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Thinking, Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago

“Disparities in youth outcomes in the United States are striking. For example, for 15-24 year olds, the male homicide rate in 2013 was 18 times higher for blacks than whites (71 vs. 4/100,000). Black males lose more years of potential life before age 65 to homicide than to America’s leading overall killer – heart disease. A large body of research emphasizes that – beyond institutional factors – choices and behavior contribute to these outcomes, including decisions around dropping out, involvement with drugs or gangs, or how to respond to confrontations that could escalate to serious violence.

In this paper we explain these behavioral differences using the psychology of automaticity. Because it is mentally costly to think through every situation in detail, all of us have automatic responses to the situations we encounter. These responses are tuned to the situations we commonly face. To illustrate how this can potentially create problems, consider two kinds of situations that youth face: “school life” and (for lack of a better term) “street life.” In both situations, youths have to deal with assertions of authority. Teachers assert authority in school life by asking them to sit down or be quiet. In street life, someone much larger could assert authority by demanding money or their phones.”

Read the full paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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