| Research |

Dissertation Project

See my dissertation page for further information

Atwell, Paul and Noah L. Nathan. 2022. "Channels for Influence or Maps of Behavior? A Field Experiment on Social Networks and Cooperation." American Journal of Political Science, 66(3): 696-713.

Communities in developing countries often must cooperate to self‐provide or co‐produce local public goods. Many expect that community social networks facilitate this cooperation, but few studies directly observe real‐life networks in these settings. We collect detailed social network data in rural Northern Ghana to explore how social positions and proximity to community leaders predict donations to a local public good. We then implement a field experiment manipulating participants' opportunity to communicate and apply social pressure before donating. We find clear evidence that locations in community social networks predict cooperative behavior, but no evidence that communication improves coordination or cooperation, in contrast to common theoretical expectations and laboratory findings. Our results show that evolved, real‐life social networks serve as a mapping of community members' already‐engrained behaviors, not only as an active technology through which social influence propagates to solve collective action problems.


Supported by the Center for Political Studies (Roy Pierce Scholarship) and the International Policy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy

Armand, Alex, Paul Atwell, and Joseph F. Gomes. 2020. "The Reach of Radio: Ending Civil Conflict through Rebel Demobilization." American Economic Review, 110 (5): 1395-1429. 

We examine the role of FM radio in mitigating violent conflict. We collect original data on radio broadcasts encouraging defections during the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. This constitutes the first quantitative evaluation of an active counterinsurgency policy that encourages defections through radio messages. Exploiting random topography-driven variation in radio coverage along with panel variation at the grid-cell level, we identify the causal effect of messaging on violence. Broadcasting defection messages increases defections and reduces fatalities, violence against civilians, and clashes with security forces. Income shocks have opposing effects on both the conflict and the effectiveness of messaging.


Awarded 2019 Eckstein Prize for inter-disciplinary research.

Supported by the Ramón Areces Foundation (Madrid).

It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s Superman! Using Mass Media to fight Intolerance. (Working paper)

With: A. Armand (Nova Business), J. Gomes and Y. Schenk (UC Louvain), and G. Musillo (Tilburg) 

This paper investigates the role of mass media in shaping racial tolerance and advancing civil rights in the post-WWII United States. We study the first attempt in the history of mass media to use a radio broadcast targeted at children to promote an inclusive American society. In 1946, amid racial divisions, the popular radio series \textit{The Adventures of Superman} launched \textit{Operation Intolerance}, a sequence of new episodes promoting equality, rejecting racial discrimination, and exposing the KKK's bigotry. Using digitized historical data on U.S. radio stations and state-of-the-art radio propagation models, we compute geographic exposure to the broadcasts. Exploiting exogenous exposure to the broadcasts, we employ a cohort study design to analyze individual-level data from 1964 to 1980--a crucial period for civil rights activism and legislation in the United States. We find lasting impacts on those exposed as children, including increased support for civil rights, improved interracial relations, and more progressive political attitudes. These effects translate into greater alignment with the Civil Rights Movement, evidenced by increased support for protests and diminished institutional trust, and further manifested by reduced participation in the Vietnam War. Additionally, county-level panel data illustrate how areas covered by the broadcast in 1946 evolve towards less segregationist attitudes, a lower presence of the KKK, and an increase in civil rights activism and prominence in discourse.

Mayors, Messages and Misinformation. (In-progress)

With: Simon Chauchard (UC3M) and Fernando Mello (UC3M)

We explore experimentally when local politicians are most likely to respond to changes in campaign regulations around misinformation in Brazil.