Decision time

Kevin Lewis

November 07, 2017

Origins of sinister rumors: A preference for threat-related material in the supply and demand of information
Timothy Blaine & Pascal Boyer
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming


Many rumors convey information about potential danger, even when these dangers are very unlikely. In four studies, we examine whether micro-processes of cultural transmission explain the spread of threat-related information. Three studies using transmission chain protocols suggest a) that there is indeed a preference for the deliberate transmission of threat-related information over other material, b) that it is not caused by a general negativity or emotionality bias, and c) that it is not eliminated when threats are presented as very unlikely. A forced-choice study on similar material shows the same preference when participants have to select information to acquire rather than transmit. So the cultural success of threat-related material may be explained by transmission biases, rooted in evolved threat-detection and error-management systems, that affect both supply and demand of information.

The Empirical Case for Acquiescing to Intuition
Daniel Walco & Jane Risen
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Will people follow their intuition even when they explicitly recognize that it is irrational to do so? Dual-process models of judgment and decision making are often based on the assumption that the correction of errors necessarily follows the detection of errors. But this assumption does not always hold. People can explicitly recognize that their intuitive judgment is wrong but nevertheless maintain it, a phenomenon known as acquiescence. Although anecdotes and experimental studies suggest that acquiescence occurs, the empirical case for acquiescence has not been definitively established. In four studies — using the ratio-bias paradigm, a lottery exchange game, blackjack, and a football coaching decision — we tested acquiescence using recently established criteria. We provide clear empirical support for acquiescence: People can have a faulty intuitive belief about the world (Criterion 1), acknowledge the belief is irrational (Criterion 2), but follow their intuition nonetheless (Criterion 3) — even at a cost.

Creativity: Intuitive processing outperforms deliberative processing in creative idea selection
Yuxi Zhu et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2017, Pages 180-188


Creative ideas are highly valued, and various techniques have been designed to maximize the generation of creative ideas. However, for actual implementation of creative ideas, the most creative ideas must be recognized and selected from a pool of ideas. Although idea generation and idea selection are tightly linked in creativity theories, research on idea selection lags far behind research on idea generation. The current research investigates the role of processing mode in creative idea selection. In two experiments, participants were either instructed to intuitively or deliberatively select the most creative ideas from a pool of 18 ideas that systematically vary on creativity and its sub-dimensions originality and usefulness. Participants in the intuitive condition selected ideas that were more creative, more original, and equally useful than the ideas selected by participants in the deliberative condition. Moreover, whereas selection performance of participants in the deliberative condition was not better than chance level, participants in the intuitive condition selected ideas that were more creative, more original, and more useful than the average of all available ideas.

The differential impact of knowledge depth and knowledge breadth on creativity over individual careers
Pier Vittorio Mannucci & Kevyn Yong
Academy of Management Journal, forthcoming


While usually argued to be fostering creativity, the effect of knowledge depth and breadth on creativity is actually mixed. We take a dynamic approach to the knowledge-creativity relationship and argue that the effect of knowledge depth and knowledge breadth is likely to be contingent on career age. We propose that individuals' knowledge structures become increasingly rigid as career age grows and that because of this, knowledge depth and breadth have different effects on creativity at different points of the career. More specifically, we hypothesize that knowledge depth is more beneficial for creativity in earlier stages of one's career, when creators need to increase the complexity of knowledge structures, while knowledge breadth is more beneficial in later stages, when flexibility is most needed. We test and find support for our hypotheses in a longitudinal study set in the context of the Hollywood animation industry, a setting characterized by the presence of a variety of creators involved in knowledge-intensive activities. Theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.

Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information
Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew
Stanford Working Paper, October 2017


The Internet has democratized access to information but in so doing has opened the floodgates to misinformation, fake news, and rank propaganda masquerading as dispassionate analysis. To investigate how people determine the credibility of digital information, we sampled 45 individuals: 10 Ph.D. historians, 10 professional fact checkers, and 25 Stanford University undergraduates. We observed them as they evaluated live websites and searched for information on social and political issues. Historians and students often fell victim to easily manipulated features of websites, such as official-looking logos and domain names. They read vertically, staying within a website to evaluate its reliability. In contrast, fact checkers read laterally, leaving a site after a quick scan and opening up new browser tabs in order to judge the credibility of the original site. Compared to the other groups, fact checkers arrived at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time. We contrast insights gleaned from the fact checkers’ practices with common approaches to teaching web credibility.

The Contingent Wisdom of Dyads: When Discussion Enhances vs. Undermines the Accuracy of Collaborative Judgments
Julia Minson, Jennifer Mueller & Richard Larrick
Management Science, forthcoming


We evaluate the effect of discussion on the accuracy of collaborative judgments. In contrast to prior research, we show that discussion can either aid or impede accuracy relative to the averaging of collaborators’ independent judgments, as a systematic function of task type and interaction process. For estimation tasks with a wide range of potential estimates, discussion aided accuracy by helping participants prevent and eliminate egregious errors. For estimation tasks with a naturally bounded range, discussion following independent estimates performed on par with averaging. Importantly, if participants did not first make independent estimates, discussion greatly harmed accuracy by limiting the range of considered estimates, independent of task type. Our research shows that discussion can be a powerful tool for error reduction, but only when appropriately structured: Decision makers should form independent judgments to consider a wide range of possible answers, and then use discussion to eliminate extremely large errors.

Mastering the game of Go without human knowledge
David Silver et al.
Nature, 19 October 2017, Pages 354–359


A long-standing goal of artificial intelligence is an algorithm that learns, tabula rasa, superhuman proficiency in challenging domains. Recently, AlphaGo became the first program to defeat a world champion in the game of Go. The tree search in AlphaGo evaluated positions and selected moves using deep neural networks. These neural networks were trained by supervised learning from human expert moves, and by reinforcement learning from self-play. Here we introduce an algorithm based solely on reinforcement learning, without human data, guidance or domain knowledge beyond game rules. AlphaGo becomes its own teacher: a neural network is trained to predict AlphaGo’s own move selections and also the winner of AlphaGo’s games. This neural network improves the strength of the tree search, resulting in higher quality move selection and stronger self-play in the next iteration. Starting tabula rasa, our new program AlphaGo Zero achieved superhuman performance, winning 100–0 against the previously published, champion-defeating AlphaGo.

Does a Tired Mind Help Avoid a Decision Bias? The Effect of Ego Depletion on Escalation of Commitment
Jong Seok Lee, Mark Keil & Kin Fai Ellick Wong
Applied Psychology, forthcoming


In this research, we investigated the effect of ego depletion on escalation of commitment. Specifically, we conducted two laboratory experiments and obtained evidence that ego depletion decreases escalation of commitment. In Study 1, we found that individuals were less susceptible to escalation of commitment after completing an ego depletion task. In Study 2, we confirmed the effect observed in Study 1 using a different manipulation of ego depletion and a different subject pool. Contrary to the fundamental assumption of bounded rationality that people have a tendency to make decision errors when mental resources are scarce, the findings of this research show that a tired mind can help reduce escalation bias.

The Loss of Loss Aversion: Will It Loom Larger Than Its Gain?
David Gal & Derek Rucker
Journal of Consumer Psychology, forthcoming


Loss aversion, the principle that losses loom larger than gains, is among the most widely accepted ideas in the social sciences. The first part of this article introduces and discusses the construct of loss aversion. The second part of this article reviews evidence in support of loss aversion. The upshot of this review is that current evidence does not support that losses, on balance, tend to be any more impactful than gains. The third part of this article aims to address the question of why acceptance of loss aversion as a general principle remains pervasive and persistent among social scientists, including consumer psychologists, despite evidence to the contrary. This analysis aims to connect the persistence of a belief in loss aversion to more general ideas about belief acceptance and persistence in science. The final part of the article discusses how a more contextualized perspective of the relative impact of losses versus gains can open new areas of inquiry that are squarely in the domain of consumer psychology.

Death, Bereavement, and Creativity
Kathryn Graddy & Carl Lieberman
Management Science, forthcoming


Does creativity, on average, increase or decrease during bereavement? Dates of death of relatives and close friends of 33 French artists and 15 American artists were gathered from electronic sources and biographies, and information on over 15,000 paintings was collected from the Blouin Art Sales Index and the online collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay, including more than 12,000 observations on price. An event study indicates that there is no evidence that the death of a friend or relative makes an artist more creative, and there is some evidence that prices of paintings are significantly lower during the first year following the year of death of a friend or relative. Furthermore, paintings that were created during this bereavement period are less likely to be included in a major museum’s collection.

The Influence of a Foreign Versus Native Language on Creativity
Elena Stephan
Creativity Research Journal, Fall 2017, Pages 426-432


Creativity may be enhanced by contextual factors that contribute to a divergence from conventional and habitual modes of thought. Two studies tested the prediction that a foreign language (that is frequently associated with moving away from the routine experiences) will contribute to originality of solutions, compared to one’s native language. Findings demonstrate that a foreign language confers benefits for creativity on well-established nonverbal tasks. Participants were more creative in designing t-shirt outlines (Study 1) and in drawing an alien character for a story (Study 2) within the context of their foreign, as compared to the native, language. The potential underlying mechanisms and implications of the effect are discussed.

Do People Inherently Dislike Uncertain Advice?
Celia Gaertig & Joseph Simmons
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Research suggests that people prefer confident to uncertain advisors. But do people dislike uncertain advice itself? In eleven studies (N = 4,806), participants forecasted an uncertain event after receiving advice, and then rated the quality of the advice (Studies 1-7, S1-S2) or chose between two advisors (Studies 8-9). Replicating previous research, confident advisors were judged more favorably than advisors who were “not sure.” Importantly, however, participants were not more likely to prefer certain advice: They did not dislike advisors who expressed uncertainty by providing ranges of outcomes, numerical probabilities, or by saying that one event is “more likely” than another. Additionally, when faced with an explicit choice, participants were more likely to choose an advisor who provided uncertain advice over an advisor who provided certain advice. Our findings suggest that people do not inherently dislike uncertain advice. Advisors benefit from expressing themselves with confidence, but not from communicating false certainty.

Disruption and rescue of interareal theta phase coupling and adaptive behavior
Robert Reinhart
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 October 2017, Pages 11542–11547


Rescuing executive functions in people with neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders has been a major goal of psychology and neuroscience for decades. Innovative computer-training regimes for executive functions have made tremendous inroads, yet the positive effects of training have not always translated into improved cognitive functioning and often take many days to emerge. In the present study, we asked whether it was possible to immediately change components of executive function by directly manipulating neural activity using a stimulation technology called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS). Twenty minutes of inphase stimulation over medial frontal cortex (MFC) and right lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) synchronized theta (∼6 Hz) rhythms between these regions in a frequency and spatially specific manner and rapidly improved adaptive behavior with effects lasting longer than 40 min. In contrast, antiphase stimulation in the same individuals desynchronized MFC-lPFC theta phase coupling and impaired adaptive behavior. Surprisingly, the exogenously driven impairments in performance could be instantly rescued by reversing the phase angle of alternating current. The results suggest executive functions can be rapidly up- or down-regulated by modulating theta phase coupling of distant frontal cortical areas and can contribute to the development of tools for potentially normalizing executive dysfunction in patient populations.

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