Drawing on psychological theory to understand and improve antipoverty policies: The case of conditional cash transfers

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Increasingly, psychological theory and research are used to help design and guide social policy efforts. One particular antipoverty policy that is gaining popularity is conditional cash transfers (CCTs), where cash is transferred to needy households, conditioned on their making prestipulated investments in their children's health and education. CCTs have been rigorously evaluated and implemented as policy by governments in several countries. Outside of neoclassical and behavioral economics, there has been a relative lack of formal theoretical grounding in the design of CCTs and in adaptations of the policy. This limits the ability of researchers to estimate program impacts, comprehend the full range of effects, and understand why a particular program fails to be effective. This also limits the ability of policymakers to design CCT programs optimally. As a first step in developing a more comprehensive theoretical framework for CCTs, this article presents a model and theory of change based in a select, but diverse, array of psychological theories (self-efficacy theory, self-determination theory, and bioecological systems theory) for how CCTs may operate to affect families and child development. This model focuses on potential mediators and moderators, and on a broader set of child outcomes that should be considered for future CCT program design, adaptation, and evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Child development
  • Conditional cash transfers
  • Psychological theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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