Institut Jean Nicod

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Barrières cognitives à l’inclusion financière


PhD Registration

Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique


Hugo Mercier and Cathal O’Madagain







My PhD project explores the effect of prosocial cognition on financial inclusion, particularly access to credit. My central hypothesis is that, in addition to economic costs, debt has reputational consequences which cause aversion and financial exclusion. This idea is supported by the stigmatization and social enforcement of debt, negative emotions such as guilt and anger, and the power of gossip and social monitoring. Particularly in emerging economies, credit products are intentionally structured with social elements, such as joint liability and family guarantors. The dynamics of credit access may be fruitfully explained, not only by structural barriers, but also by features of human social cognition. For instance, we are wired to be sensitive to the costs and benefits of our exchanges, and therefore certain types of debt may elicit negative emotions. We are also concerned with our reputation, and make great efforts to maintain our public image as a trustworthy cooperative partner ; debt that is shared with others raises the reputational stakes. Therefore, debt may be avoided when it is (a) more costly to others, (b) public, and (c) includes joint or familial liability.

To test these ideas, I have designed two broad research projects. The first project will explore the cognitive foundations of debt attitudes with online and laboratory experiments. The second project will use field studies to engage with policy applications in developmental economics, specifically microcredit. Morocco is an ideal test case because it has low rates of financial inclusion and low uptake of microcredit. The ultimate goal of these projects is to better understand why people seek out certain types of debt and avoid others, and to help improve financial inclusion among the global poor.