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Biases in information selection and processing: Survey evidence from the pandemic

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

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Faia, Ester & Fuster, Andreas & Pezone, Vincenzo & Zafar, Basit, 2021. "Biases in information selection and processing: Survey evidence from the pandemic," SAFE Working Paper Series 307, Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:safewp:307
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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. Heiner Mikosch & Christopher Roth & Samad Sarferaz & Johannes Wohlfart, 2021. "Uncertainty and Information Acquisition: Evidence from Firms and Households," CEBI working paper series 21-20, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics. The Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality (CEBI).
    3. Felix Chopra & Ingar Haaland & Christopher Roth, 2021. "Do People Demand Fact-Checked News? Evidence From U.S. Democrats," ECONtribute Discussion Papers Series 121, University of Bonn and University of Cologne, Germany.
    4. Patrick Bareinz & Fabian Koenings, 2021. "Framing of Economic News and Policy Support During a Pandemic: Evidence from an Information Experiment," Jena Economic Research Papers 2021-004, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    5. Bernard, René & Tzamourani, Panagiota & Weber, Michael, 2021. "Climate Change and Individual Behavior," VfS Annual Conference 2021 (Virtual Conference): Climate Economics 242592, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    6. Chopra, Felix & Haaland, Ingar & Roth, Christopher, 2021. "The Demand for Fact-Checking," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1357, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    7. 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.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Belief updating; confirmatory biases; endogenous information acquisition; media polarization; source dependence; COVID-19;
    All these keywords.

    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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