Freakonomics Study Investigates Decision-Making and Estimated Prior Probabilitiespost by telms · 2013-07-30T04:08:01.527Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 2 comments
The Freakonomics web site is currently conducting online research that appears, to this properly hypothesis-blinded participant, to be investigating decision-making and estimated prior probability of success. You can participate yourself at http://www.freakonomics.com/experiments/.
The study asks the participant to choose a yes/no decision that they would be willing to commit to making on the basis of a random coin toss. (Well, actually, the random decay of an atomic nucleus, but they use coin flip graphics.) In my case, the only decision I was willing to make on such a random basis is something with very low risks: namely, the decision whether or not to quit twisting my hair. I accepted the obligation to change my behavior based on a coin toss, and the coin toss says I gotta change.
Breaking a habit of such long standing will be difficult. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and all that, so when they asked how LIKELY I thought it would be that my hair-twisting habit would stick despite my best efforts to get rid of it, I estimated 90%. Yet I also claimed that I WILL PROBABLY (not certainly, but probably) conquer the habit.
Yes, I recognize the dissonance between these two statements. It intrigues me. Is it perhaps the intent of the experiment to create explicit, conscious, cognitive dissonance like this in some participants, and see what difference it makes to outcomes?
They could easily have phrased the odds question in the inverse form. They COULD have asked how likely I thought it was that I would SUCCEED in achieving my goal. That would align neatly with my statement of commitment and yield no dissonance. I could make the usual biased assumptions that strength of willpower is the same as odds of success, and over-estimate those success odds accordingly.
I don't actually know that the study cares about this, but this is what I would care about if I were the researchers.
The Freakonomics people will be following up over time by email. They're also checking on me through a friend, so there is every possibility that they expect to see an interaction between social involvement in the decision's outcome and the presence of cognitive dissonance, which is believed to drive SOCIAL behavior more strongly than it drives personal decisions kept to oneself.
I'm posting this to increase my social commitment, of course. I also posted on Facebook. It's terrible to have a psychologically trained participant make assumptions about your research project and leverage those assumptions to the max for imaginary ends. But that's life in social science. :)
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