Derek Powell, Postdoc with Ellen Markman, Department of Psychology, Stanford University
Title: How reasoning biases decisions and reinforces misconceptions
Abstract: Prior beliefs, expectations, intuitive theories, and mental models are the fundamental engines driving human reasoning and decision making. A wealth of research has shown how humans reason rationally according to sophisticated and accurate models of our world. Yet, it is also clear that a host of biases pervade decision making, and that misconceptions—like the belief that vaccines cause autism—are both widespread and stubbornly resistant to change. My research seeks to understand this tension by examining how biases and misconceptions can result from otherwise normative or systematic reasoning principles. I'll discuss two lines of work examining real-world biases and misconceptions that illustrate these points: The first demonstrates that people's prior beliefs, coupled with basic learning principles, can lead to pernicious biases in how they react to events like acts of terrorism. The second examines how wider systems of beliefs bias assimilation of evidence in ways that allow misconceptions to persist, as well as how those systems of beliefs can be leveraged to educate and correct misconceptions.