Wrong Answer

Kevin Lewis

January 11, 2022

Self-Persuasion: Evidence from Field Experiments at International Debating Competitions
Peter Schwardmann, Egon Tripodi & Joël van der Weele
American Economic Review, forthcoming

Laboratory evidence shows that when people have to argue for a given position, they persuade themselves about the position’s factual and moral superiority. Such self-persuasion limits the potential of communication to resolve conflict and reduce polarization. We test for this phenomenon in a field setting, at international debating competitions that randomly assign experienced and motivated debaters to argue one side of a topical motion. We find self-persuasion in factual beliefs and confidence in one’s position. Effect sizes are smaller than in the laboratory, but robust to a one-hour exchange of arguments and a ten-fold increase in incentives for accuracy.

When a conspiracy theory goes mainstream, people feel more positive toward conspiracy theorists
Curtis Bram
Research & Politics, December 2021

This paper uses an experiment and a follow-up survey immediately before and after the publicly revealed results of the Department of Defense’s 2021 report on unidentified flying object (UFO) origins to test how public opinion changes when government leaders across the political spectrum take an issue that had been on the margins of respectability seriously. In both studies, I find that when politicians acknowledge the possibility that UFOs are extraterrestrial visitors, people report more positive attitudes toward those who believe in conspiracies in general. Implications are that when government leaders publicly walk back a long-held consensus that a particular issue is not worth serious consideration, they may cause people to feel more favorable toward those perceived to hold other fringe views. 

Distrust in experts and the origins of disagreement
Ing-Haw Cheng & Alice Hsiaw
Journal of Economic Theory, forthcoming

Why do individuals interpret the same information differently? We propose that individuals form beliefs following Bayes' Rule with one exception: when assessing the credibility of experts, they double-dip the data and use already-updated beliefs instead of their priors. This “pre-screening” mechanism explains why individuals jointly disagree about states of the world and the credibility of experts, why the ordering of signals and experts affects final beliefs, and when individuals over- or underreact to new information. In a trading game, pre-screening generates excessive speculation, bubbles, and crashes. Our theory provides a micro-foundation for why individuals disagree about how to interpret the same data. 

It Doesn’t Apply to Me, So It Isn’t Real: People Are Likely to Deny Science if It Contradicts Their Personality
Nicholas Evans & Adam Fetterman
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 

When science contradicts people’s experiences, they often deny the science. Psychological science may be particularly prone to denialism because of its relatively high relevance to people’s lives. In two sets of studies (N = 637 from university students and Mechanical Turk workers), we tested whether perceived and actual incongruence between one’s personality and scientific findings predict psychological discomfort and science denialism. Participants rated the incongruence (subjective incongruence) between their own personality responses and science, as well as their comfort and denial of the science. Those who experienced more subjective incongruence experienced greater discomfort and reported more science denialism. Those whose personality characteristics were objectively incongruent with the science also experienced greater subjective incongruence (all studies), discomfort (Studies 1A, 1B, and 1C), and science denialism (Studies 1A, 1C, and 2B) compared with those with congruent characteristics. Implications regarding denialism of psychological science, and science more broadly, are discussed. 

Flooding the Zone: How Exposure to Implausible Statements Shapes Subsequent Belief Judgments
Ezgi Ulusoy et al.
International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Winter 2021, Pages 856–872

Much scholarly attention has been paid to the effects of misinformation on beliefs and attitudes, but rarely have studies investigated potential downstream effects of misinformation exposure on belief judgments involving subsequent factual statements. Drawing from work on anchoring-and-adjustment and defensive reasoning, this study examines how exposure to initial falsehoods that vary in terms of their plausibility shapes subsequent belief judgments. Across two survey experiments, we find that initial exposure to a less plausible statement decreases belief in subsequent statements, whether true or false. This order effect has implications for misinformation research, as studies examining audience responses to a single falsehood may fail to capture the full range of misinformation effects. Other implications are discussed in this article. 

Reactive Risk-Taking: Anxiety Regulation Via Approach Motivation Increases Risk-Taking Behavior
Josh Leota, Kyle Nash & Ian McGregor
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming 

Experimental research and real-world events demonstrate a puzzling phenomenon — anxiety, which primarily inspires caution, sometimes precedes bouts of risk-taking. We conducted three studies to test whether this phenomenon is due to the regulation of anxiety via reactive approach motivation (RAM), which leaves people less sensitive to negative outcomes and thus more likely to take risks. In Study 1 (N = 231), an achievement anxiety threat caused increased risk-taking on the Behavioral Analogue Risk Task (BART) among trait approach-motivated participants. Using electroencephalogram in Study 2 (N = 97), an economic anxiety threat increased behavioral inhibition system-specific theta activity, a neural correlate of anxiety, which was associated with an increase in risk-taking on the BART among trait approach-motivated participants. In a preregistered Study 3 (N = 432), we replicated the findings of Study 1. These results offer preliminary support for the reactive risk-taking hypothesis. 

Does depletion have a bright side? Self-regulation exertion heightens creative engagement
Cony Ho, Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin & Russel Johnson
Journal of Consumer Affairs, forthcoming

Resource-based theories posit that exerting self-control to regulate one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors depletes people's available self-regulatory resources, leaving them depleted and less able to exert self-control in subsequent activities. Although the detrimental effects of depletion are well-established, we challenge this prevailing view by proposing that depletion can have unexpected beneficial effects. Across multiple studies, our current research provides evidence that depletion shifts consumers' attention on benefits of creativity, and in turn influences their subsequent creative engagement. Specifically, we found that depletion increases consumers' persistence in creative activity, and this beneficial effect of depletion on creative engagement is explained by their attention on benefits of creativity. Furthermore, we explore a boundary conditions of this depletion-creative engagement effect by demonstrating that the effect could be attenuated for individuals who are not open to new experiences. 

Can narratives increase compliance? An experiment of vicarious foot-in-the-door
Liyuan Wang, Sheila Murphy & Nathan Walter
Journal of Media Psychology, forthcoming

The current study assessed whether vicariously experiencing story characters granting a small favor can induce similar intentions from its audiences. Acting upon the perspectives of story characters, audiences may agree to a subsequent larger request to the same cause, as in the case of vicarious foot-in-the-door (VFITD). Study 1 found that a VFITD story was more effective in eliciting prosocial intentions than a non-VFITD story and a non-narrative message. That is, the VFITD condition generated greater intentions to volunteer in a series of activities, with attitudes mediating this process. Study 2 replicated this result. It also showed that when a VFITD story can generate sufficient levels of identification, it is more effective than a non-VFITD narrative in eliciting prosocial intentions. Implications of this study are also discussed. 

Effects of Social Information on Risk Taking and Performance: Understanding Others’ Decisions vs. Comparing Oneself with Others in Short-Term Performance
Sabine Pittnauer et al.
Organization Science, forthcoming

When a problem leaves decision makers uncertain as to how to approach it, observing others’ decisions can improve one’s own decisions by promoting more accurate judgments and a better insight into the problem. However, observing others’ decisions may also activate motives that prevent this potential from being realized, for instance, ego concerns that prompt excessive risk taking. Our experimental study investigates how two features of the social environment influence the effect of observing others’ decisions on individual risk taking and performance. We manipulated (1) the psychological distance to others whose decisions could be observed (and thereby the tendency to seek self-enhancing social comparison) and (2) the opportunity for interaction (and thereby for a cumulative effect of any such tendency on decisions over time and for an effect on social information itself). Because the two features covary in real-world settings, we designed two treatments corresponding to the two natural combinations. Both treatments provided participants with two other participants’ period decisions in a multiperiod problem under uncertainty. No new objective information about the problem could be inferred from these decisions. We predicted that participants who observed the decisions of distant others (who had solved the same problem earlier) would perform better than participants in a control sample without any information about others’ decisions and that participants who observed the decisions of proximal others (with whom interaction could arise) would take more risk and perform worse than those who observed distant others’ decisions. The data corroborate our predictions. We discuss implications for organizational learning. 

Noise Increases Anchoring Effects
Chang-Yuan Lee & Carey Morewedge
Psychological Science, forthcoming

We introduce a theoretical framework distinguishing between anchoring effects, anchoring bias, and judgmental noise: Anchoring effects require anchoring bias, but noise modulates their size. We tested this framework by manipulating stimulus magnitudes. As magnitudes increase, psychophysical noise due to scalar variability widens the perceived range of plausible values for the stimulus. This increased noise, in turn, increases the influence of anchoring bias on judgments. In 11 preregistered experiments (N = 3,552 adults), anchoring effects increased with stimulus magnitude for point estimates of familiar and novel stimuli (e.g., reservation prices for hotels and donuts, counts in dot arrays). Comparisons of relevant and irrelevant anchors showed that noise itself did not produce anchoring effects. Noise amplified anchoring bias. Our findings identify a stimulus feature predicting the size and replicability of anchoring effects — stimulus magnitude. More broadly, we show how to use psychophysical noise to test relationships between bias and noise in judgment under uncertainty.


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