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11/07/2014

Comments

Samantha Smith

Before reading this piece by Wilson, I didn’t really know or understand affect versus emotion and analytical versus experimental systems in decision-making. I think that Wilson’s conclusions are interesting and make sense in that building trust, facilitating trade-offs and incorporating value based systems is important in order to get people to understand and to make conservation decisions. I think that it is important that the author acknowledges the difficulty that this may have and that there needs to be a balance in this dual process in the brain. A few questions that I have from this conclusion is- who does the author think are the people that need to be the most balanced? Is it the decision makers in the government? Would the general public make the most impact if there was a balance between analytical and experimental processes? Who could help public involvement the most? Where does she see the balance between technical and value-based objectives being the most beneficial to conservation efforts?

Completely unrelated, one of the most interesting takeaways from this paper for me was on page 1454, when the author explains integral affect. I couldn’t imagine that as a humans we are all preprogrammed to have a preference for savanna-like environments because throughout evolution, humans thrived in these places. It seemed far-fetched because there is a chance that for generations and generations your ancestors didn’t live in savanna-like areas, but then again the history of the earth and early humans goes back hundreds of thousands of years so it is true that these unexplained preferences could exist even if an individual has never seen a savanna. I just thought it was crazy that this is in our brains whether we know it or not. It makes me wonder how much is already programmed in our brains and where our own life experiences start to take over our affect and emotions.

Morgan Moskal

In the second experiment comparing Affect with statistically higher risk, Wilson compares peoples’ decision-making between petty crime and deer over population. At first people are more concerned with petty crime, but after the available information is changed, people become relatively more concerned with deer overpopulation.

By using different methods of facilitating these trade offs, it seems like Wilson is more or less “loading” the question being asked of these people. At first people are making a decision based on the likeliness of the event occurring as well as the impact they will feel after the specific events occur. People may feel like they are nearly helpless in the case of over population and the negative effects are distributed amongst everyone, where as the possibility of petty crime will only impact themselves and they also have some sort of ability to minimize the risk by themselves. So, what is causing people to change their answers across the two different experiments? It seems like the difference between experiments is that the information and questions are being presented in a way that tell people which choice to make. If this is the case, what do these results actually mean? How can we interpret these results in a meaningful way? What is causing people to answer differently from survey to survey?

Julia Harbaugh

This paper was really interesting to me on numerous accounts- from the affect vs analytical, to individual’s trust, to conservation. In general I am very curious about the mechanism behind an individual’s conservation efforts. I personally do not understand why people don’t love to recycle like I do. Growing up I spent my summers at camp in Maine and grew to appreciate the outdoors. After interning in San Francisco and having the option to put trash into compost, recycle, or trash, it pains me to throw something away that could be recycled. I even made my housemates set up four different bins (aluminum, plastic, cardboard, and glass) that I bring to the recycling center. Clearly my values are different than the general public of Rockbridge County...which doesn’t provide recycling services. If we put everyone in San Francisco would they grow to appreciate recycling as well? My friend’s sister spent a summer in SF and one of her main complaints about the city was she had to pay 10 cents for a plastic bag if she did not bring a reusable bag. She hated this policy and I loved it- so in general I am very intrigued by different attitudes towards the environment and conservation.
Going more into the reading, I thought Wilson had a lot of interesting points. I was not surprised by the one study in which individuals expected their own losses to be significantly undervalued by unknown individuals. This directly relates to my feelings toward my friend’s sister, people with preferences similar to her preferences would undervalue how much I would lose. Additionally, we are all pretty selfish so this sense of distrust and people not entirely understanding our preferences makes a lot of sense. The distrust greatly questions our system of making laws and policies- a few individuals make the decision for a much larger population. Meanwhile, most individuals think their losses are undervalued. I think the only way to remedy this would be to have more conversation between policy makers and the constituents, so individuals can feel like their ideas are heard.
A final point I thought was pretty funny in regards to human nature was our response to affect-rich situations. The study looked at petty crime (affect rich, low risk) and deer overpopulation (affect neutral, high risk). Of course, subjects allocated significantly greater funding to the affect-rich scenario. This made me think of the issue of climate change and rising sea levels. Rising sea levels pose a huge threat to nations close to sea level. The president of Kiribati, which averages only about 2 meters above sea level, has already spent millions of dollars to buy land in Fiji as a potential new home for his 100,000 people. Climate change poses the threat of washing away entire communities and cultures- displacing individuals into other countries. However, the people not on those island communities are more concerned about dumping as much money as they can into anti-terrorist efforts. We don’t care about entire communities being engulfed by the sea because it is affect-neutral, but HIGH-risk.
My response to this paper is a little all over the place, but I thought it effectively touched on a variety of aspects to human nature.

Curtis Jay Correll

Like Sam said, I find it amazing that we are pre-disposed to prefer savanna-like environments because of human development and evolution in such environments. I would be curious to see the study that showed that though, as it would then be difficult to explain the appeal of mountains and other different environments. Is a preference for another environment an aberration or a phenomenon of evolution based in some survival mechanism?

Along that train of thought, the difference between integral and incidental affect was drawn out very nicely in this paper. Thinking of integral affect as preprogrammed responses is a very valuable simplification. The examples of both integral and incidental affects were both effective and memorable.

The part regarding affect and emotion in conservation was fascinating to me, particularly because it relates to my research topic. Their result that people’s emotional connection with animals greatly encourages commitment to conservation and sustainability is an important result. They took it one step farther and found that people’s willingness to pay for support increases when seeing images of endangered giant pandas instead of statistics regarding them. This will be important to my research as I will be looking further into this result in the context of whale sharks.

Lucy Ortiz

This reading reminded me of Thomas Jefferson's quote, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Although this article focuses on decision aiding in conservation efforts specifically, the findings could clearly be carried over to all forms of policy creation, leading one to question the accuracy of Jefferson's belief in our ability. This paper clearly shows that it is not just information that sparks decision making in these circumstances, but affect as well. And in certain times, humans even rely more heavily on affect even after the information has been presented. I also thought that it was interesting that we even question each other in this arena, as made clear in the third study.

After reading this paper I was trying to decide what decision-makers should be doing differently in response to the conclusions on an individual level and the main idea that stood out to me was simply realizing that affects were affecting your decisions. But in the first two studies the participants were asked to rate their affects right away, which I would assume lead one to have them on their mind for the rest of the study, disproving my original thoughts. Wilson concludes by saying that participatory processes for conservation should take these ideas into account and provide more structure to ensure more balanced decisions by using both sides of the dual processing model, but where does this take us on a broader political scale in terms of policy decisions?

Also I just wanted to point out, on a completely unrelated note that this piece was published in "Conservation Biology," clearly from the conservation efforts side of the paper. But its also just cool to see how neuroecon is poking its head up everywhere.

Blair Tynes

The second experiment of this article was the most interesting of the three in my opinion. Here participants ignored risk and made decisions based on affect, choosing petty crime over the higher risk problem of deer over-population. These results are similar to the terrorist question from the last article because the fear-based affect of petty crime made participants choose the low risk outcome just like the terrorism insurance instead of all flight insurance.
I agree with Morgan’s post about “loading the question.” Specifically concerning was the quotation in the conclusion saying that “decision-aiding techniques may be useful for structured public involvement in the decision process.” Wilson goes on to say that this could be beneficial to aiding conservation efforts, which I believe is very important. However, I do not agree with the idea of loading the question to find certain results. In this case, decision aiding refers to helping people avoid affect based decision making to make informed decisions, but it could also go the other way. Affect based decision aiding could sway people away from informed decisions for negative reasons or personal gain, such as terrorism insurance if it actually existed. I’m not suggesting that this was Wilson’s plan, but his research shows lots of room for exploitation in this field. By only providing certain information, specifically affect-high information, there could be a lot of room for manipulation.

Jennifer  Friberg

I spent most of my attention on the first experiment, because it seemed to be the most perplexing. This experiment highlighted individuals making primarily affect-based decisions concerning conservation even after analyzing summary-risk tables regarding the 3 management problems. First, the participants were asked to make a purely affect-based decision by ranking the impact of 3 management problems from very good to very bad. This is the experiential system at work, basing decisions primarily off of automatic reactions and intuition. After this first step, they were each handed summary-risk tables providing the amount of risk each management problem posed on 4 objectives. They were asked to rank the 4 objectives from most important to least important. With the risk tables available, the participants were asked to prioritize the management problems once again after being able to compare each with the relative risk to the 4 objectives. This part of the experiment is where the analytic system is supposed to dominate. With their prioritized objectives and the new information given to them via summary-risk tables, calculated, conscious decisions should be predictable. An individual should allocate the most funding to the management problem that had the greatest risk to their most important objective.

However, the results showed that affect-ranking decisions overcame calculated, data-based analysis. The affect ratings, and not ranked objectives, were the significant indicators of funding. To me, this seems strange. Even after looking at data and calculated risks relative to each objective, people still had trouble overcoming their initial responses driven by affect. This concerns me, because conservation should be based on the facts and data available on risks and opportunity costs of different conservation outcomes combined with the tradeoffs of economic and social development. This experiment insinuates that many individuals, even when approached with the facts, risks, and tradeoffs, cannot be trusted to overcome their initial responses triggered by affect rather than cognition. In regards to conservation, inaction comes with high costs, both short term and long term. Understanding these costs, being compelled by the overwhelming data, and making deliberate decisions are necessary to create effective conservation efforts, and as long as people can allow their experiential system to regularly overcome their analytic system conservation efforts on a large scale will be largely inefficient and most likely unsuccessful.

Sommer Ireland

As with everyone else, I found this article also thought-provoking and very interesting. One of the first things that grabbed me was on page 1453 that "there is also ongoing concern that the gap between science and policy is not being bridged effectively". Because as much as people donate to save the pandas, it comes down to effective conservation and environmental protection policy that really makes a difference. My first thought on reading that sentence was that these midterm elections have really screwed over any chance of that gap between policy and science getting any better - in fact it's most likely going to make things worse. I found a disheartening article from The Hill that only highlights that: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/e2-wire/223398-senate-gop-steeling-for-battle-against-the-epa
Tying the elections and the aftermath to the affect and risk portion of the article, it makes me question the decision making process of the average American voter. I would argue that a good portion of the voters who cast their vote for the GOP did so on an affect based decision from the experiential system. I am of course referring to the voters who cast their red vote just because Obama is a Democrat, or the ones who were brought up Republican and just automatically vote red. I don't want to make this a Democrats vs. Republicans post, but unfortunately that's what the subject of environmental protection has come to. If people made analytic decisions and just looked at the facts and science, then this shouldn't be an issue!
I have to echo Julia on the individual's participation in conservation efforts. After living in the "Green City" in Germany last fall (or really just Germany in general) I have seen what effective conservation efforts look like. And EVERYONE there cares about the environment. But this might come with "integral affect" of being a European. The cities have always been densely populated and they don't have the land or necessarily the resources like we do, so they try to protect what they do have and reuse what they can. Yes it's annoying the first time you forget to bring your own bag to the grocery store, but you learn from it and honestly feel good about the fact that you aren't using a plastic bag. I'm sorry that this has mostly turned into a rant about America's take on environmental policy, but when senators are comparing the EPA to Nazi Germany's Gestapo, that only invokes the wrong kind of emotions for future decision making and a misinformed public is one of the greatest risks to protecting environmental health.

Bayan Misaghi

I enjoyed reading this paper especially since I’ve begun reading Dan Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Wilson highlights the decision making process using the Dual Process Theory: how affect and emotion influence the analytic system that we use to make decisions. Affect is clearly the “thinking fast” part of the decision making process since it is the instantaneous reaction one has to a stimulus. I think the emotion part is a bit trickier to clearly categorize as being “fast” or “slow” thinking given that individuals may come into a situation in an emotional state that may or may not even be relevant with the decision to be made. Wilso writes that emotion refers to “consciously accessible feelings,” and that “they help interpret and summarize complex information, motivate individuals to action, and reveal potential value conflicts,” but I’m wondering what the effect of emotion is on affect and how other studies have gone about testing this.

Experiment 1 was quite interesting. Subjects essentially admitted to either being hypocritical or illogical in how they allocated their resources based on their stated conservation objectives / concerns. I think that it’s relatively easier to empathize with the subjects in Experiment 2 who ignored the decision-relevant risk information and allocated more resources to solving the affect-rich problem because of all of the baggage surrounding crime, petty or otherwise. Experiment 1 though was really surprising to me because I thought individuals would be able to remove themselves with the affect-rich issue of disease since its only directly affecting wildlife instead of other humans. I’m interested in whether or not the experimenters controlled for perceived costs of solving the issue presented. I could imagine a scenario where subjects would assume that solving a wildlife disease issue would be much more costly than solving deer overpopulation. The former may require lots of expensive R&D while the latter would require an extra week in deer hunting season.

A final thought I had was with respect to Figure 2. In class we talked about how humans tend to be optimistic about their luck / skills; that is to say, individuals believe that they are above average. This is why in a development setting we see individuals flocking to the city even though the unemployment rate is high: individuals think they can beat the odds and land a job because they assess themselves (oftentimes incorrectly) as being above average in luck / skills. Figure 2 alludes to this, but in emotional intelligence paradigm. I find it funny that individuals find now statistical difference between how they value their own loss and a family member’s loss, but think that their loss as valued by a family member is significantly lower. The same is true in valuing a stranger’s loss compared to how a stranger values the individual’s loss. My interpretation: this basically says that on average individuals think that they are more empathetic towards others than others are towards them.

Daniel Molon

I found the third experiment to be the most interesting. Wilson found that while people believe they can accurately predict the value of other people’s losses, they did not believe other people could do the same in the opposite direction. That people believe they are knowledgeable enough to value the losses of others is part of the self-consensus effect, in which a person believes that he/she is more representative of the average person than they actually are. Because of this, people believe they have a better understanding of others than they actually do.

I found it interesting that the reverse direction doesn’t hold. You would expect that if someone thinks they are the norm, then other people would understand them. However, the fact that they do not believe others can accurately predict their valuation of loss leads me to believe that the self-consensus effect is less of a result of believing that they are normal and more of a result of overconfidence in their ability to empathize. Believing that one’s empathy skill is greater than others would explain why people believe they can predict other people’s valuations but that other people are unable to predict theirs. This disbelief in other people’s ability to empathize could be one of the factors that leads to distrust, as they do not believe others are fully accounting for how actions affect them.

Tommy McThenia

In the intro, Wilson states that new conservation efforts are focused on incorporating public involvement. He acknowledges that conservation goals are not solely defined by science but also by "values and social objectives." I think this really gets at the core reason why understanding decision making is so important. We have to realize that every individual has unique perspectives and values, and effective conservation requires understand the aggregation of these values across society. Along the lines of what Sommer said about pandas, scientists need to understand how society makes decisions in order to motivate changes and influence people. Policy makers promoting conservation must keep in mind the perspectives of others, even if they seem uneducated or irrational. People do not always adequately understand risks (say of environmental catastrophe) do to affect and the limitations on decision making. How do scientists make these risks real so that people can properly gauge risk and process information? It's almost like a marketing problem for a firm. How do you influence the perceived importance and value of conservation to millions of individuals who may never interact with ecosystems or understand how global warming works? Economists and policy makers in this field would be wise to turn to our discussions of behavioral economics. As seen in the second experiment in the article, affect can outweigh analytical processes in decision making. Rather than just throw facts and science at the populace, policy makers must balance the impact affect has and find a way (beyond scare tactics) to connect people to conservation. Only through this will societal engagement and change be likely and effective.

Paul Reilly

The cognitive dissonance between rating the greatest risks to the environment compared with where they actually allocated the funds among the three areas affecting the environmental health is an area that needs to be addressed in order to asses how best to encourage donations towards a cause. Even if people realize that a specific problem has the highest negative impact, it does not correlate with/cause increased donations. This relates back to the beginning of the article which talked about old methods of trying to find specific people and teach them about/engage the public may not be the best approach.

The second part of the article that seemed of note was the implication that people often prefer subconscious decision making to unconscious decision making. "Individuals have even indicated they are happier with the decisions they make as a result of the unconscious experimental system." Part of this could be because of the little voice in our heads which automatically tells us no you shouldn't do ... but yet we rationalize away this doubt and end up experiencing the consequences. Or the reverse you want to do something, the voice says no and you feel like you missed out on an opportunity due to self doubt.

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