Findings

Contemplative

Kevin Lewis

May 20, 2012

Polarized Attitudes Toward the Ground Zero Mosque are Reduced by High-Level Construal

Daniel Yang, Jesse Lee Preston & Ivan Hernandez
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Abstract:
On the basis of construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2010), we hypothesized that political polarization on controversial issues may be reduced by increasing abstract mental construal. Using the issue of the "Ground Zero Mosque" and political polarization on it as an example, we first established that liberals and conservatives hold opposing attitudes toward building a mosque near Ground Zero (Study 1). Polarized attitudes were significantly reduced by increasing the abstract (vs. concrete) level of construal, by having participants answer a series of why (vs. how) questions before considering the issue (Study 2) or by having participants read an article about the Ground Zero Mosque in a disfluent (vs. fluent) format (Study 3). We conclude that abstract mental construal may potentially provide a means for dialogue and compromise on divisive political issues, and implications for political discourse are discussed.

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The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets

Keith Chen
Yale Working Paper, January 2012

Abstract:
Languages differ widely in the ways they partition time. In this paper I test the hypothesis that languages which do not grammatically distinguish between present and future events (what linguists call weak-FTR languages) lead their speakers to take more future-oriented actions. First, I show how this prediction arises naturally when well-documented effects of language on cognition are merged with models of decision making over time. Then, I show that consistent with this hypothesis, speakers of weak-FTR languages save more, hold more retirement wealth, smoke less, are less likely to be obese, and enjoy better long-run health. This is true in every major region of the world and holds even when comparing only demographically similar individuals born and living in the same country. While not conclusive, the evidence does not seem to support the most obvious forms of common causation. Implications of these findings for theories of intertemporal choice are discussed.

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A rose by any other name: A social-cognitive perspective on poets and poetry

Maya Bar-Hillel et al.
Judgment and Decision Making, March 2012, pp. 149-164

Abstract:
Evidence, anecdotal and scientific, suggests that people treat (or are affected by) products of prestigious sources differently than those of less prestigious, or of anonymous, sources. The "products" which are the focus of the present study are poems, and the "sources" are the poets. We explore the manner in which the poet's name affects the experience of reading a poem. Study 1 establishes the effect we wish to address: a poet's reputation enhances the evaluation of a poem. Study 2 asks whether it is only the reported evaluation of the poem that is enhanced by the poet's name (as was the case for The Emperor's New Clothes) or the enhancement is genuine and unaware. Finding for the latter, Study 3 explores whether the poet's name changes the reader's experience of it, so that in a sense one is reading a "different" poem. We conclude that it is not so much that the attributed poem really differs from the unattributed poem, as that it is just ineffably better. The name of a highly regarded poet seems to prime quality, and the poem becomes somehow better. This is a more subtle bias than the deliberate one rejected in Study 2, but it is a bias nonetheless. Ethical implications of this kind of effect are discussed.

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Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions

Andrew Shtulman & Joshua Valcarcel
Cognition, forthcoming

Abstract:
When students learn scientific theories that conflict with their earlier, naïve theories, what happens to the earlier theories? Are they overwritten or merely suppressed? We investigated this question by devising and implementing a novel speeded-reasoning task. Adults with many years of science education verified two types of statements as quickly as possible: statements whose truth value was the same across both naïve and scientific theories of a particular phenomenon (e.g., "The moon revolves around the Earth") and statements involving the same conceptual relations but whose truth value differed across those theories (e.g., "The Earth revolves around the sun"). Participants verified the latter significantly more slowly and less accurately than the former across 10 domains of knowledge (astronomy, evolution, fractions, genetics, germs, matter, mechanics, physiology, thermodynamics, and waves), suggesting that naïve theories survive the acquisition of a mutually incompatible scientific theory, coexisting with that theory for many years to follow.

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Peer Effects in Science: Evidence from the Dismissal of Scientists in Nazi Germany

Fabian Waldinger
Review of Economic Studies, April 2012, Pages 838-861

Abstract:
This paper analyses peer effects among university scientists. Specifically, it investigates whether the quality and the number of peers affect the productivity of researchers in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. The usual endogeneity problems related to estimating peer effects are addressed by using the dismissal of scientists by the Nazi government in 1933 as a source of exogenous variation in the peer group of scientists staying in Germany. To investigate localized peer effects, I construct a new panel data set covering the universe of scientists at the German universities from 1925 to 1938 from historical sources. I find no evidence for peer effects at the local level. Even very high-quality scientists do not affect the productivity of their local peers.

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Vicarious dishonesty: When psychological closeness creates distance from one's moral compass

Francesca Gino & Adam Galinsky
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, forthcoming

Abstract:
In four studies employing multiple manipulations of psychological closeness, we found that feeling connected to another individual who engages in selfish or dishonest behavior leads people to behave more selfishly and less ethically themselves. In addition, psychologically connecting with a scoundrel led to greater moral disengagement. We also establish that vicarious justification is the mechanism explaining this effect: When participants felt psychologically close to someone who had behaved selfishly, they were more likely to consider the behavior to be less shame-worthy and less unethical; it was these lenient judgments that then led them to act more unethically themselves. These vicarious effects were moderated by whether the miscreant was identified with a photograph and by the type of behavior. Importantly, we establish a general process of vicariousness: psychological closeness produced both vicarious generosity and selfishness depending on the behavior of the person one feels psychologically connected to. These findings suggest an irony of psychological closeness: it can create distance from one's own moral compass.

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Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments

Kendall Eskine
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Abstract:
Recent research has revealed that specific tastes can influence moral processing, with sweet tastes inducing prosocial behavior and disgusting tastes harshening moral judgments. Do similar effects apply to different food types (comfort foods, organic foods, etc.)? Although organic foods are often marketed with moral terms (e.g., Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance), no research to date has investigated the extent to which exposure to organic foods influences moral judgments or behavior. After viewing a few organic foods, comfort foods, or control foods, participants who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may lead people to affirm their moral identities, which attenuates their desire to be altruistic.

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Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Inconsistency Between Behavior and Values

Kate Sweeny, James Shepperd & Jennifer Howell
Basic and Applied Social Psychology, March/April 2012, Pages 128-135

Abstract:
People confronting potentially undesirable situations frequently must choose between action and inaction, and the choice people most admire may not correspond with the choice they make. Three studies examined the discrepancy between values and personal choices in the face of potentially undesirable situations. Across all studies participants perceived action as more admirable than inaction, and their positive perception of action did not waver even when action was difficult and likely to be ineffective. However, participants strongly preferred inaction over action for themselves except when action was efficient. We discuss implications of these findings for predicting and guiding responses to various life challenges.

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Are most people consequentialists?

Olof Johansson-Stenman
Economics Letters, May 2012, Pages 225-228

Abstract:
Welfare economics relies on consequentialism even though many philosophers have questioned this assumption. Survey evidence, based on a representative sample in Sweden, is presented here suggesting that most people's ethical perceptions are consistent with consequentialism.

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Disjunction Between Probability and Verdict in Juror Decision Making

Hal Arkes, Brittany Shoots-Reinhard & Ryan Mayes
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, July 2012, Pages 276-294

Abstract:
Although the law assumes a close relation between the probability that a defendant committed the act in question and the ensuing verdict of the jurors, prior research has shown this assumption to be often violated. We present five experiments designed to show that factors that influence probability also influence verdict, but other factors are capable of directly producing changes in verdict without affecting probability. In Experiment 1, we replicated the Wells Effect; scenarios generating the same probability that the Blue Bus Company was to blame for the same accident, nevertheless, generated significantly different likelihoods of finding the defendant liable. In Experiment 2, we showed that equally diagnostic affirmative and negative evidence had differential effects on mock jurors' probability estimates and verdicts. In Experiment 3, we showed that a completely nondiagnostic witness, who either implicates the same bus company or a different bus company as did a diagnostic witness, significantly influenced mock jurors' verdicts. However, the nondiagnostic witness did not change the probability that the Blue Bus Company was responsible for the accident. In Experiment 4, we demonstrated that base rate and witness reliability information resulted in very similar probability estimates but radically different verdicts. In Experiment 5, we showed that a change in the diagnosticity of the evidence influenced both probability and verdict with the former mediating differences in the later. Because probability is only one of the several determinants of the verdict, the two dependent variables are not as closely related as the law presumes.

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Self-deception inhibits laughter

Robert Lynch & Robert Trivers
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming

Abstract:
How does self-deception affect the appreciation of humor and laughter? Fifty-nine undergraduates at Rutgers University (33 females, 26 males) were videotaped while watching a stand-up comedian for 28 min. Positive emotional expressions associated with laughter were analyzed for short sections of the act (total: 8 min or 14,400 video frames) and were scored for each subject using the facial action coding system (FACS). Participants who scored lower on a self-deception questionnaire (low self-deceivers) laughed significantly longer and more intensely than those who scored higher on the questionnaire (high self-deceivers). This was true when corrected for measures of impression management, extraversion, mood and how much a person laughs in their everyday life. If self-deception evolved to deceive others and laughter is a hard to fake signal of preferences, then suppressed laughter by self-deceptive individuals may serve to mask ones preferences. More generally since humor often involves seeing life or a person from a novel angle and self-deception tends to reduce such angles, self-deception will naturally tend to reduce ones sense of humor.

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Why and When Peer Prediction Is Superior to Self-Prediction: The Weight Given to Future Aspiration Versus Past Achievement

Erik Helzer & David Dunning
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Abstract:
Peer predictions of future behavior and achievement are often more accurate than those furnished by the self. Although both self- and peer predictions correlate equally with future outcomes, peers tend to avoid the degree of overoptimism so often seen in self-predictions. In 3 studies, the authors tested whether this differential accuracy arises because people give more weight to past behavior when predicting others, but emphasize agentic information, in particular data about their aspiration level, when predicting the self. Studies 1 and 3 showed that the exact same participants rated past behavior more diagnostic of future performance when predicting another person but viewed aspiration-level data as more valuable when someone else was trying to predict them. In Studies 2 and 3 (predicting an upcoming exam score and performance in a lab task, respectively), participants gave greater weight in self-predictions to aspiration-level data than did a yoked peer, who instead gave greater weight to evidence of past achievement. This differential weighting explained why peer predictions tended to be less optimistic and, thus, more accurate. Discussion centers on strategies for predicting future behavior and why people may remain ignorant of their own incompetence despite feedback.

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Acquiring ownership and the attribution of responsibility

Max Palamar, Doan Le & Ori Friedman
Cognition, forthcoming

Abstract:
How is ownership established over non-owned things? We suggest that people may view ownership as a kind of credit given to agents responsible for making possession of a non-owned object possible. On this view, judgments about the establishment of ownership depend on attributions of responsibility. We report three experiments showing that people's judgments about the establishment of ownership are influenced by an agent's intent and control in bringing about an outcome, factors that also affect attributions of responsibility. These findings demonstrate that people do not just consider who was first to possess an object in judging who owns it, and are broadly consistent with the view that ownership is acquired through labor. The findings also suggest that rather than exclusively being the product of social conventions, judgments about the establishment of ownership over non-owned things also depend on the psychological processes underlying the attribution of responsibility.

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Bayesian just-so stories in psychology and neuroscience

Jeffrey Bowers & Colin Davis
Psychological Bulletin, May 2012, Pages 389-414

Abstract:
According to Bayesian theories in psychology and neuroscience, minds and brains are (near) optimal in solving a wide range of tasks. We challenge this view and argue that more traditional, non-Bayesian approaches are more promising. We make 3 main arguments. First, we show that the empirical evidence for Bayesian theories in psychology is weak. This weakness relates to the many arbitrary ways that priors, likelihoods, and utility functions can be altered in order to account for the data that are obtained, making the models unfalsifiable. It further relates to the fact that Bayesian theories are rarely better at predicting data compared with alternative (and simpler) non-Bayesian theories. Second, we show that the empirical evidence for Bayesian theories in neuroscience is weaker still. There are impressive mathematical analyses showing how populations of neurons could compute in a Bayesian manner but little or no evidence that they do. Third, we challenge the general scientific approach that characterizes Bayesian theorizing in cognitive science. A common premise is that theories in psychology should largely be constrained by a rational analysis of what the mind ought to do. We question this claim and argue that many of the important constraints come from biological, evolutionary, and processing (algorithmic) considerations that have no adaptive relevance to the problem per se. In our view, these factors have contributed to the development of many Bayesian "just so" stories in psychology and neuroscience; that is, mathematical analyses of cognition that can be used to explain almost any behavior as optimal.

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Processing Fluency and Investors' Reactions to Disclosure Readability

Kristina Rennekamp
Journal of Accounting Research, forthcoming

Abstract:
The SEC's emphasis on the use of plain English is designed to make disclosures more readable and more informative. Using an experiment, I find that more readable disclosures lead to stronger reactions from small investors, so that changes in valuation judgments are more positive when news is good and more negative when news is bad. Drawing on research in psychology to explain this result, I predict and find that processing fluency from a more readable disclosure acts as a subconscious heuristic cue and increases investors' beliefs that they can rely on the disclosure. While I do not find that more readable disclosures directly increase perceptions of management credibility, I do find evidence of an indirect effect operating through feelings of processing fluency. In supplemental analyses, I find that investors who receive more readable disclosures revise their valuation judgments to be less extreme when they are explicitly made aware of the potential for variation in readability. I discuss potential explanations for these revised valuation judgments.

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Crime as risk taking

Mandeep Dhami & David Mandel
Psychology, Crime & Law, April 2012, Pages 389-403

Abstract:
Engagement in criminal activity may be viewed as risk-taking behaviour as it has both benefits and drawbacks that are probabilistic. In two studies, we examined how individuals' risk perceptions can inform our understanding of their intentions to engage in criminal activity. Study 1 measured youths' perceptions of the value and probability of the benefits and drawbacks of engaging in three common crimes (i.e. shoplifting, forgery, and buying illegal drugs), and examined how well these perceptions predicted youths' forecasted engagement in these crimes, controlling for their past engagement. We found that intentions to engage in criminal activity were best predicted by the perceived value of the benefits that may be obtained, irrespective of their probabilities or the drawbacks that may also be incurred. Study 2 specified the benefit and drawback that youth thought about and examined another crime (i.e. drinking and driving). The findings of Study 1 were replicated under these conditions. The present research supports a limited rationality perspective on criminal intentions, and can have implications for crime prevention/intervention strategies.

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Assessment of the sunk-cost effect in clinical decision-making

Jennifer Braverman & J.S. Blumenthal-Barby
Social Science & Medicine, July 2012, Pages 186-192

Abstract:
Despite the current push toward the practice of evidence-based medicine and comparative effectiveness research, clinicians' decisions may be influenced not only by evidence, but also by cognitive biases. A cognitive bias describes a tendency to make systematic errors in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence. Though health care providers have been shown in several studies to be susceptible to a variety of types of cognitive biases, research on the role of the sunk-cost bias in clinical decision-making is extremely limited. The sunk-cost bias is the tendency to pursue a course of action, even after it has proved to be suboptimal, because resources have been invested in that course of action. This study explores whether health care providers' medical treatment recommendations are affected by prior investments in a course of treatment. Specifically, we surveyed 389 health care providers in a large urban medical center in the United States during August 2009. We asked participants to make a treatment recommendation based on one of four hypothetical clinical scenarios that varied in the source and type of prior investment described. By comparing recommendations across scenarios, we found that providers did not demonstrate a sunk-cost effect; rather, they demonstrated a significant tendency to over-compensate for the effect. In addition, we found that more than one in ten health care providers recommended continuation of an ineffective treatment.


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