Deborah Small

Deborah Small
  • Laura and John J. Pomerantz Professor of Marketing
  • Professor of Psychology

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    760 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
    3730 Walnut Street
    University of Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: charitable giving, consumer judgment and decision making, emotion, morality, public policy, risk perception

Links: CV


Professor Deborah Small’s research interfaces psychology and economics, examining fundamental processes that underlie human decision making.

Professor Small’s research has been published in top-tier academic journals across Psychology and Marketing. She serves as an Associate Editor for Journal of Marketing Research and is a member of several editorial boards.

At Wharton, Professor Small was voted “Iron Prof” in 2014.  She teaches consumer behavior and Marketing for Social Impact.

She received her PhD in Psychology and Behavioral Decision Research from Carnegie Mellon University and her BS from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a member of the graduate faculty of the Psychology Department at Penn.

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  • Jonathan Z. Berman and Deborah Small (2018), Discipline and desire: On the relative importance of willpower and purity in signaling virtue,.

    Abstract: Consumers often use moral language to discuss behavior with little moral relevance. For instance, ordering fruit salad instead of chocolate cake for dessert is considered “virtuous” even though most people do not consider it a moral choice. We examine decisions between virtue and vice options and show that people judge virtuous behavior differently across intertemporal (present self/future self) and moral (self/other) decisions. We argue that for intertemporal decisions, self-control primarily determines judgments of virtue: a person who resists temptation is seen as more virtuous than someone who does not feel tempted by a vice. However, for moral decisions, purity is primary: a person who resists temptation is seen as less virtuous than someone who does not feel tempted by a vice. We further show that thinking about past failures of purity increases intentions to act morally, whereas thinking about past self-control failures increases intentions to help the future self.

  • Deborah Small (Forthcoming), Signaling Emotion and Reason in Cooperation.

  • Deborah Small (Forthcoming), Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving.

  • Shalena Srna, Alixandra Barasch, Deborah Small (Work In Progress), When Signaling Status Backfires.

  • Deborah Small (2016), When Payment Undermines the Pitch: On the Persuasiveness of Pure Motives in Fundraising,.

  • Sydney Scott, Paul Rozin, Deborah Small (Under Revision), Consumers Prefer “Natural” More for Preventatives than for Curatives.

  • Jonathan Z. Berman, Emma E. Levine, Alixandra Barasch, Deborah Small (2015), The Braggart's Dilemma: On the Social Rewards and Penalties of Advertising Prosocial Behavior, Journal of Marketing Research, 25, pp. 90-104.

    Abstract: People often brag about, or advertise, their good deeds to others. Seven studies investigate how bragging about prosocial behavior affects perceived generosity. The authors propose that bragging conveys information about an actor’s good deeds, leading to an attribution of generosity. However, bragging also signals a selfish motivation (a desire for credit) that undermines the attribution of generosity. Thus, bragging has a positive effect when prosocial behavior is unknown because it informs others that an actor has behaved generously. However, bragging does not help—and often hurts—when prosocial behavior is already known, because it signals a selfish motive. Additionally, the authors demonstrate that conspicuous cause marketing products have effects akin to bragging by signaling an impure motive for doing good deeds. Finally, the authors argue that bragging about prosocial behavior is unique because it undermines the precise information that the braggart is trying to convey (generosity). In contrast, bragging about personal achievements does not affect perceptions of the focal trait conveyed in the brag. These findings underscore the strategic considerations inherent in signaling altruism.

  • Alixandra Barasch, Emma E. Levine, Jonathan Z. Berman, Deborah Small (2014), Selfish or selfless? On the signal value of emotion in prosocial behavior, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, pp. 393-413.

    Abstract: Theories that reject the existence of altruism presume that emotional benefits serve as ulterior motives for doing good deeds. These theories argue that even in the absence of material and reputational benefits, individuals reap utility from the feelings associated with doing good. In response to this normative view of altruism, this article examines the descriptive question of whether laypeople penalize emotional prosocial actors. Six studies find that emotion serves as a positive signal of moral character, despite the intrapsychic benefits associated with it. This is true when emotion motivates prosocial behavior (Studies 1, 2, 3, and 5) and when emotion is a positive outcome of prosocial behavior (i.e., “warm glow”; Studies 4, 5, and 6). Emotional actors are considered to be moral because people believe emotion provides an honest and direct signal that the actor feels a genuine concern for others. Consequently, prosocial actors who are motivated by the expectation of emotional rewards are judged differently than prosocial actors who are motivated by other benefits, such as reputational or material rewards (Study 6). These results suggest that laypeople do not view altruism as incompatible with all benefits to the self.

  • Fern Lin-Healy and Deborah Small (2013), Nice guys finish last and guys in last are nice, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4 (6), pp. 693-699.

  • Deborah Small, Devin Pope, Michael Norton (2012), An Age Penalty in Racial Preferences, Social Psychological and Personality Science.


Past Courses


    This course is concerned with how and why people behave as consumers. Its goals are to: (1) provide conceptual understanding of consumer behavior, (2) provide experience in the application of buyer behavior concepts to marketing management decisions and social policy decision-making; and (3) to develop analytical capability in using behavioral research.


    Private and public sector firms increasingly use marketing strategies to engage their customers and stakeholders around social impact. To do so, managers need to understand how best to engage and influence customers to behave in ways that have positive social effects. This course focuses on the strategies for changing the behavior of a target segment of consumers on key issues in the public interest (e.g., health behaviors, energy efficiency, poverty reduction, fundraising for social causes). How managers partner with organizations (e.g., non-profits, government) to achieve social impact will also be explored.


    The purpose of this course is to provide a solid foundation for critical thinking and research on the judgment, decision-making and choice aspects of consumer behavior. There is a focus on how people process information when making judgments and choices and how the processes of judgment and choice might be improved. Topics of discussion include rationality, judgment under uncertainty, judgment heuristics and biases, risk taking, dealing with conflicting values, framing effects, prospect theory, inter-temporal choice, preference formation, and the psychology of utility. The focus will be on the individual decision-maker, although the topics will also have some applicability to group and organizational decision-making and behavioral research methodologies.


    The purpose of this course is to build off MKTG 950, "Judgment and Decision Making Perspectives on Consumer Behavior - Part A" with a more specialized focus that will vary from year to year. This course is intended for those interested in deepening their study of Judgment and Decision Making beyond the basics.



    Requires written permission of instructor and the department graduate adviser.

Awards and Honors

  • Marketing Science Scholar, 2018
  • Wharton Iron Prof, 2014
  • Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar, 2009
  • Fellow, Wharton Risk and Decision Processes Center, 2007
  • Social Issues Dissertation Award Finalist, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 2005
  • Carnegie Mellon Graduate Student Travel Award, 2003
  • APA Science Directorate Dissertation Award, $1000, 2003
  • Russell Sage Foundation, small research grant for “Identifiability”, $3500, 2003
  • Travel grant, Budapest Summer Seminar in Behavioral Economics, 2003
  • Carnegie Mellon Graduate Student Travel Award, 2002
  • Travel grant, 2001 Description

    European Summer Science Days Summer School in the Social and Psychological Foundations of Economic Life

  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Honorable Mention, 2001
  • Honorable Mention in Student Poster Award, 2001 Description

    Annual Meeting for the Society of Judgment and Decision Making, “Helping the Victim or Helping A Victim: Altruism and Identifiability”

  • Travel grant, 1997 Description

    American Psychological Association Summer Science Institute

In the News

Knowledge @ Wharton


In the News

How Fundraising Incentives Can Undermine Persuasion

New research from Wharton indicates that incentives can have a negative effect on fundraisers’ power of persuasion.

Knowledge @ Wharton - 2016/10/25
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Awards and Honors

Marketing Science Scholar 2018
All Awards