Tuesday, March 24, 2020

People exhibit exponential-growth bias, overconfidence in calculating exponential growth, overconfidence in ability to use spreadsheets, & low demand for tools/services that improve financial decisions

Exponential-growth bias and overconfidence. Matthew R. Levy, Joshua Tasoff. Journal of Economic Psychology, Volume 58, February 2017, Pages 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2016.11.001

• We measure exponential-growth bias and overconfidence in a laboratory experiment.
• People exhibit exponential-growth bias.
• People exhibit overconfidence in their ability to calculate exponential growth.
• People exhibit overconfidence in their ability to use a spreadsheet.
• The results suggest insufficient demand for help and tools.

Abstract: There is increasing evidence that people underestimate the magnitude of compounding interest. However, if people were aware of their inability to make such calculations they should demand services to ameliorate the consequences of such deficiencies. In a laboratory experiment, we find that people exhibit substantial exponential-growth bias but, more importantly, that they are overconfident in their ability to answer questions that involve exponential growth. They also exhibit overconfidence in their ability to use a spreadsheet to answer these questions. This evidence explains why a market solution to exponential-growth bias has not been forthcoming. Biased individuals have suboptimally low demand for tools and services that could improve their financial decisions.

Keywords: Exponential-growth biasOverconfidenceFinancial literacyOverestimationOverprecision
JEL classification D03 D14 D18

The COVID-2019 Outbreak: Amplification of Public Health Consequences by Media Exposure

Garfin, D. R., Silver, R. C., & Holman, E. A. (2020). The novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak: Amplification of public health consequences by media exposure. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0000875

Abstract: The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) has led to a serious outbreak of often severe respiratory disease, which originated in China and has quickly become a global pandemic, with far-reaching consequences that are unprecedented in the modern era. As public health officials seek to contain the virus and mitigate the deleterious effects on worldwide population health, a related threat has emerged: global media exposure to the crisis. We review research suggesting that repeated media exposure to community crisis can lead to increased anxiety, heightened stress responses that can lead to downstream effects on health, and misplaced health-protective and help-seeking behaviors that can overburden health care facilities and tax available resources. We draw from work on previous public health crises (i.e., Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks) and other collective trauma (e.g., terrorist attacks) where media coverage of events had unintended consequences for those at relatively low risk for direct exposure, leading to potentially severe public health repercussions. We conclude with recommendations for individuals, researchers, and public health officials with respect to receiving and providing effective communications during a public health crisis.

Greater catastrophising in individuals who report a psychiatric diagnosis or use of psychiatric medication

Pike, Alexandra C., Jade Serfaty, and Oliver J. Robinson. 2020. “The Development and Psychometric Properties of a Self-report Catastrophising Questionnaire.” PsyArXiv. March 24

Abstract: Catastrophising can be defined as imagining or predicting the worst possible outcome. It has been shown to be related to psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety, yet there are no self-report questionnaires specifically measuring it outside the context of pain research. Here, we therefore develop the Catastrophising Questionnaire, a comprehensive self-report measure of general catastrophising. Across four experiments (total n=734), using a combination of exploratory then confirmatory factor analysis, we conclude 1) that our questionnaire is best fit by a single factor structure; and that 2) catastrophising is independent from other self-reported psychiatric symptoms. Moreover, we demonstrate 3) greater catastrophising in individuals who report a psychiatric diagnosis (t139.12=8.54, p<.001) or use of psychiatric medication (t67.44=7.53, p<.001). Finally, we demonstrate that 4) our Catastrophising Questionnaire has good test-retest reliability (ICC(A,1)=0.77, p<.001). Critically, we can now, for the first time, measure aspects of this debilitating psychiatric symptom.

Multiple asymmetries in the way people endorse positive and negative "belief in a just world" statements for the past and the future that concern the self or other people

Symmetries and asymmetries in the belief in a just world. Mariia Kaliuzhna. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 161, July 15 2020, 109940. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.109940

Abstract: Despite evidence to the contrary, people have a need to represent the world as a just and fair place where prosocial behaviour is rewarded and negative acts are punished. This cognitive bias is termed the Belief in a Just World (BJW). Previous research assumes the BJW to be symmetrical, i.e., one believes to the same extent that a negative action will be punished and that negative events in one's life are punishments for previous negative actions. Similarly, good deeds are expected to be rewarded and positive events are interpreted as rewards for previous positive actions. The present work tests this symmetry assumption. We show multiple asymmetries in the way people endorse positive and negative BJW statements for the past and the future that concern the self or other people. The results are discussed in terms of the interaction of BJW with other cognitive biases.

Keywords: Belief in a Just WorldJust dessertsKarmaOptimism biasSelf-serving bias

11. Discussion

In the present paper we explored the symmetry of the Belief in a Just World, summarised by the assertion that people not only get what they deserve but also deserve what they get (Bartholomaeus & Strelan, 2019Hafer & Sutton, 2016Lerner, 19651980Lerner & Miller, 1978Sabag & Schmitt, 2016Schindler et al., 2019). In four surveys, we studied BJW about positive and negative events in the past and in the future for self and others.
One robust finding across all the surveys is the asymmetry between negative prospective and retrospective questions. Thus, participants more readily made the connection between doing a bad deed and getting retribution than between a negative event in one's life and a previous bad deed. Previous research shows that recollected memories are more detailed than imagined events (D'Argembeau & Van der Linden, 2004Johnson et al., 1988), and that imagining the future requires a constructive and, possibly effortful, process (Schacter & Addis, 2007Szpunar et al., 2007). One could thus hypothesise that the retrospective link would be easier to construct and we would observe the opposite pattern. However, when making the prospective link (i.e., do a bad deed – be punished) one does not necessarily have to imagine specific details for the future (i.e., what kind of punishment one would incur as a result of a negative deed), thus no additional cognitive effort is solicited. When in the retrospective condition, on the other hand, one needs to make a link between a negative event and a specific negative act that could have caused it (i.e. go through memories of one's behaviour). It is then possible that the cognitive load of recollecting instances of past behaviour and their differing accessibility resulted in participants’ judging the retrospective condition as less plausible. Indeed, as mentioned in the introduction, previous research shows that ease of information retrieval and processing fluency lead to higher statement endorsement and confidence in them (Bonnefond et al., 2014Cummins, 1995Oppenheimer, 2008Weingarten & Hutchinson, 2018).
The retrospective/prospective asymmetry for negative events could additionally reflect a self-serving bias. Previous research shows that positive autobiographical memories are reported twice as often as negative autobiographical memories (Berntsen et al., 2011Seidlitz & Diener, 1993Walker et al., 2003). This memory bias could result in a representation of oneself as a positive person, making it difficult to recollect (or imagine, as in our task) a negative deed in the past. Thus, one would more readily concede that a negative deed could bring about a negative event, than that negative events represent one's past negative acts, as the person represents themselves as a good person. The impact of the self-serving bias is particularly evident when comparing baseline positive and negative questions (questions 5 & 6 in Experiment 1 & 3, and questions 3 in Experiment 2). Indeed, participants rated the probability of positive events as higher than that of negative events, and this distinction was even more pronounced when the questions were framed in terms of deservingness – a result consistent with the optimism bias (Sharot, 2011Sharot & Garrett, 2016).
These interpretations, however, do not appear plausible for our Experiment 4, where specific negative deeds and events were presented to participants, precluding memory search, and we still observed the same asymmetry. Similarly, Experiment 3 which tapped into BJW for others, should not have triggered a self-serving bias. However, the wording of the questions in Experiment 3 (“somebody”, “this person”) might have led participants to include themselves in the interpretation, engaging the self-serving bias (thus the only “clean” other BJW condition would be in Experiment 4). Similar ambiguity has been reported for BJW-general vs BJW-self questionnaires, as the general BJW includes both oneself and other people (Bartholomaeus & Strelan, 2019Lipkusa et al., 1996Wenzel et al., 2017).
The second result of the present experiments concerns the symmetry between positive prospective and retrospective conditions. Similar to the negative asymmetry, across experiments participants tended to give higher scores in the prospective than in the retrospective condition. This result, however, was less pronounced and consistent than for negative asymmetry: a significant difference in the mentioned direction was only observed in Experiment 2 and 3. A similar explanation as for the negative asymmetry could be invoked: the cognitive load of retrieving past instances of good behaviour that could be rewarded resulted in lower endorsement ratings for the retrospective condition, compared to the prospective condition. This result might be less pronounced than for the negative questions because the self-serving bias is not involved – that is, the questions did not provoke a need to foster a positive image of oneself (Bradley, 1978Mezulis et al., 2004).
The third asymmetry we observed showed that participants tended to give higher scores for positive than negative statements (especially retrospective questions), a result that could again be due to the self-serving bias (i.e., the desire for a positive representation of oneself (Bradley, 1978Mezulis et al., 2004), as well as the optimism bias – the overestimation of the probability of encountering positive events (Morewedge et al., 2005Sharot, 2011Sharot & Garrett, 2016) and biased recollection of positive events (Baumeister & Cairns, 1992Mischel et al., 1976Seidlitz & Diener, 1993). Interestingly, this result was absent in Experiment 4. We believe this result might highlight the implicit (irrational, preconscious)/explicit (rational, conscious) distinction in the BJW literature. Lerner (1998) draws this distinction emphasising that most adults do not actually believe that the world is just, but have the need to reduce the anxiety of living in an unpredictable world by re-establishing justice through cognitive scripts (Lerner, 1998). Thus, when the impact of the self-serving bias (implicit effect) is reduced (due to the use of situations not involving the self as in our Experiment 4) it is the prospective negative situation (do a bad deed – get punished) that is endorsed the most. In line with previous studies showing increased cognitive processing and significance of negative events ( HYPERLINK \l "bib6" Baumeister et al., 2001 ), the negative statements in Experiment 4 would thus appear more representative of the way participants perceive the world (i.e. as harbouring an increased probability for negative events).
Interestingly, the above asymmetries are represented in folk psychology by the notion of “karma” (that appears to have a predominantly negative connotation) and prospectively formulated proverbs (also appearing predominantly negative): he who digs a pit will fall into it; old sins cast long shadows; you reap what you sow; before you begin the journey of revenge, dig two graves; every man's sin falls on his own head; harm set, harm get; what goes around comes around; etc. It is unclear whether participants’ responses in our surveys were driven by the exposure frequency to such sayings, resulting in higher endorsement of similarly phrased prospective statements, or whether a common mechanism explains the preference for prospective moral representations. Importantly, although previous research shows that karma beliefs and BJW are distinct phenomena, it has also been reported that karma beliefs were specifically associated with perceived causality for negative events following bad behaviour ( HYPERLINK \l "bib74" White, Norenzayan & Schaller, 2019 ), i.e. our prospective condition. Although we did not explicitly measure karma beliefs in our participants, this could explain why in this experiment they scored the highest on this prospective condition.
Finally, the asymmetry for BJW between self and other is difficult to interpret based on our results. Previous work shows a pronounced asymmetry between self and other BJW, which relate to different aspects of behaviour and personality (Bartholomaeus & Strelan, 2019Lipkusa et al., 1996Schindler et al., 2019Wenzel et al., 2017). As mentioned above, Experiment 3 might not be considered as solely representing judgements for other people, but also includes implicit judgement about the self. Comparing Experiment 1 and Experiment 3, we find that participants scored higher in Experiment 3 (other) in the deservingness survey for positive prospective, retrospective and baseline questions. Interestingly, Experiment 4, which we consider to be a “cleaner” other condition, yielded the lowest endorsement rates for all the questions, as compared to the other three experiments. This is consistent with previous work that shows that participants report higher scores for self BJW than for general BJW (reviewed in Bartholomaeus & Strelan, 2019Lipkusa et al., 1996Wenzel et al., 2017), meaning that self-relevant questions are endorsed to a higher degree than questions concerning others.
In accordance with previous research, our results indicate an association between BJW and religiosity (Dalbert & Katona-Sallay, 1996Kunst, Bjorck & Tan, 2000Szmajke, 1991White et al., 2019): most questions in our surveys positively correlated with the belief in God. Disentangling the relationship between BJW and religiosity was not the primary aim of the present research; however, it confirms the previously reported association between the two.
Our results yield several implications. First, the assumed symmetry of the BJW, reported since Lerner first introduced the phenomenon, and up to the most recent papers in 2019 (Armstrong, 2019Schindler et al., 2019Westfall et al., 2019), does not hold. Participants appear to endorse the prospective BJW “do -> get” more than the retrospective “got -> did” BJW. It would be of interest to examine what influences this asymmetry, and how it interacts with other domains, affected by the BJW, for example, life satisfaction (Ucar, Hasta & Malatyali, 2019), antisocial behaviour (Schindler et al., 2019Wenzel et al., 2017) or social judgements of value (Alves, Pereira, Sutton & Correia, 2019).
Specifically, the finding that the retrospective negative condition was endorsed the lowest among the other target conditions may have some hope for the adverse effects of BJW, such as victim blaming. Making people's retrospective BJW explicit might help reduce their perceptions that someone else's apparently arbitrary misfortunes are caused by some previous misdeeds (Landström et al., 2016Vonderhaar & Carmody, 2015).
Second, the above has larger implications for the information processing theories, which invoke implicational molecules (Kruglanski, 2013Loken & Weyer, 1983Wyer, 2019Wyer & Carlston, 2018Wyer, 2006). Our direct survey approach shows that beliefs bound together by psychological implication are not necessarily all endorsed to the same degree, thus calling for a refinement of the theory.
Third, BJW seems to be asymmetrically affected by religiosity and the belief in karma (i.e. the prospective negative condition is more endorsed than others). Future research could test whether the asymmetries we observed are present across different cultures that endorse the karma belief to a different extent.
Finally, BJW is a complex belief that interacts with other cognitive biases and personality traits. Previous research in the latter domains has used computational modelling to identify the circumstances under which participants’ behaviour departs from optimality (Eil & Rao, 2011Mobius, Niederle, Niehaus & Rosenblat, 2011). A similar normative approach could be beneficial to represent the complexity of BJW, an approach that surprisingly has not been applied in this field. Hierarchical Bayesian models could be used to formalise participants’ predictions about future events based on their prior knowledge, and how new information (confirming or disconfirming the priors) is integrated. Such an approach will shed new light on the debate about whether belief formation and change in neurotypical individuals follows the rules of Bayesian optimality (Tappin & Gadsby, 2019).

Keeping a smartphone in hand and frequent checking is linked to extraversion and poorer performance on tests of sustained attention and general intelligence, particularly semantic reasoning

Pluck, Graham. 2020. “Cognitive Ability, Reward Processing and Personality Associated with Different Aspects of Smartphone Use.” PsyArXiv. March 24. doi:10.31234/osf.io/sqfu2

Abstract: Smartphone use has become ubiquitous. Keeping smartphones close and always on, with alerts for new messages, etc., means that users experience unprecedented levels of distracting and reinforcing stimulation, with wide-ranging psychological implications. We interviewed 121 students to record aspects of smartphone use, personality, psychological distress (depression/anxiety), cognitive, social-cognitive, and reward processing. We found that questionnaire-measured problematic phone use is linked to poorer academic performance and to higher psychological distress, neuroticism, psychometric impulsivity and image management. Social media use is linked to neuroticism. Keeping a smartphone in hand and frequent checking is associated with extraversion and poorer performance on tests of sustained attention and general intelligence, particularly semantic reasoning. The number of messenger services used is associated with sensitivity to financial rewards and responses to social reinforcement in an instrumental/operant conditioning task. However, the later result links messenger use to resistance to reinforcement, implying a goal-directed association driven by demand characteristics. Overall, the current results, and review of extant literature, suggest that there are generally negative impacts of smartphone use on psychological health, including cognitive function. Furthermore, variation in responses to reward and reinforcement is an important individual differences factor linked particularly to social communication with instant messaging services.

Los Angeles & SARS-CoV-2 restrictions: Significant decrease in robberies (-23%/-24%), shoplifting (-14%/-15%), thefts (-9.1%/-9.6%), and overall trend of crimes (-5.4%/-5.6%)

Campedelli, Gian M., Alberto Aziani, and Serena Favarin. 2020. “Exploring the Effect of 2019-ncov Containment Policies on Crime: The Case of Los Angeles.” OSF Preprints. March 23. doi:10.31219/osf.io/gcpq8

Abstract: The global spread of 2019-nCoV, a new virus belonging to the coronavirus family, forced national and local governments to apply different sets of measures aimed at containing the outbreak. Los Angeles has been one of the first cities in the United States to declare the state of emergency on March 4th, progressively issuing stronger policies involving (among the others) social distancing, the prohibition of crowded private and public gatherings and closure of leisure premises. These interventions highly disrupt and modify daily activities and habits, urban mobility and micro-level interactions between citizens. One of the many social phenomena that could be influenced by such measures is crime. Exploiting public data on crime in Los Angeles, and relying on routine activity and pattern theories of crime, this work investigates whether and how new coronavirus containment policies have an impact on crime trends in a metropolis. The article specifically focuses on eight urban crime categories, daily monitored from January 1st 2017 to March 16th 2020. The analyses will be updated bi-weekly to dynamically assess the shortand medium-term effects of these interventions to shed light on how crime adapts to such structural modification of the environment. Finally, policy implications are also discussed.