Paula Atienza


Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Search for solutions, learning, simulation, and choice processes in suicidal behavior” by Dombrovski, A. and Hallquist, M. H. (2021), in which authors make a revision about the decision making process and the solutions to the suicidal behavior considering the point of view of behavioral economics.

Suicide is one of the most important and significant causes of death in recent years, especially among young population. Every day thousands of people decide to carry out suicidal behaviors and, sadly, end their lives, which is an irreparable loss.

From the scientific point of view of behavioral economics, this can be seen as an unfortunate result in decision-making processes.

But before commenting the article, we think it is convenient to explain what suicide is. It would be the act deliberately initiated and carried out by a particular person, with full knowledge of its fatal outcome.

There is a series of risk factors, such as being male, suffering from pathologies (depression, psychosis, personality disorders or addictions), having a family history of suicidal behavior, having suffered childhood trauma, physical illnesses and cognitive deficits.

From a psychological point of view, many explanations have been given for this behavior. For example, the trap and escape frameworks, the interpersonal theory, the motivational-volitional theory, or the three-step theory. They all share a vision of suicide as an escape from intolerable emotional states.

However, most of the factors involved in all theories are specific constructs of suicide or depression and there is a lack of an external explanatory framework. In other words, explanations of the mechanisms underlying the suicidal process are lacking and, therefore, new perspectives are needed.

That is why authors propose in the article that formal learning theory and decision neuroscience can help us to understand the cognitive and decision processes that are involved in this behavior.

Within the suicide risk mechanisms, two personality characteristics appear: neuroticism and impulsivity. Neuroticism would be a tendency to experience frequent negative emotions such as anger, sadness or anxiety, symptoms that are called “internalizing”. On the other hand, impulsivity is an important component of the “externalizing” spectrum, which includes symptoms such as substance abuse or violence.

Studies on the subject are almost always based on self-report methods, such as dimensional surveys. The challenge is that internalizing and externalizing are broad and heterogeneous constructs that, when evaluated in this way, provide information that is not too relevant.

It would be more interesting to know about the personality of the individual so that it can tell us something about how he will respond to circumstances that could be part of the progression towards a suicidal behavior.

Authors are interested in studying cognitive limitations because they could explain people’s inability to consider the alternatives and consequences of suicide, due to cognitive control influences decision making.

For example, those who attempt suicide show deficits in autobiographical and long-term memory, but not short-term. This may jeopardize the generation of alternative choices and the memory-based simulations that evaluate them.

In summary, people who engage in suicidal behaviors may show deficits in global cognitive performance, memory, and cognitive control beyond what is expected in psychopathology, but the stages of the suicidal process to which these deficits may contribute remain unclear.

On the other hand, the suicidal process can be seen from the decision theory. People do not normally admit suicide as an option when they face life’s challenges. But then, the person experiences a great crisis that threatens her /his objectives and generates uncertainty, a crisis that generates a sense of urgency to solve immediately the problems.

But how can suicide be selected over the alternatives in a crisis? When it comes about choosing in suicidal behavior, most people cannot accurately predict how the crisis will unfold, and their estimates of the relative value of suicide versus alternatives end up being inconsistent with their interests.

Furthermore, escape theories emphasize intense negative affective states, which make a challenging situation feel catastrophic.

The suicidal crisis is marked by a sense of temporary pressure, triggered by imminent threats. Since the number of items selected in the set of considerations is limited by time and cognitive resources, fewer alternatives are included, because the person is under urgent pressure. And it may even be because his/her cognitive ability is being diminished.

Besides, there is the aspect of cognitive overload in suicidal crises. Patients generally feel lost, and the crisis intensifies when the cognitive demands exceed the capacity of each person to manage it. The need of evaluating many options at once due to uncertainty, degrades the quality of decision making.

Therefore, the authors note that it would be interesting for future studies to examine how people vulnerable to suicidal behavior deal with information overload and limitations such as time pressure.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Certificate in Behavioral Economics, a formative program, in English or Spanish, 100% online and certified by Heritage University (USA). Now, with discounts for members of this club.

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Behavioral economics and coping-related drinking motives in trauma exposed drinkers: Implications for the self-medication hypothesis” by Luciano, M. T.; Acuff, S. F.; McDevitt-Murphy, M. E. and Murphy, J. G. (2021), in which authors apply the point of view of behavioral economics to investigate why people that have suffered traumatic experiences have a higher tendency to use alcohol to cope with them.

In the paper we presented last week we saw how important it is to look for explanations and solutions to help when it comes about addictions, and plus, how behavioral economics can be used in order to that.

This does not surprise us, because, as we already know, behavioral economics is a discipline that comes from economy and psychology.

Authors of this paper are aware of this and wonder how behavioral economics can help understand complex behaviors as addictions. Particularly, alcohol abuse as a method to cope with traumatic experiences.

Previous investigations have shown that people that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder endorse higher levels of coping-related drinking motives when compared to trauma-exposed individuals without this mental illness.

This suggests that alcohol consumption may vary according to the stress and anxiety felted by individuals.

Authors mention the called “self-medication hypothesis”. This posits that alcohol is used as an avoidant coping mechanism when faced with psychological symptoms or other subjective states of distress.

Nevertheless, this hypothesis does not explore many factors that can also influence or modify the consumption, as the presence of alcohol-free reinforcers in one’s environment, changes in the economic value of alcohol or the devaluation of the future.

From behavioral economics’ point of view, alcohol misuse is considered a reinforcer pathology that develops as a result of a persistently high valuation for alcohol, and a lack or deficit in substance-free activities available in the environment or personal context.

Behavioral economics uses concepts such as value of alcohol and the effect of reward delay on the decision-making process. Therefore, authors recommend exploring these factors among people exposed to trauma with psychological pathologies, particularly, individuals that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

For instance, heavy drinkers with symptoms of stress and/or depression report greater alcohol demand.

Some previous studies have found that coping-related drinking motives may partially explain the relation between alcohol demand and alcohol consumption problems. However, this has not been studied according to behavioral economics’ concepts and point of view.

Authors comment they want to achieve two purposes with this studio.

Former, explore how behavioral economics’ constructs (such as access to environmental reward, delayed reward discounting, consideration of future consequences or alcohol demand) are related to alcohol problems in a sample of trauma-exposed adults.

Latter, evaluate if these constructs can explain additional variance in alcohol problems above and beyond coping-related drinking motives.

Authors gathered a total of 91 participants, which answered a series of questionnaires related to events lived in the past, alcohol consumption and emotion management. After that, results were analyzed.

In the sample, 43% of participants endorsed moderate levels of depression and anxiety; while 52,7% of them referred extremely severe problems of this kind.

According to the obtained results, authors comment that individuals with a trauma history may experience alcohol problems, in part, because they tend to be more focused on the present and devalue the future and its outcomes.

This study suggests that drinking-to-cope is an important consideration in understanding why trauma-exposed individuals often develop harmful patterns, like alcohol use, and that behavioral economics may shed additional light on this problem.

These patterns of behavior may effectively reduce the availability of substance-free rewarding stimuli and may shift the perceived relative value of prosocial and positive activities.

Thus, these individuals are at risk of experiencing less overall reward from prosocial alternatives that require engagement with the environment and, instead, lead them to engage in impulsive behaviors, such as alcohol abuse.

Some limitations exist in this study. Authors point out that their interpretation of the findings could be stronger if they had more assurance that all the individuals in their sample had symptoms that they could potentially use alcohol to cope with.

Authors comment how important is to keep investigating about alcohol abuse and addictions and how beneficial it would be to do it following behavioral economics. This would help to understand how the experienced trauma affects negatively to our lives.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Certificate in Behavioral Economics, a formative program, in English or Spanish, 100% online and certified by Heritage University (USA). Now, with discounts for members of this club.

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Social Preferences and Environmental Behavior: a Comparison of Self-Reported and Observed Behaviors” by Oliphant, Z.; Jaynes, C. M. and Moule, R. K. (2020), in which authors, using the behavioral economics’ perspective and games developed by it, study whether a relationship between our social preferences and our tendency to recycle exists.

That the Earth has limited resources is not new information for us. Neither is the fact that pursuing sustainability is a necessity in the modern society we live in.

But what is sustainability? The UN defines it as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Since the importance of this term has been recognized, many organizations have advocated implementing sustainable practices in an interdisciplinary economic, social and environmental setting. That is, there is a desire to “become green.”

Similarly, there has been a growing push for people, individually, to play a role in contributing to live in a more sustainable world.

Authors wonder if there is a way to study behaviors related to the environment, especially recycling, from the point of view of behavioral economics.

As it is a field with very little literature on the matter, they explored the possibility of establishing a relationship between social preferences, which are already being widely studied from behavioral economics, and the tendency of people to recycle or not.

They understand that both concepts can be related by the following idea. Classical economic theories of choice assume that individuals are interested in maximizing their benefits and minimizing expected costs, and act accordingly.

However, there are cases in which people deviate from the protection of their self-interest in ways that appear to demonstrate sincere concern for the well-being of others, or in other words, they have prosocial behaviors. For example, volunteering or donations.

These are altruistic behaviors that move away from the idea that the human being is selfish by nature, since they involve costs for the individual that are not necessary.

Taking these ideas into account, they wonder if it would also affect recycling, considering it is altruistic behavior.

On the other hand, authors investigate whether increasing the proximity and ease with which people can participate in pro-environmental behaviors, would influence and positively affect these behaviors.

For this objective, they organized an experiment in which 282 young university students participated.

At the beginning of this experiment, they were given questionnaires so that they made a self-report on their pro-environmental behaviors.

The experiment was based on playing two games commonly used in behavioral economics studies, called “ultimatum” and “dictator”. Two individuals are involved in both.

In the ultimatum game, one player has a certain amount of money and offers the other player part of it. If Player 2 rejects Player 1’s offer, they will both walk away with nothing.

In the dictator game, player 1 also offers a quantity of money to player 2, which must be accepted by the latter.

The results were interesting and surprised authors.

In the game of the ultimatum and the dictator, the majority of participants (59%) offered half of the total money that they imagined possessed. Only 3% of the sample did not offer any of their money to the second player.

An explanation for this can be altruism, but also, in the case of the ultimatum game, exists the idea that offering too little money could cause Player 2 to reject the offer and therefore both people would walk away with a total of 0.

On the other hand, the sample reported a high pro-environmental behavior in the self-reports, which suggested to the authors that they would recycle if they were given the opportunity to do so. When this opportunity was given, it was observed that 85% of the respondents did indeed recycle.

Regarding demographic factors and self-reports, it appears that men were significantly less likely to state that they act in an environmentally friendly way.

On the other hand, it was seen that, when participants had a container nearby where they could recycle, they did so without problems, so facilitating recycling would initially increase its practice.

The most important finding is that it seems that social preferences are not significantly linked to pro-environmental behaviors. That is, there is a lack of support that can be attributed to perceptions that the effectiveness of pro-environmental behaviors is weak and that respondents were skeptical about the willingness of others, or the community, to recycle.

One limitation would be that the experiment was carried out thanks to the participation of young university students and, therefore, they are not a reflection of the whole society.

Authors encourage those who create environmental policies to improve accessibility to recycling and coordinate their environmental sustainability efforts with the research conducted.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Certificate in Behavioral Economics, a formative program, in English or Spanish, 100% online and certified by Heritage University (USA). Now, with discounts for members of this club.

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “Regional culture: the role of the invisible hand in shaping local family firms’ top management team”, by Yu, X.; Zhang, Y.; Cheng, X.; Li, H.; Chen, Y. and Zhou, W. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know how clan culture and regional culture affects family businesses.

There are plenty of studies on family and non-family businesses, and the vast majority have focused on the differences between both when it comes to choosing candidates to fill top management positions. 

Compared to non-family businesses, family companies are more concerned with objectives such as maintaining family control, altruism within their group, improving the family’s reputation, among others. In other words, they tend to prioritize family interests. 

And by virtue of this, they can introduce people into the management team more easily than in non-family companies, even if they do not have enough talent for the management of the company. 

From the above, it is understood that the operation and management of family businesses and the maintenance and coordination of their internal relations depends not only on the rules and regulations of the company, but also on the local cultural concepts associated with the family

This is the idea to which studies on the differences between family and non-family firms have not paid enough attention: what is the impact of regional culture on family firms? Does this culture affect as an “invisible hand” that influences entrepreneurial behavior?

Specifically, this study focuses on the effect of the so-called “clan culture”. In Chinese businesses, clan culture embodies the salient characteristics of traditional Chinese culture. Therefore, exploring the influence of traditional values may be useful to understand the cultural basis of family business behavior and motivation. 

First, authors briefly review the existing literature in the field of clan culture and family firms. 

Previous studies suggest that family firms differ from non-family firms in that family companies have two organizational systems: business and family. And, therefore, family patterns are also one of the reference points of behavior and decision making.

Compared to non-family firms, family companies rely on both business logic and family logic to make operational and strategic decisions

All this should not surprise us, since, according to the psychology of the individual, we humans tend to show altruistic behaviors for the family members with whom we share genetics

A very positive point about family businesses is that people tend to participate much more actively in helping to achieve the family’s goals, as involvement in the management of the business is beneficial to the emotional satisfaction of family members in terms of belonging, security and identification. 

For family members, the company is not only a place of work but also a symbol of family status and glory. For this reason, it is believed that family members working for family businesses generally do not ask for high financial remuneration. 

On the other hand, if there is a high financial risk, family businesses with a weak clan culture may try to improve their financial situation rather than emphasizing the maintenance of family control. Conversely, under the influence of a strong clan culture, family executives tolerate risks and losses because they believe in the cohesion and unity of family members and maintain enthusiasm.

The worse the financial situation of a family business, the more prominent the family concept tends to be in the individual’s mind. 

To analyze all these ideas, authors conducted a study including data from 625 growing companies in China. 

The obtained data tell us that, in areas where the clan culture prevails, family members involved in the business are willing to accept lower remuneration. The reason for this phenomenon is that both the company and the worker understand that it is not only the economic returns that matter, but also the psychological ones.

The more the clan culture prevails, the lower the remuneration demanded by the family members.

In addition, it seems that when family firms have already obtained generous financial returns, they focus more on obtaining psychological returns, and when financial returns are not sufficient, they will weaken the pursuit of psychological benefits. 

Due to the complexity of the subject, authors explain that it is necessary to continue studying the behavior of family firms in different sociocultural contexts to better understand their functioning and dynamics.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English. Ask us about our grants!

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Future Imperfect: Behavioral Economics and Government Paternalism” by Le Grand, J. (2018), in which the author reflects about the paternalists decisions of the government and their relationship with behavioral economics. 

Numerous economists, psychologists, and other experts have used the growing number of empirical research in behavioral economics to understand paternalistic government policies.

The main argument is that people make mistakes in judgment when it comes to their goals; consequently, governments intervene in politics to correct these errors and, therefore, help people to achieve their proposed ends.

The interventions would exist in a wide variety of areas: taxes, licenses, the prohibition of potentially harmful activities for health, subsidies, and so on.

However, many other experts have questioned these arguments and the government policies associated with them, commenting that they unjustifiably and arbitrarily offer privileges to a particular set of preferences. In this article, the author reflects about this idea.

He first explains that there are two types of paternalism: the one related to the means and the one related to the ends. The idea is that individuals have objectives, goals, values, which are part of our life plan, among which we choose, looking for ways to achieve them.

Paternalism related to ends occurs when a government agency considers that some individuals have not adequately considered their own ends or objectives and, therefore, replaces them according to its own conception of what is good, trying to alter the behaviors of the individuals that are relevant for its achievement.

The paternalism related to the means occurs when the agency accepts the ends of the individuals, that is, it accepts their conception of life and the objectives they pursue, but observes that individuals make mistakes when trying to achieve these objectives and decides to intervene to correct them.

How can we relate the challenges of this issue to behavioral economics?

Experts who defend this position of the government comment that it is a way of adjusting decision-making to the neoclassical axioms of rationality.

To correctly understand this whole idea, the author proposes an example.

When 18-year-old Jane goes to buy a pack of cigarettes, the agency considers that if she does this, she will be at high risk for lung cancer and/or other smoking-related diseases in the future. Furthermore, the agency judges that this will reduce the expected value of her future utility and welfare. Therefore, the agency considers that it is justified to try to interfere in some way with Jane buying those cigarettes.

The main objection that occurs to all of us is that this intervention would interfere with Jane’s autonomy, so it could only be tolerated if the harms to Jane’s autonomy were minimized as much as possible with the methods chosen for the intervention.

In addition to damaging the autonomy of the individual, the agency would also be questioning her decision-making process. 

Returning to Jane’s example: no one on the planet is unaware that smoking is a health risk, so it is reasonable to think that she knows it too and has taken this knowledge into account in some way in the judgment that led her to make her decision . So what is the agency’s basis for deciding that Jane’s judgment should be superseded by their own judgment?

Well, there are some reasons why the agency might consider this idea. First, they may believe that Jane is making her decision based on misinformation. In this case, the agency’s responsibility would be to provide her with correct information or to ensure that she has access to it.

Later, the agency might think that the decision is wrong because in her judgment, Jane is using the wrong discount rate in her expected value calculations. That is, when Jane evaluates the contributions that current and future actions make to her lifetime utility, she considers present actions more important than future actions, contrary to what the agency believes.

The reason Jane acts like this is likely due to her assessment of the uncertainties involved in any assessment of the future. If the government agency has a different assessment of this uncertainty, their role would be to provide Jane with this information and then allow her to make her decision. If the agency were to hinder or impede Jane’s activities due to lack of information about the risks, it would be unjustifiably paternalizing.

There is also the idea that the agency is defending the benefits of the Jane of the future while Jane is defending the benefits of the Jane of the present.

As we can see, we could reflect long and hard on this topic, since human decision-making is a complex process, like everything that derives from human behavior.

This article accepts that government interventions may favor certain preferences, but not arbitrarily. Furthermore, it could be justified by the desire of the individual’s governments to maximize his life well. The idea is that the future will never be perfect, but with proper government intervention it can be improved.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Certificate in Behavioral Economics, a formative program, in English or Spanish, 100% online and certified by Heritage University (USA). Now, with discounts for members of this club.

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “Depression and financial planning horizon”, by Choung, Y.; Chatterjee, S. and Pak, T. Y. (2022), in which authors carry out a study with people from different generations to understand how suffering from depression affects the decisions we make in the financial context. 

Recent observations and studies have pointed, in recent years, to altered reward processing in people living with depression, considering that hopelessness is part of the clinical picture of the disease.

Depressed mood is often also associated with a lack of positive expectations, which may affect people’s motivation to invest in the future. 

That is, empirical evidence suggests that people with depression often do not accept future rewards compared to people without mental health difficulties.

Of these future rewards, most are financial. And one way to measure and organize personal finances is the so-called “financial planning horizon.” That is, the prospective period according to which people organize their savings and spending programs. An example of this is taking out a retirement plan, which would indicate a very broad and long financial planning horizon over time.

While most people look to the future with a certain amount of optimism, this is often not the case for people with depression. And because studies consider that a large number of factors affect the financial planning horizon, such as, for example, individual health or personality, authors found it interesting to investigate the role of depression in this context.

Approximately 17.3 million adults in the United States have experienced one or more major depressive episodes since 2017. Moreover, the number of depressed adults who reported unmet needs in the treatment of their illness has been progressively increasing over the past 10 years in that same territory.  

Given the increasing prevalence of depression and its potential economic consequences, there is a growing need to understand how the symptoms of this illness affect financial decision making. 

The most recent evidence suggests that depressive symptomatology is related to temporal discounting and risk aversion. That is, on the one hand, it is possible that depression influences the time frame in which people schedule their savings and spending, because they may prefer immediate rewards to those for which there is a wait; and on the other hand, depression may influence people’s propensity to make risky decisions because it alters their personality traits and behavior. That is this issue that interests the authors and on which they try to shed light. 

Some articles on the subject show that there are a number of changes in time preferences for rewards after experiencing traumatic experiences such as natural disasters or armed conflicts. These events result in stress, which, in general, is an important precursor of depression.

To study all these ideas, authors used a sample composed of five different cohorts of people born between 1931 and 1959. A series of scientifically valid scales common in psychology were used to assess depressive symptoms. In addition, questions related to the financial area were asked.

Authors’ results suggest that people with depression are more likely to focus their financial planning on the short term. Moreover, it appears that these differences in relation to the rest of the population were driven not only by depression, but also by pessimism, poor perceived control, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise….

Overall, the results point to a strong association between depressive symptoms and a shorter financial planning horizon. This may be explained by the pessimistic outlook of those living with this disease, as well as by the underestimation of the years that the ill person considers he or she has left to live, which is further reduced if depression is accompanied by deteriorating physical health or cognitive losses. 

Authors hope that further studies on depression and how it affects the normal development of life will be carried out, with the aim of intervening and improving the negative symptoms. 

For example, they propose the creation of affordable financial planning services, so that anyone can access them and, thus, make it easier for everyone to manage their finances in a healthy and forward-looking way. 

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English. Ask us about our grants!

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “How to Effectively Promote Eco-Friendly Behaviors: Insights from Contextual Behavioral Science”, by Stapleton, A.; McHugh, L. and Karekla, M. (2022), in which authors think about how to promote behaviors that favor the ecological awareness of people and organizations.

Climate change is one of the major concerns of the 21st century for several reasons: it is occurring in the present, its severity is increasing rapidly, and human activity is contributing to this increase. 

Experts comment that, despite scientific consensus on the imminent and permanent effects of climate change, organized action to prevent further damage is, actually, minimal.

This is very interesting, as they suggest that climate change can be effectively reduced and managed through adaptation and mitigation. For humanity to survive and thrive, responses that involve both are necessary: mitigation, to reduce the behaviors that cause climate change; and adaptation, to adjust to the expected irreversible changes. 

In short, climate change is a problem caused by human behavior that can also be solved by human behavior. But to change human behavior in a meaningful and lasting way over time, a scientific understanding of it is needed. 

Contextual Behavioral Science (CBS) is an area of psychology that can help us in this mission. 

CBS draws on evidence to understand human behavior, especially language and cognition, as humans understand the world through their thoughts, experiences and senses. 

According to CBS, to promote practices that help reduce climate change, it is necessary for organizations and companies to examine their practices and improve them. In other words, consumer behavior does not just happen, but occurs in a particular context and is often guided by social reinforcement

The CBS proposes some strategies or starting points to improve ecological behaviors. For example, they point out how important it is to establish credibility

Messages that promote environmentally friendly behaviors are more likely to be effective when presented by a credible speaker. Credible speakers are those who are perceived by consumers as logical, sincere and knowledgeable. 

Organizations and companies can establish this credibility in a number of ways: either directly (by behaving in a way that people perceive them to be wise and honest) or verbally (by engaging with other organizations that consumers perceive to be credible). 

In addition, good leadership and an ability to manage high quality knowledge are also important to be more likely to support sustainable development corporate practices. 

The importance of the message making sense and increasing consumers’ perceived self-efficacy is also noted. That is, a message is more likely to promote a behavioral change if it appears plausible to the consumer. This means ensuring that the elements of the message are not contradictory to the consumer’s understanding of the world.

The importance of message plausibility has been addressed in the behavioral literature, especially regarding clinical patients’ adherence to their treatments. For example, if the disease and treatment are presented in a clear way and the doctor ensures that the patient fully understands them, there is a greater chance that the treatment will be successfully completed. 

On the other hand, the idea of facilitating the transition of ecological behaviors into habitual and routine behaviors is interesting. 

Establishing pro-environmental habits is the ultimate goal and it should be kept in mind that habits arise from continuous reinforcement until the behavior becomes automatic and cognitively efficient.

Therefore, organizations seeking to promote pro-environmental behaviors must also strive to turn them into habits and thus sustain the changes over the long term. 

In a nutshell, it is vital to combat climate change to establish credibility, incentivize effectively, be consistent, help people realize that they can achieve these changes and also align their motivations with their behavior. 

Some of the most significant gestures to stop climate change are quite simple and others, on the contrary, would involve sacrificing a number of comforts to which we have become accustomed in recent years. 

However, authors believe that, given the severity of the environmental crisis we are experiencing, behavioral change is more than justified if we want to save our planet

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English. Ask us about our grants!

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “Gender differences in competitiveness: friends matter”, by Jorgensen, L. K.; Piovesan, M. and Willadsen, H. (2022), in which authors analyze whether men and women are equally influenced when they are surrounded by successful people and how this affects their competitiveness. 

Gender differences in the world of work are related, among other things, with the attitudes that men and women have towards elements such as, for example, competition. 

According to a 2007 paper by Niederle and Vesterlund, men are twice as likely to consider themselves suitable candidates to compete with others, while for women, the general tendency would be the opposite. 

It appears that individual risk preferences, self-confidence, and beliefs associated with gender stereotypes may be relevant factors that help explain why these differences in competitiveness between the sexes occur. 

Another factor gaining importance with studies in recent years is the network of friends and acquaintances. Recent literature has explored how exposure to groups of women affects other women in male-dominated workplaces. On this idea, it seems that having a feminine network is important for other women. 

Following this line of thought, authors of this article wondered whether a child’s friendships are associated with the development of his or her competitiveness and, specifically, whether and how the sex of these friendships influences them. 

Before explaining what the experiment consisted of, it is useful to give some interesting data of the most important insights from recent related articles. 

For example, in 2003, it was found that as an environment becomes competitive, men seem to increase their performance, while the opposite occurs for women, generally speaking.

In 2007, Niederle and Vesterlund concluded that men compete more, a trend that persists even when risk aversion is controlled. 

In 2015, Sutter and Glätzle-Rützler conducted a study with findings such as that boys and girls are equally willing to compete. However, girls’ performance under incentives is significantly lower than boys’. In addition, this same study comments that boys are much more self-confident. 

In the working world, gender stereotypes associated with a job or task may explain the underrepresentation of women in competitive environments. If women perceive competitiveness as a masculine trait, they may feel pressured to act in contrary ways to meet expectations. 

And regarding the friendships idea we discussed a few lines above, as Booth and Nolen commented in a 2012 study, girls in feminine schools in the UK are 42% more likely to compete compared to girls attending co-educational schools. They argue that when females are in peer groups, they suffer less anxiety when doing group work, are more participative and develop more their career aspirations. 

The experiment conducted by the authors of our article was carried out with 338 children and adolescents aged 7 to 16 years. The children received a box with 120 Lego pieces and were given 3 minutes to build a series of specific constructions. 

In the first stage of the experiment, the children received 1 point for each correct construction. In the second stage, they competed with other children. Then, they had to evaluate their work and, finally, they were shown pictures of a boy and a girl and asked about their performance.

The obtained results were very interesting. It seems that the boys were no more willing to compete compared to the girls in the case of this particular sample. 

However, something caught the attention of the authors. Boys and girls with a higher than average success rate are supposed to be more likely to compete. In the case of the top-performing girls, this was not the case and they were almost 12% less likely than boys to choose to compete

Regarding the idea of the network of friends, authors found that girls are more likely to participate in a tournament or competitive activity if one of their friends possesses this personality trait.

Overall, for both girls and boys, a positive association was found between the competitiveness of their friends and classmates and their own competitiveness

Authors consider it very interesting to continue investigating these ideas in order to help develop the maximum potential of women and men from an early age, through improving their educational environments.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English. Ask us about our grants!

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “The longitudinal interplay between attention bias and interpretation bias in social anxiety in adolescents”, by Henricks, L. A.; Lange, W. G.; Luijten, M.; van den Berg, Y. H. M.; Stoltz, S. E. M. J.; Cillessen, A. H. N. and Becker, E. S. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know whether the attention bias and the interpretation bias are related to social anxiety in teenagers, and if so, how. 

Social anxiety is closely related to the fear of being negatively evaluated by others and is often accompanied by avoidance of social situations. This type of anxiety has its onset in childhood, but symptoms increase during adolescence.

Young sufferers experience serious socioemotional consequences, such as an increased risk of peer victimization, depression and even substance abuse. Therefore, early detection and treatment are extremely important, highlighting the need to devote efforts and resources to research into the factors that contribute to the onset and maintenance of social anxiety. 

Many cognitive models assume that biased cognitive processing is a very influential factor. Especially, negative attention bias (that is, the tendency to pay more attention to negative stimuli) and negative interpretation bias (the tendency to negatively interpret ambiguous social situations) would increase the risk of experiencing social anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents. 

One of the existing studies showed that adolescents with a negative interpretation style are at increased risk for social anxiety. However, longitudinal evidence on the role of negative attention bias and negative interpretation bias is still lacking. 

At the same time, most studies in young population investigated the effects of these biases on social anxiety ignoring the fact that both may be related or interact with each other. 

To overcome these limitations, the study in the article focuses on the interaction between attention bias and interpretation bias, and examines the longitudinal predictive ability of cognitive biases on social anxiety in adolescence. 

Adolescence is a period that may be critical for the development of cognitive biases as a result of sociocognitive maturation. Adolescents, at this stage of life, become able to think and reason abstractly and develop metacognitive beliefs.

In some previous studies it was seen that negative interpretation bias is apparently related to an increased risk of experiencing anxiety symptoms, including social anxiety. 

On the other hand, attention bias is a complex phenomenon consisting of multiple components. For example, it is characterized by increased engagement with threat, as socially fearful individuals are quicker to detect negative stimuli in an environment. It is important to understand this point because of the multifactorial nature of these biases. 

In this study, the aim was to examine both attentional and interpretation biases and their components, all through a visual search task in which participants had to detect or ignore a social threat. 

The combined bias hypothesis is also considered, as the authors believe it possible that attentional bias and interpretation bias are related and influence each other. 

For this purpose, data from 2017, 2018, and 2019 were gathered. A total of 816 young people from different grades of secondary education, in the context of the Netherlands, participated. 

A visual search task was created with images of adolescent faces expressing different emotions. The participants had to point out those they found threatening and neutral. 

It seems that attentional bias is not as closely related to social anxiety as authors predicted. However, the greater the negative interpretation bias, the greater the tendency to suffer from social anxiety.

Future research could examine how these biases behave in stressful situations, to find out how they would influence young people’s behavior in borderline situations. 

In addition, it appears that there is also no consistent or solid relationship between the two biases. This may be because it does not really exist, or because there are methodological difficulties in measuring this relationship. 

In any case, the authors recommend improving the tasks focused on the study, especially, of the attention bias in adolescents; in addition to studying the role of the different cognitive processes and how they relate and interact with each other when it comes to predicting the tendency to suffer from social anxiety. 

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English. Ask us about our grants!

Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “Revealing differences in brand loyalty and brand engagement of single or no parented young adults”, by Morkunas, M. (2022), in which the author carries out an investigation to know whether adverse circumstances such as parental divorce or a context of orphanhood would affect the consumer behavior of adolescents and young adults.

Central and Eastern European countries are characterized by a high number of divorces. This is a circumstance that places children in an insecure social position, which is amplified by numerous factors, such as possible financial fragility, intolerance or bullying in schools. 

On the other hand, the number of children raised in single-parent families, or even by relatives, increased significantly in some countries in this part of Europe after joining the European Union. 

It has been shown that the prolonged absence of at least one parent has a significant impact on the socio-psychological development of the child at various levels. For example, the situation affects the maturation of their character, their cognitive abilities, and even the economic rationality of their actions.

However, although there are indications to think that people who have grown up in families with these circumstances may have different behaviors than people with typical situations, no substantial scientific efforts have been made to reveal the impact of orphanhood, single parenthood, or divorce on consumer behavior. Therefore, this article aims to help reduce that gap in the literature.

In general, it is considered that the longer a person lives, the more he/she adjusts to the environment around him/her, and forms his/her habits according to the existing social norms and rules, showing a behavior of social conformity. Then, in order to better understand the effect of the lack of a parent during childhood on consumer behavior, the scope of the study focused on young adolescents, who have been exposed to this phenomenon of social conformity for some time.

It is important to know three concepts: brand engagement (BE), brand loyalty (BL), and brand evangelist, which could be understood as a person who feels devotion to the brand and communicates it to the world. 

In general, it is assumed that brand engagement (BE) is directly related to brand loyalty (BL), the latter being considered more complex. However, there are many experts who consider BE to be the more important of the two concepts. When studying brand satisfaction, it seems that identification with the brand through value congruence is one of the most important points that most affects BE and BL.

On the other hand, other experts consider that brand-based consumer interactions are also a highly relevant antecedent for these two concepts. 

BL is typically seen as one of the most important parts of brand evangelism, although other experts point to brand satisfaction and experience as the most relevant components. 

It is important to briefly understand these data to better interpret the results of the study, which can be viewed in detail in the original article. 

The data needed for the study were collected in two processes. First, a control group was recruited through an online questionnaire shared through social networks. On the other hand, data for the study group were obtained through social support divisions of five Lithuanian municipalities and other organizations in the area that provide social support to people with complicated social situations. 

In total, 341 people were surveyed for the control group and 224 for the study group. 

The results showed that there appeared to be statistically significant differences between the two groups. 

Adolescents who experienced a childhood in a single-parent family, in an orphaned situation or, in general, with the absence of one or both parents, are more prone to emotional connectivity with their favorite brands. This should lead to higher satisfaction or higher perceived quality of these brands, as high emotional connectivity is considered an indicator of both. 

On the other hand, although they show some emotional attachment to the brand, they are rarely inclined to spread their positive opinion about it, which is interesting, because if the person loves the brand, he or she is more willing to speak positively about it, even if only moderately. 

The author believes that these findings can be considered relevant not only for Central and Eastern Europe, but for all countries where labor migration is an important issue, with a considerable social, economic and cultural footprint and high divorce rates. Furthermore, he urges other experts to continue to study the subject in order to draw even more solid conclusions.

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English. Ask us about our grants!

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