Thought and Communication About and For Action by Prof. Aibarracín


Location: B16 Haggar Hall

In this talk,  Prof. Aibarracín will discuss how we think and communicate about action, as well as the implications of these processes for actual behavior. I will review three domains of findings from my research on action and inaction: (a) judgment, (b) communication, and (c) choice architecture. With respect to judgment, across countries, especially Western ones, action is perceived as more beneficial and desirable than inaction. Action is also considered to be more goal directed than inaction, and systematically shifting the goal directed or intentional nature of actions and inactions modifies evaluations. Judgments and evaluations of action are shared by a social group, vary cross-culturally, and appear to be based on Christian beliefs and horizontal cultural norms. In the area of communication, actionable messages are more efficacious than non-actionable ones. For example, active, behavioral-skills messages in the health domain change behavior more than behavior-irrelevant, passive messages. Action words spread via Twitter are positively linked to health in the HIV domain, and receiving messages while being physically active can strengthen behavioral intentions. One interesting exception to the advantage of active messages occurs in the area of choice architecture. A common finding is that allowing passive consent (e.g., requiring active opt out to avoid being an organ donor) produces more compliance than requiring active opt in. We have found that this seeming reversal, however, is dependent on the importance of the behavior or policy. We reasoned that inaction is an adequate response when the object or behavior is unimportant. Consistent with this possibility, we found that the inaction or default advantage is present for unimportant actions or situations that limit cognitive capacity (e.g., being in a hurry while making the decision). In our samples, the passive choice advantage emerges when people make rushed decisions or forget to make an active choice at a later time. Further, charity donations are higher with a passive-choice format, whereas compliance with personal interest decisions is higher with an active-choice format.