THE IMPACT OF PAIN REDUCTION ON PRODUCTIVITY, COGNITIVE FUNCTION, AND DECISION MAKING

Principal Investigators: Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard University), Frank Schilbach (Harvard University), Heather Schofield (University of Pennsylvania), Anuj Shah (University of Chicago)
Research Team: Andrew Locke, Nicholas Swanson, Vidya Bjarathi
LEAD Centre: Small Enterprise Finance Centre (SEFC)
Focus Area:
Project Geography: Tamil Nadu, India
Partner:
Status: Ongoing

Background:

Chronic pain appears to be highly prevalent among the poor and elderly in developing countries and it may have significant and widespread impacts on these individuals’ lives via a number of channels. Not only does pain directly reduce life quality and happiness, it may also lower productivity and incomes and hamper cognitive function and decision-making in important ways. For example, workers with chronic pain may work fewer days, take longer breaks, and make less-considered choices regarding inputs; all outcomes that would reduce output and lead to greater impoverishment. However, despite the importance of chronic physical pain both in public health and economic terms, pain has been largely overlooked in existing academic development studies and policy-making.

We examine the casual impact of physical pain on the lives of the poor via a randomized control trial with 300 flower stringers in Chennai, India. Specifically, study participants are randomly assigned to receive 600mg of ibuprofen, while the remaining half constitute the control group. All participants engage in a flower stringing task to measure their economic productivity, a battery of cognitive tests, a task providing an objective benchmark for pain ratings, and a survey to gather demographic and health information. This study will provide preliminary data for larger long-term studies focusing on the impact of pain reduction of productivity and decision making.