Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Cognitive Biases, Risk Perception, and Risky Driving Behaviour”, by Mairean, C.; Havârneanu, G. M.; Baric, D. and Havârneanu, C. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know wether a couple of cognitive biases are related to risky driving behavior, and if it is so, how is that relationship. 

Risky driving behavior represents a threat to the driver but also to other road users. These behaviors are, for example: high speed, not respecting red lights or safe distances, not wearing seat belts or driving under the influence of drugs.

A significant number of studies suggest that the majority of traffic accidents are related to cognitive deteriorations and decreased driving performance caused by alcohol or other drugs. In fact, both the volume of alcohol in a particular drink and excessive drinking are associated with dangerous driving behavior.

Studies show that alcohol consumption can influence driver’s self-perception, and suggest that people may believe they are more capable to drive after drinking.

But what about when the driver hasn’t been drinking? According to other studies, an important determinant of judgment or risky driving is represented by cognitive biases related to the evaluation of personal driving skills, personal control and perceived vulnerability in traffic.

Two common types of biases are the optimism bias and the illusion of control.

Optimism bias was used to describe people’s tendency to believe they are less vulnerable to negative events compared to their peers.

Although the optimism bias can improve self-esteem and motivation, an increased sense of invulnerability can have harmful consequences, leading people to engage in risky behavior or not take appropriate precautionary measures.

The illusion of control, on the other hand, would represent two ideas: on the one hand, the belief that one can control the results to obtain what he wants through his personal abilities; on the other hand, that these skills are enough to prevent negative outcomes, when in fact they are not.

Like the optimism bias, the illusion of control has been linked to risk behaviors, particularly in the area of ​​health and gambling. In road safety, it has been shown that it is related to risky driving.

It should be mentioned that different theoretical models affirm that the decision to carry out risky driving behaviors is made through the evaluation of risks and benefits.

The central aim of the study was to investigate the relationship of optimism bias and illusion of control with risky driving behavior in a sample of Romanian drivers, since Romania is the context of the study.

In Romania, every year, more than 9,000 people are seriously injured after traffic accidents. Furthermore, the Romanian context is of particular importance, given that Romania is a country with a significant history of weak road safety within the European Union.

A total of 366 drivers participated, approximately half were men and the other half were women. Optimism bias, illusion of control, and risk perception, as well as driving behavior, were measured.

The results revealed that optimism bias was negatively correlated with risky driving behaviors, while the illusion of control was positively correlated.

This contradicted the initial expectations of the authors. It appears that drivers’ belief that they are less vulnerable to negative traffic events does not condition them to engage in reckless driving behavior.

Taking previous literature as a reference, in addition to the results of the present study, it seems that the optimism bias can motivate drivers to take greater risks because they would feel less vulnerable; however, and this is the important point, this may not be true when drivers perceive that the causes of a possible accident are beyond their control and responsibility.

On the other hand, it seems that a high illusion of control is related to a high tendency to carry out risky behaviors when driving. Risk perception mediated the relationship between the illusion of control and risk behavior. That is, when the participants presented a high level of the illusion of control, they were more likely to perceive low risk in different traffic situations, which leads to a greater tendency to engage in risky behaviors.

Authors consider that these results inform professionals working in road safety that, in order to reduce cognitive risks, we must also reduce the perception of risk. In addition, they provide valuable information that individuals can use to prevent irresponsible behavior on the road.

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Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Differential Probability Discounting Rates of Gamblers in an American Indian Population” by Schneider, T. D.; Gunville, J. A.; Papa, V. B.; Brucks, M. G.; Daley, C. M.; Martin, L. E. and Jarmolowicz, D. P. (2022), in which authors investigate the differential probability discounting rates of pathological gamblers who are part of the native-american population of the United States.

Pathological gambling is a social problem that has always been present, but it seems that it is becoming more and more serious, due to casinos and bookmakers.

In the United States more than 80% of adults participate in some form of gambling each year. It is a pattern that seems particularly widespread among the native Indian population. For example, in 2021, 77% of white Americans participated in gambling, while the figure reached 80.1% for the Native American population.

These differences become even more notable when we consider those who gamble frequently and/or have gambling addiction problems. Specifically, 9.3% of the white American population is within this group, with 1.8% being the percentage of addicts; regarding the Indian population, 12.6% would gamble frequently and 10.5% meet the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling.

One of the reasons for the risk of developing a pathological gambling addiction is that many of them live near casinos. For example, there are approximately 540 tribes of native Indians, and more than 240 offer gambling activities, reaching the number of more than 500 casinos.

In a study on Native American teenagers in seventh through twelfth grade, approximately 75% had participated in some kind of gambling that year, a higher percentage than the national average (45-55%).

It is true that there are significant economic benefits when they allow casinos on their land, but it also carries the risk of unintended problems for this population.

Gambling often involves wagering a small amount of money for a chance to win a larger sum of cash. In behavioral economics, these types of tradeoffs are compared through probability discounting tasks. In these tasks, the subjects have to choose between small but guaranteed and safe sums of money, and larger but uncertain sums of money. For example, a subject can choose between receiving $50 or a 95% chance of receiving $100.

In these games, the probability discount rate would appear through a series of mathematical procedures. The lower the value of this rate, the greater the willingness of players to take risks; the opposite occurs when there is an aversion to risk. In other words, these rates would be a numerical way of quantitatively representing the players most prone to risk behaviors.

Some experts are studying the neurobiological processes that drive pathological gambling. One approach, which is further explained in the original article, advocates using MRI to look at changes in blood oxygenation.

In this study, authors combine this last idea with probability discounting tasks in the Native American population, to try to better understand the risk of developing pathological gambling that this population faces.

12 people who played regularly and 12 people who did not, participated as a control group.

They underwent probability discounting tasks while the MRI was performed.

It was shown how the probability discount rates were indeed lower in people addicted to gambling in relation to people in the control group.

The findings suggest that probability discount rates may be a behavioral process underpinning risk-taking seen in problem gambling.

On the other hand, no major neurobiological differences were observed. Authors point out that the size of the sample was small and it might be necessary to carry out an experiment with more groups to delve into the neurobiological differences between the two.

Authors would also suggest studying auditory stimuli to know their impact on neural activity during decision making in gaming environments.

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 Economic Blog, this week we present the paper “A survey on knowledge, prevention, and occurrence of Sexually Transmitted Infections among Freshmen from Four Italian Universities”, by Cegolon, L.; Bortolotto, M.; Bellizzi, S.; Cegolon, A.; Bubbico, L.; Pichierri, G.; Mastrangelo, G. and Xodo, C. (2022), where authors carry out a survey to know what is the level of knowledge among young Italians about sexually transmitted infections, and to know how convenient is to apply behavioral economics in this context.

Sexually transmitted infections are major public health threats to people of all ages, particularly adolescents.

According to the WHO, their prevalence and incidence remain high even in developed countries. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and syphilis are diagnosed more than a million times a day worldwide. Even some diseases, such as syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B or herpes, can be spread from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth.

Among the symptoms suffered, there are infections and rectal and pharyngeal complications, chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancies, infertility, fetal or neonatal death, premature births…

Despite making up approximately 25% of the sexually active population, people ages 15 to 24 account for half of the 20 million cases of STD infections reported in the US each year.

Modifying risky behaviors is a difficult task, especially in adolescence. This is where behavioral economics should come in, due to the fact that it can be used as a tool to gradually modify risk behaviors in this context. Authors, however, do not mention how this intervention could be done, although they leave the door open for future research.

According to recent surveys, the first sexual intercourse among adolescents in the Italian context occurs between the ages of 15 and 16 and often without protection. Therefore, these young people will have access to sexual education before these ages. And what are the simplest places to do this and to reach young people? The schools, which are a strategic scenario.

In 2017, political pressure led the British government to announce that sex and relationship education was to be introduced in British primary schools starting in 2019.

Also in 2017, a comprehensive review of research in schools aimed at improving adolescent sexual health was published. Many reviewers identified methodological weaknesses, such as insufficient follow-up, lack of replication studies, weak and inconsistent evidence on behavioral effects, among others.

However, a very clear conclusion could also be drawn: the interventions were not being effective in modifying the risk of sexual behaviors at these ages.

Trying to shed light on all this, authors conducted a survey of a total of 4,552 first-year university students from Italian universities.

The idea was to find out how much these people knew about sexually transmitted diseases and the risks of having unprotected sex.

To maximize uptake of the survey, it was conducted during academic classes and appeared for a total of one hour.

The results obtained revealed that the general knowledge about STDs among young people was very low. Those with a history of having suffered an STD informed, in the first instance, their family doctor, then a family member, a specialist gynecologist, a friend, and lastly, and less frequently, their partners.

25.8% of male students knew that the most effective devices to prevent STDs are sexual abstinence and condoms, the percentage being slightly higher for women, which reached 31.8%.

The risk of contracting an STD was also found to be lower in males, in students with parents under the age of 50, and in students without established relationships.

While HIV and syphilis were correctly recognized as STDs by 80% of respondents, gonorrhea was correctly recognized by 45% and chlamydia by 32%.

It is possible that the greater knowledge about HIV in young people between 13 and 20 years of age has an explanation, and it is because there have been numerous preventive and informative campaigns about it at an international level in the last 30 years.

The key to preventing the spread of STDs, authors maintain, is undoubtedly the modification of sexual behavior, together with good information and prevention mechanisms.

An example of the latter is that although studies have shown that preservatives are one of the most useful methods to avoid infecting or being infected with any STD, they are often used incorrectly.

For this reason, authors encourage further research on how to modify risk behaviors for contracting STDs and thus curb infections among the younger population.

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 “Applying Behavioral Economics to Enhance Safe Firearm Storage” by Hoskins, K; Paladhi, U. R.; McDonald, C. and Buttenheim, A. (2021), in which authors identify, applying behavioral economics, which are the cognitive biases that could influence parents’ decisions about the firearm storage in order to protect their children.

Firearms politics in the United States is a topic that has been becoming more and more important as different accidents and mass murders committed with guns have occurred.

A great part of these accidents’ victims are children who use the firearms of their parents, who have not kept them safely.

In this academic paper, authors propose to apply the behavioral economics’ concepts and theories in the storage of firearms in the context of the United States, in order to reduce this kind of dangerous domestic accidents.

 In this sense, cognitive biases that humans use to interact with the world and make decisions become important. The problem is that these biases don’t always lead us to good choices.

Behavioral economics addresses these decision errors that occur in everyday life and offers tools to improve these choices.

Although pediatricians and behavioral economists recently have collaborated on ideas to support parental behavior change and boost clinical effectiveness, the important topic of pediatric firearm injuries has not yet been explored through a behavioral economic lens.

An illuminating fact about the urgency of exploring this phenomenon, is that firearm injuries are the main cause of death in young people between 10 and 24 years. More than half (59%) end in death.

Moreover, most of both younger and older children who died by firearm suicide or unintentional firearm injury, received the fatal injury at home.

It is because of this type of accident that families are recommended to keep their firearms unloaded, in a box closed with a key or with a special locking device, and always separated from the ammunition.

Nevertheless, only 46% of American adults who own a gun, report following these safety guidelines.

Authors in this article use the theory of behavioral economics to point out those cognitive biases that can influence parental decision-making process regarding the safe custody of firearms. Besides, they propose some strategies to improve this.

One of these biases would be the present bias. It is the tendency of most individuals to overemphasize the present and discount the future.

Take physical activity for example. Individuals will overvalue the short-term costs, such as the time, energy and financial costs invested associated with exercising. The opposite would happen with the long-term benefits, as lose weight, reduce the risk of heart diseases and overall improvements in health.

Future seems uncertain and unknown, leading individuals to put more value on the present.

Parents may perceive a lack of urgency to store firearms safely if they do not believe that their child will actually handle an unsecured firearm.

Authors propose that firearm distributors could offer buyers a commitment contract at the point of the sale. In the commitment contract, the buyer commits to following best practices for safe storage. This kind of contracts compel individuals to align future actions with current intentions.

Another bias that authors mention is the overconfidence effect. It is the misreckoning of probabilities in which an individual’s subjective confidence in their ability is greater than the actual performance.

For instance, findings show that gun owners who reported having received formal firearms training were more likely to store a gun loaded and unlocked.

In the line of this bias, another would appear: the optimism bias. This is the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive events and underestimate the likelihood of negative events.

With so many options to ensure safe storage of firearms, parents may find themselves overwhelmed, not knowing what to choose and therefore, not choosing at all.

Therefore, it would be positive if they were advised at the time of sale about which method they should choose.

Besides, returning to the point of the commitment contract, it would be interesting to include active statements that appeal to the responsibility of the user, emphasizing that they will do everything possible to keep the firearms away from their children, so they do not put minors at risk.

Authors consider that behavioral economics is a very good tool to tackle this phenomenon. However, a limitation of this study is that the efficacy of all the proposed strategies has not yet been empirically demonstrated in the context of safe storage of firearms.

Parental decision-making process is very complex, and the authors acknowledge the difficulty of addressing it.

They point out that future research should focus on the empirical study to verify whether, indeed, what has been proposed here can be used on a day-to-day basis and thus, reduce this risk for children.

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.

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