Why is Assam left behind in India's economic boom? A behavioural perspective on the effect of conflict

Project State


Our study aims to offer insights into why Assam has been left behind in India's economic boom from a behavioural perspective.  We focus on the state of Assam, where inter-group conflicts have been rife between groups that are divided primarily along language, ethnicity, or religion, to investigate the significance of a distortionary impact of ethnic violence on economic preferences that can potentially explain low private investment.  Assam slipped from boasting of above-national average per capita income levels from the 1950s to early 80s, to below-average levels for the first time in 1986. This gap widened to 18% below the national average in the post-conflict period and further to 45% in the 1990s. Proactive central government policy towards boosting the state economy has led to far from satisfactory results.

Exposure to extreme violence can profoundly change individual beliefs, values, and preferences. The proposed research will be the first to provide a behavioural perspective using experimental evidence on the effects of childhood exposure to conflict and violence on pro- and anti-social behaviour and attitudes towards risk-taking. These behavioural outcomes are fundamental determinants of people’s propensity to save and invest and their ability to overcome social dilemmas, so that changes therein foster or hinder economic growth and development.

Sample & data

We will sample participants for the experiments in a variety of regions marked by potentially differential exposure to violence during the 1980’s. The highest exposure areas are Nellie in Marigaon district, Gohpur in Sonitpur district, and Golaghat district, from which we plan to sample 200 participants in each.  Around 400 participants from other randomly picked areas with lower or no exposure to violence will be allocated to the control group.  Participants will be invited through flyers, posters, notices on bulletin boards, and in person. These advertisements will be posted at local markets, shopping centres, schools, dispensaries, medical centres, and community halls.  Participants must be born between 1970-1985 (aim for the ‘Treated’ to be aged between 1-15 years during the period 1980-85, while the ‘Controls’ or ‘less exposed’ group would be aged 1-10 during the period 1985-1995). We will attempt to have gender-balance in the groups. Local university students who are well-versed in English and the local languages will be nominated to act as enumerators or field workers.

Experimental Design

Participants will answer a preliminary survey questionnaire to determine eligibility, and a final detailed survey after completing the experimental tasks. They will play 7 experimental games/tasks to elicit honesty (self-reporting task), altruism (public good game), Trust, Risk and Ambiguity preferences (Ordered choice list tasks), impatience (time-preference choice list), and competitiveness and self-confidence (Scoring game).