Under Review

“Thanking, Apologizing, Bragging, and Blaming: Responsibility Exchange Theory and the Currency of Communication” (with George Loewenstein), Under second round reviews at Psychological Review. [PsyArXiv page] [download paper]

From the time we are children, we are taught to say “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” These communications are central to many social interactions, and the failure to say them often leads to conflict in relationships. Research has documented that, alongside the impact they can have on relationships, apologies and thanks can also impact material outcomes as small as restaurant tips and as significant as settlements of medical malpractice lawsuits. But, it is trivial to utter the words; how can such “cheap talk” carry so much value? In this paper, we propose a “responsibility exchange theory” that explains why these communications are not costless, and which draws connections between four forms of communication that have not previously been connected: thanking, apologizing, bragging, and blaming. All four of these communications relay information about credit or blame for a positive or negative outcome, and thus introduce image-based costs and benefits for both the communicator and the recipient of communication. Each of the four communications, we show, involves a tradeoff between appearing competent and appearing warm. By formalizing these social psychological insights with a cognitive approach to modeling communication, and by applying game theoretic analysis, we offer new insights and predictions about social communication. We test several of the model’s novel predictions about strategic communication in two experiments: The first involves hypothetical choices in a scenario study (N = 1,079), and the second involves real choices in a live interaction (N = 205 pairs). We end with a discussion of the theory’s place in the literature and consider extended predictions and applications as examples of future directions for research.

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.