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Prompted Rationality


Reflections on the Prompted Rationality Seminar April 11

More than 70 scientists from a variety of disciplines as well as academics involved in public policy advisory bodies came together to attend the first seminar of the Prompted Rationality network in the Utrecht University Hall.

Denise de Ridder, professor of psychology at Utrecht University and leader of the network, gave an opening speech by elucidating the central topic of the Prompted Rationality network: understanding how public policies can be designed in such a way that they prompt people to choose for the common good, without violating their autonomy. The ultimate goal of the network is to advise policymakers, based on new insights into how a call for empathy can support autonomous decisions for the benefit of all. During the seminar, two keynote speakers talked on these central issues, followed by reflections of the network members and an animated discussion with the audience.

Christiaan Keysers, professor of social neuroscience at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam, talked about his research on how mirror neurons form the foundation for human empathy. He vividly explained that the empathic brain has a built-in system that regulates when and for who people feel empathy, as it is not adaptive to always empathize with everyone. Understanding this regulating system facilitates our knowledge on empathy and how to make a call on it. In a subsequent reflection, network member Paul Leseman emphasized the importance of understanding how empathy motivates helping behavior in such a way that people act autonomously upon this call for empathy..

Ralph Hertwig, director of The Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, took the stage to talk about his most recent work on boosts as an alternative to nudges. While nudges make use of human’s cognitive biases to change behavior, assuming that these biases are the rule rather than the exception, Hertwig argued that people are actually quite good at decision-making. Hertwig therefore proposed boosts to bolster the innate competence for good decision making while preserving their agency. Moreover, Hertwig highlighted that boosts are transparent and easy to implement. A challenging reflection came from network member Lars Tummers, who advocated an equivalent interest in both nudges and boosts.

Due to the large number of questions raised by the audience, unfortunately little time was left for the panel discussion about the case of vaccination: how can policy prompt people to vaccinate, while allowing them to make this decision autonomously? Whereas the majority of attendants was in favor of coercive measures to increase the declining vaccination rate, the audience was also willing to explore alternative measures based on insights related to the Prompted Rationality theoretical framework. After some interesting final insights from the speakers and the audience, the inspiring afternoon had come to an end, and the engaging conversations were continued with drinks. We are looking forward to the next Prompted Rationality seminar.


[Written by Eva Grosfeld]