Gina Yannitell Reinhardt Ph.d.

Research

Professor Yannitell Reinhardt’s work examines how decision-making under uncertainty affects the distribution of wealth in society. She focuses her work on the political economy of foreign aid, economic and social development, and the political and policy implications of disasters. This pursuit has drawn her inquiry in fascinating directions. Gina has studied race, trust, and migration; the construction of trust by the media across levels of government; and how the allocation of foreign aid conditions its performance effectiveness.

Decision-Making, Development, and Disasters

How do people make decisions when uncertain about one or more elements of a situation? Perhaps they do not have complete information about another actor’s motives, about their own surroundings, or about the future. Available information can come from varying sources. Do different people make their decisions in varying ways, even when considering the same information? Do they get their information from different sources? How do the situational context, personal preferences, and past experiences change these decisions?

These are just a few of the questions Reinhardt has explored in her research. Her work on foreign aid and development delves into multiple facets of the aid-development link by examining how decision-makers, faced with limited resources and information about competitors, allocate and implement funds.  Her investigations with disaster evacuees explore how uncertainty in crisis situations allows different sources of information to step in and form public opinion regarding political trust and safety. Reinhardt’s most recent work has revealed intriguing insights, including:

  • After a disaster, black evacuees return home at lower rates than evacuees of other races, because blacks are less likely to trust that their public officials will care for them during future disasters. (Read more…)
  • Citizens base their political trust on both primary and secondary information. At local levels, primary information is more plentiful. As levels of government increase and contact with public officials wanes, space opens for secondary sources, such as the media, to step in and mold trust. (Read more…)
  • Humanitarian assistance is supposed to be one area of foreign aid wherein ulterior donor motives don’t have space to dictate allocation decisions. Yet even amid the crises of disaster situations, some donors allocate aid according to their strategic and foreign policy priorities. (Read more..)

Methodological Approach

Throughout her work, Gina is committed to maintaining the highest levels of methodological rigor and using the most appropriate tools to answer each specific question. To those ends, she has published work relating to statistical methods and the application of games to practical research. She is currently working on a piece exploring the difference between intentions and beliefs v. behavior and actions in crisis-simulating experiments. Her work has found that:

  • Survey items with discretely ordered categories should be analyzed differently from continuous items, and differently from items with simple “yes/no” options; their entire distributions should be analyzed, rather than their averages. Guidelines and rubrics for when each analytical method is appropriate can be found here.
  • Development non-governmental organizations compete for resources in a sea of potential funding recipients. Those able to emit signals sought by foreign aid donors are more likely to be funded, regardless of whether those signals actually correlate with aid implementation effectiveness. (Book manuscript underway, read article here.)
  • Catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina can leave observers with an inflated view of disasters they might experience, and how they might react. Survey experiments reveal that Katrina observers believe if a hurricane were to strike their home, the damage would be worse (monetarily) and their reaction would be more dramatic (ie, never living in the stricken area again) than the true damages and true reactions of actual Katrina evacuees. (Read more…)

Future Research Agenda

Reinhardt was recently invited to join the prestigious AidData Research Consortium (ARC), a group of over 100 scholars performing cutting-edge research on development using geocoded data to support evidenced-based policy decisions. Gina is part of the humanitarian assistance and disaster mitigation group, where she will take part in creating a unique new data set that allows views of disasters and disaster relief on sub-national levels around the world over time. From here she will have the opportunity to launch her new research agenda, where she combines her work on disasters with that on development, to continue to pursue questions regarding uncertainty, decision making, and political economy.