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Who's in the Video
Dr. Laurie Santos is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University. Her research provides an interface between evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, and cognitive neuroscience, exploring the evolutionary origins of the human[…]

Cognitive science reveals that policymakers should better understand how deeply our decisions are influenced by the presentation of choices.

Question: What are the implications of your work for rnpoliticians and people outside of the sciences?

Laurie Santos: Some of our monkey economics work rnsuggests that the biases we see in humans—in particular the fact that wern think about economic questions from a relative rather than an absolute rnstandpoint—those kinds of biases are deeply engrained in us, probably rnevolutionarily old, and hard to overcome.  What this means is we got to rnstart taking these biases seriously and the policy implication, or even rnjust the implication for the lay people try to make economic decisions rnis to realize that these factors are at work.  So, one thing we’ve rnlearned is that monkeys actually pay a lot of attention to reference rnpoints.  So, arbitrary information that just sets a price for you. And rnyou care about whether, you know, the actual price you’re going to pay rnis less or more than that.  You know, so advertisers do this to us all rnthe time.  You can’t walk into a grocery store or department store rnwithout seeing, you know, “Was $300, Now Only $199.”  Right?  We’re rnaffected by these things even though we’d really like to think that we rnaren’t.  And if you think about other things are evolved.  Other evolvedrn biases we have, like our passion for cheesecake and our hatred of scaryrn things and so on, we’re really going to have a hard time overcoming rnthose sorts of biases. 
And so the policy implications are rnfirst just that, should we allow these kinds of thing out there.  rnProbably we’re never going to overcome that.  Probably these kinds of rnthings are gong to be there, but as a decision maker, you should really rnrealize that they’re there and understand that your choices are really rnbeing affected by these pieces of information.

rnThere are a set of folks who are really pushing that we need to take rnthese biases seriously so folks like Dick Thaler and Cass Sunstein who rnwrote this recent book "Nudge" that thankfully is having a big effect, rnsaying that, "Look we need to take these kinds of things seriously rnbecause pretending that we don’t have these biases means that we set up rnthese choice structures—they call them choice architectures—that are rninfluencing people’s behavior even though we don’t think they do." So, rnthey have a case of... consider a lunch line when you have different rnfoods and different orders. And let’s say that we could figure out for rnsure that the first piece of food is going to effect what you buy.  rnWhich piece of food should we put first? 
Well, we could be rnpaternalistic and put the broccoli first, you know, we could say, "No, rnwe’re going to ignore that and put the cheesecake first," and so on.  rnBut one of the foods has to go first, or we have to decide to be random rnevery day and switch it up.  You know, when we set up policies, we set rnup these structures that have to have a default option, that have to rnsway choices somehow.  And so the question is, "How do we want to sway rnthem?"  And realizing how these biases work and that because of our workrn with the monkeys, they may be hard to override, I think, suggests that rnin fact, we need to take these kinds of policy suggestions really rnseriously and deal with the question of, you know, we have to set these rnpolicies up somehow and we know that how we set them up is going to rneffect choices, you know, what should we really decide to do?

Recorded May 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont