceived risk significantly influences behavior, increasing risk aversion, particularly at higher levels of perceived threat.

I then turn to socioeconomic disparities in patience focusing on real-life decision-making during the higher education application process. The study examines how students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to prefer immediate rewards over deferred ones. Analyzing data from the French Admission Post Bac system with over 89,263 student records, the findings reveal that even when taking into account differences in academic performance, aspirations, and waiting costs, students from less affluent backgrounds were more likely to accept early university offers promptly. This finding suggests that disadvantaged students are less likely to be patient because of psychological influences such as diminished self-confidence and a mistrust of future opportunities.

Finally, I examine how socioeconomic status influences social behaviors by studying perceptions of trustworthiness linked to wealth in a diverse sample of participants from Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, France, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom. The findings indicate that across these culturally diverse settings, wealthier individuals are generally perceived as more trustworthy, suggesting a global tendency to negatively stereotype poorer individuals.

Marc, GURGAND -- DR, ENS-PSL -- Président
Claudia, SENIK -- PU, Sorbone Université -- Rapporteur
Willem, FRANKENHUIS -- PU, University of Amsterdam -- Rapporteur
Coralie, CHEVALLIER -- CR-HDR, ENS-PSL -- Directrice de thèse