Memory, Trauma and Economic Behavior Among Refugees: Experimental Evidence from Teaching “Positive Imagery” in Ethiopia

Dr. Christian Meyer, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford

Authors: Christian Meyer with Gharad Bryan, Alexia Delfino, and Ashley Pople



We test the effectiveness of a psychological program designed to build ``positive imagery’' among a representative sample of Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa. Drawing on studies in psychology and neuroscience, we hypothesize that past traumatic experiences distort mental images and memories, leading to pessimistic expectations and views on the future, risk aversion, and inaction. Our intervention trains refugees to vividly and precisely imagine a positive present and future in Addis Ababa. Our preliminary results indicate that the intervention leads to significantly more optimistic views of economic lives in the host economy. In the short run, we find that treated participants work more hours, have higher food security, and report improved wellbeing. The most likely mechanism seems to be a change in expectations about the future.

About the speaker

Dr Christian Johannes Meyer is the Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Development at the University of Oxford. At the University, he is also affiliated with the Department of EconomicsNuffield College, the Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), and the Mind & Behaviour Research Group.

Meyer’s research interest lies at the intersection of development, labour, and behavioral economics. Most of his work uses laboratory and field experiments in close cooperation with partner organizations, combined with original data collection.

Before joining the Oxford Martin School, Meyer was a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College and the Department of Economics at the University of Oxford. Prior to joining the University, Meyer worked with the World Bank, the Center for Global Development, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. He holds a PhD in Economics from the European University Institute.


Link for external participants to indicate their interest for participating the seminar.

External Participant Registration

Venue: 0.18, UNU-MERIT, Boschstraat 24, 6211 AX Maastricht

Date: 25 May 2023

Time: 12:00 - 13:00  CEST