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Decision-making for a social world

The International Cognition and Culture Institute (Institut Jean Nicod and LSE) and the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program at the University of Pennsylvania organize a virtual seminar Decision Making for a Social World. The aim of this seminar is to bring together threads of research in decision making and related areas of psychology that show how deeply our decisions are influenced by our social context. Some of this research even takes the stronger stance that some of the mechanisms that are typically thought of as being within the purview of individual cognition actually have a social function. It will begin in February 2011. Every two weeks a new paper will be posted and a moderated discussion will take place online among invited discussants and the public one the one hand, and the author on the other hand. Here are some of the themes that will be explored: Group decision making. This is the primary case of direct influence of the social context. Groups can allow people to solve more complex problems but they can also amplify their biases. Through which mechanisms is their influence exerted? Accountability. The social context often exerts an influence on our decisions because we have-or at least we think we will have-to publicly justify our decisions. Trust and advice taking. Many of our decisions have been influenced by the advice given by other people. Are we influenced by advice too much or too little? How do we calibrate the weight put on the advice as a function of who is offering it? Pragmatics. Most decision making tasks use verbal material, yet they frequently ignore that such material will often lead to pragmatic implications that can influence participants' answers. Evolution. Many scholars in the field of human evolution contend that social factors were the primary pressure in our evolution, yet the field of decision making has failed to draw all the implications from this suggestion. These are only examples as many areas in decision making show that the social context exerts a huge impact on our decisions, from the study of norms to that of self-control. We look forward to the opening of the conference and the discussions that will ensue! Hugo Mercier

Introduction - Reasoning as a social device

Introduction -- Reasoning as a social device (link to the article)

Hugo Mercier

The social context exerts a very important influence on our decisions, which has not been considered in its full extent by research in decision making. Several strategies are available to take social factors into consideration as much as they deserve. The first is to add a minimal layer of social information and social motivation to the typical methods of decision making. The second is to postulate new mechanisms that pertain only to social aspects of decisions, with their attending biases. The third solution is to reexamine some of the mechanisms classically studied in decision making as social devices. This more radical solution is illustrated here with the case of reasoning. It is suggested that reasoning in fact has a social, argumentative function. An argumentative theory of reasoning makes sense of many puzzling findings from decision making and other areas of psychology. It also provides different, more efficient ideas for debiasing. The third strategy may be usefully implemented for other cognitive mechanisms.

Please post your comments on the paper below.

Profit-Seeking Punishment Corrupts Norm Obedience

Profit-Seeking Punishment Corrupts Norm Obedience (link to the article)

Erte Xiao

Punishment typically involves depriving violators of resources they own such as money or labor. These resources can become revenue for authorities and thus motivate profit-seeking punishment. In this paper, we provide a new perspective on the causal relationship between legal institutions that embed corrupting temptations (e.g., profitable punishment) and prevalent norm disobedience within the societies such institutions govern. We emphasize that punishment not only changes the incentives to violate norms but also, perhaps more importantly, expresses disapproval of norm violations. We design a novel experiment to provide direct evidence on the role punishment plays in communicating norms, and provide experimental evidence indicating that when enforcers can benefit monetarily by punishing, people no longer view punishment as signaling a norm violation. The result is substantial mitigation of punishment's ability to influence behavior. Our findings draw attention to the detrimental effect of profit-seeking punishment enforcement on the efficacy of punishment.

You can find the supplementary materials here

Strategies for coping with questionable decisions

"I read Playboy for the articles": Strategies for coping with questionable decisions (link to the article)

Zoe Chance & Michael Norton

Humans are masters of lying and self-deception. We want others to believe us good, fair, responsible and logical, and we yearn to see ourselves this way. Therefore, when our actions might appear selfish, prejudiced or perverted, we engage a host of strategies to justify our behavior with rational excuses: "I hired my son because he's better educated." "I promoted Ashley because she's more experienced than Aisha." In this article, we review previous studies examining how people restructure situations to view their behavior in a more positive light, and we present the results of our Playboy study. We conclude by briefly reviewing two additional strategies for coping with such difficult situations: forgoing choices, and forgetting decisions altogether.

A longer version of this paper can also be found here.

Instrumentality Boosts Gratitude

Instrumentality Boosts Gratitude: Helpers Are More Appreciated While They Are Useful (link to the article)

Benjamin ConverseAyelet Fishbach

We propose that in social interactions, gratitude for a helper depends on the helper’s instrumentality: The more motivated one is to accomplish a goal and the more a potential helper facilitates that goal, the more gratitude one will feel for that helper.  In one lab experiment with strangers and one field experiment with real study partners, we found support for this instrumentality-boost hypothesis. Beneficiaries felt more gratitude for their helpers while they were receiving help toward an ongoing task than after that task had been completed. Beneficiaries thus felt more gratitude when they had received less benefit.

Words or Deeds

Words or Deeds?  Choosing what to know about others (link to the article)
Erte XiaoCristina Bicchieri

Social cooperation often relies on individuals’ spontaneous norm obedience when there is no punishment for violation or reward for compliance.  However, people do not consistently follow pro-social norms.  Previous studies have suggested that an individual’s tendency toward norm conformity is affected by empirical information (i.e. what others did or would do in a similar situation) as well as by normative information (i.e. what others think one ought to do).  Yet little is known about whether people have an intrinsic desire to obtain norm-revealing information.  In this paper, we use a dictator game to investigate whether dictators actively seek norm-revealing information and, if so, whether they prefer to get empirical or normative information.  Our data show that although the majority of dictators choose to view free information before making decisions, they are equally likely to choose empirical or normative information.  However, a large majority (more than 80%) of dictators are not willing to incur even a very small cost for getting information. Our findings help to understand why norm compliance is context-dependent, and highlight the importance of making norm-revealing information salient in order to promote conformity.

Cognitive Migration

Cognitive Migration:The Role of Mental Simulation in the (Hot) Cultural Cognition of Migration Decisions (link to the article)
David Kyle & Saara Koikkalainen

This paper introduces the novel empirical concept of “cognitive migration” to better understand the role of the prospective imagination, or mental simulation, in the decision-making process before major mobility events to a new neighborhood, city, or country. First, relying on existing social science approaches, we describe the problem of how to understand the particularly risky decision to migrate abroad without authorization; Second, we review briefly some of the recent work in social cognitive and decision sciences that could potentially be brought to bear on our case, though undeveloped in the social science migration literature; Third, we describe cognitive migration, and, hence, cognitive migrants, as a concept that allows us to capture a significant, yet largely unidentified temporally-distinct part of migration decision-making amenable to a cultural or social cognitive approach (how our social world  affects cognition and vice versa); Lastly, we offer initial support for this empirical concept from recent cognitive and neuro-scientific research on emotions and develop some hypotheses regarding the determinants and effects of cognitive migration--as opposed to the physical migration event itself. We argue that family, friends, recruiters, and smugglers may provoke a less rational (cost-benefit) mode of reasoning and, instead, elicit cognitive migration as we negotiate an imagined social future that feels right.

Moral Compensation and the Environment

Moral Compensation and the Environment: Affecting individuals’ moral intentions through how they see themselves as moral (link to the article)

Ann TenbrunselJennifer JordanFrancesca GinoMarijke Leliveld

To maintain a positive moral self-image, individuals engage in compensation: current moral behavior licenses future immoral behavior and current immoral behavior stimulates future moral behavior. In this paper, we argue that moral compensatory effects are a function of changes to one’s moral self-image. In two studies, we examine the relationship between behaviors that stimulate changes to one’s moral self-image and to ethical actions. In Study 1, we have individuals recall either few or many (im)moral behaviors that they take in regards to the environment. In Study 2, we provide individuals with either minor or extreme feedback about the states of their moral selves. We then examine their intent to engage, as well as their actual engagement in, in various moral or immoral behaviors. We find that having people engage in extreme, but not moderate, moral recalls leads to compensatory environment-related moral behavior. We propose that this effect is due to the ability of extreme moral behavior to alter individuals’ moral self-images and hence their desires to alter these states via moral behavior.

Exploiting the wisdom of others

Exploiting the wisdom of others: A bumpy road to better decision making (article here).

Ilan Yaniv and Shoham Choshen-Hillel

While decision makers often consult other people’s opinions to improve their decisions, they fail to do so optimally. One main obstacle to incorporating others’ opinions efficiently is one’s own opinion. We theorize that decision makers could improve their performance by suspending their own judgment. In one study, participants used others’ opinions to estimate uncertain quantities (the caloric value of foods). In the full-view condition, participants could form independent estimates prior to receiving others’ opinions, while participants in the blindfold condition could not form prior opinions. We obtained an intriguing blindfold effect such that the blindfolded participants provided more accurate estimates than did the full-view participants. Several policy-capturing measures indicated that the advantage of the blindfolded participants was due to their unbiased weighting of others’ opinions. The full-view participants, in contrast, adhered to their prior opinion and thus failed to exploit the information contained in others’ opinions. The results from these two conditions document different modes of processing and consequences for accuracy.

The cost of collaboration

The cost of collaboration: Why joint decision-making exacerbates rejection of outside information (article here)

Julia Minson and Jennifer Mueller

Existing research asserts that specific group characteristics cause members to disregard outside information which leads to diminished performance. In the present study we demonstrate that the very process of making a judgment collaboratively rather than individually contributes to such myopic disregard of external viewpoints. Dyad members exposed to the numerical judgments made by another dyad gave significantly less weight to those judgments than did individuals exposed to the judgments of another individual. The difference in the willingness to use peer input shown by individuals versus dyads was fully mediated by the greater confidence that the dyad members reported in the accuracy of their estimates. Consequently, although dyad members made more accurate initial estimates than individuals, they were less able to benefit from peer input.

Judgments and decisions based on attempts to disambiguate the given information

Eric Igou 

Judgments and decisions based on attempts to disambiguate the given information: Effects of decision frames, non-diagnostic information, and information order (you can find the paper here)

The author presents evidence for the impact of conversational rules (Grice, 1975) on judgment and decision making. In accordance with social cognitive approaches that examine how conversational rules affect information processing (e.g., Higgins, 1981; Schwarz, 1994, 1996), it is argued that these inherently social rules guide important meta-cognitive inference on whether and how information should be used in forming judgments and making decisions. The author reviews the influence of conversational rules on framing effects, the dilution effect, and order effects in decision making and persuasion. Implications for cognitive 'biases' in and outside of the lab are discussed.

Modularity and decision making

Modularity & Decision Making (paper here)

Robert Kurzban University of Pennsylvania & Chapman University

Mechanisms that are useful are often specialized because of the efficiency gains that derive from specialization. This principle is in evidence in the domain of tools, artificial computational devices, and across the natural biological world. Some have argued that human decision making is similarly the result of a substantial number of functionally specialized, or “modular” systems, brought to bear on particular decision making tasks. Which system is recruited for a given decision making task depends on the cues available to the decision maker. A number of research programs have advanced using these ideas, but the approach remains controversial.

Framing, defaults, trust

Framing Effects, Default Effects, and Trust (paper here)

Craig R. M. McKenzie (UC San Diego), Michael J. Liersch (New York University), Shlomi Sher (UC San Diego)

Framing effects and default effects are often seen as examples of inconsistent preferences and are usually explained in purely intrapersonal cognitive terms.  We argue that these effects can be explained in rational, social terms, at least in part.  First, frames and defaults are usually generated by another social entity (e.g., a speaker, a policymaker).  Second, speakers and policymakers tend to select frames and defaults in ways that convey choice-relevant information to decision makers (e.g., listeners).  As a result, when listeners respond "inconsistently" to different frames and defaults, it need not indicate inconsistent preferences.  In line with this social approach, we show that framing and default effects are decreased (and default effects might even reverse) when the source of a frame or default is distrusted.  Viewing framing and default effects from a social, rational perspective leads to a deeper understanding of these phenomena and suggests novel predictions about when they will and will not occur outside the laboratory.

Social influences on self-control

Social influences on "self"-control (paper here)

Joe Kable, University of Pennsylvania

As Duckworth and Kern (2011) note, currently over 1% of the abstracts in PsycInfo are indexed by “self-control” or one its synonyms. As part of this widespread interest, cognitive and neural scientists are debating the psychological mechanisms of self-control (Ainslie, 1975; Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999; Muraven & Baumeister, 2000), and the implementation of these mechanisms in the brain (Figner, et al., 2010; Hare, Camerer, & Rangel, 2009; Hare, Malmaud, & Rangel, 2011; Kable & Glimcher, 2007, 2010; McClure, Ericson, Laibson, Loewenstein, & Cohen, 2007; McClure, Laibson, Loewenstein, & Cohen, 2004). These efforts, however, currently proceed without much agreement on a theoretical or operational definition regarding what constitutes “self-control” (Duckworth & Kern, 2011). Definitions have been offered, of course, but one gets the sense that many investigators are content defining self-control in much the same manner that American courts define pornography – “I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis vs Ohio, 1964). Just as our intuitions regarding physics can be mistaken, so too can our intuitions regarding psychology (Stanovich, 1985). This essay argues that an over-reliance on “intuitive psychics” is hindering efforts to identify the cognitive and neural processes involved in self-control. Specifically, current theories tend to underemphasize or ignore completely a factor of critical importance – the social world. Yet, “self-control” is a concept that only emerges at the level of the person in society: it is the social world that defines what is and is not a self-control problem. This realization has important implications for people interested in cognitive and neural mechanisms: it suggests that self-control is unlikely to be a single process; that the computation of social norms is an understudied process that is likely critical for self-controlled behavior; and that interventions that target the social context to increase the influence of norms may prove the strongest way to increase self-controlled behavior.

Uncovering and Punishing Unconscious Bias

Uncovering and Punishing Unconscious Bias (paper here)

Philip E. TetlockGregory Mitchell and L. Jason Anastasopoulos

Recent technological advances in psychology hold out the promise of detecting unconscious biases before they cause harm.  Advocates of the technology may fail to appreciate its many potential uses and costs.  We present experimental results demonstrating the ideological filters through which this new technology and its potential uses are evaluated:  (1) liberals supported use of the technology to detect unconscious racism among company managers but not to detect unconscious anti-Americanism among applicants to security jobs; conservatives showed the reverse pattern; (2) few participants of any ideology supported punishing individuals for unconscious bias, but liberals and conservatives supported punishing organizations that failed to use the technology to root out each group’s prioritized societal harm; (3) concerns about scientific bias and Type I and II errors mediated perceptions of misuse potential and willingness to punish organizations; (4) political “extremists” were more likely than “moderates” to reconsider support for the technology when confronted with a less palatable alternative use they had not considered.

Additional information