Mind, Behavior, and Development

eMBeD: Using the Behavioral Sciences to Fight Global Poverty and Reduce Inequality

Policymakers are increasingly turning to the behavioral sciences to tackle intractable policy challenges, including increasing student learning, raising savings rates, promoting energy and resource conservation, increasing productivity, improving sanitation practices, strengthening institutions, and reducing corruption.

Behaviorally informed policy emphasizes the importance of context for decision making and behavior. It examines a wide set of influences, paying attention to the social, psychological, and economic factors that affect what people think and do. It addresses details in bureaucracies, technologies, and service delivery that are often overlooked in standard policy design but that dramatically influence the effectiveness of development programs and projects, especially in low-income contexts. Behaviorally informed policy can provide creative solutions to difficult challenges, often at low cost. Finally, it helps policy makers themselves avoid some of the decision traps and biases that affect all individuals.

The Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD), the World Bank’s behavioral sciences team, works closely with project teams, governments, and other partners to diagnose, design, and evaluate behaviorally informed interventions. By collaborating with a worldwide network of scientists and practitioners, the eMBeD team provides answers to important economic and social questions, and contributes to the global effort to eliminate poverty and increase equity.

Download our brochure (in EnglishSpanish, French, or Arabic) to learn more.

eMBeD’s current portfolio spans 65 countries and a wide variety of thematic areas. All of our results briefs are available here. This page outlines some of our recent and ongoing projects from the areas of Learning, Health, Money, Safe Societies, Work, Effective Organizations, and “Mindstats.” 

 

Learning

Reframing mindsets and changing lives. In Peru, together with the Ministry of Education, we reframed the beliefs of middle-school students by showing them that intelligence is malleable. The intervention led to a 0.14 standard deviation increase in math test scores, equivalent to four months of schooling, at a cost of less than $0.20 per student. eMBeD reached 50,000 students in an initial phase, and an additional 250,000 subsequently.

Reducing teacher and administrator absenteeism. Although Peru exhibits overall low levels of teacher absenteeism, attendance rates are inferior in the poorest and remotest areas. The project consists of sending teachers weekly text or email messages on the importance of attending school using pro-social and social norms framing approaches. The results show a significant impact of the social norm message on directors, whose absenteeism was reduced by 3.7 percentage points on average, for an intervention which cost close to zero.

 

Health

Changing social norms and mental models to increase toilet use. Despite efforts to improve access to better sanitation, India accounts for nearly 60% of the world's population that still defecates in the open. Beyond economic reasons, social norms, cultural beliefs, or mental models can and do constrain toilet use. This project identifies these normative and cultural barriers to toilet use, particularly among toilet owners, and design low-cost, community level behavioral interventions to address them.

Increasing uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) by adolescent girls. Despite the high adolescent fertility rate in Cameroon, use of contraceptives, particularly LARCs, remain very low. This project aims to understand the interactions among social, psychological, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental processes that influence young women’s utilization of LARCs, and inform the design of both demand and supply side interventions, including counseling apps for adolescents, and training for health workers. 

 

Money

Partnering for better financial inclusion. In Tanzania, we partnered with the wireless service provider Airtel on a project to encourage low-income individuals to save more using mobile money products. Based on the results of an initial diagnostic phase, we designed behaviorally informed text messages that highlighted social comparisons, mental accounting, and more. The most successful intervention increased savings by up to 11% within two weeks.

Increasing tax compliance in context. Behavioral science has long informed tax policy by employing social norms. Telling people that others have paid has been found to increase tax compliance in several countries. But in Poland, a World Bank trial found that using punitive language increased tax compliance more than peer comparisons – “hard tones” increased tax compliance by 20.8%. If the best- performing communication had been sent to all taxpayers covered by the trial, the Polish Tax Authority would have generated 56% more in revenues.

Using text reminders, framing and social norms to increase income tax compliance. Reminders are a cost-effective strategy to increase tax reporting and payment. Letters from the tax authority were sent to taxpayers (individuals and firms) who had failed to pay in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. The interventions increased the rate of payment as well as the average amount paid, more than tripling the tax receipts. After 12 months, the effects of the intervention persisted, sustaining the increased rate of payment. 

 

Safe Societies

Creating connections and empowering local women. In Nicaragua, the impacts on education and health investments of a productive cash transfer persisted two years after the program ended among beneficiaries who interacted with local female leaders. These households were 20 percentage points more likely to aspire to see their children in a professional career, showcasing how interactions with role models can be a powerful and cost-effective way to affect changes in attitudes towards the future.

Changing social norms to address sex preference at birth. Recent evidence from Georgia shows that parents’ preference for sons is distorting sex ratio at birth, which exacerbates gender inequality across generations. The study tests the effectiveness of an information campaign in altering and influencing parental perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and behaviors toward their daughters. The campaign will be delivered through mass media and key service providers by appealing to the role of influential models. 

 

Work

Encouraging female labor force participation among refugees and Jordanian nationals. Jordan has made significant progress in educational attainment, particularly among women. However, female labor market participation is low and has recently dropped to 13 percent. The project will systematically measure social norms and cultural beliefs to better identify barriers to increased participation, and will subsequently inform interventions that aim to change these.

Supporting youth work aspirations. Despite Ethiopia’s strong economic growth in recent years, youth unemployment remains very high in urban areas, particularly in larger cities. Diagnostic work has identified a gap between youths’ expressed aspirations and daily economic behaviors. To tackle this, the intervention aims to support the unemployed youths’ psychological agency by tailoring training sessions that address the psychological and informational constraints faced by the young people that attend the center. 

 

Effective Organizations

Improving accurate recordkeeping and informing intelligent healthcare funding. In Nigeria, inaccurate and incomplete healthcare recordkeeping limits policy makers’ ability to direct funds where they are needed. In a pilot intervention in Ekiti state, eMBeD found that incentivizing accurate administrative work through social recognition programs and ceremonies increased recordkeeping accuracy by 13%.

Increasing charitable donations among World Bank staff. eMBeD ran a study on World Bank employees during their giving campaign, the Community Connections Campaign (CCC). Altogether, the interventions run by eMBeD, including reciprocity, timely messaging, short and clear language, and encouraging early commitment, the average donation rose by more than 30% relative to the previous year, and raised an estimated $29 for every $1 spent on the interventions.

 

Mindstats

Measuring teacher biases toward poor students. In an experiment involving 600 public school teachers in Lima, Peru, the World Bank tested whether teachers who were asked to evaluate the scholastic aptitude, behavior, and education potential of a student were unconsciously biased towards him when prompted by socio-economic markers. We found that teachers use a student’s socio-economic background to assess his scholastic aptitude.  

Measuring welfare in conflict-affected regions. The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, in collaboration with the World Bank, collected a nationally representative sample via a new round of the General Household Survey Panel conducted in 2015-2016. Our findings suggest that chronic depression is likely to have both short- and long-term effects on welfare in Nigeria, and also seems to affect intra and inter-generational channels of upward mobility.

 

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The Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit works closely with a number of World Bank teams on project publications and deliverables. Below are some of the projects in which we’ve been involved.


Our Team
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    Zeina Afif

    Senior Social Scientist
    Zeina Afif is a Senior Social Scientist with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank. Zeina is currently working on applying behavioral insights to improve women’s access to finance and jobs, reduce youth unemployment, reduce gender based violence, promote social cohesion, and improve access to public services and programs. Prior to joining the team, Zeina provided operational communication and behavioral insights support to World Bank projects and has worked in countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen in the areas of taxes, social protection, social accountability, and citizen engagement. Zeina holds a MBA from George Washington University, and a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from London School of Economics.
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    Jorge Luis Castaneda

    Research Analyst
    Jorge Luis Castaneda is an Analyst at the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. His work integrates behavioral science to the design of anti-poverty policies in a wide range of policy issues, such as education, health, early childhood development, financial inclusion, and social protection. Through his career, he has acquired expertise in the fields of applied microeconomics, experimental economics, impact evaluation, and psychology, and has an extensive experience in econometric analysis and qualitative and fieldwork research. He previously served as a Research Fellow with the Social Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank. He holds a M.Sc. in Economics from the Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia.
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    Abigail Dalton

    Operations Officer
    Abigail Dalton is the Operations Officer for the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of the Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she managed a team of forty faculty engaged in behavioral science research for the public good. In her tenure at Harvard, she developed BIG into a university-wide initiative engaging over 1,000 students and alumni, with connections to every major international government utilizing behavioral science research and a comprehensive curriculum aimed at preparing students and policy makers to apply rigorous behavioral science research to policy. She holds a B.A. from Wellesley College, and an Ed.M. in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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    Samantha De Martino

    Economist
    Samantha De Martino is an Economist in the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice. Her research is at the nexus of applied microeconomics and behavioral science, with a focus on developing and testing new measures for understanding behavior. Her PhD thesis explored the interaction of monetary and non-monetary incentives for behavior change. She has extensive qualitative and quantitative experience in impact evaluation design and implementation of interventions for policy issues including land reform, renewable energy, environment, health, education, anti-poverty, youth unemployment and social protection in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia with the World Bank, Institute of Development Studies, Innovations for Poverty Action, and the City of Cape Town. She holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University and PhD in Economics from the University of Sussex.
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    Gabriela Farfan

    Young Professional
    Gabriela Farfan is a Young Professional with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. Her current work primarily involves methodological research on survey design and data collection, with a particular emphasis on poverty measurement and the integration of behavioral insights into traditional welfare measurement. She has also worked in the areas of poverty, health and nutrition, education, economics of the family, and migration. During her graduate studies she collaborated with the design and implementation of the Third Wave of the Mexican Family Life Survey (MxFLS), particularly the US component of the survey which followed and interviewed Mexican migrants living in the United States. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Duke University.
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    Anna Fruttero

    Senior Economist
    Anna Fruttero is a Senior Economist with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank Group in Washington DC. She is currently on leave at the IMF. Previously she has been a core team member of the 2015 World Development Report “Mind, Society, and Behavior”, and has worked extensively on poverty and social protection issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. She led the implementation and technical support of World Bank projects as well as analytical research on individual countries and regional studies. Her research interests include distributional impact of shocks, ex-ante and ex-post impact evaluations of social programs, and female labor force participation. She has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at New York University and Johns Hopkins University. Anna holds a PhD in Economics from New York University.
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    Varun Gauri

    (Co-Head) Senior Economist
    Varun Gauri is a Senior Economist at the World Bank. He co-directed the World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior. He serves on the editorial boards of the journals Behavioral Public Policy and Health and Human Rights, the World Economic Forum Council on Behavior, the Advisory Board of Academics Stand Against Poverty, and is a member of the RSA (London). He holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D from Princeton University.
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    Julian Jamison

    Senior Behavioral Economist
    Julian Jamison is Senior Behavioral Economist with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice of the World Bank. Before joining the Bank he worked as an economist and served as the Section Chief of the Decision-making and Behavioral Studies group in the Office of Research at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau within the United States government. He is a Research Affiliate at Innovations for Poverty Action and a fellow in the US-China Young Leaders Forum. He holds a B.S. and an M.S. in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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    Jonathan George Karver

    Research Analyst
    Jonathan is a Research Analyst in the Poverty & Equity Global Practice for Europe & Central Asia. In addition to his support of eMBeD initiatives in the region, he contributes to analytical work on poverty and inequality in the European Union. He has provided leadership and supporting roles for various impact evaluations and other analytical work related to education, household finance, fiscal policy, water and sanitation, and sexual and reproductive health, among others. Prior to joining the Bank, Jonathan collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank, the Mexican Ministry of Education, and the Center for Global Development. He holds a Masters in Economics from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).
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    Jimena Llopis

    Research Analyst
    Jimena Llopis is a Research Analyst at the Poverty and Equity Global Practice and is part of the eMBeD team. Her current work focuses on designing and testing behavioral interventions in maternal health, youth inactivity and social inclusion. Prior to joining the eMBeD team, Jimena worked at the research department of the Inter-American Development Bank where her work focused on developing growth strategies for Latin American countries. Prior to that, she worked at the Central Bank of Spain on economic and policy research. Jimena received her Bachelor in Economics from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and her MPA from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
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    Ana Maria Muñoz Boudet

    Senior Social Scientist
    Ana Maria Muñoz Boudet is a Senior Social Scientist in the World Bank’s Poverty Global Practice. She has worked on gender, poverty and inequality issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia and the Africa. She is a co-author of the World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development. She holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and doctorate studies from the University College of London.
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    Julie Perng

    Research Analyst
    Julie Perng is a Research Analyst in the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice where she supports the Behavioral team. She has conducted research and worked in measurement, natural resource, experimental economics, financial inclusion, health, and education projects in the United States and the Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia and Pacific, Africa and the Europe and Central Asia regions. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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    Tasmia Rahman

    Research Analyst
    Tasmia Rahman is a Research Analyst at the World Bank where she supports the design and evaluation of behavioral interventions across various policy areas. Prior to joining the Bank, she worked on research and impact evaluation projects in the areas of skills training, social protection, and tax compliance for the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation (Gui2de) and the International Growth Centre in East and West Africa, and managed a portfolio of digital finance pilots at BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab in Bangladesh. She holds a Masters in International Development Policy from Georgetown University.
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    Iman Sen

    Research Analyst
    Iman Sen is a Research Analyst at the World Bank working with projects on tax compliance, financial management, energy, and understanding social norms through the support of behavioral interventions. Prior to joining the World Bank, he worked on randomized evaluations in governance, energy, health, and gender in South Asia, in different capacities for Innovations for Poverty Action(IPA), and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Iman holds Masters degrees in Economics and Computer Science from New York University.
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    Renos Vakis

    (Co-Head) Lead Economist
    Renos Vakis is a Lead Economist with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. He works on initiatives that integrate behavioral science in the design of anti-poverty policies in a wide range of issues such as financial inclusion, early childhood development, social protection, health and education. As a member of the Living Standards Measurement Study team in the Development Data Group of the World Bank, he also conducts experiments to improve household survey measures of behavioral dimensions of well-being. He has written extensively on issues related to poverty dynamics and mobility, risk management, social protection, market failures and rural development and has led the design of impact evaluation of anti-poverty interventions in various settings. Most recently, he has published a book on Chronic Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. Renos has taught economics at Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) and holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
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    James Walsh

    Research Analyst
    James Walsh is a Research Analyst in the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice where he leads Behavioral Initiatives projects related to economic empowerment and child nutrition in Africa. Before joining, he was a member of the research team for the World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior. In 2015, he served on the faculty of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, where he lectured in behavioral approaches to development economics. Prior to joining the Bank, he spent time at the Gross National Happiness Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan and working with Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, examining multidisciplinary approaches to policymaking. He holds a BA in Economics and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin and a Master in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

 

 


Available Online
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Learn more about our different projects, including project design, results, and policy implications.