Research in Progress

“Broad bracketing for low probability events” (with Michael Hand and Howard Kunreuther). Submitted. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3537938

Individuals tend to underprepare for rare, catastrophic events because of biases in risk perception. A simple form of broad bracketing—presenting the cumulative probability of loss over a longer time horizon—has the potential to alleviate these barriers to risk perception and increase protective actions such as purchasing flood insurance. However, it is an open question whether broad bracketing effects last over time: There is evidence that descriptive probability information is ignored when decisions are made from “experience” (repeatedly and in the face of feedback), which describes many protective decisions. Across six incentive-compatible experiments with high stakes, we find that the broad bracketing effect does not disappear or change size when decisions are made from experience. We also advance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying broad bracketing, finding that, while cumulative probability size is a strong driver of the effect, this is dampened for larger brackets which lead people to be less sensitive to probability size.

“The Lesser of Two Evils: Revealing the Choice Set to Signal Good Intentions” (with Andras Molnar). Submitted. Available at PsyArXiv: http://dx.doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/8sdme

Making the right choice sometimes involves selecting the “lesser of two evils,” and only seeing the chosen option can lead others to misunderstand the decision maker’s intentions. Are decision-makers intrinsically driven to fix this misjudgment by revealing the choice set?  If so, why, and what is the effect on the audience?  Previous studies could not examine this desire to be understood because the research designs did not isolate the decision to reveal information from the original choice. In two experiments (N=448 pairs), we show that people are willing to pay ex post to reveal their choice set to the recipient, even after a one-shot anonymous interaction with no reputational consequences, and in some cases even when doing so reveals their selfish intentions.  We find that this revealing behavior is effective at improving recipients’ rating of their outcome when it signals generous intentions, but not when it signals selfish intentions.  The choice to reveal is driven by concern for the beliefs of strangers, but only when revealing signals generous intentions; those who reveal a choice that appears selfish report doing so out of a desire to be or appear honest.  And though some people leave a misunderstanding in place when it is self-enhancing to do so, almost no one is willing to create a misunderstanding (by hiding the other option), even when it could conceal selfish behavior.

 “’It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message!’: Unpacking the components of revenge” (with Andras Molnar and George Loewenstein). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3524910

We examine whether belief-based preferences–caring about what transgressors believe–play a crucial role in punishment decisions: Do punishers want to make sure that transgressors understand why they are being punished, and is this desire to affect beliefs often prioritized over distributive and retributive preferences? We test whether punishers derive utility from three distinct sources: material outcomes (their own and the transgressor’s payoff), affective states (the transgressor’s suffering), and cognitive states (the transgressor’s beliefs about the cause of that suffering). In a novel, preregistered experiment (N = 1, 959) we demonstrate that consideration for transgressors’ beliefs affects punishment decisions on its own, regardless of the considerations for material outcomes (distributional preferences) and affective states (retributive preferences). By contrast, we find very little evidence for pure retributive preferences (i.e., to merely inflict suffering on transgressors). We also show that people who would otherwise enact harsh punishments, are willing to punish less severely, if by doing so they can tell the transgressor why they are punishing them. Finally, we demonstrate that the preference for affecting transgressors’ beliefs cannot be explained by deterrence motives (i.e., to make transgressors behave better in the future).

“What you (don’t) say can be used against you: The role of perceived intent in altruistic punishment against bystanders” (with Lauren Kaufmann)

Altruistic punishment of transgressors plays an important role in human cooperation, but until now, no research has documented the differences between two distinct types of altruistic punishment. Here, we illustrate that the psychological process underlying bystander punishment, i.e., against an agent other than the original transgressor, is distinct from that of transgressor punishment. This research provides a psychological rationale for observed differences between these types that is consistent with evolutionary accounts of cooperation and yields predictions for when punishment patterns may fluctuate. We find that bystander punishment is not merely derivative of intuitions about the transgressor. Rather, these two forms of altruistic punishment vary as a function of divergent judgments of  intent, which we show derives from distinct expectations for transgressors’ and bystanders’ behavior. With convergent empirical evidence across measures and scenarios, bystander punishment happens less frequently than transgressor punishment, and displays less overall consensus (Studies 1-4) but more variation in the extent of consensus across cases of bystander punishment (Studies 2 & 3). These systematic differences result from expectations being violated less in the case of bystanders and therefore leading intention to be perceived as more ambiguous (Studies 2-4); however, those who perceive a violation for bystanders are willing to punish them, in fact as harshly as their peers punish transgressors. In the absence of a violated expectation, observers are differently motivated to engage in lines of deliberative thinking to assess punishment (Studies 3-4). This research establishes novel links between the literatures on altruistic punishment, blame, and counterfactual thinking.