Politics graduate student, Joan Ricart–Huguet reports on the first year of a project he is working on with Profesor Betsy Levy–Paluck which is supported by a UCHV faculty research grant.

May 10, 2016


When the Sorting Hat Does Not Sort: A Natural Experiment on Culture

The University Center for Human Values provides funding to support Princeton faculty doing work in subjects relating to human values. This funding can support individual research projects; on-campus conferences or workshops on normative themes; or large and small scale collaborative projects with outside universities that explore ethical issues in public and private life; requests covering up to three years of support will be entertained.

In fall 2014, Joan Ricart-Huguet, a Politics graduate student, and Betsy Levy-Paluck, Associate Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, requested a two-year grant to support a research project at Makerere University in Uganda on the effects of the sociocultural environment during early adulthood on attitudes and behaviors. The project – “When the Sorting Hat Does Not Sort: A Natural Experiment on Culture” – includes conducting behavioral games with current residences of culturally different residential halls, as well as surveying Makerere alumni of those same residential halls to determine if and how their living environment as college students affected them later as adults. 

In a summary report concluding the project’s first year, Ricart-Huguet and Paluck observed that the hall of residence does not seem to affect academic performance and the type of social activities students engage in on campus. However, halls with a culture that encourages social cohesion identify more with the hall, trust their peers more and are more generous in behavioral games; they also donate more of their earnings to their hall, analogous to accepting higher taxes. These early stage findings relate to existing work on value formation and group identity as well as on the importance of social cohesion and trust for decision-making, collective action and development.

In year two of this project, the authors will conduct their alumni survey with the help of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), which has offices in Kampala. IPA is a research and policy non-profit that discovers and promotes effective solutions to global poverty problems. The alumni survey seeks to determine whether an individual’s early experience in the residence halls remains an important component of their personality after graduation. Then they hope to complete the paper on the project – drafts of which will be presented at a few conferences, including the Institutional and Policy Experiments conference at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and the American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting in September.