When the Sorting Hat Sorts Randomly: A Natural Experiment on Culture

Quarterly Journal of Political Science

115 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2020 Last revised: 16 Feb 2022

See all articles by Joan Ricart-Huguet

Joan Ricart-Huguet

Loyola University Maryland; Yale University

Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Princeton University Department of Psychology

Date Written: March 29, 2020


Culture is a central but elusive concept in the social sciences, and so are its effects. We leverage a natural experiment in the oldest university in East Africa-a cradle of economic and political elites-where students are randomly assigned to live in halls of residence that have maintained distinct student cultures since the 1970s. A broad consensus at the university characterizes certain halls as sociable and activist, and others as academically-minded and respectful. Using an original survey of current students and behavioral games, we find that hall cultures influence a mixture of individual and interpersonal outcomes, specifically students' time preferences, identity, and interpersonal trust and generosity. However, they do not influence students' academic performance, social habits, or political preferences. An alumni survey suggests that some cultural effects endure, notably participation in activism. Our results provide novel evidence that cultural influence extends to several social domains.

Keywords: culture, natural experiment, elites, socialization, identity, Africa

JEL Classification: Z10, I20, C90

Suggested Citation

Ricart-Huguet, Joan and Paluck, Elizabeth Levy, When the Sorting Hat Sorts Randomly: A Natural Experiment on Culture (March 29, 2020). Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3568261 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3568261

Joan Ricart-Huguet (Contact Author)

Loyola University Maryland ( email )

4501 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21210-2699
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.ricarthuguet.com

Yale University ( email )

31 Hillhouse Avenue
Program on Ethics, Politics, & Economics
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Princeton University Department of Psychology ( email )

Peretsman Scully Hall
Department of Psychology
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States
6092589730 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.betsylevypaluck.com/

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics