Does Introspection Increase Humanitarian Concerns in Judgment and Decision Making?

Paul Slovic, Leaf Van Boven, Tehila Kogut, & Daniel Västfjäll

National Science Foundation

April 15, 2018 – March 31, 2020


There is ample evidence that people are inconsistent in the way that they value humanitarian objectives when making decisions about helping persons in distress. Most people believe they should give substantial weight to other people’s welfare when making decisions about charitable donations, allocating scarce medical resources, or providing support for refugees. Yet great compassion extended towards individual victims often fades or disappears as the numbers of people in need increase. In some circumstances, emotionally appealing but normatively weak attributes may take precedence over needs. The resulting failures to help others often appear to contradict one’s considered beliefs in the importance of giving them assistance. This proposal tests the hypothesis that introspection about personal beliefs regarding how humanitarian concerns should influence behavior will reduce underweighting of these concerns. We hypothesize that introspection will help people make judgments and decisions that better reflect their considered values. We propose a series of studies to test predictions derived from three basic ideas: (a) that people unknowingly weight concerns about others’ welfare less than they believe they should weight those concerns, a bias in humanitarian judgment and decision making; (b) that introspection can increase awareness of the discrepancy between people’s personal beliefs and their exhibited behavior; and (c) becoming aware of this discrepancy will lead people to reduce the inconsistency between their personal beliefs and behavior by increasing the weighting of others’ welfare in their judgments and decisions. Understanding the role of humanitarian values in important personal and policy decisions has broad significance. Millions of lives and national and global security depend on these decisions. Do the political, social, economic, cultural, security, and humanitarian values that we assume should guide our decisions actually exist in some coherent and consistent form? If so, what are these considered values and how do we ensure that our decisions are in accord with these values? This research project aims to make a contribution toward answering these vital questions by examining the degree to which a simple introspection procedure can improve the coherence between one’s own values and one’s actions in a variety of humanitarian decision contexts.

The proposed research yields several intellectual contributions. First, the studies advance understanding of how introspection can improve decision making, in contrast with claims in the research literature that introspection and deliberation can harm decision quality. Second, by examining people’s response to introspection about normative decision processes, the proposed studies advance understanding of how people monitor and revise attribute weighting when making decisions. This enables the researchers to differentiate between introspection and deliberation, concepts that are treated similarly in the literature. Third, given that people often have clear beliefs regarding how decisions should be made in specific contexts, the proposed research advances understanding of the extent to which people fail to behave according to those beliefs and how becoming aware of personal humanitarian values can increase the correspondence between those values and actual behavior.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.