Paper Round-up: Symposium on Economic Experiments in Developing Countries (SEEDEC) 2019

These short summaries of talks delivered at SEEDEC 2019 were written by CEGA staff. If you would like to suggest a correction to any of the summaries, please email CEGA Communications Associate, Dustin Marshall, at

The annual Symposium on Economic Experiments in Developing Countries (SEEDEC), now in its eighth year, brings together a community of scholars who employ laboratory experimental economics methods for research in developing countries.

This year’s conference took place on Thursday, May 30th and Friday, May 31st at the University of California, Berkeley. Organized jointly by the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) and the Experimental Social Science Laboratory (Xlab), the symposium featured papers from more than 25 researchers as well as keynote addresses from Stefano DellaVigna (UC Berkeley) and Pam Jakiela (Center for Global Development).

We provide short summaries of each talk below, and we hope you’ll find them useful.


Foundations of Decision-Making 1

  • Robert Pickmans of UC Berkeley presented joint work with Miguel et al. on the effects of thermal stress on destructive behavior, judgment, and economic decision-making using ‘heated room’ labs in Berkeley and Nairobi. Findings suggest that cognition and standard economic preferences are unaffected by thermal stress, but heat causes individuals to voluntarily destroy other participants’ assets. (Almas et al., 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Nicholas Owsley of the Busara Center presented work by Shapiro and Jang examining different methods of eliciting how recipients value cash transfers versus various aid programs, finding that incentive-compatible methods do not perform meaningfully better than posing a hypothetical question. (Shapiro and Jang, 2018) (video) (slides)
  • Prachi Jain of Loyola Marymount University presented joint work with Haushofer et al. using multiple methods of stress induction over the course of one week, including the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and hydrocortisone delivered via pill, researchers evaluate the effect of stress on economic decision making. They find that these stress-inducing techniques had no effect on the behavioral measures of temporal discounting, self-efficacy and executive control. (Haushofer et al., 2018) (video) (slides)


  • Renate Strobl of the University of Basel presented joint work with Wunsch measuring how giving behavior changes when the giver and recipient can influence their level of exposure to risk. They found that the residents of Kibera slum in Nairobi who chose risk exposure and won were less willing to share their profits with a partner, regardless of their partner’s choice of risk exposure. (Wunsch and Strobl, 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Noemi Pace of the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice presented joint work with Daidon evaluating two poverty-alleviation programs implemented in Lesotho. They found that while there is only a weak correlation between risk preferences observed in a lab setting and real-life risky choices, risk preferences measured through survey data are good predictors of real-life risky choices. (Pace and Daidon, n.d.) (video) (slides)
  • Nick Magnan of the University of Georgia presented joint work with Janzen et al. evaluating the demand for weather index insurance among smallholder producers in Kenya through an experiential game that teaches about basis risk. They find that farmers have little demand for weather index insurance. (Janzen et al., 2018) (video) (slides)

Foundations of Decision Making 2

  • Travis Lybbert of UC Davis presented joint work with Dizon using a lab-in-the-field experiment in Port-au-Prince. They found that the introduction of a lotto-linked savings product increases total up-front savings by 22%, which is nearly twice the increase in savings observed when the traditional interest rate goes from 5 to 20%. (Dizon and Lybbert, 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Susanna Berkouwer of UC Berkeley presented joint work with Dean quantifying the welfare effects of the under-adoption of newer, safer charcoal stoves among poor households in Kenya, along with the behavioral biases and market frictions that are causing it. (Berkouwer and Dean, 2019) (video)


  • Rachel Howell of Delft University of Technology presented joint work with Sinha and Wagner evaluating a nudging experiment conducted on non-consumers of two bottled drinking water companies in Kenya and Rwanda. They found that purchases increase significantly when non-consumers are given information about bottled drinking water, and even more when non-consumers are given a free sample. (Howell et al., n.d.) (slides)
  • Berber Kramer of the International Food Policy Research Institute presented joint work with de Brauw evaluating a trust game in which consumers choose between sellers with varying prices, and products with unobservable quality. They found that buyers are too trusting, as 60–70% of buyers choose to trust sellers even when quality is low. (de Brauw and Kramer, 2019) (video) (slides)

Keynote: “Taking Preferences Seriously, Not Literally” — Pam Jakiela (Center for Global Development)

Lab-in-the-field experiments have become increasingly common in development economics over the past two decades, as have preference elicitation experiments. While preferences can help us to connect theory to randomized controlled trial results from different contexts and make more generalizable policy recommendations, humans don’t always make rational choices. Pam Jakiela explained how patterns of error can still tell us about human behavior, and how even irrational choices have predictive power for future behavior. (video) (slides)

Political Behavior

  • Daniel Posner of UCLA presented joint work with Blum et al. assessing whether behavioral economics games can be reliable tools for measuring ethnic biases. Using a laboratory experiment in Nairobi, they measured factors like fear, threat, and altruism, and other emotions between non-coethnics. They found that non-traditional social psychology tasks are able to detect feelings towards non-coethnics that standard behavioral games do not pick up. (Blum et al., n.d.) (video)
  • Ana Garcia-Hernandez of Nova University presented work measuring whether female participation in politics is associated with positive social outcomes in general. Using public goods games in rural Uganda, she finds that increasing the political voice of women led to increased pro-sociality. (Garcia-Hernandez, 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Inês Vilela of Nova University presented joint work with Armand et al. using a rent-seeking laboratory game in Mozambique. They find that citizens and leaders are willing to engage in and reward rent-seeking activity respectively, resulting in a transfer of resources from citizens to their leaders. These deviations are strongly correlated with real-world behavior, as citizens engage in significantly more rent-seeking with leaders who are observed to be appropriating community money. (Armand et al., 2019) (video) (slides)

Social Norms

  • Rebecca Dizon-Ross of the University of Chicago presented joint work with Berry et al. assessing what parents’ preferences for allocating resources among their children are. By varying the short-run returns to educational investment, their laboratory experiment in Malawi found that parents care about both maximizing total household earnings and minimizing inequality in inputs to their children’s’ education. By contrast, there is no evidence that parents are averse to inequality in outcomes. (Berry et al., 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Guilherme Lichand of the University of Zurich presented joint work with Haenni assessing whether child marriage serves as a signal to village-neighbors that one is pro-social. By randomizing the availability of alternative signals to signal pro-sociality (bracelets given for donating food to the poor), the research team found that having these alternative signals can decrease support towards child marriage by 20–30%. (paper not for circulation) (video) (slides)
  • Suanna Oh of Columbia University presented her research offering a choice of different jobs to daily wage laborers in India. She found that workers in a higher caste had a lower take-up rate for jobs that they perceived to be associated with a lower caste, regardless of the difficulty of the task, and that this willingness was associated with self-identity, and not publicly perceived identity. (paper not for circulation) (video) (slides)


  • Jessica Hoel of Colorado College presented joint work with Hidrobo et al. using lab-in-the-field games in Northern Senegal. They find that bargaining structures are different across polygynous and monogamous households: monogamous and polygynous families are equally productively inefficient overall, but second-wives receive less but give more to both their husbands and co-wives, leaving them worse off than other household members. (Hidrobo et al., 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Alessandra Cassar of the University of San Francisco presented joint work with Mulder et al. using a series of incentivized experiments in Sierra Leone. They found that polygynous women are more interested in their overall resources than being egalitarian with their husband than monogamous wives and that co-wives treat each other as they would strangers. (Mulder et al., 2019) (video)
  • Fo Kodjo Aflagah of the University of Maryland presented joint work with Dzinyega et al. studying agricultural cooperatives in Senegal. They found that ‘cheap talk’, or the revealing of farmers’ sales, enhanced coordination among members seeking to jointly sell their output, especially in larger groups, and that such cheap talk may lead to increased incomes for small-scale farmers. (Dzinyefa et al., 2019)


  • Maria Porter of Michigan State University presented joint work with Dandan and Xiaobo Zhang used lab experiments to compare giving patterns of children to parents between families with a gender-bias towards sons and families without a gender-bias among different ethnic groups in China. They found that among those families with gender bias, men give parents less money than women do, and among those families without gender bias, men and women give similarly to parents. (Porter et al., 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Mariana Blanco of Universidad del Rosario presented joint work with Dalton comparing the generosity of people across Bogotá’s six socio-economic strata. They found no differences in generosity across different strata. (Blanco and Dalton, 2019) (video)

Keynote: “Forecasting Social Science Research Results” — Stefano DellaVigna (UC Berkeley)

Using examples of recent RCTs studying sleep (Bessone et al, 2019), racial discrimination in labor markets (Betrand and Mullainathan, 2004), editorial biases (Card and DellaVigna, forthcoming), health interventions (Casey et al, 2018) and others, Stefano DellaVigna spoke about the benefits of systematically collecting forecasts across the social sciences. These include the ability to test additional hypotheses, optimize experimental designs, control for publication bias, and reduce hindsight bias. Comparing the accuracy of forecasts across various dimensions of forecasters’ expertise and demographic features, vertical expertise didn’t have obvious returns in terms of prediction: PhD students had more accurate forecasts than full professors, lower-cited researchers had more accurate predictions than higher-cited professors, and non-experts did incredibly well, on average, when rank ordering. (video) (slides)

Performance and Incentives

  • Gustavo Adolfo Yamada of Universidad del Pacífico, Lima presented joint work with Castro et al. studying the relationship between monetary incentives, cognitive effort, and task performance. They found that the introduction of an incentive produced more cognitive effort among Peruvian university student participants, while also causing them to feel surprised and afraid, but did not result in increased test-solving efficacy. (Castro et al., 2019) (video) (slides)
  • Andrew Zeitlin of Georgetown University presented joint work with Leaver et al. examining the effect of pay-for-performance (P4P) contracts on the composition of the public sector and on the effort of incumbent civil servants. They find that teachers who chose pay-for-performance contracts were more present and achieved better student learning outcomes. (Leaver et al., 2019)
  • Catalina Franco of Universidad del Rosario, Colombia presented her research analyzing college entrance exams in Columbia. Franco found that relative performance feedback makes low-performing students invest less in personal academic inputs like taking practice tests and study time, and that high- and low-performing students that receive feedback are less likely to take the entrance exam. (Franco, 2019) (slides)


  • Nina Buchmann of Stanford University presented joint work using a behavioral experiment to assess the relative importance of motives for different types of violence in Bangladesh, as well as a survey experiment with vignettes to test the role of this violence in real husband-wife relationships. (working paper forthcoming) (video) (slides)
  • Shanthi Manian of Washington State University presented joint work with Ayalew et al. using a leadership game in Ethiopia. They show that subjects are ten percent less likely to follow the same advice from a female leader than an otherwise identical male leader, and that female-led subjects perform .34 standard deviations worse as a result. However, when the leader is presented as highly trained and competent, subjects are more likely to follow advice from women than men. (Ayalew et al., n.d.) (video) (slides)

We thank all of the speakers for their excellent presentations and are excited to announce that SEEDEC 2020 will be held at The National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, Japan next spring (date TBD). We hope to see you there!


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The CEGA blog is a platform for discussing key issues related to poverty alleviation and global development.