Social factors affect many types of human behavior. Possible evaluation
by others has been found to be relevant for racist attitudes (Warner and
DeFleur 1969) and for alleged aggression differences by gender (Lightdale
and Prentice 1994). According to Tetlock (1985), the potential
evaluation by others is one of the most important factors influencing
human decision making processes. In the economic realm, Curley et al.
(1986) find that other-evaluation can increase ambiguity aversion when
several people observe the decision maker’s choice.
and Wakker (2008) find that eliminating the possibility
of other-evaluation by making the subject’s preferences her own private
ambiguity aversion to disappear. McFadden (2006) calls for a more
general role of social influences in the explanation of economic
It seems all the more surprising that
the overwhelming economics literature does seem to be completely
oblivious to social influences. In the literature on individual decision
making the individual is generally treated like an island that is
completely isolated from external influences. This fundamental
assumption is not even so much as discussed - a fact that may have a
perverse effect on many findings. Indeed, the complete obliviousness to
potential social factors influencing individual decision making
processes leads to a loss of control in experiments, where the
possibility of social influences is often left to vary between
experiments - and, much worse, sometimes even between treatments. In the
absence of a clear understanding of what effects social influences might
have under different conditions, an effort to keep the level of social
exposure constant across treatments and experiments seems to be a necessity if one wants to avoid loss of control over the experimental
A growing literature in social psychology shows the various effects that
accountability, the expectation by a decision maker that she may
be called upon to justify her behavior in front of others, has on human
decision making processes. The effects accountability may have under
different conditions are laid out in the contingency model on judgment
and choice (Tetlock et al. 1989). Accountability may have different
effects according to whether the views of the potential audience are
known or unknown; whether the decision maker is committed to a decision
previously taken or not; whether the problem at hand has a solution that
may be arrived at by increasing cognitive effort or not; and by whether
a given choice may appear as more or less easily justifiable as compared
to alternative choices.
Accountability with no pre-commitment in front of an audience whose
views are known generally results in conformity to that view (Asch 1957,
Tetlock 1983), or in the equivalent phenomenon of strategic attitude
shifts (Tetlock et al. 1989). Such behavior is often attributed to
cognitive laziness. Low costs of conformity in comparison to the cost of
deviating may also play a role in some situations.
If the views of the potential audience are unknown and no pre-commitment
exists, the observed choice behavior is more complicated. Accountability
in front of an audience with unknown views generally results in more
cognitive effort. This phenomenon has been called pre-emptive
self-criticism (Tetlock 1983, Tetlock and Kim 1987, Lerner and Tetlock
1999), consisting in more options being considered more in depth,
thereby anticipating the possible criticisms others could bring against
Accountability to an unknown audience has been found to lead to less
biased decisions in cases where the normatively correct decision was
either known by the subjects, or could be arrived at by higher cognitive
effort (Simonson and Nye 1992). When on the other hand no solution is
easily arrived at, people tend to choose the option that appears more
easily justifiable. This may be explained by the fact that people have
been found to often rely on reasons instead of indices such as expected
value when making choices (Shafir et al. 1993). When called upon to make
a risky choice they may need to justify in front of an audience whose
views are unknown, we would thus expect that the decision maker picks
the decision which he will deem most justifiable (Simonson 1989).
Asch, S.E. (1957). An
Experimental Investigation of Group Influence. In “Preventive and Social
Curley, Shawn P., J. Frank
Yates and Richard A. Abrams (1986). Psychological Sources of Ambiguity
Avoidance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 38, pp.
Leary, Mark R. (1983). A Brief
Version of the Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale. Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin 9(3), 371-375.
Lerner, Jennifer S. and Philip
E. Tetlock (1999). Accounting for the Effects of Accountability.
Psychological Bulletin 125, 255-275.
Lightdale, Jenifer R. and
Deborah A. Prentice (1994). Rethinking Sex Differences in Aggression:
Aggressive Behavior in the Absence of Social Roles. Pers Soc Psychol Bull
20, 34 - 44.
McFadden, D. (2006). Free
Markets and Fettered Consumers. American Economic Review 96 (1), 5-29.
Shafir, Eldar, Itamar
Simonson and Amos Tversky (1993). Reason-based Choice. Cognition 49, 11-36.
Simonson, Itamar (1989).
Choice Based on Reason: the Case of Attraction and Compromise Effect. The
Journal of Consumer Research 16(2), pp. 158-174.
Simonson, Itamar and Peter
Nye (1992). The Effect of Accountability and Susceptibility on Decision
Errors. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 51, 416-446.
Tetlock, Philip E. (1983).
Accountability and Complexity of Thought. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology 45 (1), 74-83.
Trautmann, Stefan T.,
Ferdinand M. Vieider, and Peter P. Wakker (2008). Causes of Ambiguity
Aversion: Known Versus Unknown Preferences. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 36, 225-243.
Watson, David and Ronald Friend (1969). Measurement of Social-Evaluative
Anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 33 (4), 448-457.