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Destructive Behavior, Judgment, and Economic Decision-making under Thermal Stress

Ingvild Almås, Maximilian Auffhammer, Tessa Bold, Ian Bolliger, Aluma Dembo, Solomon M. Hsiang, Shuhei Kitamura, Edward Miguel, Robert Pickmans

NBER Working Paper No. 25785
Issued in April 2019
NBER Program(s):Development Economics Program, Environment and Energy Program

Accumulating evidence indicates that environmental temperature substantially affects economic outcomes and violence, but the reasons for this linkage are not well understood. We systematically evaluate the effect of thermal stress on multiple dimensions of economic decisionmaking, judgment, and destructive behavior with 2,000 participants in Kenya and the US who were randomly assigned to different temperatures in a laboratory. We find that most dimensions of decision-making are unaffected by temperature. However, heat causes individuals to voluntarily destroy other participants’ assets, with more pronounced effects during a period of heightened political conflict in Kenya.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25785

 
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