Past Event

Development Workshop: Nava Ashraf

March 7, 2024
4:10 PM - 5:40 PM
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1101 IAB

As part of Columbia University's Spring 2024 Development Workshop, Nava Ashraf will present "Learning to See the World's Opportunities: Memory, Mental Experiencing, and the Economic Lives of the Vulnerable" at the Development Seminar.


Work in neuroscience and psychology has underscored the role of mental experiencing for decision making. Using the same senses that we use to perceive the world, mental experiencing enables us to compare the consequences of our actions across different decisions. Trauma affects our memory and thus may impede our ability to use mental experiencing effectively. We measure the quality of mental experiencing and evaluate how it impacts economic outcomes through two randomized controlled trials with vulnerable populations that have suffered trauma and violence. In a sample of refugees in Ethiopia, learning to generate “positive” mental experiences related to the host economy leads to increased intentions to stay, more economic activity, and improved wellbeing. In Colombia, we embed controlled mental experiencing within an entrepreneurship program to explore whether it may enhance its effectiveness. We compare outcomes of standard business training, business training with mental experiencing, and no training. Participants in the standard business training see declines in both mental experiencing and earnings. These negative effects disappear in the mental experiencing arm. The highest gains from improved mental experiencing accrue to the most vulnerable and traumatized participants in the sample, highlighting the need for trauma-informed programs.