Research in Progress

Technology Diffusion and Appropriate Use: Evidence from Western Kenya (with Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer, and Jon Robinson)

Abstract: Insufficient knowledge of appropriate use can hamper technology adoption. In the agricultural context, if farmers don't observe each others’ inputs, diffusion of both information on the optimal input mix and of the technology itself may be slow. In the context we examine, conditional on using fertilizer, farmers tend to systematically overuse it on the intensive margin, hence, making fertilizer on average unprofitable and possibly curbing usage at the extensive margin. We introduce a simple and salient tool, a blue measuring spoon, to help farmers remember how much fertilizer to use. A randomly selected subset of farmers receives the technology for free, and the remaining farmers can purchase it at fertilizer stores at a nominal price. We find that farmers who are randomly assigned to receive a measuring spoon have improved knowledge of how much fertilizer to use, and are more likely to use fertilizer. Spoon purchases among the remaining farmers are higher when these are more likely to use fertilizer due to a randomly assigned fertilizer discount program, and when communication about agriculture is encouraged. Unlike fertilizer adoption itself, purchase and use of measuring spoons diffuse rapidly through social networks.

What Institutions are Appropriate for Generating and Disseminating Local Agricultural Information? (with Raissa Fabregas, Michael Kremer, and Jon Robinson)

Abstract: New technologies make it possible to collect and disseminate much more localized agricultural information to farmers. What institutions might be appropriate for generating and disseminating this information? A social planner will invest in information generation if the sum of the benefits to all agents exceeds the cost, but decentralized markets may not yield the socially optimal outcome due to the non-rivalry of knowledge or asymmetric information. We examine the case of information on local soil chemistry, a determinant of optimal fertilizer use. We find that soil type in Western Kenya is spatially correlated, that many farmers are willing to pay for information on the results of soil tests on nearby farms, and that aggregate willingness to pay exceeds the cost of information acquisition. Farmers are willing to pay more for information on closer plots and for additional data points. A subset of farmers exhibits high willingness to pay for minimal information, but average willingness to pay is high even for a sample that excludes these individuals. We discuss the implications of these results for the impact of various institutional forms on the acquisition and dissemination of agricultural information: 1) decentralized farmer communication subject to frictions; 2) information acquisition and sale to farmers by firms or other organizations subject to budget balance; 3) contract farming; and 4) publicly financed information acquisition and dissemination. 

The Impact of Physical Pain on Productivity and Cognitive Function (with Sendhil Mullainathan, Heather Schofield, and Anuj Shah)

Abstract: Chronic physical pain is highly prevalent among low-income workers in developing countries, and it may have widespread negative consequences for individuals’ cognitive function, decision-making, and productivity. Yet physical pain has largely been overlooked in development research and policy. This project seeks to understand the causal impact of physical pain on the lives of the poor. Using novel pain-measurement techniques in a randomized controlled trial of 400 low-income participants in India we examine how pain-reducing medication affects individuals’ productivity​ and cognitive function.

Accommodating Preferences and Household Decision-Making in India (with Sendhil Mullainathan)

Abstract: A large literature in economics seeks to understand decision-making within households, usually taking preferences of couples as given. However, psychology research on cognitive dissonance suggests that individuals may change their preferences to bring them in accordance with anticipated or realized outcomes. We introduce the concept of cognitive dissonance into household bargaining, and lay out a simple theoretical framework as well as an empirical strategy to test its predictions.

Sleepless in Chennai: The Economic Effects of Sleep Deprivation Among the Poor (with Gautam Rao and Heather Schofield)

Abstract: Poverty and health are closely linked. We study sleep, an important health behavior and outcome, and its impact on decision-making, cognitive function, and economic outcomes among the urban poor in a developing country. The medical literature has demonstrated the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on health and cognitive function in the lab. Given the challenging sleep environments found in urban areas in developing countries, these effects could matter greatly for the poor in their everyday environments. This study aims to: 1) measure the prevalence and causes of sleep deprivation among low-income individuals in India, 2) assess the effectiveness of interventions to alleviate sleep deprivation in a real-world environment, and 3) estimate the causal impact of reduced sleep deprivation on cognitive function, decision-making, including “behavioral” tendencies such as framing effects, and economic outcomes.