Rational Habit Formation: Experimental Evidence from Handwashing in India

94 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2017 Last revised: 10 Feb 2020

See all articles by Reshmaan Hussam

Reshmaan Hussam

Harvard Business School

Atonu Rabbani

University of Dhaka

Giovanni Reggiani

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Natalia Rigol

Harvard University

Date Written: September 4, 2019

Abstract

We test the main predictions of the rational addiction model, reconceptualized as rational habit formation, in the context of handwashing. To track habit formation, we design soap dispensers with timed sensors. We test for rational habit formation by informing some households about a future change in the returns to daily handwashing. Child weight and height increase for all households with dispensers. Monitoring and incentives raise handwashing contemporaneously, and effects persist well after they end. Anticipation of future monitoring further raises handwashing: individuals internalize handwashing's habitual nature and accumulate stock. Our results inform policy design around the adoption of healthy behaviors.

JEL Classification: D04, D83, D91, I12

Suggested Citation

Hussam, Reshmaan and Rabbani, Atonu and Reggiani, Giovanni and Rigol, Natalia, Rational Habit Formation: Experimental Evidence from Handwashing in India (September 4, 2019). Harvard Business School BGIE Unit Working Paper No. 18-030, Harvard Business School Entrepreneurial Management Working Paper No. 18-030, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3040729 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3040729

Reshmaan Hussam (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Atonu Rabbani

University of Dhaka ( email )

Giovanni Reggiani

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Natalia Rigol

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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