Hengchen Dai

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations and Behavioral Decision Making
“While studying what motivates people, I often look internally to my sources of motivation. The granularity of analysis enabled by big data excites me.”
(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


denotes undergraduate or graduate student collaborator, and * denotes authors with equal authorship.                                                                       

  1. Koo, M.*Dai, H.*, Mai, K.M.*, & Song, C.E.* Anticipated temporal landmarks undermine motivation for continued goal pursuit. Forthcoming at Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 

    • Finalist in the 2019 Academy of Management Managerial and Organizational Cognition (MOC) Division Best Paper Competition 

  2. Dai, H., Chan, C., & Mogilner, C. (2020). People rely less on consumer reviews for experiential purchases than for material purchasesJournal of Consumer Research46(6), 1052-1075.

  3. Zhang, D.* , Dai, H.*, Dong, L.Qi, F., Zhang, N., Liu, X., Liu, Z., & Yang, J. (2020). The long-term and spillover effects of price promotions on retailing platforms: Evidence from a large randomized experiment on Alibaba. Management Science, 66(6), 2589-2609. 

    • Finalist in 2018 POMS Applied Research Competition 

    • Finalist in 2018 POM-CBOM Junior Scholar Competition

  4. Dai, H.* & Zhang, D.* (2019). Prosocial goal pursuit in crowdfunding: Evidence from Kickstarter.com. Journal of Marketing Research, 56(3). 498-517.

  5. Zhang, D.* , Dai, H.*, Dong, L.Wu, Q., Guo, L., & Liu, X. (2019). The value of pop-up stores on retailing platforms: Evidence from a field experiment with Alibaba. Management Science, 65(11), 5142-5151.

  6. Dai, H. & Li, C. (2019). How experiencing and anticipating temporal landmarks influence motivation. Current Opinion of Psychology, 16, 44-48. 

  7. Dai, H.Dietvorst, B., Tuckfield, B., Milkman, K.L., & Schweitzer, M.E. (2018). Quitting when the going is tough: The downside of high performance expectations. Academy of Management Journal61(5), 1667-1691.  

    • 2019 SPSP Cialdini Prize 

  8.  Dai, H. (2018). A double-edged sword: How resetting performance metrics affects motivation and future performanceOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 148, 12-29. 

    • BX Award for Outstanding Research by a Doctoral Student 

    • Finalist in the Research Competition at the Wharton People Analytics Conference 

  9. 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 trialPreventive Medicine, 103, 98-102. 

  10. 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 healthcareManagement Science63(5), 1563-1585. 

  11. 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 trialJAMA-Cardiology, 2(4), 453-455.  

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

  13. 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 Psychology100(3), 846-862. 

  14. Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., & Riis, J. (2014). The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior. Management Science60(10), 2563-2582. 

  15. 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                                                                       

  1. Lee, J. & Dai, H. (2017). The motivating effects of temporal landmarks: Evidence from the field and lab. Missouri Law Review, 82(3), article 8. 

  2. Dai, H. (2017). Understanding the role of experience in shaping the intention-behavior relationship: A commentary on Sheeran et al. (2017). Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2(3), 319 – 321. 
    An invited commentary on Sheeran et al. (2017) in the special issue on the Habit-Driven Consumer  

  3. 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. 

  4. 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

denotes undergraduate or graduate student collaborator, and * denotes authors with equal authorship.

  1. Reiff, J., Dai, H., Beshears, J., Milkman, K.L., & Benartzi, S. Save more today or tomorrow: The role of urgency and present bias in nudging pre-commitment.

  2. Beshears, J., Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., & Benartzi, S. Using fresh starts to nudge increased retirement savings.

  3. Dai, H.*, Zeng, Z.*, Zhang, D.*, Xu, Z., & Shen, M. Information Design to Facilitate Social Interactions on Service Platforms: Evidence from a Large Field Experiment. 

  4. Bai, B., Dai, H., Zhang, D., Zhang, F., & Hu, H. The impacts of algorithmic work assignment on fairness perceptions and productivity: Evidence from field experiments. 

    • Finalist in the 2020 POMS College of Behavior OM Junior Scholar Paper Competition

  5. Zeng, Z., Dai, H., Zhang, D., Shen, M., Xu, Z., Zhang, H., & Zhang, R. Social nudges boost productivity on online platforms: Evidence from field experiments.