Best Judgement

Kevin Lewis

April 05, 2022

The human black-box: The illusion of understanding human better than algorithmic decision-making
Andrea Bonezzi, Massimiliano Ostinelli & Johann Melzner
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

As algorithms increasingly replace human decision-makers, concerns have been voiced about the black-box nature of algorithmic decision-making. These concerns raise an apparent paradox. In many cases, human decision-makers are just as much of a black-box as the algorithms that are meant to replace them. Yet, the inscrutability of human decision-making seems to raise fewer concerns. We suggest that one of the reasons for this paradox is that people foster an illusion of understanding human better than algorithmic decision-making, when in fact, both are black-boxes. We further propose that this occurs, at least in part, because people project their own intuitive understanding of a decision-making process more onto other humans than onto algorithms, and as a result, believe that they understand human better than algorithmic decision-making, when in fact, this is merely an illusion. 

Learning in a Post-Truth World
Mohamed Mostagir & James Siderius
Management Science, forthcoming

Misinformation has emerged as a major societal challenge in the wake of the 2016 U.S. elections, Brexit, and the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most active areas of inquiry into misinformation examines how the cognitive sophistication of people impacts their ability to fall for misleading content. In this paper, we capture sophistication by studying how misinformation affects the two canonical models of the social learning literature: sophisticated (Bayesian) and naive (DeGroot) learning. We show that sophisticated agents can be more likely to fall for misinformation. Our model helps explain several experimental and empirical facts from cognitive science, psychology, and the social sciences. It also shows that the intuitions developed in a vast social learning literature should be approached with caution when making policy decisions in the presence of misinformation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between misinformation and increased partisanship and provide an example of how our model can inform the actions of policymakers trying to contain the spread of misinformation. 

Knowledge about others reduces one’s own sense of anonymity
Anuj Shah & Michael LaForest
Nature, 10 March 2022, Pages 297-301

Social ties often seem symmetric, but they need not be. For example, a person might know a stranger better than the stranger knows them. We explored whether people overlook these asymmetries and what consequences that might have for people’s perceptions and actions. Here we show that when people know more about others, they think others know more about them. Across nine laboratory experiments, when participants learned more about a stranger, they felt as if the stranger also knew them better, and they acted as if the stranger was more attuned to their actions. As a result, participants were more honest around known strangers. We tested this further with a field experiment in New York City, in which we provided residents with mundane information about neighbourhood police officers. We found that the intervention shifted residents’ perceptions of officers’ knowledge of illegal activity, and it may even have reduced crime. It appears that our sense of anonymity depends not only on what people know about us but also on what we know about them. 

The effects of repetition on belief in naturalistic settings
Lisa Fazio, Raunak Pillai & Deep Patel
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

In our modern well-connected world, false information spreads quickly and is often repeated multiple times. From laboratory studies, we know that this repetition can be harmful as repetition increases belief. However, it is unclear how repetition affects belief in real-world settings. Here we examine a larger number of repetitions (16), more realistic timing of the repetitions (across 2 weeks), and more naturalistic exposures (text messages). Four hundred thirty five U.S. participants recruited from mTurk were texted true and false trivia statements across 15 days before rating the accuracy of each statement. Statements were seen either one, two, four, eight, or 16 times. We find clear evidence that repetition increases belief. Initial repetitions produced the largest increase in perceived truth, but belief continued to increase with additional repetitions. We introduce a simple computational model suggesting that current accounts are insufficient to explain this observed pattern and that additional theoretical assumptions (e.g., that initial repetitions are more strongly encoded) are required. Practically, the results imply that repeated exposure to false information during daily life can increase belief in that misinformation. 

In the face of self-threat: Why ambivalence heightens people’s willingness to act
Taly Reich, Alexander Fulmer & Ravi Dhar
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, January 2022

The pursuit of desirable outcomes is often hindered by the threat of failure. While extant research largely characterizes self-threatening outcomes as eliciting an avoidance motivation, the current work demonstrates a novel intervention that can shift people towards an approach motivation: ambivalence towards the outcome. Within professional and personal domains, we show in seven experiments that considering both the pros and cons, rather than just the pros, of a self-threatening outcome encourages people to pursue it. We find that this heightened approach motivation occurs because ambivalence reduces an outcome’s desirability, in turn reducing self-threat, serially mediating the relationship between ambivalence and likelihood of pursuing the outcome. Further, we show that people do not intuit this effect and are likely not taking advantage of it. We conclude by discussing the managerial and theoretical implications of ambivalence in the face of self-threat. 

Inquisitive but Not Discerning: Deprivation Curiosity is Associated with Excessive Openness to Inaccurate Information
Claire Zedelius, Madeleine Gross & Jonathan Schooler
Journal of Research in Personality, forthcoming

Epistemic curiosity — the desire for knowledge — is typically thought to benefit learning. In four preregistered studies, we show that interest curiosity, a facet of epistemic curiosity characterized by joyful exploration, is indeed associated with traits and abilities that benefit learning. These include general knowledge, intellectual humility, and discernment of the quality of information. In contrast, deprivation curiosity, a facet motivated by uncertainty reduction, is associated with errors and confusion. Individuals high in deprivation curiosity claim familiarity with new information (Studies 1 & 3) and made-up concepts (Studies 1, 2 & 4). They find meaning in “bullshit” (Studies 3 & 4), believe disinformation (Study 4), and lack intellectually humility (Studies 1, 3 and 4). We theorize that deprivation curiosity is characterized by an indiscriminate openness to information. 

Rank extrapolation: Asymmetric forecasts of future rank after rank change
Nathan Pettit et al.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, March 2022

How do people forecast an actor’s future rank after observing a rank change and what are the factors that shape these forecasts? In this research, we shed new light on the attributions that people make when they observe an actor change rank and on how these attributions explain where people expect the actor to rank in the future. Specifically, in Studies 1a and 1b we document an asymmetric extrapolation bias, whereby people extrapolate upward rank trajectories more steeply into the future than downward trajectories – a pattern of results that differ in both magnitude and direction from actual rank change patterns over time. In Studies 2 and 3 we provide evidence of the different attributions that explain people’s asymmetric extrapolation through measurement and manipulation. Finally, in Study 4 we demonstrate a practical downstream consequence of this asymmetric extrapolation bias (i.e., promotion recommendation) (Study 4). Theoretical and practical implications are discussed. 

Entropy of city street networks linked to future spatial navigation ability
Antoine Coutrot et al.
Nature, forthcoming

The cultural and geographical properties of the environment have been shown to deeply influence cognition and mental health. Living near green spaces has been found to be strongly beneficial, and urban residence has been associated with a higher risk of some psychiatric disorders — although some studies suggest that dense socioeconomic networks found in larger cities provide a buffer against depression. However, how the environment in which one grew up affects later cognitive abilities remains poorly understood. Here we used a cognitive task embedded in a video game to measure non-verbal spatial navigation ability in 397,162 people from 38 countries across the world. Overall, we found that people who grew up outside cities were better at navigation. More specifically, people were better at navigating in environments that were topologically similar to where they grew up. Growing up in cities with a low street network entropy (for example, Chicago) led to better results at video game levels with a regular layout, whereas growing up outside cities or in cities with a higher street network entropy (for example, Prague) led to better results at more entropic video game levels. This provides evidence of the effect of the environment on human cognition on a global scale, and highlights the importance of urban design in human cognition and brain function. 

Observers penalize decision makers whose risk preferences are unaffected by loss–gain framing
Charles Dorison & Blake Heller
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

A large interdisciplinary body of research on human judgment and decision making documents systematic deviations between prescriptive decision models (i.e., how individuals should behave) and descriptive decision models (i.e., how individuals actually behave). One canonical example is the loss–gain framing effect on risk preferences: the robust tendency for risk preferences to shift depending on whether outcomes are described as losses or gains. Traditionally, researchers argue that decision makers should always be immune to loss–gain framing effects. We present three preregistered experiments (N = 1,954) that qualify this prescription. We predict and find that while third-party observers penalize decision makers who make risk-averse (vs. risk-seeking) choices when choice outcomes are framed as losses, this result reverses when outcomes are framed as gains. This reversal holds across five social perceptions, three decision contexts, two sample populations of United States adults, and with financial stakes. This pattern is driven by the fact that observers themselves fall victim to framing effects and socially derogate (and financially punish) decision makers who disagree. Given that individuals often care deeply about their reputation, our results challenge the long-standing prescription that they should always be immune to framing effects. The results extend understanding not only for decision making under risk, but also for a range of behavioral tendencies long considered irrational biases. Such understanding may ultimately reveal not only why such biases are so persistent but also novel interventions: our results suggest a necessary focus on social and organizational norms. 

When Success Is Rare and Competitive: Learning from Others’ Success and My Failure at the Speed of Formula One
Michael Lapré & Candace Cravey
Management Science, forthcoming

Organizations can learn from prior successes and failures to improve organizational performance. Few learning-curve studies have investigated this phenomenon at the individual level. A notable exception found that surgeons learn from their own success and others’ failure. Success in surgery is common and individually independent from other surgeries. We study learning from success and failure in a context where success is rare and competitive: Formula One (F1) racing. Only one driver will win a race, preventing the other competitors from winning. Even severe failures causing drivers to abandon the race are common. We investigate two types of abandonments: car failures and driver failures. Our data set covers F1 from the start of F1 in 1950 through 2017, yielding 21,487 driver-race observations. We find that win probability follows an inverted U-shaped function of racing experience. We also find that drivers learn from their own success, teammates’ success, as well as own car failures. However, drivers do not learn from their own driver failures. A teammate’s win increases the probability of winning the next race by 1.8%. An own car failure increases the probability of winning the next race by 1.9%. We use two characteristics of success, frequency and competitiveness, to define a spectrum of organizational settings. Placement of our F1 findings and the surgery findings on this spectrum reveals when managers can expect benefits from their own versus others’ success and failure. 

Anxiety, Cognitive Availability, and the Talisman Effect of Insurance
Robert Schindler et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Across four experiments (N = 1,923), this research provides converging evidence of a talisman effect of insurance — consumers who have an insurance policy feel that the covered mishap is less likely to occur. Although such an effect has previously been proposed, empirical evidence for it is limited, in part because the talisman effect has often been conflated with a related but distinct magical-thinking phenomenon, the tempting-fate effect. By disentangling these two effects, we are better able to isolate the talisman effect and show that it is a robust phenomenon in its own right. We also provide support for a mechanism underlying the talisman effect: Insurance reduces anxiety and repetitious thoughts related to the mishap; with fewer thoughts about the mishap, its cognitive availability is lower and so it seems less likely to occur.


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