Human Trafficking Vulnerability Lab

I am the Co-Lead of the Human Trafficking Vulnerability (HTV) Project, a research project based at the University of California, Berkeley and York University (Canada). The lab employs experimental methods to study the impact of interventions designed to reduce vulnerability to human trafficking. Thus far, data has been collected in Nepal and Hong Kong.

With funding from Humanity United, USAID, US Department of Labor, Stanford University, Terres des Hommes, and Vanderbilt University, the HTV Project has tested the efficacy of interventions on the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of populations that are either vulnerable to trafficking and labor exploitation or responsible for mitigating it. This includes the general public, law enforcement agents, employers, and migrant domestic workers.

Working Papers

Can Natural Disasters Have a Rally ‘Round the Flag Effect? The Political Consequences of Nepal’s 2015 Earthquake (with Margaret Boittin and Stephen Utych)
[Available upon request]

Natural disasters have been shown to influence support for incumbent governments and political systems in a variety of circumstances. We argue that natural disasters can exhibit a “Rally ‘Round the Flag” effect, boosting support for incumbent governments, similar to that observed in international conflict. Leveraging an in-process data collection effort in Nepal that was interrupted by a major earthquake in April 2015, we find evidence that this disaster induced a rally effect. Post-earthquake, support for the political system in Nepal increased. We find this effect implementing both a quasi-experimental propensity score matching design and a pre-post test in which the same individuals were interviewed immediately before and after the earthquake. Moreover, this effect is mediated by increased feelings of national pride caused by the earthquake, demonstrating that a rallying effect is taking place. Our findings suggest that natural disasters can lead to at least a short-term boost in system support.

The Impact of Incidental Environmental Factors on Vote Choice: How Wind Speed Leads to More Prevention-Focused Voting (with Jon M. Jachimowicz, Jochen I. Menges, and Adam D. Galinsky)
[Available upon request]

Many theories of democracy propose that individuals deliberate their voting decisions. The current research challenges this notion by exploring how incidental environmental factors infiltrate voting decisions. We present a causal model for how wind speed on Election Day affects voting: Higher wind speed prompts a psychological prevention focus that sways voters more to select prevention-focused (e.g., reflecting a concern to avoid loss) over promotion-focused (e.g., reflecting a motivation to make gains) options when such a choice exists. Using a mixed-method approach—archival analyses (the “Brexit” vote, the Scotland independence referendum, 10 years of Swiss referendums, and 100 years of U.S. presidential elections), one field study, and one experiment—we find that individuals exposed to higher wind speed become more prevention-focused and more likely to support prevention-focused electoral options. The findings highlight the importance of incidental environmental factors for voting decisions, and speak to the benefit of non-voting day voting administration.

Growing Awareness Amid Growing Vulnerability: Assessing and Mitigating Labor Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers (with Margaret L. Boittin, Biz Herman, Sarah Rich-Zendel, Soo Sun You)
[Available upon request]

Levels of labor abuse of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Hong Kong are distressingly high. COVID-19 is exacerbating this issue. These high levels of exploitation are concomitant with high levels of awareness among MDWs regarding workers’ rights and labor regulations. As lack of awareness among this community is not a binding constraint on improving labor conditions, we find that awareness-raising campaigns that provide information about labor law have little impact on MDWs. Yet such campaigns do have a positive impact on the general population in Hong Kong–individuals who may be abusing MDWs they employ, or could stop the occurrence of such abuse in their surroundings. Indeed, the general population displays less knowledge about many MDW rights, and awareness campaigns meaningfully increase that knowledge. Since baseline levels of awareness vary depending on the population and issue-area, we highlight the importance of assessing both baseline awareness and previous exposure to awareness-raising activities prior to allocating scarce resources to an information campaign. Furthermore, while awareness campaigns can increase knowledge, they are no substitute for the more complex tasks of addressing the economic, legal, and political underpinnings of labor exploitation: the structurally-rooted conditions that cause vulnerability in the first place. This observation is evident when we measure attitudes towards the mistreatment of MDWs. We find that MDWs express more tolerance for labor abuse than the general population, despite high levels of awareness regarding their rights: MDWs view mistreatment as part and parcel of their job, given insufficient regulatory protections and limited alternative labor options.

“Human Trafficking Vulnerability: An Experimental Intervention Using Mass Media to Change Norms and Behaviors in Nepal” (with Margaret Boittin)
[Available upon request]

What are the effects of mass media campaigns on norms and behaviors related to human trafficking? Namely, can mass media campaigns be employed to induce shifts in knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices (KABP) that will reduce the incidence of modern forms of slavery and assist victims of human trafficking? We find that narrative-based campaigns with positive appeals that aim to empower the audience are more effective than purely fact-based campaigns or campaigns aimed to scare the audience. Awareness campaigns can increase the likelihood that a person will recognize and report cases of human trafficking. They can also increase concern for human trafficking while decreasing misperceptions about human trafficking, and increase an individual’s willingness to discuss human trafficking with family and friends, donate money to the cause, and volunteer their time to anti-trafficking efforts. However, while exposure to awareness campaigns about the risks of human trafficking can effectively increase people’s sense that it is an important national problem, it does not alter perceptions about its local importance. If human trafficking is viewed as someone else’s problem, people may be less vigilant about mitigating their own human trafficking risks. This find speaks to the importance of creating content that is deeply contextualized and relatable to an individual so they see themselves reflected in the messaging. Moreover, without any follow-up campaigns, these effects nearly completely diminished over time. Results are currently published in a USAID working paper series, and we are currently writing a version of the report for an academic audience.

“Differential Reactions to Survey Incentives: A Comparative Assessment” (with Bhumi Purohit and Katharine Conn)
[Available upon request]

Do survey incentives that improve response rates in the United States and the Global North perform just as well in other countries? Studies on web survey recruitment have largely come to a conclusion that monetary incentives recruit a higher share of respondents than non-monetary responses. Though these findings largely come from the U.S. or Europe, scholars in other regions have relied on similar monetary incentives such as gifts or lotteries to recruit respondents. We test the assumption that monetary incentives are effective across cultures by running an incentives experiment in Australia, India, and the United States amongst a similar population of pro-social individuals in each country. We find that monetary incentives are effective in the U.S. and Australia, but Indians respond more frequently to charity appeals or descriptive appeals. An additional dictator game corroborates this finding, showing that Indians are much more likely to donate potential lottery winnings to charity than individuals from other countries. Our results suggests that incentives that have worked in Western settings cannot be transported to other settings without prior testing and a careful consideration of a country’s cultural or socioeconomic context.

Works in Progress

“The Unintended Consequences of Women’s Empowerment Narratives: An Experimental Study of Gender Attitudes in Nepal” (with Margaret Boittin, Katrina Kosec, and Soo Sun You)

“Law Enforcement and Human Trafficking Vulnerability: The Case of Nepal” (with Margaret Boittin)

“The Impact of Youth Service on Beliefs, Mindsets, and Life Pathways: Evidence from Teach For All” (with Katharine Conn)

“The Impact of a Service-Focused Teaching Corps on Participants’ Career Pathways and Aspirations: Evidence from Teach for India” (with Katharine Conn and Virginia Lovison)

“Engendering Empathy Through Virtual Reality” (with Dan Archer)

“Understanding Decision Dilemmas” (with Jonathan Bendor and Benjamin Douglas)

“Differential Evaluations for Imperfections: Negative Campaigns and Underrepresentation in Politics” (with Soo Sun You)

“The Etiology of Child Trafficking” (with Guy Grossman and Dennis Feehan)

“Sexism in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections: Prejudice Against Women (Leaders) on Voter Turnout and Candidate Choice” (with Libby Jenke, Jon Krosnick, and Emily West)

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