A year in Western Africa: Professor Doces and his study of human behavior


Photo Courtesy of Professor John Doces

Juliana Rodrigues, Special Features Content Editor

Associate professor of political science John Doces spent the past year in Western Africa — mainly Cote d’Ivoire — conducting his research on the political economy of development. Interest in this sparked during his studies of international political economy. Knowing the importance of field work, he narrowed into the study of development in Africa. During his time doing research he was able to perform over 25 tests and experiments. While on a broader spectrum he investigated development he specifically worked with different areas of decision making to study behavior. He was able to observe through testing why people act rationally. With his other main areas of focus being identity and methodology, he was able to bring back with him real world experience and data to incorporate into the classes he now teaches. Professor Doces was able to provide extensive insight on his research and theories. 

The ongoing expansion of research programs at the University has rewarded both students and professors with a wide variety of opportunities. Research conducted at the university, and internationally incorporates an extension of critical thinking beneficial to students, professors and the classes they teach.

Rational behavior as a result of living in poverty

Substantial differences were identified between the rational behavior of African Ivorian people in comparison to behavior of common individuals from WEIRD, western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic, countries. To perform these studies in the field framing, anchoring and endowment effects were tested. The Dictator Game was also an economic game that was executed by Professor Doces. 

Overall, he found that the Ivorians in almost every situation act more rationally. The belief is that this behavior is derived from their living conditions rather than an identity or their race. He explained his theory that if people of WEIRD countries were to be put in African living situations they too would begin to act more rationally. In the society we consider to be normal we are provided with the luxury of being cognitively relaxed. Research that was collected shows that living in extreme poverty in no way offers these guarantees that our society so often does. 

Identity and the impacts of colonization and slavery 

Africa and its remarkable amount of ethnic diversity provokes questions concerning the relationship between identity and development. With so much diversity promoting development in the area would begin to push a nationally shared identity rather than embracing different ethnicities. The impacts of colonization played a large part in these studies as it disrupted the identities of many different ethnic groups. Doces expanded on a specific investigation of the Nzima people. The ethnic group was divided during the establishment of Ghana and Ivory Coast, the Nzima’s in Ghana were then colonized by the British and the Ivorians by the French. Their methods of colonization varied and through that pride in ethnic identity was affected. Through his experiments with ethnic and national pride he discovered the Ivorian Nzima aligned closer with a national identity while those in Ghana had a stronger ethnic identity. 

He said that this could’ve been accredited to the British colonizing Ghana with a divide and conquer method allowing them to embrace ethnicity more compared to the French that opted for the push of national identity. Doces said that not every ethnic group shows colonization having an impact on their identity, but there is this significant evidence that suggests colonization has long run effects on identity.

The effects of surveying methodology on honesty

Testing the different delivery methods of these experiments was another large area of focus for Professor Doces. It was observed that amongst the Ivorians answers varied when responses were taken on paper in comparison to an iPad, but also when the enumerators’ race and nationality differed. In terms of technology used for surveying it was found that honest answers were more common when using paper and pencil rather than an iPad.

Doces explained that this could be due to possible fear of the technology and the government having some type of access to it. With that fear they would be less likely to answer truthfully when asked about the president. The other aspect of delivery tested was with the enumerators. Doces himself acted as an enumerator along with one American Ivorian, an Ivorian born and raised in London, and a common local Ivorian. The idea of ‘does the person asking the question matter’ was tested with questions about the respondents happiness. They found that answers when asked by professor Doces exhibited higher levels of happiness than when asked by the other enumerators. It was concluded that these differences in responses would likely be due to race rather than nationality. The last aspect that was tested dealt with the education level of the enumerator. 

Although it was somewhat obvious through their manner and way of speaking, the experiment had them clearly state their education level before asking the respondents their questions. In these situations it was found that the most honest answers were collected from the common Ivorian with the lowest level of education. It was discussed that this could be due to some form of intimidation from outsiders with extremely different backgrounds and went on to prove why a diverse team of enumerators would be beneficial for research. 

A year of living “in the field”

Processor Doces has an abundance of research to share and endless personal stories. He is a strong believer in the practice of remaining in the field, as close as possible to the same living conditions as the people he was studying. This provides a better understanding of why they may think or respond the way they do to certain tests. He explained how he came to understand their mindset on work and how it is so different from the attitudes we typically witness. During this time he witnessed the destruction of an entire community of people. When asked why such a thing occurred, officials had no true answer. While it could have been assumed it was due to a lack of property rights, they would on occasion say it was to build a road. Yet Doces housing remained untouched while the homes of thousands around him were completely destroyed. Moments like these and the reasons behind them could go unnoticed when researchers are not in the field to witness it. He is now in the process of making a documentary surrounding this issue and tragedy.

A year’s worth of research on the development of Africa cannot be covered in a short article, but Professor Doces ties in his research and experience directly to his courses when he can. This semester  in one of his classes “Politics of Precolonial West Africa,” students are constantly provided real world examples to further what they are learning. 

“Being there and experiencing day to day has given me a level of understanding, knowledge, and interest that I could not have gotten reading books in Lewisburg,” Doces said. 

Students of Doces reap the benefits of the opportunity to learn from professors who have observed course material first-hand.

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