Yes, Information Alone Really Can Change Behavior

June 13, 2019


“The fact that giving people information does not, by itself, change how they act is one of the most firmly established in social science.” So stated a recent op-ed in the Washington Post. That’s not true. Here are ten examples where simply providing information changed behavior:

  1. Giving information to communities in Uganda about the size of grants that their schools were supposed to be receiving from the central government led to more money reaching the schools and—ultimately—higher student enrollment and test scores.

  2. In Kenya, giving teenage girls information on how the risk of HIV infection varied by the age of their partner led to a 28 percent fall in adolescent pregnancies.

  3. Providing parents with detailed information about their children’s missed school assignments and grades improved student achievement in the U.S.

  4. A similar intervention in another U.S. state increased student attendance and reduced course failures.

  5. Providing parents of children in kindergarten through 12th grade in the U.S. with information on their children’s absenteeism reduced—you guessed it—absenteeism.

  6. Sending text messages to parents in Chile about their children’s attendance, behavior, and test scores resulted in better grades and faster grade progression.

  7. Giving parents in Pakistan the test scores of all schools in their community increased primary school enrollment, test scores, and even decreased private school fees.

  8. Giving 10th grade students in Mexico information about salary differences between high school graduates and university graduates increased learning outcomes.

  9. Providing 8th grade students in the Dominican Republic with similar information—how much high school and university graduates earn—led them to go significantly further in school.

  10. Giving 4th grade students in Madagascar information about how much money graduates of each level of education earn increased attendance and—for those youth who were surprised by the amount they could earn—also increased their test scores.

There are more. Information by itself certainly won’t always change behavior. Providing U.S. students with information about the tax credits for college had no impact on college enrollment. The author of the op-ed that I quoted above provided other examples. Sometimes, a program that was effective in one place isn’t in another. The program described above that gave HIV risk information to teens in Kenya had no clear impact when implemented in Botswana.

But to dismiss the overall power of information is a grave mistake. Informational interventions are often low-cost. One of the U.S. interventions above cost a total of US$63 to send 32,000 text messages. When people genuinely have limited information, when the information is on a topic that they care about, and when they have the power to act on the information they receive—as was the case in all ten examples above—providing that information can make a substantive difference.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.