Time to Think

Kevin Lewis

July 03, 2021

The Dynamics of Inattention in the (Baseball) Field
James Archsmith et al.
NBER Working Paper, June 2021


Recent theoretical and empirical work characterizes attention as a limited resource that decision-makers strategically allocate. There has been less research on the dynamic interdependence of attention: how paying attention now may affect performance later. In this paper, we exploit high-frequency data on decision-making by Major League Baseball umpires to examine this. We find that umpires not only apply greater effort to higher-stakes decisions, but also that effort applied to earlier decisions increases errors later. These findings are consistent with the umpire having a depletable ‘budget’ of attention. There is no such dynamic interdependence after breaks during the game (at the end of each inning) suggesting that even short rest periods can replenish attention budgets. We also find that an expectation of higher stakes future decisions leads to reduced attention to current decisions, consistent with forward-looking behavior by umpires aware of attention scarcity.

Decision-making ability, psychopathology, and brain connectivity
Michael Moutoussis et al.
Neuron, 16 June 2021, Pages 2025-2040


Decision-making is a cognitive process of central importance for the quality of our lives. Here, we ask whether a common factor underpins our diverse decision-making abilities. We obtained 32 decision-making measures from 830 young people and identified a common factor that we call “decision acuity,” which was distinct from IQ and reflected a generic decision-making ability. Decision acuity was decreased in those with aberrant thinking and low general social functioning. Crucially, decision acuity and IQ had dissociable brain signatures, in terms of their associated neural networks of resting-state functional connectivity. Decision acuity was reliably measured, and its relationship with functional connectivity was also stable when measured in the same individuals 18 months later. Thus, our behavioral and brain data identify a new cognitive construct that underpins decision-making ability across multiple domains. This construct may be important for understanding mental health, particularly regarding poor social function and aberrant thought patterns.

Naming unrelated words predicts creativity
Jay Olson et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 June 2021


Several theories posit that creative people are able to generate more divergent ideas. If this is correct, simply naming unrelated words and then measuring the semantic distance between them could serve as an objective measure of divergent thinking. To test this hypothesis, we asked 8,914 participants to name 10 words that are as different from each other as possible. A computational algorithm then estimated the average semantic distance between the words; related words (e.g., cat and dog) have shorter distances than unrelated ones (e.g., cat and thimble). We predicted that people producing greater semantic distances would also score higher on traditional creativity measures. In Study 1, we found moderate to strong correlations between semantic distance and two widely used creativity measures (the Alternative Uses Task and the Bridge-the-Associative-Gap Task). In Study 2, with participants from 98 countries, semantic distances varied only slightly by basic demographic variables. There was also a positive correlation between semantic distance and performance on a range of problems known to predict creativity. Overall, semantic distance correlated at least as strongly with established creativity measures as those measures did with each other. Naming unrelated words in what we call the Divergent Association Task can thus serve as a brief, reliable, and objective measure of divergent thinking.

Sonic Thunder vs. Brian the Snail: Are people affected by uninformative racehorse names?
Oliver Merz, Raphael Flepp & Egon Franck
Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, forthcoming


This paper examines whether individuals’ decision making is affected by fast-sounding horse names in a betting exchange market environment. In horse racing, the name of a horse does not depend on the horse's performance and is thus uninformative. If positive affect towards fast-sounding horse names is present, we expect less accurate prices, i.e., winning probabilities and lower returns due to the increased demand for these bets. Using over 3 million horse bets, we find evidence that the winning probabilities of bets on horses with fast-sounding names are overstated, which impairs the prediction accuracy of such bets. This finding implies that prices in betting exchange markets are distorted by incorporating affective, misleading information from a horse's fast-sounding name. Consequently, this bias translates into significantly lower betting returns for horses with names classified as fast-sounding compared to the returns for all other horses.

When the Future “Spills Under”: General Self-Efficacy Moderates the Influence of Expected Exercise on Present Intellectual Performance
Dario Krpan, Matteo Galizzi & Paul Dolan
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


We examined whether an expected future activity (exercise vs. relaxation) impacts a present behavior (performance on an intellectual task) that occurs prior to this activity. Across two experiments (n = 320 and n = 466), the influence of expected exercise compared to relaxation on present intellectual performance was moderated by general self-efficacy (GSE)—a core personality trait that determines people’s confidence that they can surmount physically or intellectually challenging activities. Participants high in GSE had better intellectual performance when they were expecting to exercise versus relax, whereas the effect reversed under low GSE. Moderated mediation analyses suggested that task-focused attention (i.e., participants’ level of focus while solving the intellectual task) accounted for a significant proportion of variance between the future activity (exercise vs. relaxation) and present intellectual performance across different GSE levels. These findings document a previously unexplored channel through which future expectations shape present outcomes.

More is easier? Testing the role of fluency in the more-credible effect
William Skylark
Judgment and Decision Making, May 2021, Pages 638–686


People are more likely to endorse statements of the form "A is more than B" than those of the form "B is less than A", even though the ordinal relationship being described is identical in both cases -– a result I dub the "more-credible" effect. This paper reports 9 experiments (total


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