Joshua is a Postdoctoral Fellow at briq, and he will be joining The University of Chicago Booth School of Business as an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science in July 2019. He researches the interaction of poverty and cognition using primarily randomized controlled trials. Under this broad agenda, Joshua's research can be grouped into three main categories. First, he is interested in how the conditions of poverty shape cognitive development by affecting human capital investment. Second, he is interested in how environments of poverty impede cognition. Finally, he is interested in how cognitive processes may impede poverty alleviation.
Noise is ubiquitous in the developing world, yet its impacts on economic outcomes are poorly understood. I investigate whether noise lowers worker productivity. First, I estimate the reduced-form impact of noise pollution by randomly exposing workers in a textile training course to engine noise. An increase of 10 dB (from the noise level of a dishwasher to a vacuum cleaner) decreases worker productivity by approximately 5%. The primary channel proposed in the psychology literature for noise to affect human performance is by impeding cognitive functions such as attention and working memory. I explore this mechanism by conducting a second experiment where I randomly expose individuals from the same population to engine noise while they complete cognitive tests. The same noise change decreases cognitive function by 0.05 standard deviations but does not affect performance on an effort task. This suggests the returns to improving cognitive function are large. Finally, I assess whether individuals understand these effects by allowing participants in both experiments to pay for quiet working conditions under different performance incentive schemes. Individuals’ willingness to pay is not affected by the wage structure, suggesting participants neglect the productivity effects of noise. I conclude by using a compensating differentials model to consider the efficiency implications of this neglect.
Dillon, M. T., Kannan, H., Dean, J. T., Spelke, E. S., & Duflo, E. (2017). Cognitive science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics. Science, 357, 47-55.
Many poor children are underprepared for demanding primary school curricula. Research in cognitive science suggests that school achievement could be improved by preschool pedagogy in which numerate adults engage children’s spontaneous, nonsymbolic mathematical concepts. To test this suggestion, we designed and evaluated a game-based preschool curriculum intended to exercise children’s emerging skills in number and geometry. In a randomized field experiment with 1540 children (average age 4.9 years) in 214 Indian preschools, 4 months of math game play yielded marked and enduring improvement on the exercised intuitive abilities, relative to no-treatment and active control conditions. Math-trained children also showed immediate gains on symbolic mathematical skills but displayed no advantage in subsequent learning of the language and concepts of school mathematics.