Danila Serra

Southern Methodist University
Department of Economics

email: dserra@smu.edu

Phone: (+1) 214-768-4298

Address: SMU, Dept. of Economics

3300 Dyer Street, Suite 301C

Umphrey Lee Center
Dallas TX 75275-0496


I am an Assistant Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, TX (since August 2012). I am a member of the SMU Center for Global Health Impact, and of the Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) research network. I am also a research affiliate at the Center for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), at the University of Oxford. Before joining SMU I was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Florida State University and a member of the FSU Experimental Social Science Research Group (2009-2012).


Education: PhD in Economics, University of Oxford (2009); MSc in Economics, London School of Economics (2003); BS (laurea) in Economics, Bocconi University, Milan (2001).


Research fields: Economics of Corruption, Development Economics; Experimental and Behavioral Economics, Gender and Economics.


Teaching fields: Experimental and Behavioral Economics, Development Economics; Economics of Corruption, Intermediate Microeconomics, Behavioral Development Economics (PhD).



*NEWS*: I am honored to have been chosen as the inaugural recipient of the Vernon L. Smith Ascending Scholar Prize. The $50,000 prize is presented by the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics (IFREE).   The prize is given to an exceptional scholar in the field of experimental economics whose work embodies IFREE’s mission to Promote Human Betterment through Experimental Economics to Improve the Understanding of Exchange Systems.



Google Scholar Citations


Here is a link to the Laboratory for Research in Experimental Economics (LREE) at SMU


Check out the SMU Women in Economics Club, founded by my students!





Field Projects







·        Some of my thoughts and research on corruption have appeared in The Atlantic. Read the piece “Does corruption happen slowly or all at once?”


·        Other research has been featured in the New Scientist. Read the article, titled The underhand ape: Why corruption is normal”, here , or here.







New Advances in Experimental Research on Corruption, edited with Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University), Emerald Group Publishing, June 2012.








Corruption, Anti-Corruption and Culture


Corruption, Social Judgment and Culture: An Experiment”, with T. Salmon (SMU). Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 142: 64-78, 2017. PDF.



 I paid a bribe: An experiment on information sharing and extortionary corruption”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU) and James Tremewan (U of Vienna). European Economic Review, 94: 1-22, 2017 (lead article). PDF



Intermediaries in Corruption: An Experiment”, with M. Drugov (Carlos III de Madrid) and J. Hamman (FSU). Experimental Economics, 17(1): 78-99, 2014. Online advance access here

·         Co-winner of the Editor’s prize for the best paper published in Experimental Economics in the year 2014.



Combining top-down and bottom-up accountability: Evidence from a bribery experiment”. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, 28(3): 569-587, August 2012. Online advance access here.



How corruptible are you? Bribery under uncertainty”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU), Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 81(2012): 466-477. Download here.



Corruption and Culture: An experimental Analysis, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham), Journal of Public Economics, 94, Issues 11-12, December 2010. Download here .



The effects of externalities and framing on bribery in a petty corruption experiment”, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham), Experimental Economics, 12 (4): 488-503, 2009. Download here.



Empirical Determinants of Corruption: A sensitivity Analysis,” Public Choice 126 (1-2), 225-256, 2006.



Anti-corruption Policies: Lessons from the Lab”, with K. Abbink. In D. Serra and L. Wantchekon (eds.) New Advances in Experimental Research on Corruption, Research In Experimental Economics Volume 15, Bingly: Emerald Group Publishing, June 2012.




Development Economics


Participatory accountability and collective action: Experimental evidence from Albania”, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham) and T. Packard (The World Bank). European Economic Review, 68: 250–269, 2014. PDF



Intrinsic motivations and the non-profit health sector: Evidence from Ethiopia”, with P. Serneels (UEA) and A. Barr (U of Nottingham) Personality and Individual Differences, 51(3): 309-314. Download here.



Discovering the Real World –Health Workers’ Career Choices and Early Work Experience in Ethiopia, with P. Serneels (UEA) and M. Lindelow (World Bank), The World Bank, Washington DC.






Corruption, Anti-Corruption and Culture


Corruption and competition among bureaucrats: An experimental study”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU). R&R at the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. PDF. Experimental instructions here.


We experimentally investigate how the introduction of competition between public officials for the provision of a given license affects extortionary corruption, i.e., the demands of harassment bribes. We also examine officials' ability to collude by communicating before setting their bribe demands. Introducing competition significantly reduces corruption. While the possibility of collusion lowers the effectiveness of competition, officials are unable to sustain collusion in the long run.



Motivating Whistleblowers” with J. Butler (LSU) and G. Spagnolo (SITE, Stockholm School of Economics). SMU working paper, February 2017. REVISED October 2017: PDF.


We employ a novel laboratory experiment to investigate if and how monetary incentives and expectations of social approval or disapproval, and their interactions, affect the decision to blow the whistle. Our findings suggest that whistleblowers on corporate fraud should be financially rewarded and should be shielded from public/media scrutiny when the social cost of the illegal activity is not visible or salient to the public. We also find evidence of an interesting relationship between political orientation and social judgment: while left-leaning subjects react to the possibility of receiving social approval or disapproval as expected, right-leaning people are unaffected by it.



Is more competition always better? An experimental study of extortionary corruption”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU). Revised October 2015. PDF. A previous draft of this paper circulated under the title: “Does competition among public officials reduce corruption? An experiment.”


Abstract: We conduct an extortionary bribery experiment where clients apply for a license from one of many available offices and officials can demand a bribe on top of the license fee. By manipulating the number of available offices and the size of search costs we are able to assess whether increasing competition reduces extortionary corruption. Our results show that increasing competition has either no effect (if search costs are high) or a positive effect (if search costs are low) on bribe demands. We compare our findings to those obtained in a standard market environment and find evidence of different search behaviors in the two settings.



Corrupt Police” with K. Abbink (Monash University) and D. Ryvkin (FSU). Data analysis stage.


Abstract: We experimentally investigate rule violations within a society in the presence of honest versus corrupt law enforcement officials. We then test and contrast the effectiveness of two incentive systems for police officers. The first relies on the payment of financial rewards to officers based on the crime rate observed within the society. The second relies on the payment of rewards based on the bribery rate observed within the society.




Development Economics


Can Patients’ Reports Improve Health Providers’ Performance? Lab-Experimental Evidence from Kenya”, with I. Mbiti (U of Virginia). March  2017. PDF. Instructions of the lab-in-the-field experiment here.

Abstract: We assess the effectiveness of accountability systems relying on patient reporting in the Kenyan health sector. We evaluate patients’ willingness to file complaints on service providers, and providers’ responsiveness to the possibility of receiving such complaints. We contrast reporting systems where complaints have no direct consequences on providers, such as standard complaint boxes, and reporting systems where complaints lead to either monetary penalties or non-monetary consequences in the form of peer shaming. We find that: 1) disclosing patients’ complaints to providers’ professional peers is at least as effective as imposing monetary penalties based on patients’ complaints; 2) the possibility of retaliation against patients does not reduce the effectiveness of reporting systems relying on peer shaming; 3) associating tangible consequences with complaints slightly lowers patients’ willingness to file such complaints, mainly due to the existence of personal relationships with providers. Overall, our findings support the implementation of citizen reporting systems that leverage peer pressure and reputational concerns.



Parental participation in primary schools in Angola: An experimental investigations of motivations, information sharing and collective action problems” (working title) with Pedro Vicente (Nova University of Lisbon). In the field.



How identity, norms and narratives can be used to reduce corruption in Police Service (traffic police) in Ghana”, with Oana Borcan (U of East Anglia), Stefan Dercon (University of Oxford) and Donna Harris (University of Oxford). Design stage.



Education Outcomes, School Governance and Parents’ Demand for Accountability: Evidence from Albania”, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham) and T. Packard (World Bank), Policy Research Working Paper No. 5643, The World Bank.






“Gender Differences in the Choice of Major: The Importance of Female Role Models” with C. Porter (Heriot-Watt). NEW DRAFT: December 2017. PDF here.

Abstract: While in the last two decades many disciplines, including mathematics and physical sciences, have made significant progress in attracting and retaining women, there has been little improvement in the field of economics, which remains heavily male-dominated. We report results from a field experiment aimed at increasing the percentage of women majoring in economics through exposure to carefully selected female role models. We randomly selected a subset of Principles of Economics classes to be assigned to our role model treatment. Our results suggest that, while the role model intervention had no impact on male students, it significantly increased female students' likelihood of enrolling in further economics classes. The impact of the intervention is especially large for top female students.



The Gender Leadership Gap: An Experiment” (working title) with P. Chakraborty (SMU). In the lab.


Do women hesitate in becoming managers due to an aversion to creating inequality among workers and/or an aversion to the possibility of receiving negative judgment from workers? Do male and female managers have different leadership styles i.e. do they communicate, motivate, evaluate and penalize workers differently? Do workers respond differently to a male vis-à-vis a female manager? We address these questions by employing a novel laboratory experiment that simulates corporate decision-making, i.e., task allocations, promotions/demotions, motivations and evaluations.



Does Transparency in Pay Eliminate the Gender Gap?” with T. Salmon (SMU). In the lab.



Information, Aspirations and Role Models” (working title) with T. Salmon (SMU). Design stage.





Updated December 2017



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