Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming

Rema Hanna, Sendhil Mullainathan, Joshua Schwartzstein

NBER Working Paper No. 18401
Issued in September 2012
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Existing learning models attribute failures to learn to a lack of data. We model a different barrier. Given the large number of dimensions one could focus on when using a technology, people may fail to learn because they failed to notice important features of the data they possess. We conduct a field experiment with seaweed farmers to test a model of "learning through noticing". We find evidence of a failure to notice: On some dimensions, farmers do not even know the value of their own input. Interestingly, trials show that these dimensions are the ones that farmers fail to optimize. Furthermore, consistent with the model, we find that simply having access to the experimental data does not induce learning. Instead, farmers change behavior only when presented with summaries that highlight the overlooked dimensions. We also draw out the implications of learning through noticing for technology adoption, agricultural extension, and the meaning of human capital.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18401

Published: Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming* Rema Hanna Harvard University, NBER and BREAD Sendhil Mullainathan Harvard University and BREAD Joshua Schwartzstein The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014) doi: 10.1093/qje/qju015 First published online: June 9, 2014

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