Daniel A. DeCaro, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dept. Urban & Public Affairs

Dept. Psychological & Brain Sciences


(502) 852-2927

Curriculum Vitae


Postdoctoral Research, Vincent & Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory & Policy Analysis, Indiana University - Bloomington, 2010-2013

Ph.D. Social Cognition, Miami University, 2010

Visiting Scholar (Political Psychology), Summer Institute in Political Psychology, Stanford University, 2008

Research Interests

My research focuses on motivational and social decision making processes that underlie people's ability to cooperatively solve social dilemmas in environmental and human governance situations (e.g., sustainable management of environmental resources and voluntary contributions to public goods). I am also interested in factors that promote environmentally responsible behavior, and conduct research on social justice dimensions of community-based governance and public participation in environmental decision making. Also do fundamental research on the nature, function, and design of democracy. This work has real implications for your everyday life and the future of government. My areas of application pertains to areas such as water governance and resilient management of complex rivers and streams; community-based urban green open space (e.g., community gardens); criminal justice, public safety, and policing; conservation parks and protected areas, regulatory systems and incentives (e.g., payment for ecosystem services); and more (see my CV for my most recent project updates). You can also browse some of my videos (e.g., interviews, podcasts), and other materials in the Publications list below!

Social Decision Making and Sustainability Lab

We conduct laboratory and field research on human decision making in the areas of sustainability, politics, and societal cooperation, especially regarding management of vital social and ecological resources (e.g., democracies, natural resources, and shared resources). I am the principle developer of Humanistic Rational Choice Theory, an updated theory of the motivations and cognitions (psychological processes) that drive human behavior in complex decision-making situations. Click here, to learn more about our projects! 

Join my Lab!

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS: Are you interested in being an Undergraduate Research Assistant in my lab? Please complete this application.
ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR A FUNDED GRADUATE STUDENT POSITION IN THE EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY PHD PROGRAM. The student will collaborate on the NSF grant project, examining decision making and cooperation in social dilemmas.  Click here for application details. 

Research Grants

Psychosocial, Motivational, and Cooperative Effects of Communication, Enforcement, and Participatory Decision Making in Resource Dilemmas. National Science Foundation (NSF), Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences Program of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (Award #1658608), $690,551 (2017-2022). Lead PI, with Co-PIs Marco Janssen and Allen Lee (ASU).

  • Featured on UofL Today with Mark Hebert (10 minutes). Click here to listen.

Learning How the Community Leads: Evaluating and Informing City-Based Participatory Engagement in West Louisville. Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research, University of Louisville, $7500 (2017-2018), $7500 (2018-2019). Angela Storey (Anthropology), Daniel DeCaro (Psychology and Urban & Public Affairs), David Johnson (Public Health), Allison Smith (Louisville Metro Government), Lauren Heberle (Center for Environmental Policy & Management), and Jeremy Jackson (undergraduate research assistant).

Sustainability Roundtable Speaker Series

I organize the Sustainability Roundtable Speaker Series. Held every-other Friday, 11am-12noon. If you would like to participate in the roundtable discussion, attend the talk, or present, please click here for more information.

Selected Publications

DeCaro., D. A. (in press). Humanistic rational choice and compliance motivation in complex societal dilemmas.In S. Espinosa, S. Siddiki, and T. Heikkila (Eds), Contextualizing Compliance: Individual Motivations, Social Processes, and Institutional Design. Routledge. 

DeCaro., D. A. (under review). Humanistic rational choice: understanding the fundamental motivations that drive self-organization and cooperation in commons dilemmas.In B. Hudson, J. Rosenbloom, and D. Cole (Eds), Routledge Handbook of the Study of the Commons. Routledge.

DeCaro, D. A. , Chaffin, B. C., Schlager, E., Garmestani, A. S. , & Ruhl, J. B. (2017). Legal and institutional foundations of adaptive environmental governance.Ecology and Society 22(1):32. [online] https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-09036-220132

DeCaro, D. A. , Arnold, C. A., Boamah, E., & Garmestani, A. S. (2017). Understanding and applying principles of social cognition and decision making in adaptive environmental governance.Ecology and Society 22(1):33. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-09154-220133

DeCaro, D. A., Janssen, M. A., & Lee, A. (2015). Synergistic effects of voting and enforcement on internalized motivation to cooperate in a resource dilemma. Judgment and Decision Making, 10(6), 511-537.http://journal.sjdm.org/vol10.6.html

  • Featured in a Podcast, Brian Kissell's The Methodology for Psychology Podcast (click to download)

Arnold, C. A., Green, O. O., DeCaro, D. A., Chase, A., & Ewa, J.-G. (2014). The social-ecological resilience of an eastern urban-suburban watershed: the Anacostia River Basin. Idaho Law Review, 51(1), 29-90.

DeCaro, D. A., & Stokes, M. K. (2013). Public participation and institutional fit: a social–psychological perspective. Ecology and Society, 18(4), 40. [online] http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05837-180440

DeCaro, D. A., & Stokes, M. (2008). Social-psychological principles of community-based conservation and conservancy motivation: attaining goals within an autonomy-supportive environment.Conservation Biology, 22(6), 1443-1451

Sustainable Behavior Team: Partnership for a Green City

I co-chair the Partnership for a Green City's Sustainable Behavior Team, with Russ Barnett (Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development) and Brent Fryrear (Director). Our goal is to apply social science to address important social and policy problems in sustainability. For example, we recently started a city-wide energy conservation competition (Lou's Energy Challenge) to reduce energy use among the University of Louisville, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville Metro Government, and the Jefferson County School District, in order to decrease public health impacts of energy consumption (e.g., reduced pollution, localized urban heat island effect). We also assist in public education on social aspects of sustainability, and consult with groups or organizations who need help with human behavior aspects of their programs (e.g., motivation, incentives, messaging advice). 

Courses Taught


  • Reasoning and Decision Making (Spring 2019)
  • Quantitative Methods in Psychology

Graduate Seminars/Undergraduate

  • Introduction to Sustainability (formerly, helped create)
  • Sustainable Social-Ecological Systems
  • Behavioral Dimensions of Urban Sustainability (Environmental Decision Making)

Public Resources

Educational (for Teachers)

  • Lesson Plans to Teach Psychological (Behavioral) Aspects of Sustainability to College and Elementary School Students (click to download)

Sustainability Policy

  • Vision: Social Sustainability Guidelines and Metrics for Transportation in Louisville: A Proposal for TARC's APTA Sustainability Commitment (click to download)