2014-2015 Winter

Lee Jussim

January 5, 2015

Desperately Seeking the “WOW! Effect”: How Questionable Interpretive Practices Enable Social Psychologists to Present Weak and Non-Existent Phenomena as Powerful, Pervasive, and Important

ABSTRACT: Much of what passes for conventional social psychological wisdom regarding social perception is not just wrong, it is spectacularly wrong.  These are plausibly called “errors.”  Social psychologists have long established that “errors” reveal psychological processes, biases, and motivations of those committing the errors.  These conclusion errors unjustifiably bolster a theoretical emphasis on lay irrationality and the leftwing politics held by many social psychologists.  For example, in contrast to widespread interpretation: Hastorf & Cantril (1954) demonstrated that social perception is almost perfectly unbiased; Steele & Aronson (1995) demonstrated that removing stereotype threat has no effect at all on black underachievement; and correlations of IAT scores with “discrimination” sometimes reflect anti-White discrimination, not anti-Black discrmination (McConnell & Leibold, 2001).  It gets worse. Self-fulfilling prophecies and person perception biases are neither powerful nor pervasive.  Some of the most “classic” expectancy studies in social psychology may have shown nothing at all (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968); or have proven irreplicable (Darley & Gross, 1982; Snyder & Swann, 1977, 1978).  The role of stereotypes in person perception is weak; the role of individuating information extremely powerful.  Stereotype accuracy is one of the largest relationships in all of social psychology.  If I have enough time, I will review a slew of logical incoherencies and double standards that pervade social psychological claims (example: people are accused of irrationality and bias if they ignore base-rates or if they rely on base-rates).  Many social psychologists despise or fear these conclusions, some are aggressive and derogatory when expressing their displeasure, and will, when possible, attempt to get away with ignoring or dismissing the data.  Amazingly, I nonetheless conclude with a slew of reasons to be optimistic social psychology’s future.

Rob MacCoun

January 12, 2015

The Epistemic Contract: Fostering an Appropriate Level of Public Trust in Experts

ABSTRACT: I first provide a brief review of public opinion data on trust in scientists and other experts. These data, perhaps surprisingly, show that experts are largely viewed quite favorably. I then examine two research paradigms that highlight more nuanced aspects of our trust in experts, and argue that they offer converging evidence that, while citizens and experts bring both “inquisitorial” and “adversarial” motives to debates, the desire for truth carries real weight and is not simply given lip service. I close by articulating a normative epistemic contract for experts and their consumers, and I review recent developments that suggest ways of facilitating that contract’s successful performance.

Rob Macoun
Ellen Konar

January 26, 2015

Beyond Promoting the Net Promoter Score: Smart Data for Big Decisions

ABSTRACT: In his now classic 2003 Harvard Business Review article, Fred Reichheld proposed the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to replace the varied and often complex customer satisfaction measurement programs popular in industry at the time.  Reichheld proposed a single question tapping inclination toward advocacy: “how likely are you to recommend (company X) to your friends and colleagues?” as the “one number you need to grow” to grow your business.  NPS has since become a virtual standard, not just as a metric, but entire management system, across Fortune 500 companies (Inc Magazine, 2006) and “wildly popular” in companies large and small across a broad range of industries (Forrester Research, 2012). “NPS has the force of a revolution” (CNN Money, 2008).

Researchers, competitors and industry thought leaders have raised important questions and surfaced data to challenge (1) the superiority and unique value of “likelihood to recommend” to asses customer experience, satisfaction, and loyalty, and predict growth (2) the recommended methods for capturing, analyzing and describing the data. We propose to pick up where Reichheld and his critics have left off to investigate both the basic proposition and the specific techniques inherent in the modern day ‘NPS management system’.  Information on customer advocacy, satisfaction and liking elicited on several different scale types from thousands of consumers in four waves of survey data collected over the past 6 years, can now be linked to key metrics of subsequent company growth.

This ‘in-process project’ (looking for a super analyst/collaborator) is described in the context of the speaker’s work “beyond academia” bringing smart data for big decisions to the task of making and marketing disruptive products for the mainstream.

Ellen Konar
Valentina Bosetti

February 2, 2015

Selection of climate policies under the uncertainties outlined in IPCC AR5

ABSTRACT: Strategies for dealing with climate change must account for all the relevant uncertainties and manage the resulting risks. Here we draw on the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) to infer probability distributions of mitigation costs, temperature changes and resulting climate change impacts, thus using the best available knowledge to quantify the deep uncertainties associated with climate policies. We have selected a range of climate policies according to the different decision-making criteria as regard uncertainty, risk aversion and intertemporal discounting. Our findings show that the choice of the decision-making criteria is as important as that of the thoroughly analysed time discount factor. Climate policies consistent with 2°C are compatible with some criteria and some specifications, but not with the standard expected utility framework.

Valentina Bosetti
David Yeager

February 9, 2015

Coping with social stressors during adolescence: A process model and intervention strategy

ABSTRACT: The transition to high school coincides with normative increases in stress and, for many students, the onset of depression and increased academic disengagement. Why is this? The transition to high school can be fraught with social difficulty, as teens gain or lose new friendships, social exclusion rises in frequency, and social hierarchies are shaken up. Combined with biological changes that focus attention on social hierarchy and a developing social-cognitive ability to project one’s identity and social status far into the future, these can create a “perfect storm” for stress–or the sense that the demands of the environment exceed one’s ability to cope with them. This stress can spill over into a number of domains of cognitive, physiological, and emotional functioning. My research seeks to understand why some adolescents cope differently during the transition to high school–why some interpret social difficulty as diagnostic of a bleak social future, leading to stress, academic underperformance, internalizing symptoms, and even a desire for violent revenge.  It also shows the causal role of beliefs by changing them through intervention, improving adolescents’ coping over time.  In a number of studies, even time-limited messages have led to reductions in global stress, depressive symptoms, course failure, and aggressive retaliation many months later. Discussion will center on how social-cognitions can act as a “lens” for filtering adverse experience during difficult life transitions.  Results have implications for biopsychosocial models of coping, lifespan theories of development, and social psychological theories of behavior change.

Curtiss Cobb

February 26, 2015

Cross-Cultural Variation in Mode Effects Between Smartphone and Computer-based Web Surveys

ABSTRACT: Mobile devices are quickly become the dominant mode for accessing the Internet around the world.  Experts predict that mobile Internet usage will overtake desktop Internet use worldwide this year (mobi-Thinking 2014).  With the rapid increase in use of mobile devices for Internet, web surveys completed using smartphones and tablets have followed suit, with current estimates ranging from 7% -30% of web surveys taken on a mobile device (Maritz 2013).  Survey methodologists are busy exploring the mode effects between smartphone and computer-based web surveys and developing “best practices” for the design of multi-mode web surveys, but they do so based on research done almost exclusively on Americans or Western Europeans.  It is unclear whether the same mode effects are present to the same extent among other cultures, especially those where mobile is often the first and primary mode of Internet access.

This talk will present a series of findings on cross-cultural variation in mode effects (both selection and measurement effects) between smartphone and computer-based web surveys using data from Facebook’s internal survey capabilities.  I will also talk about how Facebook takes into account changing the changing impacts of mode when trying to understand trends in user sentiment.  Facebook currently collects more than 40,000 survey responses a day from around the globe from respondents using both computer-based and mobile devices.

Curtiss Cobb
Neil Malhotra

March 2, 2015

Expectation Setting and Retrospective Voting

ABSTRACT: That citizens engage in retrospective voting is widely established in the literature. But to what extent is retrospection affected by the expectations that leaders set in advance? We develop a theoretical framework of how expectation setting affects voters’ retrospective evaluations of incumbent performance. To test the theory, we conduct a series of between-subjects experiments in which we independently manipulate both expectation setting and the eventual outcome. In domains where politicians have practical authority, or direct influence over outcomes, setting high expectations incurs a cost in public support if the projected outcome is not attained. The same is true in domains where politicians have theoretical authority, or limited influence but where expectation setting sends a signal about the leader’s judgment. However, in domains where politicians have neither practical nor theoretical authority, setting high expectations is unambiguously beneficial, implying that optimism is valued by voters as a personality disposition.

Jeff Bonheim

March 9, 2015

Types of military operations and their effects on public support for war

ABSTRACT: Public opinion about war is important to the study of both American politics and international relations because it is generally thought to affect U.S. electoral outcomes and to influence a state’s propensity for the use of force.  Existing research has shown that the public’s understanding of the costs (informed primarily by battlefield casualties) and its expectations of success both play significant roles in shaping support for an ongoing conflict.  This paper examines how the types of military operations that are used to achieve a policy goal affect the public’s expectations of success, its tolerance for casualties, and its overall support.  Recent work emphasizes that “good news” from the battlefield can increase expectations of success, which increases casualty tolerance and can bolster support for the war.  “Good news,” however, cannot simply be conjured up, but is instead the result of actions that are part of a larger strategy to achieve the policy goal.  In most situations, political and military leaders have several possible strategies to choose from.  These strategy options are likely to vary both in the ability to achieve the policy goal and in the ability of interim outcomes to influence public support.  Differential effects on public support could generate cross-cutting incentives for leaders who want to balance effectiveness with political support.  Focusing on two classes of operations that are prevalent in counterinsurgency campaigns — offensive and stability-focused operations — I conducted four survey experiments to examine their effects on public support.  When treating respondents as members of a “monolithic” public, I find general support for the predictions of “cost-benefit” theories — support for the mission and the president are reduced by casualties and interim failures in general, but the type of operation has limited influence.  The type of operation does have a significant effect, however, on expectations of success in achieving policy goals.  However, the concept of one “public” masks important differences between partisans in the effects of operation type on support.  Most interestingly, among Democrats, the expectation of overall success is responsive to good or bad interim outcomes and the number of casualties with little regard for operation type.  Conversely, among Republicans, the expectation of overall success is responsive to operation type with little regard for outcomes and casualties.  This suggests that policy outcomes are salient for presidential co-partisans, while policy preferences are salient for opposition party members.  I also conduct causal mediation analysis to examine potential mechanisms for these treatment effects, including perceived likelihood of success, predictions of future costs, moral judgments, and emotional reactions.