Engelmann, Jan Lebreton, Maël Schwardmann, Peter van der Weele, Joël J. Chang, Li-Ang
Year of Publication:
Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper No. TI 2019-042/I
It is widely hypothesized that anxiety and worry about an uncertain future lead to the adoption of comforting beliefs or "wishful thinking". However, there is little direct causal evidence for this effect. In our experiment, participants perform a visual pattern recognition task where some patterns may result in the delivery of an electric shock, a proven way of inducing anxiety. Participants engage in significant wishful thinking, as they are less likely to correctly identify patterns that they know may lead to a shock. Greater ambiguity of the pattern facilitates wishful thinking. Raising incentives for accuracy does not significantly decrease it.