Sonja conducts both basic and applied research on how social influence and social information affect changes in behaviour, with a special focus on health, gender, and child well-being. Her research is interdisciplinary, combining methods from social psychology and behavioural economics, and her methods include laboratory experiments, mobile labs, online experiments, and randomised controlled trials. Sonja has conducted studies with children and immigrants in Switzerland, married couples in Armenia, and small-scale farmers and pastoralists in Sudan.
Sonja’s current research examines social comparisons and risk taking, conditional cash transfers and civic participation, as well as female genital cutting and prenatal sex-selection. Much of her research focuses on attitudes and behaviours that are socially sensitive, and she has therefore developed a keen interest in methods to avoid associated biases. Recent work has been published in Science, Nature, and Social Science Medicine: Population Health.
Current research projects include:
Motives underlying prenatal sex-selection
Due to sex-selective abortions, Armenia and Georgia have highly skewed sex ratios at birth. This study aims at understanding the social motives supporting son preferences within nuclear families and across different regions. The project is funded by UNICEF, Switzerland.
The persistence and abandonment of female genital cutting
This project aims to understand the decision-making mechanisms that support female genital cutting within and across communities. In addition, the project develops and evaluates interventions designed to improve attitudes towards uncut girls. The project is funded by UNICEF, Switzerland.
Conditional cash transfer programs and parental investments
Brazil has for more than a decade implemented the world’s largest conditional cash transfer program. We examine whether participation in the program feeds back to influence the aspirations parents have for their children. The study will be implemented via mobile phones.
Social mechanisms to reduce corrupt behaviour
The projects tests if piece-rate payments versus institutions promoting social accountability reduce bribery in higher education. Laboratory experiments will take place in Columbia.
Recent publications include:
(with Efferson, C.) (forthcoming), Behavioural homogenisation with spillovers in a normative domain, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
(with C. Efferson and E. Fehr), “The risk of female genital cutting in Europe: Comparing immigrant attitudes toward uncut girls with attitudes in a practicing country” Social Science Medicine – Population Health (2017), 3: 283-93.
(with N.A.M. Zaid, H.E.F. Ahmed, E. Fehr, and C. Efferson), “Changing cultural attitudes on female genital cutting”, Nature (2016), 538(7726): 506-9. (Shared first authorship with Efferson)
(with C. Bozoyan), “The impact of third-party information on trust: valence, source, and reliability”, PLoS ONE (2016), 11(2): e0149542. (Shared first authorship)
(with C. Efferson, C. Roca, and D. Helbing), “Sustained cooperation by running away from bad behavior”, Evolution and Human Behavior (2016), 37(1): 1-9.
(with C. Efferson, A. Elhadi, H.E.F. Ahmed, and E. Fehr), “Female genital cutting is not a social coordination norm”, Science (2015), 349: 1446-7. (Shared first authorship with Efferson)
Selected media coverage of Sonja’s recent work:
(with N.A.M. Zaid, H.E.F. Ahmed, E. Fehr, and C. Efferson), “Changing cultural attitudes on female genital cutting”, Nature (12 October 2016).
(with C. Efferson, A. Elhadi, H.E.F. Ahmed, and E. Fehr), “Female genital cutting is not a social coordination norm”, Science (2015), 349: 1446-7.
Sonja has taught a variety of university courses at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level, with topics that include experimental economics, social network theory, statistics and organizational sociology.