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Irrational Belief Persistence Justin Landy Judgments and Decisions October 12, 2011.

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Presentation on theme: "Irrational Belief Persistence Justin Landy Judgments and Decisions October 12, 2011."— Presentation transcript:

1 Irrational Belief Persistence Justin Landy Judgments and Decisions October 12, 2011

2 The Question of “Rationality” There ARE beliefs that we would all agree are irrational. Irrational persistence of belief. We often do not adjust our beliefs in normatively correct ways in response to new information.

3 Search and Inference The Search-Inference Framework: Where do we misuse information? Search:  Order effects  Selective Exposure Inference:  Biased Assimilation  Belief Overkill

4 Normative Rules for Using New Information The Order Principle

5 Primacy Effects How much would you like this person? (Asch, 1946) Intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, envious Envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, intelligent Is this irrational?

6 Primacy Effects Two urns (Peterson & DuCharme, 1967): Strong primacy effect in estimates of probability that experimenter was drawing from first urn.

7 A Special Case of Primacy Effects? “Total discrediting” (Anderson, Lepper, & Ross, 1980): Participants given information, then told it was completely fabricated Yet, information still affects subsequent beliefs BUT, also sometimes occurs when participants are warned ahead of time that information is fabricated (Wegner, Coulton, & Wenzlaff, 1985)

8 Myside Bias in Search: Selective Exposure

9 Selective Exposure in the Lab During 1964 presidential election, participants read sample of brochures for each candidate, and can order copies of the brochures for free (Lowin, 1967) When arguments were strong and hard to refute, ordered more brochures supporting own candidate When arguments were weak and easy to refute, ordered more brochures supporting other candidate

10 Normative Rules for Using New Information The Order Principle The Neutral-Evidence Principle

11 Interpreting Neutral Evidence Which bingo basket? (Pitz, 1969): Consecutive balls of different colors shouldn't change strength of beliefs.

12 A More Real- World Example Beliefs about the deterrence effects of the death penalty (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979): Kroner and Phillips (1977) compared murder rates for the year before and the year after adoption of capital punishment in 14 states. In 11 of the 14 states, murder rates were lower after adoption of the death penalty. This research supports the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Palmer and Crandall (1977) compared murder rates in 10 pairs of neighboring states with different capital punishment laws. In 8 of the 10 pairs, murder rates were higher in the state with capital punishment. This research opposes the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

13 A More Real- World Example Beliefs about the deterrence effects of the death penalty (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979): Biased Assimilation:

14 A More Real- World Example Beliefs about the deterrence effects of the death penalty (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979): Attitude Polarization:

15 A More Real- World Example Beliefs about the deterrence effects of the death penalty (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979): “Our subjects' main inferential shortcoming... did not lie in their inclination to process evidence in a biased manner... Rather, their sin lay in their readiness to use evidence already processed in a biased manner to bolster the very theory or belief that initially 'justified' the processing bias.”

16 Other Routes to Violations of Neutral Evidence Principle Illusory Correlations Can even occur when ONLY receive opposing evidence (Batson, 1975)

17 More Myside Bias in Inference: Belief Overkill Many controversial issues have good arguments on both sides Making a rational decision would involve balancing these arguments (tradeoffs) We often avoid this by convincing ourselves that all of the good arguments are on one side.

18 Examples of Belief Overkill Nuclear Testing (Jervis, 1976): “People who favored a nuclear test-ban believed that testing created a serious medical danger, would not lead to major weapons improvements, and was a source of international tension. Those who opposed the treaty usually took the opposite position on all three issues.”

19 Examples of Belief Overkill Capital Punishment, again (Ellsworth and Ross, 1983): 66% of proponents would still favor capital punishment if it was no better than life in prison. 48% if it didn't deter at all. 3% of opponents would favor if it were a deterrent.

20 Search and Inference The Search-Inference Framework: Where do we misuse information? Search:  Order effects  Selective Exposure Inference:  Biased Assimilation  Belief Overkill So, WHY do we irrationally persist in beliefs? Why do we use evidence improperly?

21 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Beliefs about thinking Good thinkers are people who keep their minds open, consider other opinions, and weigh opposing evidence. They are open, rational, and deliberative. Bad thinkers are people who keep their minds closed, refuse to consider other options, and only seek confirming evidence. They are closed- minded, irrational, and stubborn.

22 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Beliefs about thinking Good thinkers are people who stick to their beliefs, defend them, and do not change their minds. They are committed, principled, and strong-willed. Bad thinkers are people who change their minds too easily, let themselves be influenced by people who are wrong, and are not committed to their beliefs. They are weak, fickle, and unprincipled.

23 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Beliefs about thinking: Items for measuring attitudes about Actively Open-Minded Thinking (Stanovich & West, 1998) Intuition is the best guide in making decisions. One should disregard evidence that conflicts with one's established beliefs. It is better to simply believe in a religion than to be confused by doubts about it. Abandoning a previous belief is a sign of strong character. Changing your mind is a sign of weakness. It is important to persevere in your beliefs even when evidence is brought to bear against them. Etc.

24 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Beliefs about thinking People who endorsed Actively Open-Minded Thinking tend to show less myside bias (Stanovich & West, 1998) and more likely to spontaneously consider both sides of an issue (Baron, 1989)

25 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Why do some people believe that one-sided thinking is better? The “fittest” institutions promote it? Equate of “good thinker” with “expert” Equate of “good thinker” with “advocate”

26 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Beliefs about thinking Wishful thinking and distortion of beliefs by desires

27 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Wishful thinking and distortion of beliefs by desires Self-deception The above-average effect Wishful thinking affects decisions, too: terminal cancer patients who overestimate life expectancy more likely to want aggressive treatment that is unpleasant and unlikely to help them (Weeks, et al., 1998)

28 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Wishful thinking and distortion of beliefs by desires Denying evidence (Kunda, 1987):  Article presents evidence that regular caffeine consumption increases women's risk of fibrocystic disease, which can lead to breast cancer  Infrequent and frequent consumers of caffeine, male and female  “How convinced are you by the article?”

29 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Beliefs about thinking Wishful thinking and distortion of beliefs by desires Desire for consistency, dissonance reduction

30 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Desire for consistency, dissonance reduction: We devalue options not chosen, and (presumably) reasons that support them (Festinger, 1962) We change our beliefs to align with our actions when we do not have a good reason for the actions (Festinger, 1962; Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959) Demonstrate a desire to be “good” decision- makers, and to have been “right” all along, as opposed to a desire to be as right as possible NOW.

31 Reasons for Irrational Belief Persistence Desire for consistency, dissonance reduction: We devalue options not chosen, and (presumably) reasons that support them (Festinger, 1962) We change our beliefs to align with our actions when we do not have a good reason for the actions (Festinger, 1962; Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959) Demonstrate a desire to be “good” decision- makers, and to have been “right” all along, as opposed to a desire to be as right as possible NOW.

32 Prescriptive Solutions? Actively Open-Minded Thinking Persistence of beliefs in total discrediting experiments can be reduced by asking participants if they could argue for the other side (Anderson, 1982)

33 Prescriptive Solutions? Actively Open-Minded Thinking

34 Prescriptive Solutions? But, is it worth improving? Does Actively Open-Minded Thinking improve the outcomes of decisions? In short, yes. Good decision-making correlates with good outcomes. But, correlation is not perfect, of course.

35 Better Thinking, Better Outcomes Decision-making in international crises (Herek, Janis, & Huth, 1987): Studied historical records of presidents' decision processes in 19 crises, Experts in international affairs evaluated decision process on: Gross omissions in surveying alternatives. Gross omissions in surveying objectives. Failure to examine major costs and risks of the preferred choice. Poor information search. Selective bias in processing information at hand. Failure to reconsider originally rejected alternatives. Failure to work out detailed implementation, monitoring, and contingency plans.

36 Better Thinking, Better Outcomes Decision-making in international crises (Herek, Janis, & Huth, 1987): Evaluated decisions from perspective of United States' best interest, and the world's Symptoms of poor decision-making correlated with bad outcomes, and actively open-minded thinking correlated with good outcomes (for the US and the world)

37 Better Thinking, Better Outcomes Decision-making in international crises (Herek, Janis, & Huth, 1987):

38 Concluding Remarks The origin of beliefs that we irrationally persist in holding? These biases are not universal. Not everyone shows them all the time. But, of course, everyone thinks they are one of the ones that don't make mistakes. Back to our desire to be good decision-makers who were always right.


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