There's a chance

Kevin Lewis

May 31, 2018

Probability and conspiratorial thinking
Marko Kovic & Tobias Füchslin
Applied Cognitive Psychology, May/June 2018, Pages 390-400


Conspiracy theories as alternative explanations for events and states of affairs enjoy widespread popularity. We test one possible explanation for why people are prone to conspiratorial thinking: We hypothesize that conspiratorial thinking as an explanation for events increases as the probability of those events decreases. In order to test this hypothesis, we have conducted five experiments in which participants were exposed to different information about probabilities of fictional events. The results of all experiments support the hypothesis: The lower the probability of an event, the stronger participants embrace conspiratorial explanations. Conspiratorial thinking, we conclude, potentially represents a cognitive heuristic: A coping mechanism for uncertainty.

Face recognition accuracy of forensic examiners, superrecognizers, and face recognition algorithms
Jonathon Phillips et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Achieving the upper limits of face identification accuracy in forensic applications can minimize errors that have profound social and personal consequences. Although forensic examiners identify faces in these applications, systematic tests of their accuracy are rare. How can we achieve the most accurate face identification: using people and/or machines working alone or in collaboration? In a comprehensive comparison of face identification by humans and computers, we found that forensic facial examiners, facial reviewers, and superrecognizers were more accurate than fingerprint examiners and students on a challenging face identification test. Individual performance on the test varied widely. On the same test, four deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs), developed between 2015 and 2017, identified faces within the range of human accuracy. Accuracy of the algorithms increased steadily over time, with the most recent DCNN scoring above the median of the forensic facial examiners. Using crowd-sourcing methods, we fused the judgments of multiple forensic facial examiners by averaging their rating-based identity judgments. Accuracy was substantially better for fused judgments than for individuals working alone. Fusion also served to stabilize performance, boosting the scores of lower-performing individuals and decreasing variability. Single forensic facial examiners fused with the best algorithm were more accurate than the combination of two examiners. Therefore, collaboration among humans and between humans and machines offers tangible benefits to face identification accuracy in important applications. These results offer an evidence-based roadmap for achieving the most accurate face identification possible.

Stable Causal Relationships Are Better Causal Relationships
Nadya Vasilyeva, Thomas Blanchard & Tania Lombrozo
Cognitive Science, May 2018, Pages 1265-1296


We report three experiments investigating whether people's judgments about causal relationships are sensitive to the robustness or stability of such relationships across a range of background circumstances. In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that people are more willing to endorse causal and explanatory claims based on stable (as opposed to unstable) relationships, even when the overall causal strength of the relationship is held constant. In Experiment 2, we show that this effect is not driven by a causal generalization's actual scope of application. In Experiment 3, we offer evidence that stable causal relationships may be seen as better guides to action. Collectively, these experiments document a previously underappreciated factor that shapes people's causal reasoning: the stability of the causal relationship.

The Interpersonal Sunk-Cost Effect
Christopher Olivola
Psychological Science, forthcoming


The sunk-cost fallacy — pursuing an inferior alternative merely because we have previously invested significant, but nonrecoverable, resources in it — represents a striking violation of rational decision making. Whereas theoretical accounts and empirical examinations of the sunk-cost effect have generally been based on the assumption that it is a purely intrapersonal phenomenon (i.e., solely driven by one’s own past investments), the present research demonstrates that it is also an interpersonal effect (i.e., people will alter their choices in response to other people’s past investments). Across eight experiments (N = 6,076) covering diverse scenarios, I documented sunk-cost effects when the costs are borne by someone other than the decision maker. Moreover, the interpersonal sunk-cost effect is not moderated by social closeness or whether other people observe their sunk costs being “honored.” These findings uncover a previously undocumented bias, reveal that the sunk-cost effect is a much broader phenomenon than previously thought, and pose interesting challenges for existing accounts of this fascinating human tendency.

Fine Water: A Blind Taste Test
Kevin Capehart & Elena Berg
Journal of Wine Economics, February 2018, Pages 20-40


To test whether consumers can distinguish among different bottled waters and, if so, whether they prefer some to others, we recruited more than 100 subjects to participate in a blind taste test that consisted of four brands of bottled water featured in a restaurant's water menu and a guidebook to fine waters. The tasting involved three successive experiments. First, our subjects tried to distinguish bottled waters in a sensory discrimination test. They were only slightly better than random chance at doing so. Next, they rated bottled waters and tap water on a 14-point scale used at an international water competition. Some subjects preferred the inexpensive tap water to any of the bottled waters, and there was no association or a weak negative association between a bottled water's price and its rating. Finally, our subjects tried to distinguish tap from bottled water while matching the bottled waters to expert descriptions. They were no better than random chance at doing either of those things. Similar results have been found in previous taste tests of beer and wine. Overall, our results suggest consumers do not have strong preferences over different bottled waters to the extent they can even tell a difference.

The Decoy Effect as a Nudge: Boosting Hand Hygiene With a Worse Option
Meng Li, Yan Sun & Hui Chen
Psychological Science, forthcoming


This article provides the first test of the decoy effect as a nudge to influence real-world behavior. The decoy effect is the phenomenon that an additional but worse option can boost the appeal of an existing option. It has been widely demonstrated in hypothetical choices, but its usefulness in real-world settings has been subject to debate. In three longitudinal experiments in food-processing factories, we tested two decoy sanitation options that were worse than the existing sanitizer spray bottle. Results showed that the presence of a decoy, but not an additional copy of the original sanitizer bottle in a different color, drastically increased food workers’ hand sanitizer use from the original sanitizer bottle and, consequently, improved workers’ passing rate in hand sanitary tests from 60% to 70% to above 90% for 20 days. These findings indicate that the decoy effect can be a powerful nudge technique to influence real-world behavior.

How a smiley protects health: A pilot intervention to improve hand hygiene in hospitals by activating injunctive norms through emoticons
Susanne Gaube et al.
PLoS ONE, May 2018


Hand hygiene practice in hospitals is unfortunately still widely insufficient, even though it is known that transmitting pathogens via hands is the leading cause of healthcare-associated infections. Previous research has shown that improving knowledge, providing feedback on past behaviour and targeting social norms are promising approaches to improve hand hygiene practices. The present field experiment was designed to direct people on when to perform hand hygiene and prevent forgetfulness. This intervention is the first to examine the effect of inducing injunctive social norms via an emoticon-based feedback system on hand hygiene behaviour. Electronic monitoring and feedback devices were installed in hospital patient rooms on top of hand-rub dispensers, next to the doorway, for a period of 17 weeks. In the emoticon condition, screens at the devices activated whenever a person entered or exited the room. Before using the alcohol-based hand-rub dispenser, a frowny face was displayed, indicating that hand hygiene should be performed. If the dispenser was subsequently used, this picture changed to a smiley face to positively reinforce the correct behaviour. Hand hygiene behaviour in the emoticon rooms significantly outperformed the behaviour in three other tested conditions. The strong effect in this field experiment indicates that activating injunctive norms may be a promising approach to improve hand hygiene behaviour. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Mood effects on ingratiation: Affective influences on producing and responding to ingratiating messages
Diana Matovic & Joseph Forgas
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2018, Pages 186-197


Can mood influence the way people produce and respond to ingratiating messages? Based on recent affect-cognition theories we demonstrate for the first time that mild negative mood increased communicators' use of ingratiatory tactics such as flattery, conformity and self-promotion (Exp. 1). Experiment 2 further confirmed that ingratiatory messages written in a negative mood were more effective and resulted in more positive interpersonal evaluations than messages written in a positive mood. Experiment 3 found that negative mood also improved recipients' willingness to accept realistic ingratiation. An analysis of response latencies (Exps. 1 and 3) and recall (Exp. 3), and mediational analyses showed that these effects were consistent with negative mood promoting longer and more attentive processing by both senders and recipients. The theoretical implications of these results for recent affect-cognition theories are considered, and the practical implications of these findings for everyday strategic communication and interpersonal behavior are discussed.

The role of perceived attitudinal bases on spontaneous and requested advocacy
Jacob Teeny & Richard Petty
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2018, Pages 175-185


The attitudes and persuasion literature has extensively examined what makes a message influential, paying much less attention to what makes someone communicate that message in the first place (i.e., engage in attitudinal advocacy). In addressing this, the present research first makes a novel distinction regarding the type of advocacy (requested versus spontaneous). Then, we examine how one's perceived attitudinal base (affective or cognitive) influences intentions to engage in each type of advocacy. Across six studies (four correlational and two experimental, n = 1040), this research demonstrates two consistent patterns: perceiving one's attitude to be more cognitively (vs. affectively) based results in greater willingness to engage in requested advocacy, whereas perceiving one's attitude to be more affectively (vs. cognitively) based results in greater willingness to engage in spontaneous advocacy.

The anchoring-bias in groups
Tim de Wilde, Femke Ten Velden & Carsten De Dreu
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2018, Pages 116-126


Decision-making groups decide on many numerical issues, which makes them potentially vulnerable to cognitive anchors. In the current study we investigated (1) whether the anchoring-bias operates in groups, (2) under which circumstances group anchoring is more or less likely to occur and (3) which processes underlie the anchoring-bias in groups. In three group decision-making studies we found that cooperative groups were susceptible to anchors. However, the anchoring-bias in groups was mitigated when groups were made process accountable or competitively motivated. Finally, we investigated whether the anchoring bias in groups operated through a fast and early influence on individual preferences, or through biased information exchange. We found evidence for the former process, but not for the latter.

On Being More Amenable to Threatening Risk Messages Concerning Close Others (vis-à-vis the Self)
William Klein & Rebecca Ferrer
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


People often respond defensively to risk messages impugning their own behavior. We explored whether people are more amenable to risk messages impugning a close other’s behavior. In two experiments, participants learned how being overweight could influence their own cancer risk or that of an opposite-sex close other. As predicted, participants expressed higher affective risk perceptions (i.e., worry) and experiential risk perceptions for their close others than for themselves. Participants in the close other condition also reported greater interest in diagnostic testing and additional information (Experiment 1) and greater interest in consulting a provider and more plans for remediation (Experiment 2). These effects were mediated by a combination of worry and experiential risk perceptions. The self/other difference emerged even though participants endorsed the messages as believable and relevant; participants were simply more willing to extrapolate from the message to their close other’s risk than to their own risk.

Willingness to transmit and the spread of pseudoscientific beliefs
H. Mercier, Y. Majima & H. Miton
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming


Pseudoscientific beliefs are widespread and can be damaging. If several studies have examined the factors leading people to accept pseudoscientific beliefs, no attention has been paid to the factors contributing to people's willingness to transmit these beliefs. To test whether the willingness to transmit pseudoscientific beliefs contributes to their spread, independent of their believability, we asked participants to rate statements corresponding either to pseudoscientific beliefs (Myths), or to their (correct) negations (Non‐Myths). Statements were rated on believability, on how willing participants would be to transmit them, and on how knowledgeable they would make someone who produces them. Results revealed that participants who believed in Myths were more willing to transmit them than the participants who believed in Non‐Myths were willing to transmit Non‐Myths. A potential factor driving the increased willingness to transmit both Myths and Non‐Myths might be participants' belief that holding the beliefs makes one seem more knowledgeable.

Examining the trade‐off between confidence and optimism in future forecasts
Olga Stavrova & Anthony Evans
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, forthcoming


Confident business forecasters are seen as more credible and competent (“confidence heuristic”). We explored a boundary condition of this effect by examining how individuals react to the trade‐off between confidence and optimism. Using hypothetical scenarios, we examined this trade‐off from the perspectives of judges (i.e., business owners who hired analysts to make sales predictions) and forecasters (i.e., the analysts hired to make predictions). Participants were assigned to the role of either judges or forecasters and were asked to rate 2 potential forecasts. In the “no trade‐off” condition, the 2 forecasts were aligned in optimism and confidence (the more confident forecast was also more optimistic); in the “trade‐off” condition, the more confident forecast was less optimistic. In Experiment 1, judges were more likely to positively evaluate confident forecasters when confident forecasters were the more (vs. less) optimistic ones. Experiment 2 demonstrated that forecasters were aware of judges' preferences for optimism and strategically relied on methods that resulted in more optimistic (but less reliable) predictions. Experiment 3 directly compared the perspectives of judges and forecasters, revealing that forecasters overestimated judges' preferences for optimism over confidence. The present studies show that forecasters and judges have different views of the trade‐off between confidence and optimism and that forecasters may unnecessarily sacrifice accuracy for optimism.


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