The Upward Mobility Bias: Asymmetric Predictions Of Ascent And Descent In Rankings
People constantly rely on rankings and relative comparisons to make sense of the world. But how accurately do people understand relative rankings? In sixteen studies, I document an upward mobility bias in predictions of ascent and descent in rankings. Although rankings are by definition zero-sum (one entity's rise necessitates another's decline), I find that people believe that a rise in rankings is more likely than a decline. In Studies 1 and 2, I find that people believe that a person born to a family in the bottom income quintile is more likely to rise in the social ladder (i.e., upward social mobility) than a person born to a family in the top income quintile is to drop (i.e., downward social mobility). In Studies 3-8, I show that this bias is not confined to economic social mobility, and that the belief that a rise in ranking is more likely than a decline is observed in various settings, including athletics, academia, and employment. I present evidence that this bias results 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. Finally, in Studies 9-13, I demonstrate that the upward mobility bias is exhibited even in non-volitional domains (where intention, motivation, or effort play no role), and propose that, due to a mental association between a ranking's order and the direction of absolute change, people may exhibit the upward mobility bias even in the absence of motivation.
heuristics and biases; focalism; social mobility
Pizarro,David A.; Ferguson,Melissa J.; Field,David James
Ph.D. of Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis