Working papers/Work in progress
- Fair Shares and Selective Attention
Dianna Amasino, Davide Pace and J.J. van der Weele.
Tinbergen working paper 066/2021.
Attitudes towards fairness and redistribution differ along socio-economic lines, resulting in political conflict. To understand the formation of such views and find levers to affect them, we study the role of attention. In a large online experiment, we investigate how subjects allocate their visual attention to the contributions of merit and luck in the generation of a surplus and how they decide on its division. We find that subjects who randomly obtained an advantaged position pay less attention to information about true merit and retain more of the surplus. Both the attentional and behavioral patterns persist, although with smaller effect sizes, when dictators subsequently divide money between pairs of advantaged and disadvantaged subjects in the role of a benevolent judge. Moreover, attention has a substantial causal effect: forcing subjects to look for one second more at merit information relative to overall outcomes reduces the effect of having an advantaged position on allocations by about 25%. These findings open a new window on socio-economic cleavages in attitudes towards redistribution, and suggest that attention-based policy interventions may be effective in reducing polarized views on inequality.
- Top-Down or Bottom-Up? Disentangling Channels of Attention in Risky Choice
Jan B. Engelmann, Alejandro Hirmas and J.J. van der Weele.
Economists have become increasingly interested in using attention to explain behavioral patterns both on the micro and macro level. This has resulted in several disparate theoretical approaches. Some, like rational inattention, assume "top-down" cognitive control over attention. Others, like salience theory, assume a "bottom-up" influence where attention is driven by contextual factors. This distinction is fundamental for the economic implications of attention, but so far there is little understanding of their relative importance. We propose a multi-attribute random utility model that unifies prior theoretical approaches by distinguishing between the impact of top-down and bottom-up attention. We accomplish this by separating agent-specific and decision specific variation in attention and verify our framework in an eye-tracking experiment on risky choice. We find that both top-down and bottom-up attention are connected to important choice variables: both are associated with the weighting of the attributes of choice options, while top-down attention is additionally associated with measures of loss aversion. We discuss the insights regarding the nature of attention and its role in economic theory.
- Self-persuasion: Evidence from Field Experiments at Two International Debating Competitions
P. Schwardmann, E. Tripodi and J.J. van der Weele.
CESifo Working paper 7946, 2019.
Does the wish to convince others lead people to persuade themselves about the moral and factual superiority of their position? We investigate this question in the context of two international debating competitions, where persuasion goals (pro or contra a motion) are randomly assigned to debaters shortly before the debate. Using incentives for truthful reporting, we find evidence of self-persuasion in the form of (i) factual beliefs that become more conveniently aligned with the debater’s side of the motion, (ii) shifts in attitudes, reflected in an increased willingness to donate to goal-aligned charities, and (iii) higher confidence in the strength of one’s position in the debate. Self-persuasion occurs before the debate and subsequent participation in the open exchange of arguments does not lead to convergence in beliefs and attitudes. Our results lend support to interactionist accounts of cognition and suggest that the desire to persuade is an important driver of opinion formation and political partisanship.
- Anticipatory Anxiety and Wishful Thinking
J. Engelmann, M. Lebreton, P. Schwardmann, J.J. van der Weele and Li-Ang Chang.
Tinbergen working paper 042/2019.
It is widely hypothesized that anxiety and worry about an uncertain future lead to the adoption of comforting beliefs or “wishful thinking”. However, there is little direct causal evidence for this effect. In our experiment, participants perform a visual pattern recog- nition task where some patterns may result in the delivery of an electric shock, a proven way of inducing anxiety. Participants engage in significant wishful thinking, as they are less likely to correctly identify patterns that they know may lead to a shock. Greater ambiguity of the pattern facilitates wishful thinking. Raising incentives for accuracy does not significantly decrease it.
- Denial and alarmism in collective action problems
M. Foerster and J.J. van der Weele.
Tinbergen working paper 019/2018.
We model communication about the social returns to investment in a public good. Two agents have private information about the returns and engage in cheap talk before deciding to contribute or not. In the presence of social preferences and image concerns, we show that senders face a fundamental trade-off between persuasion and justification. In particular, the presence of intrinsic motives to contribute en- courages “alarmism”, the exaggeration of social returns in order to persuade others to contribute. The wish to be perceived as a cooperator generates “denial”, down- playing returns to justify one’s own lack of contribution. In equilibrium, denial emerges as an integral part of communication and results in suppression of high sig- nals about the impact of contributions. We discuss applications to climate change, institutional reform and charitable giving.
Publications in refereed journals
- Casting doubt: Image concerns and the communication of social impact
M. Foerster and J.J. van der Weele.
The Economic Journal , 2021.
We investigate strategic communication about the social impact of costly prosocial actions. In our model, a “sender” with noisy information about impact sends a cheap-talk message to a “receiver”, upon which both agents choose whether to act. In the presence of social preferences and image concerns, the sender trades off persuasion, exaggerating impact to induce receiver action, and justification, downplaying impact to cast doubt on the effectiveness of action and excuse her own passivity. In an experiment on charitable giving we find evidence for both motives. In line with our theory and a justification motive, increasing image concerns reduces communication of positive impact.
- Overconfidence and gender gaps in redistributive preferences: Cross-Country experimental evidence
T. Buser, Gianluca Grimalda, Louis Putterman and J.J. van der Weele.
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2020, 178, 267-286.
Gender differences in voting patterns and political attitudes towards redistribution are well-documented. The experimental gender literature suggests several plausible behavioral explanations behind these differences, relating to gender differences in confidence concerning future relative income position, risk aversion, and social preferences. We use data from lab experiments on preferences for redistribution conducted in the U.S. and several European countries to investigate gender differences and their causes. On aggregate, women’ s demand for redistribution is higher than men’ s, but the differences vary considerably across locations and countries. Moreover, the gender difference appears only when the source of inequality is based on relative abilities, but not when it is based on luck. Our most robust finding is that across all sampled locations, men’ s relatively higher (over)confidence in their abilities, in comparison to women, leads them to specify lower redistribution levels. We discuss the role of confidence in accounting for gender differences in political and redistributive choices outside the lab.
- Amount and time exert independent influences on inter temporal choice
D.R. Amasino, N.J. Sullivan, R.E. Kranton and S.A. Huettel.
Nature Human Behaviour, 2019, 3, 383–392.
Choices often involve trade-offs between smaller, sooner and larger, later outcomes. Canonical intertemporal choice models assume that reward amount and time until delivery are integrated within each option prior to comparison. We use a novel multi-attribute drift diffusion modeling (DDM) approach to show that attribute-wise comparison, in which amounts and times are compared separately rather than integrated, better represents the choice process. We find that accumulation rates for amount and time information are uncorrelated, but the difference between those rates strongly predicts individual differences in patience. Moreover, patient individuals incorporate amount earlier than time information into the decision process. Using eye tracking measures, we link these modeling results to attention, showing that patience results from a rapid, attribute-wise process that prioritizes amount over time information. Thus, we find evidence that intertemporal choice reflects the interaction of two distinct processes – one for amount, the other for time – whose combination determines choice.
- Deception and Self-Deception
P. Schwardmann and J.J. van der Weele.
Nature Human Behaviour, 2019, 3, 1055–1061. Data, Codes, Materials.
Author blog posts at Psychology Today and Nature Research.
Media: ABC News, FAZ, Folia, FehrAdvice.
There is ample evidence that the average person thinks he or she is more skilful, more beautiful and kinder than others and that such overconfidence may result in substantial personal and social costs. To explain the prevalence of overconfidence, social scientists usually point to its affective benefits, such as those stemming from a good self-image or reduced anxiety about an uncertain future. An alternative theory, first advanced by evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, posits that people self-deceive into higher confidence to more effectively persuade or deceive others. Here we conduct two experiments (combined n = 688) to test this strategic self-deception hypothesis. After performing a cognitively challenging task, half of our subjects are informed that they can earn money if, during a short face-to-face interaction, they convince others of their superior performance. We find that the privately elicited beliefs of the group that was informed of the profitable deception opportunity exhibit significantly more overconfidence than the beliefs of the control group. To test whether higher confidence ultimately pays off, we experimentally manipulate the confidence of the subjects by means of a noisy feedback signal. We find that this exogenous shift in confidence makes subjects more persuasive in subsequent face-to-face interactions. Overconfidence emerges from these results as the product of an adaptive cognitive technology with important social benefits, rather than some deficiency or bias.
- Peer effects and risk sharing in experimental asset markets
P.J. Gortner and J.J. van der Weele.
European Economic Review, 2019, 116, 129-147.
We investigate the effect of introducing information about peer portfolios in an experimental Arrow-Debreu economy. Confirming the prediction of a general equilibrium model with inequality averse preferences, we find that peer information leads to reduced variation in payoffs within peer groups. Information also improves risk sharing, as the data suggests that experiencing earnings deviations from peers induces a shift to more balanced portfolios. In a treatment where we highlight the highest earner, we observe a reduction in risk sharing, while highlighting the lowest earner has no effects compared to providing neutral information. Our results indicate that the presence of social information and its framing is an important determinant of equilibrium in financial markets.
- Responsiveness to feedback as a personal trait
T. Buser, L. Gerhards and J.J. van der Weele.
Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 2018, 56:2, 165-192.
We investigate individual heterogeneity in the tendency to under-respondto feedback (“conservatism”) and to respond more strongly to positive compared tonegative feedback (“asymmetry”). We elicit beliefs about relative performance afterrepeated rounds of feedback across a series of cognitive tests. Relative to a Bayesianbenchmark, we find that subjects update on average conservatively but not asym-metrically. We define individual measures of conservatism and asymmetry relativeto the average subject, and show that these measures explain an important part ofthe variation in beliefs and competition entry decisions. Relative conservatism iscorrelated across tasks and predicts competition entry both independently of beliefsand by influencing beliefs, suggesting it can be considered a personal trait. Relativeasymmetry is less stable across tasks, but predicts competition entry by increasingself-confidence. Ego-relevance of the task correlates with relative conservatism butnot relative asymmetry.
- Self-image and willful ignorance in social decisions
Z. Grossman and J.J. van der Weele.
Journal of the European Economic Association, 2017, 15:1, 173-217.
Summary blogpost at Oxford University Press.
Avoiding information about adverse welfare consequences of self-interested decisions, or willful ignorance, is an important source of socially harmful behavior. To understand this issue, we analyze a Bayesian signaling model of an agent who cares about self-image and has the opportunity to learn the social benefits of a personally costly action. We show that willful ignorance can serve as an excuse for selfish behavior by obfuscating the signal about the decision-maker’s preferences, and help maintain the idea that the agent would have acted virtuously under full information. We derive several behavioral predictions that are inconsistent with either outcome-based preferences or social- image concern and conduct experiments to test them. Our findings, as well as a number of previous experimental results, offer support for these predictions and thus, the broader theory of self-signaling.