Why culture matters for decision making? We live in a complex environment, where our well-being is influenced by many factors, including the ones we are unaware of. Consequently figuring out the optimal decision strategy can be costly or even impossible. This is where culture comes in, from which we can take as given the behaviors from previous generations, even without fully understanding them. 

In particular, An is interested in understanding: (1) To what extent have cultural traits shaped the way we think or behave? (2) Where that culture comes from in the first place, and how has it evolved over time? (3) What are the consequences of those differences in cultural traits? (4) When needed, how can our understanding of the cultural roots of human behavior help design policy to improve the actions and outcomes of those involved? 

Working Papers

Behavioral Adjustments to Improved Environmental Quality: An Experimental Evaluation

Lisa Cameron, An Huang, Paulo Santos and Milan Thomas. 2023.

This paper investigates behavioral adjustment to local improvements in environmental quality. Using exogenous variation in the availability of improved sanitation generated by the randomised allocation of financial incentives in a developing country, we find that improvements in village sanitation coverage led to significant reductions in boiling water for drinking. Our analysis suggests that this change is likely a rational response to a reduction in the health benefits associated with treating water, which decline and eventually become negligible as local adoption of improved sanitation increases. Estimates of the value of time savings associated with the reduction in water boiling suggest that this adjustment is an additional important benefit of sanitation investments, most of which accrues to girls and women. 

Asian Development Bank (ADB) blog

Out-door toilet in developing countries (Credit: George Barker)

Paddy and Prejudice: Evidence from China and 12 other Asian Societies

An Huang, Paulo Santos and Russell Smyth. 2023.

This paper examines the role of agricultural technology, in the form of paddy rice cultivation, on contemporary levels of prejudice. Using environmental suitability for paddy as an instrumental variable, we find that people living in areas where paddy rice farming has been long practiced exhibit lower prejudice towards outgroup members. This relationship is mediated by greater exposure to markets and trade, itself derived from paddy’s higher land productivity, likely reflecting the opportunities for interpersonal contact created by markets. In contrast, the irrigation needs and high labour demands of paddy galvanize local cooperation, likely fostering prejudice directed to outsiders.

Monash Economics Working Papers 02/23

Rice Cultivation in China (Credit: David Jallaud)