Experimental Economics and Game Theory Seminar for November 15

Events, Seminars | November 4, 2019

Join us for the ICES Seminar in Experimental Economics and Game Theory of the Fall 2019 semester, featuring Robert Frank.

Dr. Frank, of Cornell University, will discuss his paper The Mother of All Cognitive Illusions (Abstract). The talk will take place on Friday, November 15th, from 4:00 to 5:00pm in room 5183 of Vernon Smith Hall, Arlington campus.
Visit the Seminar schedule to access the paper and to learn more about upcoming speakers.


As psychologists have long understood, social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, but often for the worst. Less widely noted is that social influence is a two-way street: Our environments are in large part themselves a product of our own choices. Why have we been so reluctant to consider that second pathway?
For example, we have long embraced regulations that limit physical harm to others, as when smoking restrictions are defended as protecting by standards from secondhand smoke. But we have been slower to endorse parallel steps that discourage harmful social environments, as when regulators fail to note that the far greater harm caused when someone becomes a smoker is to make others more likely to smoke.
In Under the Influence, Robert Frank attributes this regulatory asymmetry to the laudable belief that individuals should accept responsibility for their own behavior. Yet that belief, he argues, does not challenge the legitimacy of public policies that encourage more supportive social environments.
Because behavioral contagion dramatically amplifies the effects of small initial changes potential gains from such policies are enormous, as when higher cigarette taxes reduced US smoking rates by nearly 70 percent in just a few decades. Similar steps, Frank shows, could also curtail contagion’s influence in other domains, such as bullying, text cheating, sexual predation, problem drinking, and the obesity epidemic.
Most important, contagion-based policies could help parry the threat posed by the climate crisis. By far the strongest predictor of whether we install solar panels, buy electric cars, eat more responsibly, and support climate-friendly policies is the percentage of peers could take those steps. A better understanding of behavioral contagion identifies simple ways of redirecting trillions of dollars annually toward a carbon-free economy, all without demanding painful sacrifices for anyone.
That claim may strike many as preposterous. But as Frank explains, it follows logically from premises that no serious behavioral scientist would question.

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