Can a psychological intervention enhance the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes such as cash transfers?


There is growing evidence that certain psychological preconditions determine the degree to which humans, including the poor in low-income countries, seize untapped opportunities. Even when material constraints are eased, psychological constraints may remain which prevent people taking actions that might alter their socio-economic position. This is important because ultimately, the success of virtually all anti-poverty interventions depends to some extent on decisions made and actions taken by the poor.

We are conducting a multi-arm large scale Randomised Control Trial (8,100 households from 416 villages, four arms cluster randomisation) in rural Western Kenya where we relax external constraints, internal constraints, and external and internal constraints simultaneously to study whether integrating psychological interventions into existing anti-poverty programmes enhances the effectiveness of these programmes. The project aims to alter poor people’s understanding of their opportunities through a video based psychological intervention during a crucial stage in their lives: when they receive large unconditional cash transfers by our dynamic partner organisation GiveDirectly (1,000 USD per household; cumulative amount of nearly 9 million USD in the study area). If recipients can be assisted to get better returns from these cash transfers by “bolting on” cost-effective psychological interventions, this could suggest a radical new way to fight poverty, one that encourages and enables poor people to set and pursue their own goals.

The large scale of the cash transfers, village level randomisation, and the cross-cut with a psychological intervention, creates a unique field site to develop a comprehensive understanding of the impact of these transfers on the social fabric of these communities. The following extension studies look at:

  • What is the impact on village-level inequality and on economic mobility of households within villages? (Stefan Dercon, Rob Garlick, Kate Orkin, and Natalie Quinn)
  • How do economic and psychological networks mediate the effects of cash transfers and what is the impact of the programme on these network structures? (Rob Garlick, Gabor Nyeki, and Kate Orkin)
  • Do cash transfers on their own, and when combined with a psychological intervention, improve female empowerment and reduce conflict within these households? (Mahreen Mahmud, Kate Orkin, and Emma Riley)
  • How do political processes and politicians respond to changes in village wealth and if increases in income increase civic participation and levels of social capital? (Kate Orkin and Michael Walker)

This work is funded by an anonymous donor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Philanthropy, the Fell Fund, JPAL Governance Initiative and IPA IPV Initiative.