Over Thinking

Kevin Lewis

January 05, 2021

Jumping to conclusions: Implications for reasoning errors, false belief, knowledge corruption, and impeded learning
Carmen Sanchez & David Dunning
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


In schizophrenia research, patients who “jump to conclusions” in probabilistic reasoning tasks tend to display impaired decision-making and delusional belief. In five studies, we examined whether jumping to conclusions (JTC) was similarly associated with decision impairments in a nonclinical sample, such as reasoning errors, false belief, overconfidence, and diminished learning. In Studies 1a and 1b, JTC was associated with errors stimulated by automatic reasoning, oddball beliefs such as conspiracy theories, and overconfidence. We traced these deficits to an absence of controlled processing rather than to an undue impact of automatic thinking, while ruling out roles for plausible alternative individual differences. In Studies 2 and 3, JTC was associated with higher confidence despite diminished performance in a novel probabilistic learning task (i.e., diagnosing illnesses), in part because those who exhibited JTC behavior were prone to overly exuberant theorizing, with no or little data, about how to approach the task early on. In Study 4, we adapted intervention materials used in schizophrenia treatment to train participants to avoid JCT. The intervention quelled overconfidence in the probabilistic learning task. In summary, this research suggests that a fruitful crosstalk may exist between research on psychopathology and work on social cognition within the general public.

Dogmatism manifests in lowered information search under uncertainty
Lion Schulz et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 8 December 2020, Pages 31527-31534


When knowledge is scarce, it is adaptive to seek further information to resolve uncertainty and obtain a more accurate worldview. Biases in such information-seeking behavior can contribute to the maintenance of inaccurate views. Here, we investigate whether predispositions for uncertainty-guided information seeking relate to individual differences in dogmatism, a phenomenon linked to entrenched beliefs in political, scientific, and religious discourse. We addressed this question in a perceptual decision-making task, allowing us to rule out motivational factors and isolate the role of uncertainty. In two independent general population samples (n = 370 and n = 364), we show that more dogmatic participants are less likely to seek out new information to refine an initial perceptual decision, leading to a reduction in overall belief accuracy despite similar initial decision performance. Trial-by-trial modeling revealed that dogmatic participants placed less reliance on internal signals of uncertainty (confidence) to guide information search, rendering them less likely to seek additional information to update beliefs derived from weak or uncertain initial evidence. Together, our results highlight a cognitive mechanism that may contribute to the formation of dogmatic worldviews.

Beliefs about Whether Spending Implies Wealth
Heather Barry Kappes, Joe Gladstone & Hal Hershfield
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming


Spending is influenced by many factors. One that has received little attention is the meaning that people give to the act of spending. Spending money might imply that someone is relatively wealthy - since they have money to spend - or relatively poor - since spending can deplete assets. We show that people differ in the extent to which they believe that spending implies wealth (SIW beliefs). We develop a scale to measure these beliefs and find that people who more strongly believe that spending implies wealth spend their own money relatively lavishly and are, on average, more financially vulnerable. We find correlational evidence for these relationships using objective financial-transaction data, including over 2 million transaction records from the bank accounts of over 2,000 users of a money management app, as well as self-reported financial well-being. We also find experimental evidence by manipulating SIW beliefs and observing causal effects on spending intentions. These results show how underlying beliefs about the link between spending and wealth play a role in consumption decisions, and point to beliefs about the meaning of spending as a fruitful direction for further research.

Compensatory conspicuous communication: Low status increases jargon use
Zachariah Brown, Eric Anicich & Adam Galinsky
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, November 2020, Pages 274-290


Jargon is commonly used to efficiently communicate and signal group membership. We propose that jargon use also serves a status compensation function. We first define jargon and distinguish it from slang and technical language. Nine studies, including experiments and archival data analyses, test whether low status increases jargon use. Analyses of 64,000 dissertations found that titles produced by authors from lower-status schools included more jargon than titles from higher-status school authors. Experimental manipulations established that low status causally increases jargon use, even in live conversations. Statistical mediation and experimental-causal-chain analyses demonstrated that the low status → jargon effect is driven by increased concern with audience evaluations over conversational clarity. Additional archival and experimental evidence found that acronyms and legalese serve a similar status-compensation function as other forms of jargon (e.g., complex language). These findings establish a new driver of jargon use and demonstrate that communication, like consumption, can be both compensatory and conspicuous.

Social exploration: When people deviate from options explored by others
Yuji Winet et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


People often face choices between known options and unknown ones. Our research documents a social-exploration effect: People are more likely to explore unknown options when they learn about known options from other people’s experiences. Across four studies (N = 2,333), we used an incentive-compatible paradigm where participants chose between known and unknown options (e.g., cash bonuses). We found higher exploration rates (i.e., choosing of unknown options) when information about known options came from other people, compared with an unidentified source (Study 1a) or a computer (Studies 1b-4). We theorize that the social-exploration effect results from people’s tendency to intuitively adopt a group-level perspective with other people: a “we”-perspective. Thus, in social contexts, people explore more to diversify their experience as a group. Supporting this account, we find the effect attenuates in exploration of losses, where people do not wish to adopt a group-level perspective of others’ losses (Study 2). Furthermore, the effect is obtained only if others have experienced the outcome; not when they only revealed its content (Study 3). Finally, the social-exploration effect generalizes to everyday choices, such as choosing a movie to watch (Study 4). Taken together, these findings highlight the social aspect of individual exploration decisions and offer practical implications for how to encourage exploration.

Social Distance Reduces the Biases of Overweighting Small Probabilities and Underweighting Large Probabilities
Qingzhou Sun et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


People often exhibit biases in probability weighting such as overweighting small probabilities and underweighting large probabilities. Our research examines whether increased social distance would reduce such biases. Participants completed valuation and choice tasks of probabilistic lotteries under conditions with different social distances. The results showed that increased social distance reduced these biases in both hypothetical (Studies 1 and 2) and incentivized (Study 3) settings. This reduction was accompanied by a decrease in emotional intensity and an increase in the attention to probability in the decision-making process (Study 4). Moreover, the bias-buffering effect of social distance was stronger in the gain domain than in the loss domain (Studies 1-4). These results suggest that increasing the social distance from the beneficiaries of the decisions can reduce biases in probability weighting and shed light on the relationship between social distance and the emotional-cognitive process in decision-making.

Framing Zero: When Losing Nothing Is Better than Gaining Nothing
Marcus Wardley & Max Alberhasky
Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, forthcoming


The framing of zero has a substantial effect on judgment and decision-making, a fact which is often ignored or unacknowledged by many authors. Although prior research has shown that zero carries a special meaning, no prior research has specifically examined the framing of zero. Across four studies, the current research demonstrates the effect the framing of zero has on judgment and decision-making and explores the underlying mechanisms. In the context of a simple gamble a small loss is more attractive than gaining nothing, but the same small loss is less attractive than losing nothing. The present studies test and support an explanation of these findings based on the concept of reference points and the affect heuristic. The framing of zero in these decision problems acts as a point of comparison, or reference point, affecting how evaluators feel about the bet. These results establish the importance of framing zero in judgment and decision-making and sheds light on the mediators of this effect.


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