Kevin Lewis

November 10, 2022

Altering the past to shape the future: Manipulating information accessibility to influence case-based reasoning
Sherry Jueyu Wu & Alin Coman
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


One strategy for decision-making involves the process known as case-based reasoning, where individuals retrieve past decisions in similar cases, compare the new and old situation, and adapt previous decisions to the new context. However, remembering past cases is a selective process. Research on retrieval-induced forgetting found that retrieving a subset of information about a certain topic causes forgetting of related information. In two experiments we use retrieval-induced forgetting to activate and deactivate similar features between a new case and past cases. We measured whether this intervention impacted decision-making about a controversial policy and whether the positive and negative outcomes of past cases influenced both information accessibility and decision-making. Study 1 demonstrated socially-shared retrieval-induced forgetting: hearing others talk about non-critical features from the past cases reduced memory accessibility of critical but unmentioned features of the positive past case (i.e., success), but not for negative past case (i.e., failure), compared with a control condition. Study 2 demonstrated that individuals' decisions were consistent with the manipulated memory pattern. Individuals were less supportive of the controversial policy in a new case when they heard non-critical information in the positive past case, whereas individuals were no less supportive when hearing non-critical information in the negative past case, compared with the control condition. We speculate that failure to trigger retrieval-induced forgetting in negative cases might be due to a negativity bias in information processing. We discuss the implication of these results for real-world phenomena involving people using the past to reason about the future.

Transformer networks of human conceptual knowledge
Sudeep Bhatia & Russell Richie
Psychological Review, forthcoming 


We present a computational model capable of simulating aspects of human knowledge for thousands of real-world concepts. Our approach involves a pretrained transformer network that is further fine-tuned on large data sets of participant-generated feature norms. We show that such a model can successfully extrapolate from its training data, and predict human knowledge for new concepts and features. We apply our model to stimuli from 25 previous experiments in semantic cognition research and show that it reproduces many findings on semantic verification, concept typicality, feature distribution, and semantic similarity. We also compare our model against several variants, and by doing so, establish the model properties that are necessary for good prediction. The success of our approach shows how a combination of language data and (laboratory-based) psychological data can be used to build models with rich world knowledge. Such models can be used in the service of new psychological applications, such as the modeling of naturalistic semantic verification and knowledge retrieval, as well as the modeling of real-world categorization, decision-making, and reasoning.

Observing many researchers using the same data and hypothesis reveals a hidden universe of uncertainty
Nate Breznau et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1 November 2022


This study explores how researchers’ analytical choices affect the reliability of scientific findings. Most discussions of reliability problems in science focus on systematic biases. We broaden the lens to emphasize the idiosyncrasy of conscious and unconscious decisions that researchers make during data analysis. We coordinated 161 researchers in 73 research teams and observed their research decisions as they used the same data to independently test the same prominent social science hypothesis: that greater immigration reduces support for social policies among the public. In this typical case of social science research, research teams reported both widely diverging numerical findings and substantive conclusions despite identical start conditions. Researchers’ expertise, prior beliefs, and expectations barely predict the wide variation in research outcomes. More than 95% of the total variance in numerical results remains unexplained even after qualitative coding of all identifiable decisions in each team’s workflow. This reveals a universe of uncertainty that remains hidden when considering a single study in isolation. The idiosyncratic nature of how researchers’ results and conclusions varied is a previously underappreciated explanation for why many scientific hypotheses remain contested. These results call for greater epistemic humility and clarity in reporting scientific findings.

Nobel and novice: Author prominence affects peer review
Jürgen Huber et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 October 2022 


Peer review is a well-established cornerstone of the scientific process, yet it is not immune to biases like status bias, which we explore in this paper. Merton described this bias as prominent researchers getting disproportionately great credit for their contribution, while relatively unknown researchers get disproportionately little credit [R. K. Merton, Science 159, 56–63 (1968)]. We measured the extent of this bias in the peer-review process through a preregistered field experiment. We invited more than 3,300 researchers to review a finance research paper jointly written by a prominent author (a Nobel laureate) and by a relatively unknown author (an early career research associate), varying whether reviewers saw the prominent author’s name, an anonymized version of the paper, or the less-well-known author’s name. We found strong evidence for the status bias: More of the invited researchers accepted to review the paper when the prominent name was shown, and while only 23% recommended “reject” when the prominent researcher was the only author shown, 48% did so when the paper was anonymized, and 65% did when the little-known author was the only author shown. Our findings complement and extend earlier results on double-anonymized vs. single-anonymized review [R. Blank, Am. Econ. Rev. 81, 1041–1067 (1991); M. A. Ucci, F. D’Antonio, V. Berghella, Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. MFM 4, 100645 (2022)].

The unlikelihood effect: When knowing more creates the perception of less
Uma Karmarkar & Daniella Kupor
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming 


People face increasingly detailed information related to a range of risky decisions. To aid individuals in thinking through such risks, various forms of policy and health messaging often enumerate their causes. Whereas some prior literature suggests that adding information about causes of an outcome increases its perceived likelihood, we identify a novel mechanism through which the opposite regularly occurs. Across seven primary and six supplementary experiments, we find that the estimated likelihood of an outcome decreases when people learn about the (by- definition lower) probabilities of the pathways that lead to that outcome. This “unlikelihood” bias exists despite explicit communication of the outcome’s total objective probability and occurs for both positive and negative outcomes. Indeed, awareness of a low-probability pathway decreases subjective perceptions of the outcome’s likelihood even when its addition objectively increases the outcome’s actual probability. These findings advance the current understanding of how people integrate information under uncertainty and derive subjective perceptions of risk.

IQ, Expectations and Choice
Francesco D’acunto et al.
Review of Economic Studies, forthcoming 


We use administrative and survey-based micro data to study the relationship between cognitive abilities (IQ), the formation of inflation expectations, and the consumption plans of a representative male population. High-IQ men display 50% lower forecast errors for inflation than other men. High-IQ men, but not others, have consistent inflation expectations and perceptions over time. In terms of choice, only high-IQ men increase their consumption propensity when expecting higher inflation as the consumer Euler equation prescribes. Education levels, income, other expectations, and socio-economic status, although important, do not explain the variation in expectations and choice by IQ. Recent modeling attempts to incorporate boundedly-rational agents into macro models do not fully capture all the facts we document. We discuss which dimensions of expectations formation and choice are important for heterogeneous-agents models of household consumption and for the transmission of fiscal and monetary policy.

An insect brain organizes numbers on a left-to-right mental number line
Martin Giurfa et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1 November 2022 


The “mental number line” (MNL) is a form of spatial numeric representation that associates small and large numbers with the left and right spaces, respectively. This spatio-numeric organization can be found in adult humans and has been related to cultural factors such as writing and reading habits. Yet, both human newborns and birds order numbers consistently with an MNL, thus raising the question of whether culture is a main explanation for MNL. Here, we explored the numeric sense of honey bees and show that after being trained to associate numbers with a sucrose reward, they order numbers not previously experienced from left to right according to their magnitude. Importantly, the location of a number on that scale varies with the reference number previously trained and does not depend on low-level cues present on numeric stimuli. We provide a series of neural explanations for this effect based on the extensive knowledge accumulated on the neural underpinnings of visual processing in honey bees and conclude that the MNL is a form of numeric representation that is evolutionarily conserved across nervous systems endowed with a sense of number, irrespective of their neural complexity.

Ending on a familiar note: Perceived endings motivate repeat consumption
Yuji Winet & Ed O'Brien
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming 


People fill their free time by choosing between hedonic activities that are new and exciting (e.g., exploring a buzzed-about restaurant) versus old and familiar (e.g., revisiting the same old spot). The dominant psychological assumption is that people will prefer novelty, holding constant factors like cost, availability, and convenience between acquiring such options (“variety is the spice of life”). Eight preregistered experiments (total N = 5,889) reveal that people’s attraction to novelty depends, at least in part, on their temporal context—namely, on perceived endings. As participants faced a shrinking window of opportunity to enjoy a general category of experience (even merely temporarily; e.g., eating one’s last dessert before starting a diet), their hedonic preferences shifted away from new and exciting options and toward old favorites. This relative shift emerged across many domains (e.g., food, travel, music), situations (e.g., impending New Year’s resolutions, COVID-19 shutdowns), and consequential behaviors (e.g., choices with financial stakes). Using both moderation and mediation approaches, we found that perceived endings increase the preference for familiarity because they increase people’s desire to ensure a personally meaningful experience on which to end, and returning to old favorites is typically more meaningful than exploring novelty. Endings increased participants’ preference for familiarity even when it meant sacrificing other desirable attributes (e.g., exciting stimulation). Together, these findings advance and bridge research on hedonic preferences, time and timing, and the motivational effects of change. Variety may be the “spice of life,” but familiarity may be the spice of life’s endings.

The Maximizing Penalty: Maximizers are Perceived as Less Warm and Receive Less Social Support
Yuqi Chen, Yuhan Yang & Jingyi Lu
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 


Economically, maximizing, the tendency to seek the best, is good because it entails possibilities to optimize decision outcomes. However, research has shown that maximizing is costly in that maximizers are more regretful and less satisfied with their decisions. Beyond these intrapersonal downsides, this research investigates another important but largely ignored downside—the interpersonal costs of being a maximizer—and documents a maximizing penalty in social cognition wherein maximizers (vs. satisficers) are viewed as less warm and consequently receive less social support. Four studies provide evidence for the maximizing penalty. This research contributes to the literature on maximizing by revealing the social cost of being a maximizer and the literature on choice perception by showing that decision makers are perceived by their aspiration.

Choice Boosts Curiosity
Patricia Romero Verdugo et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming 


In our connected era, we spend significant time and effort satisfying our curiosity. Often, we choose which information we seek, but sometimes the selection is made for us. We hypothesized that humans exhibit enhanced curiosity in the context of choice. We designed a task in which healthy participants saw two lotteries on each trial. On some trials, participants chose which lottery to play. On other trials, the lottery was selected for them. Participants then indicated their curiosity about the outcome of the to-be-played lottery via self-report ratings (Experiment 1, N = 34) or willingness-to-wait decisions (Experiment 2, N = 34). We found that participants exhibited higher curiosity ratings and greater willingness to wait for the outcome of lotteries they had chosen than for lotteries that had been selected for them (controlling for initial preference). This demonstrates that choice boosts curiosity, which may have implications for boosting learning, memory, and motivation.

Recent Experience and Performance during a Critical In-Flight Event
Mark Wiggins, Nadya Yuris & Brett Molesowrth
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming


The aim of this study was to test, amongst less experienced pilots, the relationship between the recency of flight experience and performance during a critical in-flight event. It was hypothesised that, in response to an engine failure, recent flight experience would be associated with a superior level of aircraft control, decreased cognitive load, and a successful landing at an alternate destination. Pilots completed a simulated flight during which an engine failure occurred. The weather conditions and proximity to the alternate were designed to enable a power-off landing. The results revealed a relationship between recent flight experience and landing at the alternate, although no relationship was evident with aircraft control. Objective, rather than subjective levels of cognitive load tended to covary with landing successfully at the alternate. The outcomes provide support for the role of recent flight experience in enabling successful responses to critical in-flight events, particularly amongst less experienced pilots.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


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.