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Climate change decisions are impacted by beliefs about others

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Climate change decisions are impacted by beliefs about others

New research published by the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) at the University of Warwick shows how big decisions on dilemmas that depend on social action, such as climate change, can be impacted by beliefs about others.

The authors, Neha Bose and Daniel Sgroi, use a novel combination of techniques to evaluate how a person’s ‘Theory of Mind’ is developed through social interaction, based not just on cognitive skill, but as a set of beliefs one develops about others.

Importantly the paper examines how people adjust their behaviour due to their belief formation of their opponent. This goes against conventional wisdom which associates decision-making with abilities like intelligence and individual characteristics like gender, age etc.

The researchers analysed the interactions to help them understand how ‘Theory of Mind’ is developed and they found language was vital. By allowing the participants to chat before the two strategy games, the players built a set of beliefs or ‘Theory of Mind’ about the other person which the researchers found was vital in their decision-making. This ‘small talk’ or trivial communication helps people to learn about each other which in turn helps them to predict how others are likely to behave in strategic situations.

They found that partners who used a greater number of words, evoking dominance and humour are believed to be extraverted. Whilst those who use fewer words, with less dominant content and less humour are associated with neuroticism.

Through their study, the authors found that beliefs about type are also biased by the players own type. Extraverts are particularly prone to ‘complementary self-projection bias’ and overlook the negativity in others. This perceived similarity causes people to expect like-minded individuals to act in a similar way when faced with the same situation. They project their extraversion or positive emotions onto their partners and overlook the partners’ negativity or neuroticism. However, the authors found that introverts are actually more likely to cooperate in order to avoid confrontation. The publication also shows that if the perceived difference between the player and the partner's personality is small, it is also more difficult to outwit an opponent.

The experiment was conducted between May and November 2018 and participants were undergraduate, postgraduate and staff members at the University. In total 338 subjects took part in the study, with 170 subjects in the control group and 168 in the ‘treatment’ group that they assessed. An experimental session lasted for approximately 75 minutes.

See the full working paper.