The Power of Perception: Limitations of Information in Reducing Air Pollution Exposure
We conduct a randomized controlled trial in Mexico City to determine willingness to pay (WTP) for SMS air quality alerts and to study the effects of air quality alerts, reminders, and a reusable N95 mask on air pollution information and avoidance behavior. At baseline, we elicit WTP for the alerts service after revealing whether the household will receive an N95 mask and participant compensation, but before revealing whether they will receive alert or reminder services. While we observe no significant impact of mask provision on WTP, higher compensation increases WTP, suggesting a possible cash-on-hand constraint. The perception of high pollution days prior to the survey is positively correlated with WTP, but the presence of actual high pollution days is not correlated with WTP. Follow-up survey data demonstrate that the alerts treatment increases reporting of receiving air pollution information via SMS, a high pollution day in the past week, and staying indoors on the most recent perceived high pollution day. However, we observe no significant effect on the ability to correctly identify which specific days had high pollution. Similarly, households that received an N95 mask are more likely to report utilizing a mask with filter in the past two weeks, but we observe no effect on using a filter mask on the specific days with high particulate matter. Although we nd that air quality alerts increased the salience of air quality and avoidance behavior, these results illustrate the difficulty that information treatments face in overcoming perceptions to effectively reduce exposure to air pollution.