Category: Decision making

Here’s How The Experience Of Regret Develops Through Childhood

By Emma Young

Edith Piaf famously regretted nothing. But regret is an important emotion, because it can lead us to avoid repeating mistakes, or to heal damaged relationships. It’s also an emotion that many of us feel on a regular basis. “Regret is ubiquitous and powerful,” write Teresa McCormack at Queen’s University Belfast and colleagues in a new paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. “It is one of the most frequently mentioned emotions in conversation and affects a huge variety of everyday choices.”

Though there’s been plenty of work on regret in adults, much less is known about how it develops in children. In this new review, McCormack and her colleagues consider what we do know about its development, and outline the major gaps still left to fill. There are implications not just for the basic understanding of regret but also for informing educators in nurseries and schools. After all, even young children are expected to feel bad about harming others — but, depending on their age, there are limits to just what they can feel in such a scenario.

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Cognitive Control Helps Cheaters To Stay Honest — And Honest People To Cheat

By Emma Young

Many of us are faced with daily temptations to cheat. You might be offered the chance to download pirated music, perhaps. Or you might wonder about passing your child off as younger than they are, to avoid buying them a ticket on public transport.

As the authors of a new paper, published in PNAS, point out, several lines of research propose that cognitive control is needed for us to resolve the conflict between wanting to cheat and wanting to be honest. We need, in other words, to make an effort to rein in our impulses. However, the new work, led by Sebastian Speer at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, shows that this means different things for different people. If you’re typically honest, cognitive control can turn you into a cheat.

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When Causing Harm Is Unavoidable, We Prefer To Cause More Harm For More Benefits Rather Than Less Harm For Fewer

By Matthew Warren

Imagine that you’re an official faced with an unenviable decision: you must choose whether to establish a farm on existing land which can produce enough to feed 100 hungry families, or cut down an acre of rainforest to create a larger farm able to feed 500 hungry families. What choice would you make?

If you chose not to cut down the rainforest, you’re in the majority. In a new paper in Psychological Science, participants tended to avoid choosing to harm the rainforest, despite the benefits it would bring. This isn’t surprising: time and again, researchers have found that we will avoid causing harm if possible.

Now imagine that your choice is made harder. There’s no free land left; you have to cut down some of the rainforest. Would you cut down one acre to feed 100 families, or two acres to feed 500?

It’s an interesting question, because although researchers believe we’re generally averse to causing harm, they hadn’t really studied how we make decisions when some amount of harm is unavoidable.  And, perhaps surprisingly, in this second scenario almost 80% of people chose to do more damage, cutting down two acres of forest rather than one. In fact, across five other studies as well, Jonathan Berma from London Business School and Daniella Kupor from Boston University find that in situations where harm is unavoidable, people consistently try to maximise the social benefit, rather than minimise the amount of harm caused.

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Reminders Of God Don’t Actually Encourage Us To Take Risks, Replication Study Finds

 By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

“…Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.”

This passage, pulled from Isaiah 41.10, is just one example of the Bible’s many references to God’s power to protect. And this protective persona might affect you much more than you think. At least that’s what emerged in 2015, when researchers from Stanford University published a string of studies finding that people prompted to think of God made significantly riskier decisions — whether or not they were religious.

The scientists’ explanation, promptly picked up by the media, was that thinking of God makes risk-taking less intimidating because it primes us to expect divine protection. As of recently, however, this narrative has not stood up to scrutiny. The first pre-registered replication of this study, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that the effect was probably no more than an exciting false positive.

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People’s Desire To Reciprocate Acts Of Kindness Is Surprisingly Robust

By Emily Reynolds

Prosocial behaviour can sometimes feel pretty paradoxical: you’re doing something to benefit somebody else, but it can come at a cost to yourself. That cost could be small — getting up to make a cup of tea, for example — or could be more significant in terms of time, money, or energy.

Research has already established that there are four main forms of “reciprocity” that drive people to behave prosocially: wanting to do something nice for somebody who had been kind to you (direct reciprocity); doing good in the presence of people who might reward your generosity (reputational giving); paying it forward after experiencing kindness yourself (generalised reciprocity); or doing something for someone you’d seen be generous (rewarding reputation).

But most of these motivations have been studied individually: what happens when — as in real life — they all occur at once? In a new study published in Science Advances, David Melamed and colleagues find that people intrinsically want to help each other — even when those drivers seem like they are competing with one another.

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We Think We’re Better Than Others At Avoiding Online Scams

By Emily Reynolds

Some attempted online scams are pretty obvious: those of us who are internet savvy, for example, are unlikely to reply to emails promising us millions of pounds worth of Bitcoin, no matter how often they land in our inbox.

Others, however, are harder to detect — and we may be overestimating our ability to do so, according to a new study in Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology from E. Blair Cox and colleagues at New York University. It finds that people tend to believe they are less likely to fall for such scams than others, and that this assumption can actually put them at more risk.

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We Often Choose To Avoid Learning Information That Could Benefit Us

By Emily Reynolds

Picture the scene: you’re attending a regular medical checkup, fielding questions about your health and lifestyle, when your doctor tells you they can accurately estimate your life expectancy from your answers. Would you want to hear the truth, no matter how brutal it might be? Or would you prefer to live in ignorance?

If you belong to the latter category, you’re not alone. A new study in Management Science has found that many of us would rather avoid stressful or uncomfortable truths — even if they might benefit us.

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Having Too Much Information Can Lead Us To Make Worse Decisions

By Emily Reynolds

Ensuring you’re well-informed before making a choice is, on the whole, a sensible thing to do. This is especially true of big decisions — just pretending you’ve read the terms and conditions of a new website might be okay, but we’re unlikely to be so lax about our health or finances.

But could too much information lead us to make worse, not better, decisions? A study published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications suggests that sometimes that might be the case.

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Behavioural “Nudges” Are Ineffective At Encouraging Commuters To Carpool Or Take The Bus

By Emma Young

You’ll probably be familiar with the idea of behavioural “nudges” — interventions that encourage people to make better choices, without changing the actual options available. As a concept, nudging has become hugely popular, with at least 200 “nudge units” in governments and institutions around the world. We’ve certainly reported on a few studies finding that simple nudges encourage people to give more to charity, and help people to make healthier soft drink choices from fast food menus, for example. You might be forgiven for thinking, then, that there are no limits to what nudging can do….

Well, a recent set of studies designed to “nudge” commuters’ behaviour, published in Nature Human Behaviour and involving a total of almost 69,000 people, has found that there definitely are limits. “The failure of these well-powered experiments … highlights both the difficulty of changing commuter behaviour and the importance of publishing null results to build cumulative knowledge about how to encourage sustainable travel,” write Ariella S. Kristal and Ashley V. Whillans, of Harvard Business School.

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Why Some People Find It Harder To Drag Themselves To Bed At Night

By Emily Reynolds

You’re exhausted. You’ve had a long day at work before coming home to make dinner, do some chores and relax, and now it’s time for bed. But for some reason — despite the fact you’ve been struggling to stay awake all day — you can’t quite bring yourself to stop what you’re doing and go to sleep.

If this sounds familiar, you’ll be pleased to hear that you’re not the only one who lacks willpower when it’s time to go to bed. It’s so widespread, in fact, that Katharina Bernecker from the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien and Veronika Job at the Technical University of Dresden have investigated what could be driving the phenomenon in a new paper published in the British Journal of Psychology.

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