Davidai, S. (2018). Why do Americans believe in economic mobility?  Economic inequality, external attributions of wealth and poverty, and the belief in economic mobility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 79, 138-148.

Although the rates of economic inequality in the United States are at their highest since the onset of The Great Depression, many Americans do not seem as concerned as may be expected. This apparent lack of concern has been attributed to people's deeply-entrenched belief in economic mobility – the belief that through hard work, determination, and skill people are able to rise up the economic ladder. Little is known, however, about why Americans so strongly believe in economic mobility. In five studies (N = 3112, including two pre-registered studies, one with a large, income-stratified sample), I examine the relationship between economic inequality and the belief in economic mobility. I find that people (accurately) perceive a negative relationship between economic inequality and economic mobility, and that this is due to the attributions they make about wealth and poverty. As economic inequality rises, people increasingly attribute economic success and failure to external factors that are beyond a person's control (vs. internal dispositions), and therefore expect economic mobility to drop. As a consequence, people's tendency to underestimate economic inequality reinforces their belief in economic mobility. I discuss how these findings contribute to our understanding of lay beliefs about the economic system and public opinion regarding inequality.


    Davidai, S. & Gilovich, T. (2018). How should we think about Americans’ perceptions of socio-economic mobility? Judgment and Decision Making, 13(3), 297-304.

    Recent evidence suggests that Americans’ beliefs about upward mobility are overly optimistic. Davidai & Gilovich (2015a), Kraus & Tan (2015), and Kraus (2015) all found that people overestimate the likelihood that a person might rise up the economic ladder, and underestimate the likelihood that they might fail to do so. However, using a different methodology, Chambers, Swan, and Heesacker (2015) reported that Americans’ beliefs about mobility are much more pessimistic. Swan, Chambers, Heesacker, and Nero (2017) provide a much-needed summary of these conflicting findings and question the utility of measuring population-level biases in judgments of inequality and mobility. We value their summary but argue that their conclusion is premature. By focusing on measures that best tap how laypeople naturally think about the distribution of income, we believe that researchers can draw meaningful conclusions about the public’s perceptions of economic mobility. When more ecologically representative measures are used, the consistent finding is that Americans overestimate the extent of upward mobility in the United States. To explain the divergent findings in the literature, we provide evidence that the methods used by Chambers et al. (2015) inadvertently primed participants to think about immobility rather than mobility. Finally, using a novel method to examine beliefs about economic mobility, we show that Americans indeed overestimate the degree of mobility in the United States. 


    Davidai, S. & Shafir, E. (2018). Are “nudges” getting a fair shot? Joint versus separate evaluations. Behavioual Public Policy, 1-19.

    The most effective behavioral policies are often also the most contentious. Psychologically-informed interventions that promote non-deliberative behaviors (including “nudges”) are often more effective than “traditional” policies (like informational and educational campaigns) that target more deliberative processes. Yet, precisely because of their deliberative nature, people are often said to prefer the latter over the former. In contrast, we provide evidence that people’s preferences regarding nudges are malleable and influenced by the method of evaluation—whether the policy alternatives are evaluated separately or jointly. We show that while people exhibit a strong preference for more traditional public policies in joint evaluation, this preference is significantly attenuated in separate evaluation. We find that people perceive nudges as less paternalistic when judged on their own merits, that they are more likely to endorse nudges in separate than in joint evaluation, and that, provided with relative effectiveness information, people are willing to endorse nudges even in joint evaluation. We discuss the implications of these findings for researchers, policymakers, and the general public.


    Deri., S., Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2017) Home Alone: Why people believe others’ social lives are richer than their own. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(6), 858-877.

    Although decades of research show that people tend to see themselves in the best possible light, we present evidence that people have a surprisingly grim outlook on their social lives. In 11 studies (N = 3,293; including 3 preregistered), we find that most people think that others lead richer and more active social lives than they do themselves. We show that this bias holds across multiple populations (college students, MTurk respondents, shoppers at a local mall, and participants from a large, income-stratified online panel), correlates strongly with well-being, and is particularly acute for social activities (e.g., the number of parties one attends or proximity to the “inner circle” of one’s social sphere). We argue that this pessimistic bias stems from the fact that trendsetters and socialites come most easily to mind as a standard of comparison and show that reducing the availability of extremely social people eliminates this bias. We conclude by discussing implications for research on social comparison and self-enhancement. 


    Davidai, S. & Gilovich, T. (2017) The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets. Emotion, 18(3), 439-452

    Research on the structural features of people’s most enduring regrets has focused on whether they result from having acted or having failed to act. Here we focus on a different structural feature, their connection to a person’s self-concept. In 6 studies, we predict and find that people’s most enduring regrets stem more often from discrepancies between their actual and ideal selves than their actual and ought selves. We also provide evidence that this asymmetry is at least partly due to differences in how people cope with regret. People are quicker to take steps to cope with failures to live up to their duties and responsibilities (ought-related regrets) than their failures to live up to their goals and aspirations (ideal-related regrets). As a consequence, ideal-related regrets are more likely to remain unresolved, leaving people more likely to regret not being all they could have been more than all they should have been.


    Davidai, S. & Gilovich, T. (2016). The headwind/tailwind asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(6), 835-851.

    Seven studies provide evidence of an availability bias in people’s assessments of the benefits they’ve enjoyed and the barriers they’ve faced. Barriers and hindrances command attention because they have to be overcome; benefits and resources can often be simply enjoyed and largely ignored. As a result of this “headwind/tailwind” asymmetry, Democrats and Republicans both claim that the electoral map works against them (Study 1), football fans take disproportionate note of the challenging games on their team’s schedules (Study 2), people tend to believe that their parents have been harder on them than their siblings are willing to grant (Study 3), and academics think that they have a harder time with journal reviewers, grant panels, and tenure committees than members of other subdisciplines (Study 7). We show that these effects are the result of the enhanced availability of people’s challenges and difficulties (Studies 4 and 5) and are not simply the result of self-serving attribution management (Studies 6 and 7). We also show that the greater salience of a person’s headwinds can lead people to believe they have been treated unfairly and, as a consequence, more inclined to endorse morally questionable behavior (Study 7). Our discussion focuses on the implications of the headwind/tailwind asymmetry for a variety of ill-conceived policy decisions. 


    Davidai, S. & Gilovich, T. (2016). The tide that lifts all focal boats: Asymmetric predictions of ascent and descent in rankings. Judgment and Decision Making, 11(1), 7-20.

    In six studies, we find evidence for an upward mobility bias, or a tendency to predict that a rise in ranking is more likely than a decline, even in domains where motivation or intention to rise play no role. Although people cannot willfully change their height (Study 1), and geographical entities cannot willfully alter their temperature (Study 2), number of natural disasters (Study 3), levels of precipitation (Studies 4A and 4B), or chemical concentration (Study 5), subjects believed that each is more likely to rise than drop in ranking. This bias is due to an association between a ranking’s order and the direction of absolute change, and to the tendency to give considerable weight to a focal agent over non-focal agents. Because people generally expect change to be represented in terms of higher ranks, and because they tend to focus on specific, focal targets, they believe that any given target will experience a larger relative increase than other targets. We discuss implications for social policy


    Davidai, S. & Gilovich, T. (2015). What goes up apparently needn’t come down: Asymmetric predictions of ascent and descent in rankings. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 28(5), 491-503.

    n eight studies, we document an upward mobility bias, or a tendency to predict that a rise in rankings is more likely than a decline. This asymmetry was observed in predictions of classroom performance, NBA and NFL standings, business school rankings, and employee performance rankings. The bias was found for entities people care about and want to see improve their standing, as well as entities in which people are not invested. It appears to result from people's tendency to give considerable weight to a focal agent's intentions and motivation, but to give less weight to the intentions of competitors and other factors that would thwart the focal agent's improvement. We show that this bias is most pronounced for implicit incremental theorists, who believe that performance is malleable (and hence assign more weight to intentions and effort). We discuss implications of this asymmetry for decision making and for an understanding of the underdog bias.


    Davidai, S. & Gilovich, T. (2015). Building a more mobile America – one income quintile at a time. Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, 10(1), 60-71.

    A core tenet of the American ethos is that there is considerable economic mobility. Americans seem willing to accept vast financial inequalities as long as they believe that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. We examined whether people’s beliefs about the amount of economic mobility in the contemporary United States conform to reality. We found that (a) people believe there is more upward mobility than downward mobility; (b) people overestimate the amount of upward mobility and underestimate the amount of downward mobility; (c) poorer individuals believe there is more mobility than richer individuals; and (d) political affiliation influences perceptions of economic mobility, with conservatives believing that the economic system is more dynamic—with more people moving both up and down the income distribution—than liberals do. We discuss how these findings can shed light on the intensity and nature of political debate in the United States on economic inequality and opportunity. 


    Davidai, S., Gilovich, T. & Ross, L. (2012). The meaning of default options for potential organ donors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109, 15201-15205.

    Rates of participation in organ donation programs are known to be powerfully influenced by the relevant default policy in effect (“opt-in” vs. “opt-out”). Three studies provide evidence that this difference in participation may occur in part because the requirement to opt-in or opt-out results in large differences in the meaning that individuals attach to participation. American participants in Study 1 rated participation as a significantly more substantial action when agreement was purportedly obtained under opt-in rather than opt-out conditions, and nonagreement as a greater abrogation of responsibility when that decision was made under opt-out rather than under opt-in conditions. Study 2 replicated these findings with respondents who live in Germany, which employs an opt-in donation policy, and in Austria, which has an opt-out policy. Study 3 required American participants to rate various actions that differ in the effort and self-sacrifice they demand. As predicted, the placement of organ donation on the resulting multidimensional scaling dimension differed significantly depending on whether it purportedly was made in an opt-in country (where it was considered roughly akin to giving away half of one’s wealth to charity upon one’s death) or an opt-out country (where it fell between letting others get ahead of one in line and volunteering some time to help the poor). We discuss the relationship between this change of meaning account and two other mechanisms—behavioral inertia and implicit norms—that we believe underlie the default effect in decision making and other effects of policies designed to influence decision-makers.