Literature in psychology –particularly positive psychology—has extensively studied non-cognitive skills as a measure of wellbeing of individuals and as a “buffer” to reduce psychological disorders among young people (Park, 2004, Jordan and Rand, 2018).
From the behavioral economic perspective, enhancing non-cognitive skills can be a relevant policy because these skills may influence decision making and economic behavior (Haushofer and Fehr, 2014; DellaVigna, 2009; Loewenstein, 2000). Particularly, in the context of poverty, stress and emotional instability may lead to short-sighted and risk-averse decision-making. In that sense, instead of adopting behaviors that may generate greater returns, individuals end up favoring habitual low yield ones. This, in turn, can generate vicious cycles or psychological poverty traps (Haushofer and Fehr, 2014).
Moreover, exposure to high violence can exacerbate inefficiency in individuals’ economic decisions. Existing evidence indicates that exposure to risky environments may have unwanted results on socio-emotional skills and further welfare outcomes (Peterson and Seligman, 2003; Baysan et al., 2018; Card and Dahl, 2011; Loewenstein, 2000). For at-risk people, the inability to regulate their emotions can make them more susceptible to respond to some stimuli with violence.
How can we tackle young people exposure to and participation in crime? After-school programs (ASP) are a type of intervention that can protect children, keeping them busy and off the streets during a time when they might be left alone and exposed to external risks, to preventing victimization and delinquent behavior (Gottfredson et al., 2004; Jacob and Lefgren, 2003; Newman et al., 2000). These programs can also act as an alternative source of learning and social development when they include a specific curriculum oriented to foster socio-emotional skills and impulsive responses control (Taheri and Welsh, 2016; Durlak et al., 2010; Eccles and Templeton, 2002).
This project aims to contribute to the economic literature and policy in two ways. First, it provides experimental evidence of the impact of three types of interventions: (i) extracurricular activities (EA, i.e. sports at school), (ii) mindfulness and EA, and (iii) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EA. We measure those interventions’ impacts on academic performance, cognitive and non-cognitive development.
Second, this project aims to separate these learning and protection services from the ASP. We argue that the effects we can find from EA are determined by children’s protection, while those from the other two interventions are mainly driven by the specific additional curriculum they are learning from the program.
The first intervention consists to participate in extra-curricular sports activities. In this treatment, children are not learning a specific curriculum, but are under adult supervision and protected from their risky contexts during a couple of hours. The second intervention is a combination between extra-curricular activities and a curriculum that promotes character strengths. In this program variation, students are protected and learn how to enhance their character or socio-emotional skills. The third intervention is a combination between extra-curricular clubs and a mindfulness program, including directed meditation for stress and anxiety reduction and control of automatic responses. Schools in the comparison group will not receive any of the three interventions.
Participants will meet once per week during one academic year (between 7-8 months). Each of the sessions is implemented after-school time, with an approximate duration of 1-1.5 hours. For methodological reasons, club sizes are between 13-15 participants on average.