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Working papers

Non-Violent Collective Action in Hostile Environments: Evidence from Iraq (with Sam Whitt), Under Review

Successful non-violent collective action often requires an enduring commitment to self-discipline in response to repressive and provocative governmental tactics. We examine commitment to non-violent activism in the case of recent protests in Baghdad, Iraq. Based on a sample of over 300 activists from 2019 anti-government protests across different Baghdad locations, we find that more experienced protesters, proxied by the number of days of protest activity, show greater commitment to sustaining protests in the face of government intimidation and are less willing to reciprocate violence, even if they have witnessed or experienced violence at the hands of government forces, than less experienced protesters. We attribute this to a socialization effect within activist communities, which despite cross-cutting cleavages and divisions, help sustain protest commitment and non-violent self-discipline. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for the utility of civil resistance as an alternative to violence in conflict-prone environments.

Risk Tolerance During Violent and Non-violent Collective Action: Evidence from Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine (with Sam Whitt), Under Review

While both violent as well as non-violent collective action carry potential risks, the mechanisms driving risk tolerance are not well understood. In this study, we examine risk preferences among 300 participants in 2019-2020 non-violent anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, which we compare to our prior work on risk tolerance among combatants from conflict zones in Syria and Ukraine. Based on responses to an Eckel-Grossman choice game, we find elevated that rational risk-taking is greater among non-violent protesters while irrational risk taking is greater within conflict environments. We propose that this divergence is due to competing strategic and psychological factors underlying risk taking, where the strategic logic of risk-taking predominates under non-violent collective action while psychological factors drive risk-taking during violence. Our findings have implications for the relative success of non-violent civil resistance compared to violence and for understanding the escalation process to increasingly high-risk, high cost forms of collective action.

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.