Working Papers

“Does promoting one behavior distract from others? Evidence from a field experiment” (September 2020), Job Market Paper (submitted)

The potential welfare benefits of motivating people to vaccinate their children, consume healthy foods, or use clean cookstoves are enormous. Recent research has uncovered many interventions that cost-effectively improve such behaviors, but most research evaluates one intervention in isolation on target outcomes. As such, despite evidence that effort and attention can be costly, there is little research on whether generic interventions can have negative spillovers on other behaviors. I propose a simple framework that organizes evidence on costly effort and attention into three mechanisms with distinct policy implications. I test the model’s predictions using an online experiment in which individuals receive combinations of messages and incentives for two healthy behaviors, meditation and meal tracking, which are measured daily via phone applications. I find that all three of the interventions in the experiment generate negative spillovers on the opposite behavior, reducing daily completion rates by between 19% and 29%. These effects imply that a policymaker who wants to raise both behaviors by 1 standard deviation faces costs that are 28% higher than expected once spillovers are taken into account. Estimating the parameters of the model reveals that spillovers act as a fixed cost, and do not necessarily rise with the strength of the intervention. This suggests that policymakers can potentially mitigate negative spillovers by tending toward strong interventions, all else being equal.

Does Poverty Change Labor Supply? Evidence from Multiple Income Effects and 115,579 Bags (May 2020) 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 how labor supply and effort in northern Ghana respond to exogenous changes in income and wages using a randomized evaluation of a multi-faceted grant program combined with a bag-making operation. We find that recipients of the grant program increase, rather than reduce, their supply of labor. We argue that simple models with either labor or capital market frictions are not sufficient to explain the results, whereas a model that allows for a positive psychological productivity effect from higher income does fit our findings.

“Unpacking a Multi-Faceted Program to Build Sustainable Income for the Very Poor” (February 2020) with Abhijit Banerjee, Dean Karlan, Robert Osei, and Chris Udry (submitted)

A multi-faceted program comprising a grant of productive assets, training, 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 and a deposit collection service would generate similar impacts (it does not).


“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

“Inconspicuous Consumption” with Jason Abaluck and Robert Jensen

“Conducting Research on Social Media” with Ro’ee Levy

“The Costs of Communication Failures in Hospitals: Evidence from a Field Experiment” with Jorge Ale-Chilet, Juan Pablo Atal, and Naomi Friedman-Sokuler