NBER Publications by Cass Sunstein

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April 2013Why Does Balanced News Produce Unbalanced Views?
with Edward L. Glaeser: w18975
Many studies find that presentation of balanced information, offering competing positions, can promote polarization and thus increase preexisting social divisions. We offer two explanations for this apparently puzzling phenomenon. The first involves what we call asymmetric Bayesianism: the same information can have diametrically opposite effects if those who receive it have opposing antecedent convictions. Recipients whose beliefs are buttressed by the message, or a relevant part, rationally believe that it is true, while recipients whose beliefs are at odds with that message, or a relevant part, rationally believe that the message is false (and may reflect desperation). The second explanation is that the same information can activate radically different memories and associated conviction...
December 2007Extremism and Social Learning
with Edward L. Glaeser: w13687
When members of deliberating groups speak with one another, their predeliberation tendencies often become exacerbated as their views become more extreme. The resulting phenomenon -- group polarization -- has been observed in many settings, and it bears on the actions of juries, administrative tribunals, corporate boards, and other institutions. Polarization can result from rational Bayesian updating by group members, but in many contexts, this rational interpretation of polarization seems implausible. We argue that people are better seen as Credulous Bayesians, who insufficiently adjust for idiosyncratic features of particular environments and put excessive weight on the statements of others where there are 1) common sources of information; 2) highly unrepresentative group membership; 3)...

Published: Journal of Legal Analysis (Winter 2009) 1 (1): 263-324. doi: 10.4159/jla.v1i1.10

November 2005Debiasing through Law
with Christine Jolls: w11738
In many settings, human beings are boundedly rational. A distinctive and insufficiently explored legal response to bounded rationality is to attempt to "debias through law," by steering people in more rational directions. In many important domains, existing legal analyses emphasize the alternative approach of insulating outcomes from the effects of boundedly rational behavior, often through blocking private choices. In fact, however, a large number of actual and imaginable legal strategies are efforts to engage in the very different approach of debiasing through law by reducing or even eliminating people's boundedly rational behavior. In important contexts, these efforts to debias through law can avoid the costs and inefficiencies associated with regulatory approaches that take bounded rat...

Published: Jolls, Christine and Cass R. Sunstein. "Debiasing Through Law." Journal of Legal Studies 35 (2006): 199-241.

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