Changing Perceptions about Harm Can Temper Moral Outrage

Article by Jordan Wylie and Ana Gantman: “Comprehensive sex education works. Years of research show that it is much more effective than an abstinence-only approach at preventing teen pregnancy. In fact, abstinence-only programs may actually increase unplanned pregnancies and can contribute to harmful shaming and sexist attitudes.

Yet abstinence, or “sexual risk avoidance,” programs persist in the U.S. Why? Ultimately many people believe that teenagers should not have sex. If adolescents just abstain, they reason, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases will no longer be a problem. By contrast, comprehensive sex education operates under the premise that some young people do engage in sexual behavior, so it is worthwhile to help them understand how to avoid unwanted outcomes. For dedicated abstinence-only advocates, however, that approach is morally wrong.

Given the deeply held moral beliefs many people bring to this topic, it’s easy to think the debate over sex ed is doomed to a stalemate between those who want to ban it and those who want to promote it. And this is just one of several subjects where policy makers face a tough choice: ban or prohibit a potentially harmful activity, or allow it to continue while mitigating the harm. Mitigation options include needle-exchange programs that help people who use intravenous drugs lower their risk of contracting blood-borne illnesses. Another example is mandatory waiting periods for firearms purchases, which allow people to possess firearms but also reduce homicides.

These harm-reduction strategies are often effective, but they can be unpopular. That’s because issues like sexual behavior, drug use and gun ownership involve highly moralized opinions. Research shows that when people feel moral outrage toward a behavior, they are more likely to support policies that aim to completely stop that activity rather than make it safer.

But our research suggests that not all expressions of moral outrage are alike. Through a series of studies that involved surveying more than 1,000 Americans, we found that, in some cases, people base their moral opposition on the harm that an action causes. In those instances, if you can find ways to make an activity safer, you can also make it more morally acceptable…(More)”

Nudging Science Towards Fairer Evaluations: Evidence From Peer Review

Paper by Inna Smirnova, Daniel M. Romero, and Misha Teplitskiy: “Peer review is widely used to select scientific projects for funding and publication, but there is growing evidence that it is biased towards prestigious individuals and institutions. Although anonymizing submissions can reduce prestige bias, many organizations do not implement anonymization, in part because enforcing it can be prohibitively costly. Here, we examine whether nudging but not forcing authors to anonymize their submissions reduces prestige bias. We partnered with IOP Publishing, one of the largest academic publishers, which adopted a policy strongly encouraging authors to anonymize their submissions and staggered the policy rollout across its physics journal portfolio. We examine 156,015 submissions to 57 peer-reviewed journals received between January 2018 and February 2022 and measure author prestige with citations accrued at submission time. Higher prestige first authors were less likely to anonymize. Nevertheless, for low-prestige authors, the policy increased positive peer reviews by 2.4% and acceptance by 5.6%. For middle- and high-prestige authors, the policy decreased positive reviews (1.8% and 1%) and final acceptance (4.6% and 2.2%). The policy did not have unintended consequences on reviewer recruitment or the characteristics of submitting authors. Overall, nudges are a simple, low-cost, and effective method to reduce prestige bias and should be considered by organizations for which enforced-anonymization is impractical…(More)”.

A little good goes an unexpectedly long way: Underestimating the positive impact of kindness on recipients.

Paper by Kumar, A., & Epley, N. : “Performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but we find that givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients. In both field and laboratory settings (Experiments 1a through 2b), those performing an act of kindness reported how positive they expected recipients would feel and recipients reported how they actually felt. From giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a park to giving away a gift in the lab, those performing a random act of kindness consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel, thinking their act was of less value than recipients perceived it to be. Givers’ miscalibrated expectations are driven partly by an egocentric bias in evaluations of the act itself (Experiment 3). Whereas recipients’ positive reactions are enhanced by the warmth conveyed in a kind act, givers’ expectations are relatively insensitive to the warmth conveyed in their action. Underestimating the positive impact of a random act of kindness also leads givers to underestimate the behavioral consequences their prosociality will produce in recipients through indirect reciprocity (Experiment 4). We suggest that givers’ miscalibrated expectations matter because they can create a barrier to engaging in prosocial actions more often in everyday life (Experiments 5a and 5b), which may result in people missing out on opportunities to enhance both their own and others’ well-being…(More)”

Nudging Consumers to Purchase More Sustainably

Article by Erez Yoeli: “Most consumers still don’t choose sustainable products when the option is available. Americans may claim to be willing to pay more for green energy, but while green energy is available in the majority of states — 35 out of 50 states or roughly 80% of American households as of 2018, at least — only 14% of households were even aware of the green option, and less than half of these households purchased it. Hybrids and electric vehicles are available nationwide, but still amount to just 10% of sales — 6.6% and 3.4%, respectively, according to S&P Global’s subscription services.

Now it may be that this virtue thinking-doing gap will eventually close. I hope so. But it will certainly need help, because in these situations there’s often an insidious behavioral dynamic at work that often stops stated good intentions from turning into actual good deeds…

Allow me to illustrate what I mean by “the plausible deniability effect” with an example from a now-classic behavioral economics study. Every year, around the holidays, Salvation Army volunteers collect donations for the needy outside supermarkets and other retail outlets. Researchers Justin Rao, Jim Andreoni, and Hanna Trachtmann teamed up with a Boston chapter of the Salvation Army to test ways of increasing donations.

Taking a supermarket that had two exit/entry points, the team randomly divided the volunteers into two groups. In one group, just one volunteer was assigned to stand in front of one door. For the other group, volunteers were stationed at both doors…(More)”.

We don’t have a hundred biases, we have the wrong model

Blog by Jason Collins: “…Behavioral economics today is famous for its increasingly large collection of deviations from rationality, or, as they are often called, ‘biases’. While useful in applied work, it is time to shift our focus from collecting deviations from a model of rationality that we know is not true. Rather, we need to develop new theories of human decision to progress behavioral economics as a science. We need heliocentrism. 

The dominant model of human decision-making across many disciplines, including my own, economics, is the rational-actor model. People make decisions based on their preferences and the constraints that they face. Whether implicitly or explicitly, they typically have the computational power to calculate the best decision and the willpower to carry it out. It’s a fiction but a useful one.

As has become broadly known through the growth of behavioral economics, there are many deviations from this model. (I am going to use the term behavioral economics through this article as a shorthand for the field that undoubtedly extends beyond economics to social psychology, behavioral science, and more.) This list of deviations has grown to the extent that if you visit the Wikipedia page ‘List of Cognitive Biases’ you will now see in excess of 200 biases and ‘effects’. These range from the classics described in the seminal papers of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman through to the obscure.

We are still at the collection-of-deviations stage. There are not 200 human biases. There are 200 deviations from the wrong model…(More)”

Whither Nudge? The Debate Itself Offers Lessons on the Influence of Social Science

Blog by Tony Hockley: “Pursuing impact can be a disturbing balancing act between spin and substance. Underdo the spin whilst maintaining substance and the impact will likely be zero, but credibility is upheld. Overdo the spin and risk the substance being diluted by marketing and misappropriation. The story of Nudge offers insights into what can happen when research has an unpredictably large impact in the world of politics and policy.

Has Nudge overdone the spin, and how much is a one-word book title to blame if it has? It is certainly true that the usual academic balancing act of spin versus substance was tipped by a publisher’s suggestion of snappy title instead of the usual academic tongue-twister intelligible only to the initiated. Under the title Nudge the book found a receptive audience of policymakers looking to fix problems easily and on the cheap after the 2008 economic crash, and a public policy community eager to adopt exciting new terminology into their own areas of interest. ‘Behavioural Insights Teams’ quickly sprang up around the world, dubbed (very inaccurately) as “nudge units.” There was little discernible push-back against this high-level misappropriation of the term, the general excitement, and the loss of strict definition attached to the authors’ underlying concept for nudge policies of “libertarian paternalism.” In short, the authors had lost control of their own work. The book became a global bestseller. In 2021 it was updated and republished, in what was described as “the final edition.” Perhaps in recognition that the concept had stretched to the end of its logical road?…(More)”.

Unsustainable Alarmism

Essay by Taylor Dotson: “Covid is far from the only global challenge we see depicted as a cataclysm in the making. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted impending famine and social collapse driven by overpopulation. He compared the threat to a ticking bomb — the “population bomb.” And the claim that only a few years remain to prevent climate doom has become a familiar refrain. The recent film Don’t Look Up, about a comet barreling toward Earth, is obviously meant as an allegory for climate catastrophe.

But catastrophism fails to capture the complexities of problems that play out over a long time scale, like Covid and climate change. In a tornado or a flood, which are not only undeniably serious but also require immediate action to prevent destruction, people drop political disputes to do what is necessary to save lives. They bring their loved ones to higher ground. They stack sandbags. They gather in tornado shelters. They evacuate. Covid began as a flood in early 2020, but once a danger becomes long and grinding, catastrophism loses its purchase, and more measured public thinking is required.

Even if the extension of catastrophic rhetoric to longer-term and more complex problems is well-intentioned, it unavoidably implies that something is morally or mentally wrong with the people who fail to take heed. It makes those who are not already horrified, who do not treat the crisis as an undeniable, act-now-or-never calamity, harder to comprehend: What idiot wouldn’t do everything possible to avert catastrophe? This kind of thinking is why global challenges are no longer multifaceted dilemmas to negotiate together; they have become conflicts between those who recognize the self-evident truth and those who have taken flight from reality….(More)”.

Digital Literacy Doesn’t Stop the Spread of Misinformation

Article by David Rand, and Nathaniel Sirlin: “There has been tremendous concern recently over misinformation on social media. It was a pervasive topic during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, continues to be an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic and plays an important part in Russian propaganda efforts in the war on Ukraine. This concern is plenty justified, as the consequences of believing false information are arguably shaping the future of nations and greatly affecting our individual and collective health.

One popular theory about why some people fall for misinformation they encounter online is that they lack digital literacy skills, a nebulous term that describes how a person navigates digital spaces. Someone lacking digital literacy skills, the thinking goes, may be more susceptible to believing—and sharing—false information. As a result, less digitally literate people may play a significant role in the spread of misinformation.

This argument makes intuitive sense. Yet very little research has actually investigated the link between digital literacy and susceptibility to believe false information. There’s even less understanding of the potential link between digital literacy and what people share on social media. As researchers who study the psychology of online misinformation, we wanted to explore these potential associations….

When we looked at the connection between digital literacy and the willingness to share false information with others through social media, however, the results were different. People who were more digitally literate were just as likely to say they’d share false articles as people who lacked digital literacy. Like the first finding, the (lack of) connection between digital literacy and sharing false news was not affected by political party affiliation or whether the topic was politics or the pandemic…(More)”

How Minds Change

Book by  David McRaney: “What made a prominent conspiracy-theorist YouTuber finally see that 9/11 was not a hoax? How do voter opinions shift from neutral to resolute? Can widespread social change only take place when a generation dies out? From one of our greatest thinkers on reasoning, HOW MINDS CHANGE is a book about the science, and the experience, of transformation.
When self-delusion expert and psychology nerd David McRaney began a book about how to change someone’s mind in one conversation, he never expected to change his own. But then a diehard 9/11 Truther’s conversion blew up his theories—inspiring him to ask not just how to persuade, but why we believe, from the eye of the beholder. Delving into the latest research of psychologists and neuroscientists, HOW MINDS CHANGE explores the limits of reasoning, the power of groupthink, and the effects of deep canvassing. Told with McRaney’s trademark sense of humor, compassion, and scientific curiosity, it’s an eye-opening journey among cult members, conspiracy theorists, and political activists, from Westboro Baptist Church picketers to LGBTQ campaigners in California—that ultimately challenges us to question our own motives and beliefs. In an age of dangerous conspiratorial thinking, can we rise to the occasion with empathy?
An expansive, big-hearted journalistic narrative, HOW MINDS CHANGE reaches surprising and thought-provoking conclusions, to demonstrate the rare but transformative circumstances under which minds can change…(More)”.

The Infinite Playground: A Player’s Guide to Imagination

Book by Bernard De Koven: “Bernard De Koven (1941–2018) was a pioneering designer of games and theorist of fun. He studied games long before the field of game studies existed. For De Koven, games could not be reduced to artifacts and rules; they were about a sense of transcendent fun. This book, his last, is about the imagination: the imagination as a playground, a possibility space, and a gateway to wonder. The Infinite Playground extends a play-centered invitation to experience the power and delight unlocked by imagination. It offers a curriculum for playful learning.

De Koven guides the readers through a series of observations and techniques, interspersed with games. He begins with the fundamentals of play, and proceeds through the private imagination, the shared imagination, and imagining the world—observing, “the things we imagine can become the world.” Along the way, he reminisces about playing ping-pong with basketball great Bill Russell; begins the instructions for a game called Reception Line with “Mill around”; and introduces blathering games—BlatherGroup BlatherSinging Blather, and The Blather Chorale—that allow the player’s consciousness to meander freely.

Delivered during the last months of his life, The Infinite Playground has been painstakingly cowritten with Holly Gramazio, who worked together with coeditors Celia Pearce and Eric Zimmerman to complete the project as Bernie De Koven’s illness made it impossible for him to continue writing. Other prominent game scholars and designers influenced by De Koven, including Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Jesper Juul, Frank Lantz, and members of Bernie’s own family, contribute short interstitial essays…(More)”