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Learning through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming


  • Hanna, Rema

    (Harvard University)

  • Mullainathan, Sendhil

    (Harvard University)

  • Schwartzstein, Joshua

    (Dartmouth College)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Hanna, Rema & Mullainathan, Sendhil & Schwartzstein, Joshua, 2012. "Learning through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming," Working Paper Series rwp12-044, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp12-044

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Stephen C. Smith & Ram Fishman & Vida BobicÌ & Munshi Sulaiman, "undated". "How Sustainable Are Benefits from Extension for Smallholder Farmers? Evidence from a Randomised Phase-Out of the BRAC Program in Uganda," Working Papers 2017-1, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
    2. repec:idb:idbbks:7705 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:eee:joecag:v:1-2:y:2013:i::p:83-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Saugato Datta & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2014. "Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 60(1), pages 7-35, March.
    5. David Atkin & Azam Chaudhry & Shamyla Chaudry & Amit K. Khandelwal & Eric Verhoogen, 2017. "Organizational Barriers to Technology Adoption: Evidence from Soccer-Ball Producers in Pakistan," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 132(3), pages 1101-1164.
    6. C. Kirabo Jackson & Henry S. Schneider, 2013. "Reducing Moral Hazard in Employment Relationships: Experimental Evidence on Managerial Control and Performance Pay," NBER Working Papers 19645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Esther Duflo & Pascaline Dupas & Juliette Seban & Elise Huillery, 2012. "Impacts of School-Based HIV Education on Reported Behavior and Knowledge of Adolescent Girls, Evidence from Cameroon," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/7o52iohb7k6, Sciences Po.
    8. Fishman, Ram & Kishore, Avinash & Rothler, Yoav & Ward, Patrick S. & Jha, Shankar & Singh, R. K. P., 2016. "Can information help reduce imbalanced application of fertilizers in India? Experimental evidence from Bihar:," IFPRI discussion papers 1517, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    9. Beaman, Lori & Magruder, Jeremy & Robinson, Jonathan, 2014. "Minding small change among small firms in Kenya," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 69-86.
    10. Fishman, Ram & Kishore, Avinash & Rothler, Yoav & Ward, Patrick, 2016. "Can Information Help Reduce Imbalanced Application of Fertilizers in India? Experimental Evidence from Bihar," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 235705, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    11. Fafchamps, Marcel & McKenzie, David & Quinn, Simon & Woodruff, Christopher, 2014. "Microenterprise growth and the flypaper effect: Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 211-226.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J43 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Agricultural Labor Markets
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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