Nevena Todorova ’11 researches ethics and economics with Mellon grant

Would you rather be a better person or have more money? Gettysburg College senior Nevena Todorova is researching to find out. With the help of a prestigious Mellon research grant, the international student from Bulgaria collaborated on her senior honors project with economics Prof. John Cadigan.

Would you rather be a better person or have more money? Gettysburg College senior Nevena Todorova is researching to find out. With the help of a prestigious Mellon research grant, the international student from Bulgaria collaborated on her senior honors project with economics Prof. John Cadigan.

Todorova came to Gettysburg planning to concentrate on economics and business. "It's usually what Bulgarians major in," she said. After a last-minute change to her first-year schedule, Todorova studied psychology and found a passion for the subject. Now she is an economics and psychology double major, and has found a synthesis of her two interests in behavioral economics.

To further explore behavioral economics, Todorova contacted Cadigan in her sophomore year. Todorova decided to pursue a Mellon grant, so she worked as Cadigan's summer research assistant as he helped her with background research for her project. Todorova said Cadigan "is very engaged with the process and is very supportive of my research. I feel lucky to work with him."

"Nevena is what every advisor hopes for-a very bright, articulate, hard working student who has good ideas and the talent to translate them into a productive research agenda," said Cadigan. "She takes intellectual risks, and is driven to meet the high standards she sets for her work.  I have enjoyed working with her very much."

Todorova's research explores the relationship between ethics and economics decisions, and tries to determine what prevails: ethical production of a good or the price tag? "When people are surveyed, they always say they want the ethical good. In reality, they usually buy what is cheaper. I want to explore why."

Unlike existing studies, Todorova's research exercise inflicts real, rather than hypothetical, monetary gain or loss for the participants, giving more accurate representations of decision-making. Participants start the experiment with $21 in cash provided by the economics department. Participants are then asked to make a series of choices between two goods: good A, produced by child labor, or good B, which is more expensive but it produced under ethical conditions. What participants save of their $21 by buying good A they get to keep, but what they spend on good B goes to GoodWeave, a group that combats child labor.

Todorova finished the first set of her experiments. The results are surprising. "There are significant results - some are not how I expected, which is even more interesting," Todorova said.

At the end of this semester, she will present her research to the economics faculty, where she hopes to gain more insight into her research and ideas about how improve her methods. Her research will continue throughout the spring semester, when she will run more experiments and submit the project as her honors thesis for economics.  "With additional work, Nevena and I can turn her project into a solid honors thesis and eventually a joint publication" in a scholarly journal, said Prof. Cadigan.

Todorova credits Gettysburg's curriculum for fostering curiosity and a passion to learn.  "I appreciate the requirements, because I learned so much that I knew nothing about. Now there are so many classes I want to take - but I don't have time!" Besides research, Todorova is busy working for Residential Life as a Residence Coordinator and participating in International Club.

Todorova is keeping her post-college options open. "I'm not set on going graduate school right away," Todorova said. "I want to look for a job and get real-world experience, and learn what it means to be independent and working." She also is undecided about staying in the United States: "I would like go back to Europe - maybe London." Todorova says the most important thing about her future plans is simply "to feel good about where I am and passionate about what I am doing."

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Tue, 14 Dec 2010

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