Thursday, July 26, 2018

Are Intuitive Decisions Expected To Be More Cooperative?

This is the first in a, potentially endless, series of blogposts where I write about a research idea I came up with but of which I realised, after having read some of the related literature, that it already had been answered by someone else. Maybe not in the way I would have done it myself but close enough for me to decide not to pursue it any further and instead just dump my thoughts about it here.

There is fairly convincing evidence that intuitive decisions are often more cooperative than decisions that are the result of long deliberations. David G. Rand calls this the Social Heuristics Hypothesis (SHH).The idea is that we learn, by interacting with others, that being cooperative is generally pay-off maximizing in the long run and that we internalize this willingness to cooperate so that in situations where it isn't the best strategy, such as for instance in a one-shot interaction with a stranger, and we are making our decision intuitively, we will be more likely to cooperate. Only when we are allowed to deliberate we will see that this particular situation might be the exception to the rule.

Intuitive decision making can be forced in different ways, using cognitive load for instance, but the method that's used most often in the literature is that of time constraints; forcing participants to make their decision in a short amount of time. One of the specific predictions of the SHH is that the effect - faster decisions are more cooperative - will be found in one shot situations but not in repeated interactions where cooperating may actually be long term beneficial. And that seems indeed to be the case.

One thing I wondered after reading more and more about the SHH is whether we as a people have figured out the next step yet. As in, if intuitive, fast decisions are often more cooperative are decisions that are made faster or under time constraints expected to be more cooperative? As it turns out, I wasn't the only one who wondered this.

The title of Evans and van de Calseyde (2017) is a bit of a giveaway that they also were interested in this question, The Effects of Observed Decision Time on Expectations of Extremity and Cooperation (PDF here). They run a number of different experiments around the public good game where the participants have to guess how much a (hypothetical) other participant contributed after they were told about how fást the other player had made the decision. If participants are aware of the SHH faster decisions should be expected to be more cooperative. This is not what they find.

They can make the comparison five times on the basis of the four experiments they run. They find no effect in two instances. The opposite effect - faster decisions are actually expected to be léss cooperative - in another two. And that faster decisions are expected to be more cooperative just once. This last finding was in the one experiment where participants were also shown photos of the decision-makers they were paired with and the authors argue that this may have had an influence on their expectations.

One reason why it may be the case that Evans and van de Calseyde do not find that faster decision are expected to be more cooperative is in what they tell their participants about these decisions. As far as I understand it, they say that the person the participant is to form an expectation about chose themselves to make a faster (or slower) decision. They're simply told: the other person made their decision in X seconds and this is below/above the average. This may matter. This kind of self-paced decision time, as argued by Evans and Rand (2018), may not say a lot about how intuitive the decision was made but how easy it was to make it, which can also be interpreted as how strong the opinion of the decision maker on this topic is. This is actually consistent with the main finding, found in all four the experiments, of Evans and van de Calseijde (2017) namely that faster decisions are expected to more extreme; that contributions are further away from the middle of the available distribution.

So maybe there ís room for an experiment where participants are told that their partner was forced to make a decision in a short amount of time, instead of these self-paced decision times, and that there we will find that the (forced) faster decisions are expected to be more cooperative. I haven't found a paper yet that does that. I am not entirely sure that such a subtle difference will have a big effect.

(UPDATE: having read the Evans and van de Calseyde a bit more careful they actually do a version with externally constrained time pressure. It's one of the treatments in experiment 2. They find no effect on expectations).

On the other hand, there is already evidence that people think that faster decisions are expected to be more cooperative. Jordan, Hoffman, Nowak and Rand (2016) show that participants take into account whether their decision comes across as calculating or non-calculating if they know this will be observed (or not) by someone they will interact with next. If they know the speed of their decision will be told to the person they will subsequently play a trust game with, they will make a faster cooperative decision nów than if the speed of their decision won't be communicated.

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