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Working papers

A History of Violence: Field Evidence on Trauma, Discounting and Present Bias” (with Alex Imas and Michael Kuhn), Under Review

The extent to which an individual discounts the future and whether they discount in a time-consistent fashion is an important determinant of their life outcome. Using a novel study design in a field experiment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we show that direct exposure to violence substantially increases present bias. We also demonstrate that providing individuals with a delay between information about the choice and the choice itself mitigates the differences in behavior between those who were exposed to violence and those who were not. Our findings suggest that enforcing a cooling off period between income notification and consumption opportunities may help generate more patient choices and mitigate the elevated impulsivity of individuals that have experienced violence. We measure our treatment effects both in reduced-form as well as in the form of structural estimates of a quasi-hyperbolic discounting function to enable comparison with measures of other types of time inconsistency and a welfare evaluation of the treatment effect. Our results have implications for policy aimed at alleviating the deleterious effects of present bias and the role of deliberation in the structure of commitment contracts.

Grievances and Role Differentiation in Civil War: Micro-Level Evidence from Syria (with Sam Whitt), Under Review 

Recent macro-level studies have revived interest in grievance-based explanations for civil war participation. Using original survey data from the ongoing conflict in Syria, we examine whether fighters, civilians, and refugees can be distinguished based on a number of proxies for personal, sectarian, and regime-based grievances at the micro-level. Based on a well-balanced sample of over 300 active rebel fighters, civilians from within the conflict zone, and externally displaced refugees, we observe that some proxies for grievances are elevated among active combatants. Our results speak to the plausible role of grievances in differentiating combatants from non-combatants during civil war. We also evaluate a potential psychological mechanism where grievances drive individuals to discount risks of fighting out of a desire for agency and empowerment on one hand and anger, hatred, and revenge-seeking on the other, and we find some evidence in favor of both.

Altruism and Violence (with Sam Whitt and Rick WilsonUnder Review

Our research examines in-group and inter-group social norms between civilians and combatants using behavioral experiments. We examine how conflict affects a basic norm of altruism toward identifiable in-groups and out-groups during a period of ongoing violence.