Into the Black Box: Tracing Information About Risks Related to 10 Evolutionary Problems

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Abstract

Human behavioral risk-seeking tendencies differ across content domains. How can such behavioral differences be reliably produced by the cognitive system? This article presents an explorative analysis of the reasons for and cognitive mechanisms underlying different risk propensities across 10 evolutionary domains. We investigate three cognitive process models: Tally, Take The First, and Most Relevant. Tally assumes decision-makers use majority rules. Take The First assumes decision makers rely on the first piece of information that comes to mind. Most Relevant assumes decision makers rely on information that is important in their environment. A survey with a total of N = 120 individuals in the United States gathered 1,598 self-reported memory-based attributes of risky situations in 10 evolutionary content domains. The explorative analysis of the cognitive processes underlying the domain differences suggest that the Most Relevant strategy is most closely related to the shifts in risk seeking across content domains, and that Take The First is also related, but the Tally process is not related to domain differences in risk propensities. This means that a cognitive process that relies on the first or frequent pieces of information from the environment may be underlying domain differences in risk taking.

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