Research

Working Papers

“Does promoting one behavior distract from others? Evidence from a field experiment” (November 2021), Job Market Paper (submitted)

Impact evaluations of behavioral interventions typically focus on target outcomes. However, if effort and attention are costly, generic interventions might induce negative spillovers on other behaviors. I run a large field experiment in which individuals receive combinations of messages and incentives promoting two behaviors, meditation and meal logging. I find that the interventions reduce completion rates of the opposite behavior by 19-29%. Decomposing spillovers using a new taxonomy, I find that spillovers act in part as a fixed cost: interventions with larger target effects will not necessarily generate larger negative spillovers. I discuss implications for cost-effectiveness analysis.

Does Poverty Change Labor Supply? Evidence from Multiple Income Effects and 115,579 Bags (September 2021) with Abhijit Banerjee, Dean Karlan, and Chris Udry (submitted)

The income elasticity of labor supply is a central parameter of many economic models. We test the response of labor supply and effort to exogenous changes in income using data from a randomized evaluation of a multi-faceted grant program in northern Ghana combined with a bagmaking operation that we implemented. We find strong evidence of a positive “income effect” on labor supply. We argue that simple models with either labor or capital market frictions cannot explain the results, whereas a model that allows for positive physiological or psychological productivity effects from higher income fits with our findings.

Publications

“Unpacking a Multi-Faceted Program to Build Sustainable Income for the Very Poor” with Abhijit Banerjee, Dean Karlan, Robert Osei, and Chris Udry, Journal of Development Economics, forthcoming.

A multi-faceted program comprising a grant of productive assets, training, unconditional cash transfers, coaching, and savings has been found to build sustainable income for those in extreme poverty. We focus on two important questions: whether a mere grant of productive assets would generate similar impacts (it does not), and whether access to a savings account with a deposit collection service would generate similar impacts (it does, but they are short-lived).

“Avoiding the Ask: A Field Experiment on Altruism, Empathy, and Charitable Giving” with James Andreoni and Justin M. Rao, Journal of Political Economy, 2017.

If people enjoy giving, then why do they avoid fund-raisers? Partnering with the Salvation Army at Christmastime, we conducted a randomized field experiment placing bell ringers at one or both main entrances to a supermarket, making it easy or difficult to avoid the ask. Additionally, bell ringers either were silent or said “please give.” Making avoidance difficult increased both the rate of giving and donations. Paradoxically, the verbal ask dramatically increased giving but also led to dramatic avoidance. We argue that this illustrates sophisticated awareness of the empathy-altruism link: people avoid empathic stimulation to regulate their giving and guilt.

“Fair Weather Avoidance: Unpacking the Costs and Benefits of `Avoiding the Ask’” with James Andreoni, Justin Rao, Andrew Steinkruger, Mackenzie Wood, Adam Wooster, and James J. Murphy, Journal of the Economic Science Association, 2015.

If being asked to give to charity stimulates an emotional response, like empathy, that makes giving difficult to resist, a natural self-control mechanism might be to avoid being asked in the first place. We replicate a result from a field experiment that points to the role of empathy in giving. We conduct an experiment in a large superstore in which we solicit donations to charity and randomly allow shoppers the opportunity to avoid solicitation by using the other door. We find the rate of avoidance by store entrants to be 8.9 %. However, we also find that the avoidance effect disappears in very cold weather, suggesting that avoidance behavior is sensitive to its cost.

Work in Progress

“Nudging Teams toward Cost-Effective Health Care: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Surgery” with Jorge Ale-Chilet, Juan Pablo Atal, and Naomi Friedman-Sokuler

“Misperceptions of Media Slant” with Ro’ee Levy and Luca Braghieri