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Biases in Information Selection and Processing: Survey Evidence from the Pandemic

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  • Ester Faia
  • Andreas Fuster
  • Vincenzo Pezone
  • Basit Zafar

Abstract

How people form beliefs is crucial for understanding decision-making under uncertainty. This is particularly true in a situation such as a pandemic, where beliefs will affect behaviors that impact public health as well as the aggregate economy. We conduct two survey experiments to shed light on potential biases in belief formation, focusing in particular on the tone of information people choose to consume and how they incorporate this information into their beliefs. In the first experiment, people express their preferences over pandemic-related articles with optimistic and pessimistic headlines, and are then randomly shown one of the articles. We find that respondents with more pessimistic prior beliefs about the pandemic are substantially more likely to prefer pessimistic articles, which we interpret as evidence of confirmation bias. In line with this, respondents assigned to the less preferred article rate it as less reliable and informative (relative to those who prefer it); they also discount information from the article when it is less preferred. We further find that these motivated beliefs end up impacting incentivized behavior. In a second experiment, we study how partisan views interact with information selection and processing. We find strong evidence of source dependence: revealing the news source further distorts information acquisition and processing, eliminating the role of prior beliefs in article choice.

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  • Ester Faia & Andreas Fuster & Vincenzo Pezone & Basit Zafar, 2021. "Biases in Information Selection and Processing: Survey Evidence from the Pandemic," NBER Working Papers 28484, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28484
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    Cited by:

    1. Francesco Capozza & Ingar Haaland & Christopher Roth & Johannes Wohlfart, 2021. "Studying Information Acquisition in the Field: A Practical Guide and Review," CEBI working paper series 21-15, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics. The Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality (CEBI).
    2. Guglielmo Zappalà, 2023. "Drought Exposure and Accuracy: Motivated Reasoning in Climate Change Beliefs," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 85(3), pages 649-672, August.
    3. Chopra, Felix & Haaland, Ingar & Roth, Christopher, 2021. "The Demand for FactChecking," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 563, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    4. Cattaneo, Cristina & Grieco, Daniela, 2021. "Turning opposition into support to immigration: The role of narratives," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 190(C), pages 785-801.
    5. Chopra, Felix & Haaland, Ingar & Roth, Christopher, 2022. "Do people demand fact-checked news? Evidence from U.S. Democrats," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 205(C).
    6. Felix Chopra & Ingar K. Haaland & Christopher Roth, 2022. "The Demand for News: Accuracy Concerns Versus Belief Confirmation Motives," CESifo Working Paper Series 9673, CESifo.
    7. Guglielmo Zappalà, 2022. "Drought exposure and accuracy: Motivated reasoning in climate change beliefs," Working Papers 2022.02, FAERE - French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
    8. Bernard, René & Tzamourani, Panagiota & Weber, Michael, 2022. "Climate change and individual behavior," Discussion Papers 01/2022, Deutsche Bundesbank.
    9. Roth, Christopher & Mikosch, Heiner & Sarferaz, Samad & Wohlfart, Johannes, 2021. "Uncertainty and Information Acquisition: Evidence from Firms and Households," CEPR Discussion Papers 16765, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. Choi, Syngjoo & Choi, Chung-Yoon & Kim, Seonghoon, 2023. "Tackling misperceptions about immigrants with fact-checking interventions: A randomized survey experiment," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C).
    11. Assenza, Tiziana, 2021. "The Ability to 'Distill the Truth'," TSE Working Papers 21-1280, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised Mar 2022.
    12. Patrick Bareinz & Fabian Koenings, 2021. "Framing of Economic News and Policy Support During a Pandemic: Evidence from an Information Experiment," Jena Economics Research Papers 2021-004, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    13. Dylong, Patrick & Koenings, Fabian, 2023. "Framing of economic news and policy support during a pandemic: Evidence from a survey experiment," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 76(C).
    14. Assenza, Tiziana & Cardaci, Alberto & Chaliasos, Michael, 2023. "Consumption and account balances in crises: Have we neglected cognitive load?," IMFS Working Paper Series 197, Goethe University Frankfurt, Institute for Monetary and Financial Stability (IMFS).
    15. Assenza, Tiziana & Cardaci, Alberto & Haliassos, Michael, 2024. "Consumption and Account Balances in Crises: Have We Neglected Cognitive Load?," TSE Working Papers 24-1499, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).

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    JEL classification:

    • D84 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Expectations; Speculations
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • E71 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on the Macro Economy
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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