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The Behavioral Consequences of Conflict Exposure on Risk Preferences  

Enrique Fatas, Nathaly Jiménez, Lina Restrepo-Plaza, and Gustavo Rincón

Violent conflict is a polyhedric phenomenon. Beyond the destruction of physical and human capital and the economic, political, and social costs war generates, there is an additional burden carried by victims: persistent changes in the way they make decisions. Exposure to violence generates changes in how individuals perceive other individuals from their group and other groups, how they discount the future, and how they assess and tolerate risk. The behavioral consequences of violence exposure can be documented using experiments in which participants make decisions in a controlled, incentive-compatible scenario. The external validity of experiments is reinforced when the studies are run in postconflict scenarios, for example, in Colombia, with real victims of conflict. The experimental tasks, therefore, may map risk attitudes among victims and nonvictims of the conflict who share a common background, and distinguish between different types of exposure (direct versus indirect) and different sources of violence (conflict-related versus criminal violence). The experimental evidence collected in Colombia is consistent with a long-lasting and substantial effect of conflict exposure on risk attitudes. Victims are more likely to take risks and less likely to make safe choices than nonvictims, controlling for demographic, socioeconomic, and attitudinal factors. The effect is significant only when the source of violence is conflict (exerted by guerrilla or paramilitary militias) and when violence is experienced directly by individuals. Indirect conflict exposure (suffered by close relatives) and criminal violence leave no significant mark on participants’ risk attitudes in the study.

Article

Behavioral Development Economics  

Karla Hoff and Allison Demeritt

Economics, like all behavioral sciences, incorporates premises about how people think. Behavioral economics emerged in reaction to the extreme assumption in neoclassical economics that agents have unbounded cognitive capacity and exogenous, fixed preferences. There have been two waves of behavioral economics, and both have enriched development economics. The first wave takes into account that cognitive capacity is bounded and that individuals in many situations act predictably irrationally: there are universal human biases. Behavioral development economics in this first wave has shown that low-cost interventions can be “small miracles” that increase productivity and well-being by making it easier for people to make the rational choice. The second wave of behavioral economics explicitly takes into account that humans are products of culture as well as nature. From their experience and exposure to communities, humans adopt beliefs that shape their perception, construals, and behavior. This second wave helps explain why long-run paths of economic development may diverge across countries with different histories. The second wave also suggests a new kind of intervention: Policies that give individuals new experiences or new role models may change their perceptions and preferences. New perceptions and preferences change behavior. This is a very different perspective than that of neoclassical economics, in which changing behavior requires ongoing interventions.