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Title: Formalizing the fundamental Faustian bargain: Inefficacious decision-makers sacrifice their freedom of choice to coercive leaders for economic security
Individuals typically prefer the freedom to make their own decisions. Yet, people often trade their own decision control (procedural utility) to gain economic security (outcome utility). Decision science has not reconciled these observations. We examined how decision-makers’ efficacy and security perceptions influence when, why, and how individuals exchange procedural and outcome utility. Undergraduate adults ( N = 77; M age = 19.45 years; 73% female; 62% Caucasian, 13% African American) were recruited from the psychology participant pool at a midwestern U.S. metropolitan university. Participants made financial decisions in easy and hard versions of a paid card task resembling a standard gambling task, with a learning component. During half the trials, they made decisions with a No-Choice Manager who controlled their decisions, versus a Choice Manager who granted decision control. The hard task was designed to be too difficult for most participants, undermining their efficacy and security, and ensuring financial losses. The No-Choice Manager was designed to perform moderately well, ensuring financial gains. Participants felt greater outcome satisfaction (utility) for financial gains earned via Choice, but not losses. Participants (85%) preferred the Choice manager in the easy task but preferred the No-Choice Manager (56%) in the hard task. This change in preference for choice corresponded with self-efficacy and was mediated by perceived security. We used Decision Field Theory to develop potential cognitive models of these decisions. Preferences were best described by a model that assumed decision-makers initially prefer Choice, but update their preference based on loss-dependent attentional focus. When they earned losses (hard task), decision-makers focused more on economic payoffs (financial security), causing them to deemphasize procedural utility. Losses competed for attention, pulling attention toward economic survivability and away from the inherent value of choice. Decision-makers are more likely to sacrifice freedom of choice to leaders they perceive as efficacious to alleviate perceived threats to economic security.  more » « less
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Fernandes, Thiago P.
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National Science Foundation
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