- Self-persuasion: Evidence from Field Experiments at Two International Debating Competitions
P. Schwardmann and E. Tripodi.
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, 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.
- Persuasion, justification and the communication of social impact
M. Foerster and J.J. van der Weele.
Tinbergen working paper 067/2018.
We experimentally investigate strategic communication about the impact of proso- cial actions, which is central to policy debates about foreign aid or the environment. In our experiment, a “sender” receives an informative but noisy signal about the impact of a charitable donation. She then sends a message to a “receiver”, upon which both subjects choose whether to donate. The sender faces a trade-off between persuading the receiver to act and justifying her own inaction. We find evidence for both motives. Increasing the visibility of the sender’s actions increases the justifi- cation motive and makes senders more likely to report low impact, reducing giving among receivers. These results show the intimate links between reputation and com- munication in moral domains, and help understand the fraught nature of political discussions about social impact.
- 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.