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The effect of safe experience on a warnings’ impact: Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2007.11.002
  • Decision Making
  • Experience
  • Description
  • Vioxx
  • Warnings
  • Cisapride
  • Sex Education
  • Riaa


Abstract In many contexts we are warned against engaging in risky behavior only after having past safe experience. We examine the effect of safe experience on a warning’s impact by comparing warnings received after having safe personal experience with those received before people start making choices. A series of five experiments studies this question with a paradigm that combines both descriptive information (i.e. the warning) and experiential information (safe outcomes). The results demonstrate two separate advantages to an early warning that go beyond the warning’s mere informational content. When an early warning coincides with the beginning of a decision-making process, the warning is both weighted more heavily in future decisions (the Primacy Effect) and induces safer behavior that becomes the status quo for future choices (the Initial History Effect). While both effects operate indirectly through choice inertia, the primacy effect also operates directly on choices. This pattern of behavior is inconsistent with the “ideal” Bayesian for whom the order of information revelation does not influence subsequent behavior. The effect was robust across settings with and without forgone payoffs and when the consequences for risk taking are delayed until the end of the experiment. The results imply that, even after being adequately warned, some people may continue to take risks simply because they incurred good outcomes from the same choice in the past. Implications for policy and theory are discussed.

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