“Affective Neuroscience meets Labor Economics: Assessing Non-Cognitive skills on Late Stage Investment on at-Risk Youth”

Recent results from studies concerning impact evaluations of educational or training programs have proved puzzling to many researchers. The most questionable findings have been regarding social programs that have positive impacts on educational or labor market outcomes: they seem not to affect —or even negatively affect— measures of socio-emotional skills, contrary to expectations. To investigate these findings, we undertook our own study with a hypothesis that predicts that social programs designed to impact socio-emotional skills affect subject’s emotional regulation abilities. In order to test our hypothesis, we studied an educational program that focuses on fostering entrepreneurial and socio-emotional skills at vocational schools. Combining a randomized controlled trial at the school level with neurophysiological and survey data from lab-in-the-field experiments, we were able to assess the impact of this program on subjects’ socio-emotional and emotional regulation. Two main findings resulted from these experiments. First, the program had a positive and significant impact on educational outcomes —i.e. dropouts rates— and no impact on the expected mechanisms, which include socio-emotional skills and creativity measures. This is consistent with the findings in labor economics literature. Secondly, we found that the programs had significant impacts on emotional regulation. In particular, we estimated a decrease in the arousal (a proxy of stress) and valence (a proxy for intrinsic attractiveness or aversiveness of an event) dimensions of a subject’s emotional state from neurophysiological recordings. We finally found that the program reduces subjects’ emotional reactions to negative stimuli: in layman’s terms, it makes individuals more resilient.


“Can Art-based Programs Nurture Creativity and Behaviors? Evidence From Public Schools in Chile”

This paper estimates the impact of an art-based program called Acciona (AP) on human capital —i.e. cognitive, socio-emotional and creative skills— and behaviors in Chilean public high schools. One of the paper’s main contributions with respect to previous literature is the use of psychometric test to measure creativity in the context of quasi-experimental design that makes causality plausible. Four main findings are derived from the empirical part. First, the intensity of the treatment is crucial. Indeed, the impacts of AP become statistically and economically significant when the students had taken at least two AP workshops. Second, the impact on GPA was 0.55 standard deviations (s.d), while it was 0.61 s.d. on avg. Language Grade, 0.36 on avg. math grade, and 0.33 s.d. on avg. art grade. Third, the impact of AP on creativity was positive and statistically significant when students had at least two AP workshops, considering the graphical form of the psychometric test implemented. Fourth, participating in at least two AP affects behaviors in significant ways. In particular, AP participation positively affects the individual time expending watching films at home or at the cinema and creating cultural goods, as well as the time reading magazines, books or comics, and visiting the library together with by family members. Finally, participating in AP workshops increase the probability of pursuing higher education after finishing high school (college, community college, etc.) by 16 percentage points.

How Much Should We Trust on Self-reported Measures of Non-cognitive Skills for Program Evaluation? An Applied Neuroscience Approach on the Role of Emotions

Measures of cognitive skills —i.e. GPA, IQ, etc.— account for a small fraction of the variance in salaries and other economic outcomes (Bowles et al., 2001; Heckman et al., 2006). Therefore, there is an increasing interest in elucidating other factors that might explain that variance; in particular, the role played by non-cognitive skills. In the economics literature, empirical attempts to measure the aforementioned dimensions —cognition, personality traits, and creativity— have been insightful but are noisy due to the low reliability of the proxies used in their measurement (Calero et al., 2014; Cunha and Heckman, 2008; Cunha et al., 2010; Attanasio et al., 2015a; Almlund et al., 2011). This chapter is intrinsically related to the impact evaluation done in the Job Market Paper, and was designed as a deeper proof of concept of the relationship between emotions and self-reporting on measures of non-cognitive skills. The purpose is to show a plausible correlation between self-reported psychometric tests and transient emotional states, with the latter estimated from EEG recordings. To do so, a couple of relationships are established: namely, (i) showing the behavioral correlation between self-reported psychometric tests and transient emotional states, (ii) detecting emotional state and responsiveness from scalp EEG recordings, and (iii) showing the correlation between self-reported psychometric tests and transient emotional states using features from the EEG recordings. I argue that there is a positive correlation between emotional state and test scores that rely on self-ratings. In particular, I claim that self-reported tests used to measure both cognitive and non-cognitive skills are usually biased because of transient emotions that arise during testing.

“The Effect of Artistic Activities on the Development of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills in Students at-risk: the Case of the Curanilahue’s Youth Orchestra”

Center for Advanced Research in Education Working Paper Series No 9, 2013.
With Juan Pablo Valenzuela and Dante Contreras.

Research of extracurricular activities in Chile on the development of cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes is scarce, despite increasing international evidence that such activities are highly relevant and even, in some cases, more effective than traditional school improvement support programs. Based on an unprecedented intervention in the area of music, this paper evaluates the impact of intensive participation of vulnerable children and young students in the creation and development of the first youth orchestra of the municipality of Curalinahue, a small and poor county in the south of Chile. The positive effects of this experience on the young participants can be found at both the cognitive and non-cognitive levels. We observe an increase of scores on higher education admission tests (known in Chile as the PAA and the PSU) among participants in the Program. Employing information from 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, we find positive and statistically significant effects, both in mathematics and language test scores. Furthermore, having analyzed increase in test scores for those students participating in the orchestra who take the test more than once, we find results that indicate a progressive increase in their scores, both in mathematics and in language, an indicator that can be considered as a proxy of non-cognitive outcomes related to the orientation and persistence to obtain personal goals.


“Irrational Attention? A Neuroeconomic Approach to Learning, Confidence and Information Acquisition.”(2016). With Ambuj Y. Dewan (Columbia U), Paul Sajda (Columbia U), and Michael Woodford (Columbia U).

“Emotional regulation and After-School Programs in highly violent communities: Neuro-physiological evidence from El Salvador.” (2016). With Lelys Dinarte (PUC Chile).

“Mining, Income, and Cognitive Performance: Evidence from Chile.” (2016). With Jan van der Goltz (Columbia U and World Bank)


“Labor market in Latin America and the Caribbean: The Missing Reform” (2011) in The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy of Latin America, Oxford University Press, edited by Javier Santiso and Jeff Dayton-Johnson. With Alejandro Micco (UChile).

“Financial Sustainability of the Pension Reserve Fund of Chile” (2010). Ministry of Finance of Chile, Budget Office Official Reports. With Nicholas Bärr (LSE), Gilles Binet (IA-Canada), Manuel Agosin (UChile), David Bravo (UChile) and Jaime Ruiz-Tagle (UChile) [Spanish].