Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment


Hanna, Rema, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Joshua Schwartstein. 2015. “Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 129 (3): 1311-1353.


We consider a model of technological learning under which people “learn through noticing”: they choose which input dimensions to attend to and subsequently learn about from available data. Using this model, we show how people with a great deal of experience may persistently be off the production frontier because they fail to notice important features of the data they possess. We also develop predictions on when these learning failures are likely to occur, as well as on the types of interventions that can help people learn. We test the model’s predictions in a field experiment with seaweed farmers. The survey data reveal that these farmers do not attend to pod size, a particular input dimension. Experimental trials suggest that farmers are particularly far from optimizing this dimension. Furthermore, consistent with the model, we find that simply having access to the experimental data does not induce learning. Instead, behavioral changes occur only after the farmers are presented with summaries that highlight previously unattended-to relationships in the data.

Publisher's Version

JEL Codes: D03, D83, O13, O14, O30, Q16
Last updated on 11/12/2015