The Center for Decision Research is pleased to announce the Fall 2019 recipients of the Thaler-Tversky Independent Research Grant for emerging scholars: 

  • Stav Atir
  • Janet Geipel
  • Elizabeth Huppert
  • Becky Lau
  • Dan Medvedev

This program is supported by the generosity of CDR Governing Board Member Richard Thaler in honor of Amos Tversky, and provides grants up to $3,000 to support new behavioral science research led by University of Chicago PhD students and post-doctoral researchers.

On behalf of the entire CDR community, we'd like to congratulate Stav, Janet, Elizabeth, Becky, and Dan, and we look forward to seeing their innovative proposals come to life. Learn more about their projects below.

Excerpts from the Winning Proposals

Stav Atir - "Learning to Recognize Ignorance in the Self"

Distinguishing between what we know and what we don’t know is a basic task that we perform frequently. But how skilled are we at this meta-knowledge judgment? This research explores whether knowledge acquisition helps or hinders our ability to recognize our own ignorance. 

Dr. Janet Geipel

We frequently form judgments and make decisions based on information communicated to us in different language modalities. Our decision to purchase a new tablet, for example, could be influenced by a review we heard or read. I will investigate whether the language modality—spoken or written—through which we learn about product innovations influences our willingness to purchase them and fund their development. Rationally speaking, it should not. People’s judgments and behavioral intentions should depend on the content of the information—not on the modality of transmission. However, I theorize that language modality will systematically sway such responses by influencing the affective reactions toward the target product. Specifically, I predict that listening will induce more positive affective reactions towards the products because listening to information appears to be more automated than reading it. To evaluate this prediction, I will present participants with risks and benefits of innovations. I predict that individuals will perceive their risks as lower and their benefits as higher when they hear than when they read about them, and that this would be explained by listening promoting more positive attitudes towards the innovation. I further predict that individuals would be more willing to purchase or invest in innovations after hearing than reading about them. If supported, this research would demonstrate that language modality can shape judgments and behavioral intentions.

Elizabeth Huppert - "The Social Consequences of Absolute Moral Proclamations in Childhood"

The current proposal seeks funding to extend a multi-study investigation of moral judgment. We have found that people prefer targets who make absolute moral proclamations over those who make flexible moral proclamations even when they commit equivalent transgressions. Preferences for absolutism appear to stem from beliefs that moral proclamations send a true signal about underlying character, predictive of future behavior, and are not mere cheap talk. These results challenge previous work on the costs of hypocrisy and explain why we might reward unrealistic absolutism. The current proposal aims to expand this work by recruiting developmental populations. Determining whether or not children form similar character impressions of targets endorsing absolute or flexible moral claims will aid in understanding the complexity of the cognitive processes involved when adults form moral judgments, add insight into the mechanisms driving these preferences, and inform the current understanding of the development of morality more broadly.

Becky Lau 

Every day, bilinguals are communicating in both native and foreign languages within multinational companies, universities, and clinics serving immigrant populations. Past work has focused on how decisions are influenced by foreign language use. For example, bilinguals using a foreign language make more utilitarian decisions in moral dilemmas (Costa et al., 2014a) and are less affected by decision biases (e.g. Hayakawa et al., 2016; Keysar, Hayakawa, & An, 2012).

Much less is known about bilinguals’ language choices. Given that foreign languages are less grounded in emotion (e.g., Aycicegi & Harris, 2004; Dewaele, 2004; Harris, Aycicegi, & Gleason, 2003), bilinguals may prefer to talk about embarrassing topics in an emotionally distanced foreign language rather than an emotionally immersive native language (Bond & Lai, 1986).

I hypothesize that both Spanish-English and English-Spanish bilinguals would prefer using a foreign language to discuss embarrassing topics. Aside from enriching our theoretical understanding of bilingual language choice, these findings can also be applied to facilitate embarrassing discussions about disgusting medical symptoms and encourage transparent conversations about moral mistakes. Through investigating barriers to difficult conversations, this work paves the way to a better understanding of social interactions in an increasingly multilingual society.

Dan Medvedev - "Using Language to Prime Culture-Specific Moral Norms in Bilinguals"

An estimated half of the world’s population is bilingual (Grosjean, 2008), and an immense number of people find themselves having to make consequential judgments and decisions (for instance in the workplace) in a language that is not their “own.”

The studies that have examined the interaction of (native versus foreign) language and moral judgments have provided some initial evidence for the so-called moral foreign language effect (e.g., Costa et al., 2014), which posits that people judge moral transgressions less harshly in their foreign (versus native) language due to decreased automaticity of affective processing and diminished reactivity to emotion-laden words (Pavlenko, 2012).On a different note, language plays an integral role in the transmission of culture (Gelman & Roberts, 2017), and learning a foreign language involves concurrently learning the values, traditions, and stereotypes prevalent in the culture tied to that language.

I propose to use language to prime culture (and thus moral norms prevalent in that culture) among two different samples of bilinguals (Russian native speakers who speak English as a second language, and English native speakers who speak Russian as a second language).