Dr. Patricio DaltonAssociate professor at the Department of Economics
“What motivates me the most is to be able to contribute, somehow, to improve people’s lives.”
What is the main goal of your research?
My research examines how biological, psychological and social factors influence decision-making, and how decisions affect welfare and economic development. My theoretical work addresses the implications of decision-making biases for welfare economics and the link between aspirations and poverty.
My goal is the same goal of most scientists: to help people have a better life. I focus on the most disadvantaged, those who are poor in less developed countries.
How does your research contribute to societal problems?
I think I can contribute to solve societal problems by developing theoretical models and designing laboratory and field experiments. Models help us to understand and predict behavior and societal outcomes in a rigorous way. The type of economic models I work on typically use insights from psychology, anthropology and sociology. For example, I have formalized the idea that people may make systematic sub-optimal decisions in their life. I show conditions under which a policy maker can infer whether choices are optimal or not from the individual’s point of view. I then discuss different policies to improve welfare in scenarios in which there is incomplete information on the mistakes people make.
In another set of papers, I study how poverty can exacerbate the consequences of sub-optimal decisions. For example, poverty can make poor people aspire below their own potential. An implication is that if initial economic conditions are not too low, and people are not resource-constrained, raising aspirations is sufficient to help people escape from poverty.
In the laboratory, I experimentally test how factors associated with poverty affect economic decisions and outcomes. For example, I study whether stress impairs economic rationality, how financial worries influence risk-taking behavior and how the feeling of being in or out of control impact on labor supply.
In the field, I have conducted Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) to test different interventions to help small firms grow. In Kenya, I study the adoption and impact of mobile money by small merchants. In Indonesia, I investigate how small business growth can be fostered by exposing retailers to idiosyncratic information of businesses practices of successful peers. In Ghana, I test how the sole fact of measuring production or setting goals can increase productivity of small informal cassava processors. I am currently working on an RCT in India to empower marginalised parents to make their children's school more accountable.
What is your main motive?
What motivates me the most is to be able to contribute, somehow, to improve people’s lives. It also motivates me to teach and advise excellent students, like those who come to Tilburg!
Who is your role model?
I do not have one role model. I learn from many people, including my great colleagues at Tilburg, my friends, wife, and even from my 2.5-year-old son, who makes me think out of the box! Academically, I learned a lot from Sayantan Ghosal, Bob Sugden, Doug Bernheim, Marco Mariotti and Peter Hammond who, despite being extremely busy professors, dedicated much of their time to discuss my PhD work and to help me developing my career. Their example inspires me whenever I interact with students.