The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Choice’

How Much Choice Would You Choose?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2012

From Harvard Gazette:

Undergraduates packed Science Center E on Monday to hear two of Harvard’s leading social scientists discuss the way that humans make decisions, and whether having more choices really makes us happier.

The event, “What is Your N? A Personality Test for 4 AM Philosophers,” featured a conversation between social psychologist Dan Gilbert and economist N. Gregory Mankiw, and was sponsored by the Harvard University Initiative on the Foundations of Human Behavior. The discussion was moderated by professors Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and the Department of Sociology and David Laibson of the Department of Economics.

Laibson began the debate with the following thought experiment:

“We have pre-selected 100 different bottles of alcohol, covering all popular categories — beer, wine, rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. Another person (who remains anonymous) is going to take one (regular-sized) drink, poured from one of the 100 bottles. Call him/her the recipient.

You will pick the number of bottles that the recipient will be able to choose among. To give the recipient complete choice, you would pick N = 100. To simplify the recipient’s decision, you would pick N < 100. You can pick any N value from 1 to 100.

If you pick N < 100, a robot will randomly determine which of the original 100 bottles the recipient will receive (with no repeats). You don’t get to pre-select the specific bottles the robot will choose. The N bottles will be presented to the recipient in categories (like whiskeys or vodkas), so the recipient can easily sort through them.

Your job is to pick N so as to maximize the happiness of the recipient.”

Next, Laibson asked the group to choose the number of bottles that they would send to the recipient under two different scenarios. In the first, the recipient would never know that there were 100 bottles to begin with. In the second scenario, he or she would.

As the students tapped on their laptops to submit their responses to the question online, Mankiw and Gilbert had at it. Mankiw kicked off the discussion by saying that the answer was easy for him and, he hoped, for anyone who had taken his introductory economics class. He would send the anonymous stranger all 100 bottles. Without any knowledge of the recipient’s tastes, it made sense to send as many bottles as possible in order to increase the chance that the stranger would get a drink that they would like.

“My wife and I [recently] went to a bar and had a drink and dinner,” he explained. “The bar had a big selection. I had no trouble at all. I said ‘I want a Tanqueray martini on the rocks with a twist.’ If the bartender had said ‘We randomly reduced the number of selections, so we don’t have Tanqueray tonight. We have Bombay Sapphire,’ I would have been a little disappointed. If they had said ‘We only have Gordon’s gin tonight,’ I would have been really upset. And if they had said ‘All we have is Kahlua, and crème de menthe,’ I would have walked out. So it was very clear to me that more selection is good.”

Gilbert said that Mankiw’s answer was not surprising. Americans like choices; the more the better. We want to choose what we want, even if the options are so great that our decision becomes essentially random. But Gilbert said there is more to choice than simply matching selection with preferences, and that there are costs associated with decision making, particularly when the options are too great. To illustrate his point, Gilbert described a study by Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir.

Shafir presented doctors with a pink pill that was said to treat osteoarthritis. The physicians learned about the drug, and then were asked whether or not they would be likely to prescribe it. Most said that they would.

Shafir then went to another group of physicians, this time with a pink and blue pill. He told the group that both would treat osteoarthritis and that the drugs were similar in their effects, aside from their color. He asked this group of doctors whether they would prescribe the pink pill, the blue pill, or neither. Fewer doctors said that they would give patients a pill — either pink or blue — than the group that had been presented with only one pill.

“You should get at least the same number prescribing one of the pills,” said Gilbert. “Or even more, because some will only like blue pills. However, the actual number goes down. Why? Because the physicians say ‘Well, I could do nothing, or choose between one of these two similar pills and I really can’t decide between them, so I’ll do nothing, because nothing looks really different than the pill.”

In terms of Laibson’s thought exercise, Gilbert noted that more bottles and more types of liquor could make the decision more difficult for the recipient. If you offer the drinker wine or beer, and the drinker likes wine, the choice is easy. But if the drinker likes wine and gets four different bottles to choose from versus one type of beer, they might actually choose the beer, even though they prefer wine.

“Because I’ve given you extra choices, you have now gone to the thing you like less, because you can’t think of a good reason to pick among the wines that are so similar,” Gilbert said.

After some waffling, Gilbert, half seriously, gave the number of bottles he would send to the stranger: two.

“Then you have only Kahlua and crème de menthe!” laughed Mankiw.

After Gilbert and Mankiw held forth, Laibson revealed the results of the online poll. Under conditions where the recipient would not be informed if their choices were narrowed, there was a barbell-shaped distribution. A large group of the 220 student respondents said that they would send between zero and 30 bottles to the drinker, with another group up at 100 bottles. In the second scenario, however, where the recipient would know if the selection had been pared, undergraduates overwhelmingly voted to send all 100 bottles to the drinker.

The results were fascinating to Laibson, who has studied employee participation in retirement plans and discovered that enrollment increases dramatically when workers are automatically enrolled and must voluntarily opt out. Given that the criticism for making auto enrollment the default in business is often that the policy is paternalistic, the results of the survey shed light on when people are OK with “Big Brother” and when they are not.

“The message here seems to be ‘Be a paternalist, but keep it a secret,’” Laibson said, eliciting laughter from the students. “The minute the recipient knows [his or her choices have been narrowed], this community gives a different answer [to the thought experiment]. Paternalism is bad when the recipient understands that paternalistic motives organize what happens to them.”

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Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Events, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

The Situation of Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 23, 2012

From the APS Monitor (excerpts from a terrific primer on “The Mechanics of Choice”):

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The prediction of social behavior significantly involves the way people make decisions about resources and wealth, so the science of decision making historically was the province of economists. And the basic assumption of economists was always that, when it comes to money, people are essentially rational. It was largely inconceivable that people would make decisions that go against their own interests. Although successive refinements of expected-utility theory made room for individual differences in how probabilities were estimated, the on-the-surface irrational economic behavior of groups and individuals could always be forced to fit some rigid, rational calculation.The problem is — and everything from fluctuations in the stock market to decisions between saving for retirement or purchasing a lottery ticket or a shirt on the sale rack shows it — people just aren’t rational. They systematically make choices that go against what an economist would predict or advocate.Enter a pair of psychological scientists — Daniel Kahneman (currently a professor emeritus at Princeton) and Amos Tversky — who in the 1970s turned the economists’ rational theories on their heads. Kahneman and Tversky’s research on heuristics and biases and their Nobel Prize winning contribution, prospect theory, poured real, irrational, only-human behavior into the calculations, enabling much more powerful prediction of how individuals really choose between risky options.

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Univ. of Toronto psychologist Keith E. Stanovich and James Madison Univ. psychologist Richard F. West refer to these experiential and analytical modes as “System 1” and “System 2,” respectively. Both systems may be involved in making any particular choice — the second system may monitor the quality of the snap, System-1 judgment and adjust a decision accordingly.7 But System 1 will win out when the decider is under time pressure or when his or her System-2 processes are already taxed.

This is not to entirely disparage System-1 thinking, however. Rules of thumb are handy, after all, and for experts in high-stakes domains, it may be the quicker form of risk processing that leads to better real-world choices. In a study by Cornell University psychologist Valerie Reyna and Mayo Clinic physician Farrell J. Lloyd, expert cardiologists took less relevant information into account than younger doctors and medical students did when making decisions to admit or not admit patients with chest pain to the hospital. Experts also tended to process that information in an all-or-none fashion (a patient was either at risk of a heart attack or not) rather than expending time and effort dealing with shades of gray. In other words, the more expertise a doctor has, the more that his or her intuitive sense of the gist of a situation was used as a guide.8

In Reyna’s variant of the dual-system account, fuzzy-trace theory, the quick-decision system focuses on the gist or overall meaning of a problem instead of rationally deliberating on facts and odds of alternative outcomes.9 Because it relies on the late-developing ventromedial and dorsolateral parts of the frontal lobe, this intuitive (but informed) system is the more mature of the two systems used to make decisions involving risks.

A 2004 study by Vassar biopsychologist Abigail A. Baird and Univ. of Waterloo cognitive psychologist Jonathan A. Fugelsang showed that this gist-based system matures later than do other systems. People of different ages were asked to respond quickly to easy, risk-related questions such as “Is it a good idea to set your hair on fire?”, “Is it a good idea to drink Drano?”, and “Is it a good idea to swim with sharks?” They found that young people took about a sixth of a second longer than adults to arrive at the obvious answers (it’s “no” in all three cases, in case you were having trouble deciding).10 The fact that our gist-processing centers don’t fully mature until the 20s in most people may help explain the poor, risky choices younger, less experienced decision makers commonly make.

Adolescents decide to drive fast, have unprotected sex, use drugs, drink, or smoke not simply on impulse but also because their young brains get bogged down in calculating odds. Youth are bombarded by warning statistics intended to set them straight, yet risks of undesirable outcomes from risky activities remain objectively small — smaller than teens may have initially estimated, even — and this may actually encourage young people to take those risks rather than avoid them. Adults, in contrast, make their choices more like expert doctors: going with their guts and making an immediate black/white judgment. They just say no to risky activities because, however objectively unlikely the risks are, there’s too much at stake to warrant even considering them.11

Making Better Choices

The gist of the matter is, though, that none of us, no matter how grown up our frontal lobes, make optimal decisions; if we did, the world would be a better place. So the future of decision science is to take what we’ve learned about heuristics, biases, and System-1 versus System-2 thinking and apply it to the problem of actually improving people’s real-world choices.

One obvious approach is to get people to increase their use of System 2 to temper their emotional, snap judgments. Giving people more time to make decisions and reducing taxing demands on deliberative processing are obvious ways of bringing System 2 more into the act. Katherine L. Milkman (U. Penn.), Dolly Chugh (NYU), and Max H. Bazerman (Harvard) identify several other ways of facilitating System-2 thinking.12 One example is encouraging decision makers to replace their intuitions with formal analysis — taking into account data on all known variables, providing weights to variables, and quantifying the different choices. This method has been shown to significantly improve decisions in contexts like school admissions and hiring.

Having decision makers take an outsider’s perspective on a decision can reduce overconfidence in their knowledge, in their odds of success, and in their time to complete tasks. Encouraging decision makers to consider the opposite of their preferred choice can reduce judgment errors and biases, as can training them in statistical reasoning. Considering multiple options simultaneously rather than separately can optimize outcomes and increase an individual’s willpower in carrying out a choice. Analogical reasoning can reduce System-1 errors by highlighting how a particular task shares underlying principles with another unrelated one, thereby helping people to see past distracting surface details to more fully understand a problem. And decision making by committee rather than individually can improve decisions in group contexts, as can making individuals more accountable for their decisions.13

In some domains, however, a better approach may be to work with, rather than against, our tendency to make decisions based on visceral reactions. In the health arena, this may involve appealing to people’s gist-based thinking. Doctors and the media bombard health consumers with numerical facts and data, yet according to Reyna, patients — like teenagers — tend initially to overestimate their risks; when they learn their risk for a particular disease is actually objectively lower than they thought, they become more complacent — for instance by forgoing screening. Instead, communicating the gist, “You’re at (some) risk, you should get screened because it detects disease early” may be a more powerful motivator to make the right decision than the raw numbers. And when statistics are presented, doing so in easy-to-grasp graphic formats rather than numerically can help patients (as well as physicians, who can be as statistically challenged as most laypeople) extract their own gists from the facts.14

Complacency is a problem when decisions involve issues that feel more remote from our daily lives — problems like global warming. The biggest obstacle to changing people’s individual behavior and collectively changing environmental policy, according to Columbia University decision scientist Elke Weber, is that people just aren’t scared of climate change. Being bombarded by facts and data about perils to come is not the same as having it affect us directly and immediately; in the absence of direct personal experience, our visceral decision system does not kick in to spur us to make better environmental choices such as buying more fuel-efficient vehicles.15

How should scientists and policymakers make climate change more immediate to people? Partly, it involves shifting from facts and data to experiential button-pressing. Powerful images of global warming and its effects can help. Unfortunately, according to research conducted by Yale environmental scientist Anthony A. Leisurowitz, the dominant images of global warming in Americans’ current consciousness are of melting ice and effects on nonhuman nature, not consequences that hit closer to home; as a result, people still think of global warming as only a moderate concern.16

Reframing options in terms that connect tangibly with people’s more immediate priorities, such as the social rules and norms they want to follow, is a way to encourage environmentally sound choices even in the absence of fear.17 For example, a study by Noah J. Goldstein (Univ. of Chicago), Robert B. Cialdini (Arizona State), and Vladas Griskevicius (Univ. of Minnesota) compared the effectiveness of different types of messages in getting hotel guests to reuse their towels rather than send them to the laundry. Messages framed in terms of social norms — “the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels” — were more effective than messages simply emphasizing the environmental benefits of reuse.18

Yet another approach to getting us to make the most beneficial decisions is to appeal to our natural laziness. If there is a default option, most people will accept it because it is easiest to do so — and because they may assume that the default is the best. University of Chicago economist Richard H. Thaler suggests using policy changes to shift default choices in areas like retirement planning. Because it is expressed as normal, most people begin claiming their Social Security benefits as soon as they are eligible, in their early to mid 60s — a symbolic retirement age but not the age at which most people these days are actually retiring. Moving up the “normal” retirement age to 70 — a higher anchor — would encourage people to let their money grow longer untouched.19

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Making Decisions About the Environment

APS Fellow Elke Weber recently had the opportunity to discuss her research with others who share her concern about climate change, including scientists, activists, and the Dalai Lama. Weber . . . shared her research on why people fail to act on environmental problems. According to her, both cognitive and emotional barriers prevent us from acting on environmental problems. Cognitively, for example, a person’s attention is naturally focused on the present to allow for their immediate survival in dangerous surroundings. This present-focused attitude can discourage someone from taking action on long-term challenges such as climate change. Similarly, emotions such as fear can motivate people to act, but fear is more effective for responding to immediate threats. In spite of these challenges, Weber said that there are ways to encourage people to change their behavior. Because people often fail to act when they feel powerless, it’s important to share good as well as bad environmental news and to set measurable goals for the public to pursue. Also, said Weber, simply portraying reduced consumption as a gain rather than a loss in pleasure could inspire people to act.

References and Further Reading:

  • 7. Stanovich, K.E., & West, R.F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate.
  • Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 23, 645–665.
  • 8. Reyna, V.F., & Lloyd, F. (2006). Physician decision making and cardiac risk: Effects of knowledge, risk perception, risk
  • tolerance, and fuzzy processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 12, 179–195.
  • 9. Reyna, V.F. (2004). How people make decisions that involve risk: A dual-processes approach. Current Directions in
  • Psychological Science, 13, 60–66.
  • 10. Baird, A.A., & Fugelsang, J.A. (2004). The emergence of consequential thought: Evidence from neuroscience.
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1797–1804.
  • 11. Reyna, VF., & Farley, F. (2006). Risk and rationality in adolescent decision making. Psychological Science in the Public
  • Interest, 7, 1–44.
  • 12. Milkman, K.L., Chugh, D., & Bazerman, M.H. (2009). How can decision making be improved? Perspectives on
  • Psychological Science, 4, 379–383.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. See Wargo, E. (2007). More than just the facts: Helping patients make informed choices. Cornell University Department
  • of Human Development: Outreach & Extension. Downloaded from http://www.human.cornell.edu/hd/outreach-extension/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=43508
  • 15. Weber, E.U. (2006). Experience-based and description-based perceptions of long-term risk: Why global warming does
  • not scare us (yet). Climatic Change, 77, 103–120.
  • 16. Leisurowitz, A. (2006). Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: The role of affect, imagery, and values.
  • Climatic Change, 77, 45–72.
  • 17. Weber, E.U. (2010). What shapes perceptions of climate change? Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 1,
  • 332–342.
  • 18. Goldstein, N.J., Cialdini, R.B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate
  • environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35. Downloaded from http://www.csom.umn.edu/assets/118359.pdf
  • 19. Thaler, R.H. (2011, July 16). Getting the Most Out of Social Security. The New York Times. Downloaded from
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/business/economy/when-the-wait-for-social-security-checks-is-worth-it.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1322835490-9f6qOJ9Sp2jSw4LKDjmYgw

More.

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Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, History, Ideology, Neuroscience, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Choice and Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2011

Since the early 2000s, much of Jon Hanson’s (and other Situationist Contributor’s) research, writing, teaching, and speaking has focused on the role of “choice,” “the choice myth,” and “choicism” in rationalizing injustice and inequality, particularly in the U.S.  (e.g., The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America).  That work has helped to inspire a significant amount of fascinating experimental research (and, unfortunately, one derivative book) on the topic.   Over the next couple of months, we will highlight some of that intriguing new research on The Situationist. 

Here is an abstract and excerpts from a fascinating article (forthcoming, Psychological Science – pdf of draft here) co-authored by Situationist friend Krishna Savani (Columbia) and Aneeta Rattan (Stanford).  Their article examines how “a choice mindset increases the acceptance and maintenance of wealth inequality.”

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Abstract: Wealth inequality has significant psychological, physiological, societal, and economic costs. We investigate how seemingly innocuous, culturally pervasive ideas can help maintain and further wealth inequality. Specifically, we test whether the concept of choice, which is deeply valued in American society, leads people to act in ways that maintain and perpetuate wealth inequality. Choice, we argue, activates the belief that life outcomes stem from personal agency, not from societal factors, leading people to justify wealth inequality. Six experiments show that when choice is highlighted, people are less disturbed by facts about the existing wealth inequality in the U.S., more likely to underestimate the role of societal factors in individuals’ successes, less likely to support the redistribution of educational resources, and less likely to tax the rich even to resolve a government budget deficit crisis. The findings indicate that the culturally valued concept of choice contributes to the maintenance of wealth inequality.

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Wealth inequality has substantial negative consequences for societies, including reduced well-being (Napier & Jost, 2008), fewer public goods (Frank, 2011; Kluegel & Smith, 1986), and even lower economic growth (Alesina & Rodrik, 1994). Despite these well-known negative consequences, high levels of wealth inequality persist in many nations. For example, the U.S. has the greatest degree of wealth inequality among all the industrialized countries in terms of the Gini Coefficient (93rd out of 134 countries; CIA Factbook, 2010). Moreover, wealth inequality in the U.S. substantially worsened in the first decade of the 21st century, with median household income in 2010 equal to that in 1997 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), although per-capita GDP increased by 33% over the same period (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2011), indicating that all of the gain in wealth was concentrated at the top end of the wealth distribution.

A large majority of Americans disapprove of a high degree of wealth inequality (Norton & Ariely, 2011), for example, when the top 1% of people on the wealth distribution possess 35% of the nation’s wealth, as was the case in the U.S. in 2007 (Wolff, 2010). Instead, people prefer a more equal distribution of wealth that includes a strong middle class, such as when the middle 60% of people own approximately 60% of the nation’s wealth, rather than only the 15% that they owned in the U.S. in 2007. If people are unhappy with wealth inequality, then policies that reduce this inequality should be widely supported, particularly in times of increasing wealth inequality. However, Americans often oppose specific policies that would remedy wealth inequality (Bartels, 2005). For example, taxation and redistribution—taxing the rich and using the proceeds to provide public goods, public insurance, and a minimum standard of living for the poor—is probably the most effective means for reducing wealth inequality from an economic perspective (Frank, 2011; Korpi & Palme, 1998). However, most Americans, including working class and middle class citizens, have supported tax cuts even for the very rich and oppose government spending on social services that would mitigate inequality (Bartels, 2005; Fong, 2001). What factors explain thisinconsistency between a general preference for greater wealth equality and opposition to specific policies that would produce it? We investigate whether people’s attitudes toward wealth inequality and support for policies that reduce wealth inequality are influenced by the concept of choice.

Choice is a core concept in U.S. American culture . . . .

Recent research suggests that the concept of choice decreases support for societally beneficial policies (e.g., a tax on highly polluting cars) but increases support for policies furthering individual rights (e.g., legalizing drugs; Savani, Stephens, & Markus, 2011). Historical analyses also suggest that Americans often use the concept of choice to justify inequality, arguing that the poor are poor because they made bad choices (Hanson & Hanson, 2006; see also Stephens & Levine, 2011). Building upon this work, we theorized that the assumption that people make free choices, when combined with the fact that some people turned out rich and others poor, leads people to believe that inequality in life outcomes is justified and reasonable. Therefore, when people think in terms of choice, we hypothesized that they would be less disturbed by wealth inequality and less supportive of policies aimed at reducing this inequality. . . .

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You can download a pdf of the draft here.

Related Situationst posts:

You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “choice myth” here or to the topic of inequality here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Barry Schwartz on the Choices that Matter

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 6, 2011

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 3, 2010

From Ted Talks: “[Situationist friend] Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choice,” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It! “  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Emotions, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2010

NPR’s Morning Edition had a recent story (by Nell Greenfieldboyce) about research on the effects of hand-washing.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Soaping up your hands may do more than just get rid of germs. It may scrub away the inner turmoil you feel right after being forced to make a choice between two appealing options.

That’s according to a new study on the psychological effects of hand washing in the journal Science. The study builds on past research into a phenomenon known as “the Macbeth effect.”

It turns out that Shakespeare was really onto something when he imagined Lady Macbeth trying to clean her conscience by rubbing invisible bloodstains from her hands. A few years ago, scientists asked people to describe a past unethical act. If people were then given a chance to clean their hands, they later expressed less guilt and shame than people who hadn’t cleansed.

This finding fascinated Spike W. S. Lee, a psychology researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He wondered if hand washing could restore more than just a sense of moral purity. After all, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but people also often talk about “starting over with a clean slate.”

“Maybe there is a broader phenomenon here,” says Lee. “Anything from the past, any kind of negative emotional experiences, might be washed away.”

* * *

He and a colleague named Norbert Schwarz decided to test hand washing’s effect on one kind of bad feeling: the lingering tension we feel after being forced to choose between two attractive options, because picking one option makes us feel that we’ve lost the other.

Psychologists know that people usually try to soothe this inner conflict by later exaggerating the positive aspects of their choice. “In other words, after they make the choice, they will like the chosen option more than before the choice,” Lee explains.

To see if hand washing could ease people’s tension and do away with the need for this after-the-fact justification, the researchers gave some students some mock “consumer surveys.”

They had students rank 10 different music CDs. Then, as a token of appreciation, the researchers offered students one CD as a take-home gift — they had to choose between their fifth- and sixth-ranked CDs.

Some students then lathered up with liquid soap, supposedly to evaluate this product. Others only looked at the soap or sniffed it.

Later, the students again had to rank all the music. People who didn’t wash their hands had the normal response — they scored their take-home CD higher than they had the first time around, suggesting that they now saw it as even more attractive than before.

But this wasn’t true for the hand washers. They ranked the music about the same.

“They feel no need at all to justify the choice,” says Lee.

* * *

The researchers did another version of this experiment and found the exact same effect after people selected a jar of fruit jam and then rubbed their hands with an antiseptic wipe. “Apparently, you do not need water and soap,” says Schwarz — any kind of hand cleaning will do the trick.

* * *

You can listen to the entire story, including topics of related future research,  here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Unclean Hands,”The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,”The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Embodied Cognition, Life, Morality | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Methodology of the Behavioral Analysis of Law – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2008

Avishalom Tor has written an article, “The Methodology of the Behavioral Analysis of Law” (forthcoming  4 Haifa Law Review 237 (2008)) that will be of particular value for our readers interested in economic behavioralism. You can download the paper for free on  SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This article examines the behavioral analysis of law, meaning the application of empirical behavioral evidence to legal analysis, which has become increasingly popular in legal scholarship in recent years. Following the introduction in Part I, this Article highlights four central propositions on the subject. The first, developed in Part II, asserts that the efficacy of the law often depends on its accounting for relevant patterns of human behavior, most notably those studied by behavioral decision scientists. This Part therefore reviews important behavioral findings, illustrating their application and relevance to a broad range of legal questions. Part III then argues that the behavioral approach is empirically driven, engaging in both the theoretical application of extant empirical findings to the law and the generation of new, legally relevant, experimental and observational evidence. As this Part shows, moreover, each of these behavioral genres possesses different methodological strengths and weaknesses, and they therefore both substitute for and complement one another, in different respects. Part IV explains that the behavioral approach encounters a series of “gaps” between the type of empirical evidence provided by behavioral decision researchers and the data required to resolve legal questions. Legal scholars should therefore be aware of these gaps, which may limit the usefulness of extant behavioral evidence for legal analysis. This Part also addresses what legal scholars may do to overcome these gaps and distinguish real gaps from imaginary ones. Part V completes the body of the Article, arguing that the behavioral analysis of law is simultaneously normatively neutral and normatively relevant. It is normatively neutral because the behavioral analysis of law is not committed to any specific legal goal or value system. This fundamental neutrality, in turn, makes the behavioral approach a versatile instrument, which can help generate important normative conclusions in the service of scholars evaluating the law based on any normative criteria – from justice to welfare and more. Part VI concludes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Unconscious Situation of Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 16, 2008

From Science Dailey - Credit John Dylan-HaynesFrom Science Daily Release:

Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, decision-making may be a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity. A team of scientists has unraveled how the brain actually unconsciously prepares our decisions. Even several seconds before we consciously make a decision its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain.

This is shown in a study by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, in collaboration with the Charité University Hospital and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin. The researchers from the group of Professor John-Dylan Haynes used a brain scanner to investigate what happens in the human brain just before a decision is made. “Many processes in the brain occur automatically and without involvement of our consciousness. This prevents our mind from being overloaded by simple routine tasks. But when it comes to decisions we tend to assume they are made by our conscious mind. This is questioned by our current findings.”

In the study, published in Nature Neuroscience, [Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience April 13th, 2008] participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. They were free to make this decision whenever they wanted, but had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. The aim of the experiment was to find out what happens in the brain in the period just before the person felt the decision was made. The researchers found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take up to seven seconds before they consciously made their decision. Normally researchers look at what happens when the decision is made, but not at what happens several seconds before. The fact that decisions can be predicted so long before they are made is a astonishing finding.

This unprecedented prediction of a free decision was made possible by sophisticated computer programs that were trained to recognize typical brain activity patterns preceding each of the two choices. Micropatterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex were predictive of the choices even before participants knew which option they were going to choose. The decision could not be predicted perfectly, but prediction was clearly above chance. This suggests that the decision is unconsciously prepared ahead of time but the final decision might still be reversible.

“Most researchers investigate what happens when people have to decide immediately, typically as a rapid response to an event in our environment. Here we were focusing on the more interesting decisions that are made in a more natural, self-paced manner”, Haynes explains.

More than 20 years ago the American brain scientist Benjamin Libet found a brain signal, the so-called “readiness-potential” that occurred a fraction of a second before a conscious decision. Libet’s experiments were highly controversial and sparked a huge debate. Many scientists argued that if our decisions are prepared unconsciously by the brain, then our feeling of “free will” must be an illusion. In this view, it is the brain that makes the decision, not a person’s conscious mind. Libet’s experiments were particularly controversial because he found only a brief time delay between brain activity and the conscious decision.

In contrast, Haynes and colleagues now show that brain activity predicts — even up to 7 seconds ahead of time — how a person is going to decide. But they also warn that the study does not finally rule out free will: “Our study shows that decisions are unconsciously prepared much longer ahead than previously thought. But we do not know yet where the final decision is made. We need to investigate whether a decision prepared by these brain areas can still be reversed.”

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For a sample of previous, related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Reason,” and Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness.”

Posted in Choice Myth | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
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