Thinking caps

Kevin Lewis

June 06, 2017

Perceived social presence reduces fact-checking
Youjung Jun, Rachel Meng & Gita Venkataramani Johar
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Today’s media landscape affords people access to richer information than ever before, with many individuals opting to consume content through social channels rather than traditional news sources. Although people frequent social platforms for a variety of reasons, we understand little about the consequences of encountering new information in these contexts, particularly with respect to how content is scrutinized. This research tests how perceiving the presence of others (as on social media platforms) affects the way that individuals evaluate information — in particular, the extent to which they verify ambiguous claims. Eight experiments using incentivized real effort tasks found that people are less likely to fact-check statements when they feel that they are evaluating them in the presence of others compared with when they are evaluating them alone. Inducing vigilance immediately before evaluation increased fact-checking under social settings.

Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs
Roland Imhoff & Pia Karoline Lamberty
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


Adding to the growing literature on the antecedents of conspiracy beliefs, this paper argues that a small part in motivating the endorsement of such seemingly irrational beliefs is the desire to stick out from the crowd, the need for uniqueness. Across three studies, we establish a modest but robust association between the self-attributed need for uniqueness and a general conspirational mindset (conspiracy mentality) as well as the endorsement of specific conspiracy beliefs. Following up on previous findings that people high in need for uniqueness resist majority and yield to minority influence, Study 3 experimentally shows that a fictitious conspiracy theory received more support by people high in conspiracy mentality when this theory was said to be supported by only a minority (vs. majority) of survey respondents. Together, these findings support the notion that conspiracy beliefs can be adopted as a means to attain a sense of uniqueness.

The Benefits of Forced Experimentation: Striking Evidence from the London Underground Network
Shaun Larcom, Ferdinand Rauch & Tim Willems
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming


We present evidence that a significant fraction of commuters on the London underground do not travel on their optimal route. We show that a strike on the underground, which forced many commuters to experiment with new routes, brought lasting changes in behavior. This effect is stronger for commuters who live in areas where the underground map is more distorted, which points to the importance of informational imperfections. Information resulting from the strike improved network efficiency. Search costs alone are unlikely to explain the suboptimal behavior.

Data versus Spock: Lay theories about whether emotion helps or hinders
Melissa Karnaze & Linda Levine
Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming


The android Data from Star Trek admired human emotion whereas Spock viewed emotion as irrational and maladaptive. The theory that emotions fulfil adaptive functions is widely accepted in academic psychology but little is known about laypeople’s theories. The present study assessed the extent to which laypeople share Data’s view of emotion as helpful or Spock’s view of emotion as a hindrance. We also assessed how help and hinder theory endorsement were related to reasoning, emotion regulation, and well-being. Undergraduates (N = 630) completed a stressful timed reasoning task and questionnaires that assessed their theories of emotion, emotion regulation strategies, happiness, and social support. Overall, participants viewed emotion more as a help than a hindrance. The more they endorsed the view that emotion helps, the better their reasoning scores. Endorsing a help theory also predicted the use of reappraisal which, in turn, predicted greater happiness and social support. In contrast, endorsing the view that emotion hinders was associated with emotion suppression and less social support. Thus, people’s theories about the functionality of emotion may have important implications for their reasoning and emotional well-being.

Perceptions of Active Versus Passive Risks, and the Effect of Personal Responsibility
Ruty Keinan & Yoella Bereby-Meyer
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2017, Pages 999-1007


Not getting vaccinated or not backing up computer files are examples of passive risk taking: risk brought on or magnified by inaction. We suggest the difficulty in paying attention to absences, together with the reduced agency and responsibility that is associated with passive choices, leads to the perception of passive risks as being less risky than equivalent active risks. Using scenarios in which risk was taken either actively or passively, we demonstrate that passive risks are judged as less risky than equivalent active risks. We find the perception of personal responsibility mediates the differences between the perception of passive and active risks. The current research offers an additional explanation for omission or default biases: The passive nature of these choices causes them to appear less risky than they really are.

How much information to sample before making a decision? It's a matter of psychological distance
Vered Halamish & Nira Liberman
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2017, Pages 111–116


When facing a decision, people look for relevant information to guide their choice. But how much information do they seek to obtain? Based on Construal Level Theory, we predicted that psychological distance from a decision would make participants seek more information prior to making a decision. Five experiments supported this prediction. When facing a decision between two decks of cards or two urns with marbles, participants preferred to sample more units of information for the purpose of making this decision in the distant future or for a friend (vs. in the near future or for themselves). These results suggest that expanding the scope of sampled experience is yet another way by which psychological distance affects decision making.

Is Roger Federer more loss averse than Serena Williams?
Nejat Anbarci et al.
Applied Economics, Summer 2017, Pages 3546-3559


Using data from the high-stakes 2013 Dubai professional tennis tournament, we find that, compared with a tied score, (i) male players have a higher serve speed and thus exhibit more effort when behind in score, and their serve speeds get less sensitive to losses or gains when score difference gets too large, and (ii) female players do not change their serve speed when behind, while serving slower when ahead. Thus, male players comply more with Prospect Theory exhibiting more loss aversion and reflection effect. Our results are robust to controlling for player fixed effects and characteristics with player random effects.

Fast or Frugal, but Not Both: Decision Heuristics Under Time Pressure
Sebastian Bobadilla-Suarez & Bradley Love
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, forthcoming


Heuristics are simple, yet effective, strategies that people use to make decisions. Because heuristics do not require all available information, they are thought to be easy to implement and to not tax limited cognitive resources, which has led heuristics to be characterized as fast-and-frugal. We question this monolithic conception of heuristics by contrasting the cognitive demands of two popular heuristics, Tallying and Take-the-Best. We contend that heuristics that are frugal in terms of information usage may not always be fast because of the attentional control required to implement this focus in certain contexts. In support of this hypothesis, we find that Take-the-Best, while being more frugal in terms of information usage, is slower to implement and fares worse under time pressure manipulations than Tallying. This effect is then reversed when search costs for Take-the-Best are reduced by changing the format of the stimuli. These findings suggest that heuristics are heterogeneous and should be unpacked according to their cognitive demands to determine the circumstances a heuristic best applies.

#thisshowsucks! The Overpowering Influence of Negative Social Media Comments on Television Viewers
Franklin Waddell & Shyam Sundar
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Spring 2017, Pages 393-409


Can the comments of a few viewers on social media affect viewers’ perceptions of audience sentiment or their own program enjoyment? If so, do the effects of comments vary based on their valence or placement during programming? We conducted a 2 (positive vs. negative tweets) x 2 (beginning vs. end of program) factorial experiment with an additional control condition (N = 196) to answer these questions. Negative comments undermined perceived bandwagon support for the program and reduced enjoyment, regardless of contextual or trait moderators. Findings suggest that the effects of social television may be attributable to systematic processing of bandwagon cues.

Competing identities: A field study of in-group bias among professional evaluators
Anna Sandberg
Economic Journal, forthcoming


I use data from the Olympic sport of dressage to explore in-group biases among judges. Dressage – the only international sport with subjective performance evaluations in which men and women compete as equals – provides a rare opportunity to identify multiple in-group biases in the same naturally occurring setting. While, on average, judges are not biased in favour of either gender, they exhibit substantial biases in favour of (i) athletes of their own nationality, and (ii) athletes of the same nationality as the other judges in the competition. Heterogeneity across competitions suggests that biases increase as group identity becomes more salient.

Based on a true story: Making people believe the unbelievable
Francesca Valsesia, Kristin Diehl & Joseph Nunes
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2017, Pages 105–110


Storytelling is important to how people construct reality and interact with others. This research contributes to our understanding of why some stories are evaluated more positively than others, specifically how truth-based labeling (TBL), stating the story is “based on true events,” influences evaluations. Past research has failed to find an unequivocal effect of knowing a story is true on a range of responses including enjoyment, transportation, and emotional reactions. We contend this was due to past work not considering how TBL might interact with the nature of the story itself. One aspect of the story is its typicality (i.e., whether story events fall within the parameters of our past and present experiences). We propose, and show, across experimental and correlational data, that TBL increases the perceived plausibility of a story and enhances the audience's response only when a story is low in typicality to begin with. Conversely, when events in a story are already high in typicality, TBL has little effect on the perceived plausibility of the story, and in turn how the audience responds. We further provide mediational evidence for perceived plausibility as the underlying mechanism.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.