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Title: An Assessment of the Extent to Which Laypeople Attribute Objectivity to Experts
Authors: Rosenthal, Alexis
Advisors: Pronin, Emily
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2017
Abstract: It has been well established that human decision making is fraught with the influence of both conscious and subconscious bias. Existing research highlights the role of the bias blind spot in which individuals are more apt to identify bias in others than in themselves. Of interest, it appears as though individuals do not recognize bias in professionals that they turn to for advice. On the contrary, they appear to imbue an unjustified level of objectivity to those they deem more expert. I attempt to contribute to the literature by clarifying how power dynamics of expert status affect the bias blind spot. This thesis seeks to answer the question of whether the public assesses expert opinions as being more objective than non-expert opinions. If laypeople cannot, or do not, acknowledge how experts are biased, they may be misguided by experts and put undue weight on expert advice. As such, this thesis investigates whether laypeople actually assume that experts are more objective than non- or less-expert decision makers. It is hypothesized that respondents will report that experts are more objective than interns making the same decisions. The investigation centers on a preliminary survey that establishes initial support for the hypothesis by considering four different scenarios. A second experiment is conducted utilizing a parallel design such that subjects are exposed to both an expert and to a non-expert condition. The results of this experiment provide support for the initial hypothesis and introduce how status and stakes influence assumptions of objectivity. The results also provide initial evidence outlining contexts in which subjectivity is considered acceptable versus when experts are held to an even higher standard of objectivity. There are public policy implications for this research relating to the formal establishment of who is responsible for choice architecture. Experts seem to already be in a position of shaping choice environments but explicitly establishing this relationship could help the public make better choices by shifting official responsibility to the experts. Measures can also be taken to educate laypeople on the biases of experts so that they may appropriately weigh expert input. Otherwise, experts should be charged with the responsibility to present information and shape choices in the interest of the general public. A further policy implication is the installment of better checks and balances on expert bias. In certain instances, blinding procedures and special attention to potential conflicts of interest can assuage issues of expert bias.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2020

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