Experimental Design Details
To ensure that all participants spend the same amount of time in the experiment, they will all be exposed to the same activities. Participants in the control group are asked to complete the socioeconomic questionnaire prior to the effort task to make sure that any potential differences in the outcomes of interest are not due to differences in cognitive fatigue. On average, the socioeconomic questionnaire takes the same amount of time as the treatment.
We identify two potential mechanisms through which mental load can impact productivity. The former operates through the attentional constraint: because attention is a limited resource, we hypothesize that mental load, by charging individuals with constant daily thoughts about the management of household activities, reduces their attention at the workplace and, consequently, their productivity. The latter channel involves stress: mental load can increase stress levels, which can in turn either increase or decrease productivity. To test for these two mechanisms, after the effort task we collect data on self-reported stress, by adopting a stress scale validated in Sub-Saharian countries, and we ask participants to complete the Digit Span Task, a psychological task widely used to measure working memory and sustained attention. We randomize the sequence of the modules for each participant to ensure that the structure of the questionnaire has no effect on the responses to these questions. We will then use this information to check whether these two factors mediate the impact of mental load on labor productivity.
Participants in the control group will also be required to complete a simplified version of Raven's matrixes. We will use this information to check for correlations between the performance in the Tower of Hanoi and individuals' cognitive abilities, as well as to check whether higher cognitive functions predict the endogenous choice into a more automatic task (i.e., sorting beans) or into a more proceduralized and more cognitive demanding task (i.e., the Tower of Hanoi with 6 disks). We do not expose participants in the treatment group to this module for two main reasons. First, we are not interested in checking whether mental load reduces fluid intelligence, but rather attention. As we already ask them to perform the Digit Span Task, we do not want to overload them with the Raven's matrixes. Indeed, participants in the treatment group will be exposed to a series of activities that require focus, concentration, and are more emotionally charging than participants in the control group. Second, a reasonable concern could be that, as the Tower of Hanoi is correlated with individual problem solving skils, we would need to control for that in our empirical analysis. To be able to control for fluid intelligence and problem-solving skills we would need to collect this information before any other experimental activity. However, this could impact the performance in the effort task, as the Raven's matrixes can increase cognitive fatigue. As randomization should ensure that cognitive abilities are normally distributed in our sample, we decided not to include this module for participants in the treatment group.