Recalling Violence Exposure and Cognitive Function among Primary School Students in El Salvador (new draft coming soon)


Following a civil war lasting more than a decade, violence in El Salvador persists at extremely high levels with the rise of gangs controlling and fighting for territory. High and unanticipated fluctuations in violent crimes spread a general feeling of fear and panic among the general population, including children, which may impact their cognitive capacities. This paper investigates the impact of recalling violence exposure on cognitive performance among primary school students in El Salvador. Within a lab-in-the-field experiment, primary school students are randomly assigned to recall episodes of violence either before or after taking cognitive tests. Students assigned to the former condition, show higher performance by 0.23 standard deviations. The effect size is larger as reported violence exposure increases. The direction and magnitude of results contrast previous findings from the literature and suggest that responses to violence are context-specific and might vary with the intensity of the exposure. In a country plagued by violent crimes, the sharpening of the cognitive functions observed in this study could be a coping mechanism in the face of adversity.

Sergiu Burlacu
Sergiu Burlacu

Reseacher at FBK-IRVAPP