Trent N. Cash

Ph.D. Student at Carnegie Mellon University

Decision Makers' Inferences About Applicants Who Omit Optional Information

Collaborators: Wenzhuo Xu, Julie S. Downs


There has been a growing push in recent years to allow applicants to omit information that could hurt their chances of success in competitive contexts. For example, many universities have implemented Test-Optional policies that allow applicants to omit their standardized test scores from their applications. These Test-Optional policies are frequently proposed as mechanisms for increasing the success of applicants from minoritized backgrounds. However, the efficacy of these policies hinges on the inferences that decision makers (i.e., admissions officers) make about applicants who omit their test scores. Economic theory would suggest that decision makers should automatically assume the worst about individuals who omit the information (i.e., they didn't submit a test score because their score was bad) - but is that what actually happens? In this project, we seek to explore the inferences that college admissions officers actually make about college applicants who omit standardized test scores. Specifically, we will seek to answer the following questions:
  1. Do decision makers assume that applicants who omit their standardized test scores have lower scores than those who submit their scores? 
  2. Do decision makers punish applicants who admit their standardized test scores by ranking/rating them lower than applicants who submit their scores?
  3. Are decision makers' inferences and punishment behaviors influenced by their beliefs about why applicants did not submit their standardized test scores (e.g., chose not to submit vs. could not afford to take the test).
  4. Are decision makers' inferences and punishment behaviors influenced by individual differences in strategic reasoning (i.e., k-level thinking)?


Xu, W., Cash, T. N., & Downs, J. S. (2024, February).  Validation of an individual-differences measure of k-Level strategic reasoning [Poster Session]. Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, San Diego, CA.

Xu, W., Cash, T. N., & Downs, J. S. (2023, November). Strategic thinking in disclosing and unraveling of hidden information [Poster Session]. Annual Meeting of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making, San Francisco, CA.


August 2023: Lorraine D. Eyde Fund Grant, American Psychological Foundation, $3,350

June 2023: Graduate Student Small Research Grant, Center for Behavioral and Decision Research, $2,450

Follow this website

You need to create an Owlstown account to follow this website.

Sign up

Already an Owlstown member?

Log in