Stakes, Scales, and Skepticism


Authors
Nat Hansen
University of Reading
Abstract
There is conflicting experimental evidence about whether the “stakes” or importance of being wrong affect judgments about whether a subject knows a proposition. To date, judgments about stakes effects on knowledge have been investigated using binary paradigms: responses to “low” stakes cases are compared with responses to “high stakes” cases. However, stakes or importance are not binary properties—they are scalar: whether a situation is “high” or “low” stakes is a matter of degree. So far, no experimental work has investigated the scalar nature of stakes effects on knowledge: do stakes effects increase as the stakes get higher? Do stakes effects only appear once a certain threshold of stakes has been crossed? Does the effect plateau at a certain point? To address these questions, we conducted experiments that probe for the scalarity of stakes effects using several experimental approaches. We found evidence of scalar stakes effects using an “evidence seeking” experimental design, but no evidence of scalar effects using a traditional “evidence-fixed” experimental design. In addition, using the evidence-seeking design, we uncovered a large, but previously unnoticed framing effect on whether participants are skeptical about whether someone can know something, no matter how much evidence they have. The rate of skeptical responses and the rate at which participants were willing to attribute “lazy knowledge”—that someone can know something without having to check—were themselves subject to a stakes effect: participants were more skeptical when the stakes were higher, and more prone to attribute lazy knowledge when the stakes were lower. We argue that the novel skeptical stakes effect provides resources to respond to criticisms of the evidence-seeking approach that argue that it does not target knowledge.
Keywords knowledge  stakes  scales  experiments  skepticism  replication  pragmatic encroachment
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Reprint years 2019
DOI 10.3998/ergo.12405314.0006.016
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