Hengchen Dai

Profile photo of Hengchen Dai
“While studying what motivates people, I often look internally to my sources of motivation. The granularity of analysis enabled by big data excites me.”

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations and Behavioral Decision Making

(310) 206-2716

Areas of Expertise

  • Behavior on Online Platforms
  • Goals and Motivation
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Social Influence



When Hengchen Dai was in elementary school, her teacher asked her what her career goals were. At eight years old, she listed three ambitions: scientist, teacher and diplomat. Now she combines all three — as a scholar of judgment and decision-making whose research has implications for companies using data analytics to increase employee and customer engagement, and as a teacher at a business school with an extremely diverse and international student population.

Dai joined the Management and Organizations faculty at UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2017. She is also a member of Anderson's Behavioral Decision-Making faculty. Prior to Anderson, she served on the faculty of Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Dai's work is at home in the thriving tech and business environment of Los Angeles, where companies rely more and more on big data and the kind of custom analytics that drive her research. She seeks out opportunities to work with corporations, educational institutions and online platforms to conduct field studies that get to the heart of what motivates people. She seeks to advance understanding of when people are more or less likely to behave in line with their long-term best interests both inside and outside the workplace, and then applies insights from behavioral economics and psychology to steer people toward far-sighted decision-making.

She has examined how temporal landmarks change goal initiation; how length of time spent on shift affects health care workers' hand sanitation rates; how performance expectations shape professional tennis players' persistence; and how regular-season trades influence professional baseball players' performance. She has a particular interest in the unintended consequences (pros and cons) of nudges and incentives. "A price promotion project Alibaba ran was meant to produce immediate payoff," she says. "But what Alibaba didn't expect is that it increases customer engagement and intensifies strategic behavior in the long term, according to our analysis of a large-scale randomized experiment on the company's retailing platform."

Dai's recent work on electronic monitoring is timely, as companies initiate voluntary programs for employee tracking. Her analysis of more than 5,000 health care workers across 41 hospitals shows that electronic monitoring can increase compliance with proper hand hygiene as long as the monitoring is in effect. However, after electronic monitoring is removed, hand hygiene compliance decreases to below the level prior to the implementation of monitoring. "Electronic monitoring is not a 'fire and forget' solution and may 'crowd out' employees' internal motivation for performing a good act," she says. "Companies considering employee tracking should be cautious about their capability of sustaining the tracking program in the long term."

Dai has published extensively in peer-reviewed management, psychology and medical journals. She teaches in UCLA Anderson's fully employed MBA program. She says, "I want students to see immediate value in the studies I share in class. I want to help them connect their own experiences with theories so they can apply research findings in their own work as soon as they leave the classroom."


Ph.D. Operations and Information Management, 2015, University of Pennsylvania

B.S. Psychology, 2010, Peking University

B.A. Economics, 2010, Peking University

Refereed Publications

Dai, H., Dietvorst, B., Tuckfield, B., Milkman, K.L., & Schweitzer, M.E. (forthcoming). Quitting when the going is tough: The downside of high performance expectations. Academy of Management Journal.

Dai, H., Mao, D., Volpp, K., Pearce, H.E, Relish, M.J., Lawnicki, V.F., & Milkman, K.L. (2017). The effect of interactive reminders on medication adherence: A randomized trial. Preventive Medicine. 103, 98-102.

Staats, B.R., Dai, H., Hofmann, D.A., & Milkman, K.L. (2017). Motivating process compliance through individual electronic monitoring: An empirical examination of hand hygiene in healthcare. Management Science. 63(5), 1563-1585.

Dai, H., Mao, D., Riis, J., Volpp, K., Relish, M.J., Lawnicki, V.F., & Milkman, K.L. (2017). Effectiveness of medication adherence reminders tied to "fresh start" dates: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA-Cardiology. 2(4), 453-455.

Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., & Riis, J. (2015). Put your imperfections behind you: Temporal landmarks spur goal initiation when they signal new beginnings. Psychological Science. 26(12), 1927-1936.

Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., Hofmann, D.A., & Staats, B.R. (2015). The impact of time at work and time off from work on rule compliance: The case of hand hygiene in healthcare. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(3), 846-862.

Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., & Riis, J. (2014). The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior. Management Science, 60(10), 2563-2582.

Brooks, A.W., Dai, H., & Schweitzer, M.E. (2014). I'm so sorry about the rain! Superfluous apologies demonstrate empathic concern and increase trust. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 467-474.

Additional Publications

Lee, J. & Dai, H. (forthcoming). The motivating effects of temporal landmarks: Evidence from the field and lab. Missouri Law Review.

Bitterly, T.B., Mislavsky, R., Dai, H., & Milkman, K.L. (2015). Dueling with desire: A synthesis of past research on want/should conflict. In W. Hofmann and L. Nordgren (eds.) The Psychology of Desire.

Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., Beshears, J., Choi, J.J., Laibson, D., & Madrian, B.C. (2012). Planning prompts as a means of increasing rates of immunization and preventative screening. Public Policy & Aging Report, 22(4), 16-19.

Working Papers

Zhang, D., Dai, H., & Dong, L. How does dynamic pricing affect customer behavior on retailing platforms? Evidence from a large randomized experiment on Alibaba

Dai, H.* & Zhang, D.* Vicarious goal pursuit outweighs herding in crowdfunding: Evidence from Kickstarter.com.
* Two authors contributed equally.

Dai, H. A double-edged sword: How resetting performance metrics affects future performance
• BX Award for Outstanding Research by a Doctoral Student
• Finalist in the Research Competition at the Wharton People Analytics Conference

Dai, H., Chan, C., & Mogilner, C. "Don't tell me what to do!" People rely less on consumer reviews for experiential purchases than for material purchases.

Beshears, J., Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., & Benartzi, S. Framing the future: The risks of pre-commitment nudges and potential of fresh start messaging.