Wednesday, 17 January, 2024 | 10:00 | Room 402 | Job Talk Seminar

Clara Sievert (Harvard University) "Supernatural Beliefs about Illness and Modern Medicine Use: Evidence from the DRC"

Clara Sievert, M.Sc.

Harvard University, United States

Abstract: In many societies around the world, people attribute illness to supernatural forces, including deities, spirits, and malevolent agents. Using observational data from subSaharan Africa and an original large-scale survey in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I show that supernatural beliefs about the cause of illness are very common and relevant for health behavior: They are associated with lower use of modern medicine, lower beliefs about the effectiveness of modern medicine, and higher stigma toward those with illness. Then, I conduct a field experiment and ask whether it is possible to shift beliefs and increase the take-up of modern medicine. In a representative sample of the general population, I randomize showing an informational video about the biomedical cause and treatment of epilepsy, a prevalent disease commonly associated with supernatural forces. The intervention shifts respondents’ beliefs away from supernatural causes and toward modern medicine’s effectiveness for epilepsy as well as for other conditions. The intervention reduces stigma toward those with the disease and increases take-up of free hospital consultations for epilepsy by 50%. 

Full Text: Supernatural Beliefs about Illness and Modern Medicine Use: Evidence from the DRC