Enke, B., Gneezy, U., Hall, B., Martin, D., Nelidov, V., Offerman, T. and Ven, J. (2021). Cognitive Biases: Mistakes or Missing Stakes? Review of Economics and Statistics, :.
JournalReview of Economics and Statistics
Despite decades of research on heuristics and biases, empirical evidence on theeffect of large incentives – as present in relevant economic decisions – on cognitive biases is scant. This paper tests the effect of incentives on four widely documented biases: base rate neglect, anchoring, failure of contingent thinking, and intuitive reasoning in the Cognitive Reflection Test. In laboratory experiments with 1,236 college students in Nairobi, we implement three incentive levels: no incentives, standard lab payments, and very high incentives that increase the stakes by a factor of 100 to more than a monthly income. We find that response times – a proxy for cognitive effort – increase by 40% with very high stakes. Performance, on the other hand, improves very mildly or not at all as incentives increase, with the largest improvements due to a reduced reliance on intuitions. In none of the tasks are very high stakes sufficient to de-bias participants, or come even close to doing so.