Donald P. Green: Can Media Shape Social Norms? A Randomized Experiment Assessing Portrayals of Domestic Violence, Abortion, and Teacher Absenteeism in Rural Uganda


Monday, September 19, 2016, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Donald P. Green, J.W. Burgess Professor of Political Science, Columbia University.

To what extent do dramatized portrayals of social issues affect what audiences in developing countries think and do? Using a novel experimental paradigm, we assess the effects of direct and indirect exposure to video dramas on domestic violence, abortion, and teacher absenteeism in 56 Ugandan villages. Each video series, which featured Ugandan actors in Luganda-language vignettes, sought to model and articulate prescriptive social norms, such as the idea that intimate partner violence is never acceptable or that women who face post-abortion medical complications should be helped rather than ostracized. A range of outcomes were measured via a seemingly unrelated survey several weeks later.

Although we find exposure to the vignettes to have weak effects on opinions about the moral status of the issues themselves, we find significant effects on empathy toward those who face abortion-related ostracism and on intention to participate in collective action to address teacher absenteeism. We also find some evidence suggesting that these effects spill over to those who did not attend the screenings but have friends and family who did. These results suggest that education-entertainment may have enduring effects in certain domains.

About the speaker

Donald P. Green is J.W. Burgess Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, having moved there in 2011 after 22 years at Yale University. The author of four books and more than one hundred essays, Green studies a wide array of topics:  voting behavior, partisanship, campaign finance, hate crime, and research methods. Much of his current work uses field experimentation to study the ways in which political campaigns mobilize and persuade voters.

He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and was awarded the Heinz I. Eulau Award for best article published in the American Political Science Review during 2009. In 2010, he founded the Experimental Research section of the American Political Science Association and served as its first president.

Prior to joining the Columbia faculty in 2011, he taught at Yale University, where he directed the Institution for Social and Policy Studies from 1996 to 2011.

See also: Fall 2016