Negative Behavioral Transmission
Behavior change programs, including much of early education curricula, assume the positive transmission of behavior from one context to another. We randomize a hand hygiene edutain- ment program in schools in Bangladesh to trace school-to-home transmission of handwashing behavior and randomize the proportion of students who receive handwashing resources at home to track home-to-school transmission. We find that children induced to wash more at home exhibit less washing at school. Likewise, children induced to wash more at school wash less at home. This negative transmission spills over to other household members and non-school days, such that the cumulative impact of school edutainment on total washing is negative. Our results are consistent with the mechanisms of crowd-out, cue-based habit formation, and ‘reverse’ vertical transmission of behavior. They highlight an unintended consequence of behavior change interventions, like those often implemented in education, that presume complementarities in behavior across contexts but evaluate effects only at the site of intervening.
Reshma Hussam, PhD, is an assistant professor of business administration in the Business, Government and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School, a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and a faculty affiliate at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD).
Her research explores questions at the intersection of development and behavioral economics, with research in three areas: migration, health, and finance. Her most recent work engages refugee populations including the Rohingya in Bangladesh, examining the psychosocial value of employment in contexts of mass unemployment, the role of home in migration decisionmaking, and refugee preferences for repatriation, integration, and resettlement. In her work in health, which involves field experiments across South Asia, she considers the puzzle of the ubiquitously low adoption of low cost, high return goods, behaviors, and technologies in the developing world, exploring the role of learning and habit formation in behavior change.