- 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.