Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming

64 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2012 Last revised: 27 Mar 2015

See all articles by Rema Hanna

Rema Hanna

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Joshua Schwartzstein

Dartmouth College

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2012

Abstract

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 and Mullainathan, Sendhil and Schwartzstein, Joshua, Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming (September 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w18401. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2150533

Rema Hanna (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2720 (Phone)
617-495-7730 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-588-1473 (Phone)
617-876-2742 (Fax)

Joshua Schwartzstein

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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