“The Lesser of Two Evils: Revealing the Choice Set to Signal Good Intentions” (with Andras Molnar), in preparation for submission to Judgment and Decision Making. [download working paper]
Many situations require people to pick among only bad options, and in some of these cases, observers will only see the selected option (e.g., policy-makers voting on one of two bills, both of which negatively impact voters in some way). As a result, observers may attribute bad intentions to the decision-maker. Impression management in such cases is not about making the right choice—there are only bad choices—but instead, it is about explaining one’s choice, or revealing the choice set, to signal good intentions. To what extent does this motivate people? And is it a motivation that is intrinsic, i.e., present even when there are not reputational consequences? In two studies (N = 896), we investigated these questions, finding that people were willing to reveal their choice set to the other person, even in a one-shot anonymous interaction with no reputational consequences—they were even willing to pay money to do this. This was primarily restricted to cases when revealing would signal good, rather than bad, intentions, indicating that the desire is not “to be understood” generally, but “to be understood as good.”
“Extending the Time Horizon: Elevating Concern for Rare Events by Communicating Losses Over a Longer Period of Time” (with Michael Hand and Howard Kunreuther), Under review at Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. [working paper available here]
Companies and individuals tend to underprepare for rare, catastrophic events because they ignore small probabilities and fail to appreciate how risk accumulates. To address this, we present a novel risk communication strategy: “extending the time horizon,” i.e., presenting the cumulative probability of loss across time (e.g., a 26% chance of flood over 30 years instead of 1% per year). Across three experiments in different contexts, we investigated the effectiveness of this intervention on motivating protective action. Extending the time horizon led participants to perceive greater risk and increased the likelihood they would opt for a small, but sure loss over the small possibility of a large loss. This behavior was robust to time and experiencing a loss. We also found that extending the time horizon made participants sensitive to smaller probabilities. Taken together, this simple intervention counters misperceptions of risk people have regarding rare events, and effectively motivates protective behavior.