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How What Goes on in Others' Minds Affects our Choices and Well-Being

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thesis
posted on 07.05.2021, 20:05 authored by Andras MolnarAndras Molnar
Why do we care about what others think and believe? How does what happens in other people's minds affect our well-being? When are we motivated to take actions, such
as attempts to change another's mind, or to reveal harmful information to others, just to make sure that others believe what we want them to believe? How can these insights about people's preference for what others believe inform theories of decision-making and policy? These are the main research questions that I focus on in my dissertation. The overarching theme of the present work is the idea that we inherently monitor and care about what goes on in other people's minds|and not necessarily because doing so benefits us in any way. As I highlight in Chapter I, most previous work has hypothesized that such preferences
over others' mental states serve as intermediate steps towards an ultimate goal (e.g., to outwit an opponent or to foster social relations). By contrast, my work demonstrates that individuals' well-being and choices can be directly affected by consideration for others' beliefs. My work also expands our understanding of belief-based preferences to include preferences over second-order beliefs, i.e., the beliefs of others. While previous theories of belief-based
motives have examined individuals' preferences over their own non-instrumental cognitive states, my dissertation demonstrates that such belief-based motives can be extended beyond the individual. That is, people have an intrinsic preference for what others (should) believe,
and this desire has important implications to their well-being and behavior in a multitude of domains. In Chapter II, I demonstrate that people inherently dislike when they think that others hold incorrect beliefs as opposed to different beliefs per se and argue that this finding puts prior literature on belief-homophily in a new light. In the subsequent chapters I investigate behavior in two domains, in which people take costly actions to correct others'
misunderstandings: resource allocation (Chapter III) and moral punishment (Chapter IV). I conclude by discussing the limitations of the present work in Chapter V. In addition, I
provide an outline for future research and discuss possible applications of belief-based motives in various domains. Taking into account an intrinsic preference over others' mental states can help us to better understand a plethora of contemporary societal issues: the polarization of political beliefs and belief-based geographic sorting; the dramatic deterioration of public trust in democratic institutions and the media (and the emergence of \fake news"); the psychological effects of the rapid acceleration of automatization and the increasing prevalence of human-computer interactions; and the worsening mental health conditions due to people feeling misunderstood, isolated, and \left behind" by society, which might also contribute to
the recent surge in anti-establishment and extremist sentiments across the globe.

History

Date

16/12/2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Department

Social and Decision Sciences

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor(s)

George Loewenstein