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Can We Overcome Ideological Biases in Constitutional Judgments? An Experimental Analysis

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Despite the importance and neutrality of constitutional rights, empirical research suggests that ideological inclinations unduly affect their assessment and application. This problem might exacerbate in times of increased political and ideological polarization as we witness nowadays in many countries. In this paper, we conducted two experiments where participants were asked to determine the probability with which they would approve a request for demonstration by a particular organization (pro-choice or pro-life/against abortions) in order to investigate the nature of the ideological bias in a constitutionally-relevant decision. Furthermore, we have investigated whether the ideological bias can be mitigated by behavioral interventions in the decision procedure. We find that ideological bias is driven by in-group favoritism. Additionally, we find that prior commitment, through a signed declaration, to be impartial or to prioritize constitutional rights encourages participants not to disfavor out-groups. On the other hand, we do not find evidence that using a partial blinding procedure mitigates the ideological bias.
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Can We Overcome Ideological Biases in Constitutional Judgments?
An Experimental Analysis
Elena Kantorowicz-Reznichenko,* Jaroslaw Kantorowicz,** Keren Weinshall***
1
Abstract: Despite the importance and neutrality of constitutional rights, empirical research suggests that ideological
inclinations unduly affect their assessment and application. This problem might exacerbate in times of increased
political and ideological polarization as we witness nowadays in many countries. In this paper, we conducted two
experiments where participants were asked to determine the probability with which they would approve a request for
demonstration by a particular organization (pro-choice or pro-life/against abortions) in order to investigate the
nature of the ideological bias in a constitutionally-relevant decision. Furthermore, we have investigated whether the
ideological bias can be mitigated by behavioral interventions in the decision procedure. We find that ideological bias
is driven by in-group favoritism. Additionally, we find that prior commitment, through a signed declaration, to be
impartial or to prioritize constitutional rights encourages participants not to disfavor out-groups. On the other hand,
we do not find evidence that using a partial blinding procedure mitigates the ideological bias.
Keywords: Constitutional rights, right to demonstrate, ideological bias, behavioral interventions
1. Introduction
The principle of universality of rights is the cornerstone of constitutional and international human
rights law.
2
According to this principle, all human beings are entitled to inherent rights. As such,
rights equally protect all individuals, regardless of their personal status, attributes, beliefs and
ideological or political inclination (Otto, 1977; Milne, 1977; Sloane, 2001; Donnelly, 2007). In
particular, the question of ideology or political affiliation should not affect the application of
political rights such as the right to vote, join a political party, run for office, protest or express free
speech. The ability to participate in civil and political life is by nature meant to be afforded equally,
in a content-neutral manner. Such rights are also protected in many national constitutions.
However, many of these rights are not absolute and at times need to be balanced against other
constitutional rights or public interests.
* Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam,
reznichenko@law.eur.nl.
** Institute of Security and Global Affairs and at the department of Economics, Leiden university,
j.j.kantorowicz@fgga.leidenuniv.nl.
*** Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, keren.weinshall@mail.huji.ac.il.
1
The research for this article was undertaken as part of the Proportionality in Public Policy project at the Israel
Democracy Institute and was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh
Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013), ERC grant no. 324182. We would like to thank Mordechai Kremnitzer,
Raanan Sulitzeanu Kenan, Ori Plonsky, Liat Netzer, Talya Steiner, Yuval Feldman, Ilana Ritov, Pieter Desmet, Ilja
Tilema, participants of the BACT seminar at Erasmus School of Law, and the Workshop on Experiments at the
Crossroads of Law and Economics, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
participants for their helpful comments.
2
The principle was first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948 (see Assembly, UN
General. 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UN General Assembly, 302(2)) and has been reiterated in
many national constitutions, international conventions and judicial decisions.
2
Despite the prevalence of these basic legal principles, empirical research suggests that ideological
inclinations do unduly affect the assessment and application of political rights. Evidence for
political bias has been discussed extensively as part of the larger intergroup bias. Sometimes
known as in-group favouritism, the intergroup bias refers to the systematic tendency to evaluate
one's own group and its members more favourably than a non-membership group (the out-group)
and its members (Tajfel, 1981; Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis, 2002). Intergroup bias was found
even in trivial groupings (e.g. Tajfel et al., 1971), but is especially salient for elements as ideology
and political affiliation. Various studies show that liberals positively evaluate liberals (their in-
group) and hold negative attitudes toward conservatives (their outgroup), and vice versa (Huber
and Malhotra, 2017; Rogowski and Sutherland, 2016). Accordingly, liberals have proved more
generous toward those who share their ideological commitments (Rand et al., 2009), and more
willing to accept conservative policies if they are proposed by other members of their group
(Cohen, 2003). The latter is, in part, driven by motivated reasoning, which refers to the selective
processing and evaluation of evidence based on political cues. Humans are inclined to seek
confirmatory evidence that is congruent with their own ideological views (Taber, 2006), and to
evaluate any information they collect through a partisan-ideological lens, discounting evidence
presented by a political rival and positively evaluating the same content when it is offered by a co-
partisan (Bolsen, Druckman, and Cook, 2014; Goren, Federico, and Kittilson, 2009; Leeper, and
Slothuus, 2014).
Previous research has shown extensive evidence for the effects of intergroup bias on the
assessment of legally consequential facts, arguments and decisions (Rachlinski et al., 2008; Shayo,
Moses and Zussman, 2011; Gazal-Ayal and Sulitzeanu-Kenan, 2010). In the constitutional law
arena, Furgeson, Babcock and Shane (2008) found that liberal law students were more likely to
overturn laws that lowered taxes in comparison to laws that raised taxes, and vice versa for
conservatives. The intergroup effect remained significant even after employing an incentive to
select the ruling best supported by the legal evidence. Likewise, Sulitzeanu-Kenan, Kremnitzer
and Alon (2016) found that legal proportionality judgments strongly correlate with ideological
preferences.
Furthermore, several studies have found ideological bias in legal assessments related to political
rights. For example, in a study by Kahan et al. (2012) conservatives identified an anti-military
(out-group) protest as violent and an anti-abortion (in-group) protest as peaceful, while liberals
had the opposite perception. Similarly, in an ongoing experimental study, Sulitzeanu-Kenan et al.
found that in both Canada and Israel leftist respondents view left-wing protest rallies more
favorably than right-wing protest rallies, while the opposite is true among right-wing respondents.
3
Furthermore, using observational methods, a recent study by Epstein, Parker and Segal (2018)
found that both liberal and conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices tend to more vigorously
protect the free speech rights of groups that are aligned with their own political inclinations.
Finally, support for free speech was also found to be selective depending on the content and the
speaker in an experimental study on U.S. participants (Lindner and Nosek, 2009; Crawford and
Pilanski, 2014).
Supporting constitutional rights in principal but applying it unequally to different groups is closely
related to the research on political tolerance (Lindner and Nosek, 2009; Marcus et al., 1995;
3
Sulitzeanu-Kenan, et al., Does Civil Rights Discourse Moderate or Escalate Political Bias? Experimental Evidence
from Israel and Canada. (unpublished, copy on file with authors).
3
Gibson, 2006; Crawford and Pilanski, 2014). Due to “mental contamination” it is difficult for
people to avoid certain biases, such as the influence of an ideological bias in constitutional
decisions, even when they know and accept the general norm (Wilson and Brekke, 1994).
Therefore, the main goal of this paper is to examine whether changing the procedure of the
decision-making can help people overcome such bias. In particular, we examine whether the
cognitive and perceptual biases people are subject to can be harnessed (a method popularly known
as “nudging”) (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008) to mitigate the ideological bias. In addition, despite the
extensive research on ideological bias in general, and research on ingroup favoritism versus
outgroup derogation in particular (Levin and Sidanius, 1999), the nature of this bias in the context
of constitutional rights is still under-researched. In recent years it has been suggested that despite
the general conclusion that intergroup conflict is driven by group favoritism rather than outgroup
hate or derogation (Balliet, Wu and De Dreu, 2014), morality-based groups (polarized political
affiliation) are a special case, and might lead to different results (Parker, and Janoff-Bulman,
2013). In particular, in a series of experiments it has been found that in the context of morality-
based groups, group bias was equally driven by in-group love and out-group hate (Weisel and
Böhm, 2015). Therefore, we also aim to investigate what drives the unequal application of
constitutional rights, ingroup favoritism or outgroup derogation.
For this purpose, we conducted two survey experiments in the context of freedom of speech,
freedom of assembly and the right to demonstrate. We chose to conduct the experiments in Poland,
a setting with rising political polarization, where the role of constitutional rights is being
challenged. In such an environment, ideological bias can play a significant role in the decisions of
public officials and its mitigation is critically important.
4
Furthermore, we have chosen a morality-
charged and currently highly controversial context in Poland the right of abortion. Our main
outcome variable in both experiments was the probability to approve a demonstration which is
requested either by an anti-abortion or a pro-choice organization. Both experiments were approved
by the Ethics Committee of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In both experiments, we measured the ideological distance of participants vis-à-vis an organization
applying for a permit to demonstrate, and manipulated the decision-making procedure that leads
them to approve or reject the application. In the first experiment, the identity of the organization
seeking approval to demonstrate was revealed to half the participants only after they expressed
their general perception of the importance of the right to demonstrate. This partially blinded
experiment was expected to reduce the number of biased decisions by anchoring the initial
unbiased preference and exploiting the natural desire to avoid cognitive dissonance. The special
design of the this experiment also allowed us to examine whether the ideological bias is driven by
ingroup favoritism, outgroup derogation, or both.
In the second experiment, we randomly allocated participants to read, or read and sign, a
declaration prior to making a decision. The declaration stated that their decision would be impartial
or that they would give appropriate weight to constitutional rights. This behavioral intervention
was aimed at stimulating a self-monitoring mechanism by making the “morality” of the decision
more salient. Given the saliency of this moral commitment, any deviation from it might induce
cognitive dissonance. To avoid this dissonance, participants were expected to give less weight to
their own ideological view.
4
For the relevant legal framework in Poland, see Supplementary Material.
4
Findings from both experiments show that respondents who are ideologically proximate to the
applying organization are much more likely to approve their request to demonstrate relative to
respondents who are ideologically distant. This is consistent with the extant political tolerance
literature (Lindner and Nosek, 2009; Marcuset al., 1995; Gibson, 2006; Crawford and Pilanski,
2014) and confirms the existence of the ideological bias. Results from the first experiment (481
participants) suggest that the ideological bias mechanism is driven by in-group favoritism and not
by out-group derogation. The behavioral intervention we attempted in the first experiment was
found to be ineffective in mitigating the ideological bias. On the other hand, the behavioral
intervention employed in the second experiment (1,952 participants) was able to mitigate the
ideological bias.
The study contributes to the existing literature in two ways. First, we expand the theoretical
understanding of the nature of ideological bias in the context of constitutional rights. To the best
of our knowledge, our experiment is the first to explicitly test in-group favoritism versus out-group
derogation, using the behavior of an unbiased group as a benchmark. This aspect has been
examined in general studies of intergroup bias (e.g. Levin and Sidanius, 1999), but was not tested
in the context of decisions concerning constitutional rights.
Second, we offer a more practical contribution with the behavioral intervention developed in our
second experiment, which was able to significantly mitigate ideological bias. We further discuss
the policy implications, offering a cheap and easy way to adapt an intervention that can mitigate
ideological bias in decision-making processes regarding the application of constitutional rights.
The paper is structured as follows. In Sections 2 and 3, we offer insights from psychology and
behavioral economics aimed at investigating potential behavioral interventions to mitigate
ideological bias. Based on the conceptual framework, we present our behavioral predictions. We
then describe the experimental design, data and results of our two experiments. Section 4 concludes
with a discussion of policy implications, the limitations of our study and ideas for future research.
2. Experiment 1
2.1 Behavioral Predictions
Given the supporting evidence in the literature discussed above, we first test whether ideological
bias exists in the context of a permit to demonstrate. Since the existence of the ideological bias in
constitutional questions is central to this paper, this hypothesis was also tested in experiment 2.
H1: The weight participants attribute to constitutional rights, and their willingness to approve a
political demonstration, will depend on their, and the organization’s ideological views.
Furthermore, our context creates morality-based groups and given the inconsistency in the
literature regarding the nature of the ideological bias under such circumstances, we put forward an
additional prediction to examine this aspect:
H2: Participants will give more weight to the constitutional rights of their ideological in-group,
and less weight to the constitutional rights of an ideological out-group as compared to a neutral
assessment when the identity of the applicant is unknown.
Finally, to examine potential solutions to overcome the ideological bias we design a decision
procedure which is based on the following behavioral insights.
5
Blinding procedures
The idea behind blinding procedures is to conceal from the decision maker certain information that
is irrelevant for the decision, but nonetheless often affects it. Such procedures have been used and
tested, or at least considered, in different contexts. For instance, the number of women accepted
into the orchestra increased once the examiners started conducting auditions without seeing the
candidate (overcoming the gender bias) (Goldin and Rouse, 2000). Blinding procedures have also
been discussed in the context of the criminal justice system. To overcome the racial bias it has
been proposed to introduce a blinding procedure in which prosecutors decide whether to file
criminal charges without knowing the race of the suspect (Sah, Robertson and Baughman, 2015).
Blinding procedures seem to constitute an efficient strategy for eliminating bias, but it was not
possible to employ full blinding in the context of our study on approval of public demonstrations.
The identity of the applying organization is less relevant to the question of the constitutional right
(demonstration), but is required to assess the question of possible threat to public order. Some
organizations evoke more public disturbance than others, as experience shows and as other unique
cultural factors indicate. Therefore, it is essential to know the identity of the applying organization
before deciding whether to approve its request to demonstrate. We thus use a partial blinding
procedure, or more precisely a procedure where we postpone the exposure of participants to the
identity of the group. This process allowed us to utilize two cognitive anomalies to try to mitigate
the ideological bias. Those anomalies are described below, and their relevance to the experimental
design is explained in the next section.
Anchoring effect
One very strong heuristic is anchoring. When trying to reach a decision, people often start from
some initial value and then make an adjustment. But the adjustment is frequently insufficient in
the sense that different initial values lead to different judgments, even when those values are
irrelevant to the judgment (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974). For example, several experimental
studies demonstrated that initial figures have an effect on prescribed compensatory damages by
courts (Guthrie, Rachlinski and Wistrich, 2000; Guthrie, Rachlinski and Wistrich, 2009;
Rachlinski, Guthrie and Wistrich, 2006), or the length of criminal sentences, even when the
decision-makers know those numbers are entirely irrelevant to the decision (e.g. based on a dice
roll) (Englich and Mussweiler, 2001; Englich, Mussweiler and Strack, 2006).
Cognitive dissonance
According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, people have a strong inclination for consistency
between their attitudes or opinions and their behavior, and the psychological feeling of dissonance
arises when there is inconsistency between those “pieces of knowledge”. Consequently, people try
to reduce this inconsistency in order to alleviate the sense of dissonance. There are two ways to
reduce such dissonance: 1) to change one’s attitudes to fit one’s behavior, or 2) to change one’s
behavior to fit one’s attitudes. For example, smokers who know that smoking is bad for their health
can convince themselves that smoking is not so harmful after all, or they can stop smoking. In both
scenarios, the dissonance is reduced (Festinger, 1962).
In light of the reviewed theoretical framework, we put forward the following hypothesis:
H3: A partial blinding procedure will reduce participants’ ideological bias when deciding whether
to authorize a demonstration.
6
2.2 Experimental Design
Each participant was asked to imagine that he/she were a public official (mayor) in a large Polish
city and had to decide whether to approve an application to hold a demonstration. One applying
organization had a conservative (pro-life/anti-abortion) ideology
5
and the other a liberal (pro-
choice) ideology.
6
After the main questions in the study, we also assessed the participants’
ideological stance regarding abortion on a scale from 0-10 where 0 = liberal and 10 = conservative.
This enabled us to measure each participant’s ideological distance from the applying organizations,
whose ideological positions were assumed to be at the extremes that is, 0 for the pro-choice
(liberal) organization and 10 for the anti-abortion (conservative) organization. The resulting
“ideological distance” variable is thus measured on a scale of 0-10, with 0 indicating a complete
ideological alignment between a respondent and the applying organization and 10 expressing a
complete ideological misalignment. Accordingly, the scores between 0 and 10 represent various
degrees of alignment/misalignment.
We were interested in examining: (1) the nature of the ideological bias, and (2) a potential method
for mitigating the bias. For this purpose, we randomly divided the participants into four groups –
control group/conservative applicant, control group/liberal applicant, treatment
group/conservative applicant and treatment group/liberal applicant.
First, all participants received a text explaining the nature of the right to demonstrate and the proper
balance with legal interests such as public order. Then all participants answered two questions.
The first question asked participants to rate on a Likert scale between 1-5 the importance of the
right to demonstrate (where 1=”A possible risk to public order and safety should always preclude
demonstrations” and 5=”A possible risk to public order and safety should never preclude
demonstrations”). In the second question the participants needed to indicate the probability that
they would approve the demonstration of a particular organization (where 1=”There is a very low
probability that I would authorize the demonstration, 5=”There is a very high probability that I
would authorize the demonstration”). For the full experimental text see the Supplementary
Material.
However, participants in the control group were informed of the identity of the applying
organization before answering both questions. The treatment group on the other hand, answered
the first question before learning the identity of the applying organization, and responded to the
second question after the organization’s identity was revealed (partial blinding or postponement
procedure).
The purpose of the first question was twofold. First, we were interested in examining the nature of
the ideological bias. The treatment group was neutral in the sense that they were presented with
the question in the abstract without having in mind a particular applicant/agenda. Therefore, their
answer presented a benchmark evaluation, representing a non-biased opinion. We then could
compare it to the “ideologically exposed” control group and identify the features of the bias (H2).
If the control group, in comparison to the treatment group, attributes greater importance to the right
to demonstrate in the case of an ideologically aligned applying organization, this would suggest
in-group favoritism. Conversely, if the control group attributes less importance to the right to
5
The anti-abortion organization was the Polish Association for the Protection of Human Life (Polskie Stowarzyszenie
Obrońców Życia Człowieka).
6
The pro-choice organization was the Federation for Woman and Family Planning (Federacja na rzecz Kobiet i
Planowania Rodziny).
7
demonstrate in the case of an ideologically misaligned applying organization, this would suggest
in-group derogation.
Second, this question was designed to anchor the participants in the treatment group to a more
neutral mode of decision-making. Applying anchoring and cognitive dissonance theory, we
predicted that answering the first question in a neutral manner might mitigate the bias in the
participants’ responses to the second question, where they had to decide whether to approve the
demonstration application. In other words, we expected that the level of importance a person
ascribed to the right to demonstrate might serve as an anchor for his/her decision on demonstration
approval. Furthermore, the need to avoid cognitive dissonance might lead the participant to align
his/her responses to both questions. For example, cognitive dissonance would arise if a person
initially stated that the right to demonstrate should prevail, but then expressed reluctance to
authorize a demonstration by an ideologically distant organization. That is, the person’s general
belief in the importance of constitutional rights would be dissonant with his or her decision in the
particular case.
We expected to find support for our hypothesis of bias mitigation (H3) if the treatment group, in
comparison to the control group, expressed a greater inclination to approve demonstrations in cases
of ideological misalignment and/or a lower likelihood of demonstration approval in cases of
ideological alignment.
2.3 Experimental Procedure
We used a representative sample (on age, gender and education) of the Polish population, which
was recruited by a professional survey firm, Kantar Polska. The sample included 481 participants
(N = 481), of which 49% were female, 33% were highly educated (bachelor’s or master’s degree)
and 37% were living in non-urban areas. The average age recorded in the sample was nearly 44
and the average position on the 0-10 ideological scale regarding abortion was 3.53 (where 0 = pro-
choice and 10 = pro-life/anti-abortion). The study was conducted during December 17-19, 2018.
The balancing tests and detailed descriptive statistics are provided in Table E1.1 and Table E1.2
in the Supplementary Material.
Figure 1 (below) shows the frequency distribution of the ideological distance variable, which is
generated as an absolute distance between the respondents’ ideological position on the abortion
question and the ideological position of the applying organization. This variable constitutes a
crucial component of the empirical model. Approximately the same number of people are located
above and below the middle position of 5 (43% and 45%, respectively).
Figure 1. Distribution of the Ideological Distance Variable in Experiment 1
8
Note: There is no evidence that the ideological distance variable does not balance across the two experimental groups
that is, in the one- and two-stage decision-making processes (t=-1.41, p-value=0.159).
2.4 Results
To test for hypotheses H1-H3, we estimated a range of OLS (ordinary least squares) models with
interaction terms.
7
The model, as applied here, entails estimating the relationship between the
importance of the constitutional right to demonstrate and likelihood of approving a demonstration,
on the one hand, and the ideological distance of respondents, on the other hand, for both the control
group (one-stage decision-making process) and the treatment group (two-stage decision-making
process). All regression estimates can be found in Table E1.3 in the Supplementary Material.
We start discussing the results by inspecting the visual representation of patterns in Figure 2. In
line with H1, we see a negative relationship between the perceived importance of the constitutional
right to demonstrate and the ideological distance in the control group (one-stage decision). The
respondents who are ideologically distant from the applying organization assigned less weight to
the constitutional right to demonstrate. The coefficient next to the ideological difference variable
is negative and this estimate is statistically significant at a level of 5%. For every one-unit shift on
the ideological distance scale, the importance assigned to the constitutional right to demonstrate
decreases by nearly 0.06. All these results are robust to including various sets of control variables
(see columns 2-4 of Table E1.3 in the Supplementary Material).
8
In contrast to this and as expected,
the ideological distance does not play a role in the treatment group.
We can furthermore observe that ideologically aligned respondents in the control group weighed
the importance of the right to demonstrate higher than those in the treatment group. Thus, when
aligned respondents knew the identity of the applying organization, they were more in favor of the
right to demonstrate than when the applying organization was unknown to them. This regularity
confirms the existence of in-group favoritism, in line with H2. For individuals who are perfectly
7
The formal model is presented in section “Additional Information Corresponding to Baseline Results” in the
Supplementary Material.
8
Our main results are based on the sample that contains subjects who failed the attention check (for more details about
the attention check in the context of this study, see the Attention Check section in the Supplementary Material).
0
5
10
15
20
Percent
0 2 4 6 8 10
Abs. Distance from Organization
9
aligned with the applying organization (a score of 0 on the ideological distance spectrum) the
difference between control and treatment groups is statistically significant at the level of 1%. On
average, perfectly aligned respondents in the treatment group (unaware of the organization’s
identify) gave a score that was roughly 0.5 lower than their counterparts in the control group (aware
of the organization’s identify). Figure 2 indicates that the ideologically misaligned respondents in
the control group did not assign lower scores for the importance of the right to demonstrate as
compared to those in the treatment group. This observation rejects out-group derogation. Figure 2
also shows statistically significant differences between the treatment and control groups up to the
score of 4 on the ideological difference scale. The differences between the experimental groups
are not statistically significant beyond that point.
9
Taken together, the results provide evidence for
in-group favoritism and do not support the out-group derogation explanation. In other words, the
findings suggest that what drives ideological bias in the context of constitutional rights is
favoritism towards one’s own group, rather than derogation of the other group.
Figure 2. Importance of the Constitutional Right to Demonstrate and Ideological Distance in
Experiment 1
9
Since the regression coefficients do not enable direct verification of the differences between the treatment and control
groups at the misalignment extreme, we provide in Table E1.5 (Supplementary Material) the differences in weighting
the importance of the right to demonstrate between the treatment and control groups for each level of ideological
misalignment.
10
The second stage of the experiment focused on our main question of interest – the probability of
approving a demonstration by a specific organization. We examined whether the patterns found
for the importance of the right to demonstrate can also be observed when respondents make
decisions on whether to authorize a particular demonstration. In other words, we checked whether
the nudge was successful in mitigating ideological bias. As seen in Figure 3, the lines for both the
control and treatment groups almost overlap, indicating that the patterns are not the same as for
the question about the importance of the right to demonstrate. It turns out that the partial blinding
procedure did not achieve its goal of anchoring and generating cognitive dissonance in order to
change the behavioral pattern. In the end, both groups displayed the same trend of approving the
demonstration, with a declining likelihood of authorizing the demonstration as the ideological
distance widened. Therefore, the applied behavioral intervention – anchoring and the creation of
cognitive dissonance – was not effective in mitigating ideological bias. Participants in the
treatment group did not adjust their likelihood of approval to their rating of the importance of
constitutional rights after learning the identity of the applying organization.
Figure 3. Likelihood of Authorizing a Demonstration and Ideological Distance in
Experiment 1
Although the visual illustration of the pattern is rather convincing, we also provide an analytical
result from the OLS regression model (Table E1.4 in the Supplementary Material). Whereas the
coefficient next to the ideological distance variable is negative and statistically significant at a
level of 1%, the interaction term is close to zero and does not reach any conventional statistical
11
significance level, suggesting that the pattern of relationship does not vary between the two
experimental groups. In other words, there are no heterogeneous effects across the experimental
groups: participants in the control group behave in the same way as participants in the treatment
group with respect to their tendency to approve a demonstration application.
10
This confirms the
ineffectiveness of the nudge in mitigating ideological bias when deciding whether to approve a
demonstration.
It should be noted that we performed a robustness check to confirm that our experimental
manipulation did not influence the respondents’ ranking of their ideology. We found no
statistically significant differences between the control and treatment groups in their ranking of
ideology (F(1)=0.88, p=0.347), and thus verified that our experimental manipulation did not affect
our independent variable.
3. Experiment 2
3.1 Behavioral Predictions
Saliency is an additional powerful tool for influencing human behavior. One relevant theory from
psychology that explains how saliency affects behavior is objective self-awareness theory. Simply
stated, this theory refers to situations in which people focus attention on their “self” and assess the
correctness of their behavior by automatically comparing it with standard behavior – what is
correct to do. In other words, people compare their ideal self to their actual self. Inconsistency
between the self and the standard generates discomfort. This discomfort can be reduced by either
changing one’s current behavior to fit the standard (which is relatively fixed and hard to change),
or by diverting one’s attention from the stimuli that trigger the comparison (Duval and Wicklund,
1972).
Individual self-monitoring behavior under the threat of external review is exhibited in many
situations – for instance, when filing tax returns or insurance claims. The incentives to misreport
are especially strong when the probability of review is low. The decisions of public officials also
rely on a self-monitoring system in lieu of constitutional review. In particular, public officials are
expected to make impartial decisions and not to be driven by their ideological views. Relying on
the objective self-awareness theory, making their obligation salient just before public officials need
to make their decision has the potential to reduce their bias. The obligation would serve as the
standard to which the decision makers will potentially adjust their behavior.
11
In light of the
behavioral insights, we formulated the following hypothesis:
H4: The likelihood of approving a demonstration will depend less on the ideological distance
between the decision-makers (participants) and the applying organization when participants are
10
Table E1.6 (Supplementary Material) confirms this as it demonstrates that the differences between the treatment
and control groups are not statistically significant at any level of ideological distance.
11
A well-known study by Shu et al. applied insights from objective self-awareness theory to address the problem of
dishonest reporting, using a simple intervention manipulation of the location of a person’s signature, which they
found to be effective. Shu Et al., (2012). Nevertheless, in later studies this effect could not be replicated. See Kristal
et al., (2020). It should be noted, that despite the relevance of the initial study, we did not compare signing at the
beginning to signature at the end, but rather different forms of declarations, with or without a signature as compared
to no prior form of commitment. We derive our predictions from the theory of objective self-awareness.
12
asked to read and sign a declaration, or just read a declaration, before making their decision, as
compared to when they are not requested to do so.
3.2 Experimental Design
The design of this experiment is identical to Experiment 1, except for the behavioral intervention.
Before reading the application and answering the main question of interest (probability to approve
the application for demonstration), participants were requested to read, or read and sign, one of
two declarations (treatment groups). The first declaration underlined the participants’ obligation
to be impartial, and the second focused on the importance of giving priority to constitutional rights
over other public interests. In order to elicit truthful responses and reduce experimental demand,
we informed the participants in the experiment that their decisions would remain anonymous.
However, it was also important to make the signature meaningful. Therefore, in the signature
groups, we asked the participants, in addition to reading the declaration, to type a sentence
summarizing the declaration and then to tick a box. This was designed to increase the saliency of
their ethical obligation. Again, as in experiment 1, we assessed each participant’s ideological
stance in order to create a measure of “ideological distance” between the participants and the
applying organization. Since each experimental group (one control group and four treatment
groups) faced both organizations (conservative and liberal), there were 10 experimental groups in
total (a 2x5 design). For the text provided to the experimental groups, see the Supplementary
Materials.
After following one of the procedures described above, all participants received a text explaining
the nature of the right to demonstrate and the proper balance with legal interests such as public
order. Right after that, participants were requested to rate the probability with which they would
approve the application to demonstrate (Likert scale from 1-5 as in Experiment 1).
We followed the objective self-awareness theory and the saliency effect in our choice of the
experimental design. First, we created a stimulus to make the participants focus attention on their
“self” and the standard, and trigger the objective self-awareness state. The declaration (and the
signature) made the standard (impartiality or respecting constitutional rights) very salient, as well
as the person’s ethical obligation to follow this standard in their imagined position (as a mayor).
Next, when the participants had to decide whether to approve an application, the comparison
between the self and the standard was automatically prompted. At this stage, they encountered
their ideological bias and the resulting desire to favor their ideological group (or disfavor the
opposing ideological group). On the other hand, the participants faced the salient standard of being
impartial (or giving priority to constitutional rights) and ignoring such personal interests.
Participants were expected to experience what can be termed “anticipated ethical dissonance”
(Barkan, Ayal and Ariely. 2015) between their self and the standard. Given the fact that the
standard became salient before the decision was made, it was easier for the participants to adjust
their behavior to the standard (deciding without ideological bias) rather than trying to change the
standard. Therefore, we expected our experimental manipulation to reduce the weight that
participants accorded to the ideology of the applying organization when determining the
probability of approving its application to demonstrate.
13
3.3 Experimental Procedure
We used a representative sample (on age, gender and education) of the Polish population, which
was recruited by a professional survey firm, Kantar Polska. The sample included 1,952 participants
(N = 1,952), of which about 51% were females, 30% were highly educated (bachelor’s or master’s
degree) and 36% lived in non-urban areas. The average age recorded in the sample was nearly 43
and the average position on the 0-10 ideological scale regarding abortion was 4.05 (where 0 = pro-
choice and 10 = pro-life/anti-abortion). The study was conducted from April 12 to May 9, 2019.
The balancing tests across experimental groups and detailed summary statistics of all control
variables are provided in Table E2.1 and Table E2.2 in the Supplementary Material.
Figure 4 shows the distribution of the ideological distance variable. The distribution is quite
balanced in the sense that a similar percentage of respondents are located below (45%) and above
(44%) the middle position.
Figure 4. Distribution of the Ideological Distance Variable in Experiment 2
Note: There is no evidence that the ideological distance variable does not balance across the experimental groups
(F=0.33, p-value= 0.857).
3.4 Results
We analyzed the results by examining Figure 5, along with the regression estimates (all the
regression estimates can be found in Table E2.3 in the Supplementary Material).
12
In Figure 5, we
see four comparisons. Each comparison tests the difference between the control condition, where
no additional information was provided, and four experimental conditions with different
declaration setups. Hence, the control group remains unchanged across all the graphs in Figure 5.
12
The formal model is presented in the “Additional Information Corresponding to Baseline Results” section in the
Supplementary Material.
0
5
10
15
20
Percent
0 2 4 6 8 10
Abs. Distance from Organization
14
Focusing on the control group, it is clear that there is a negative and relatively strong relationship
between the likelihood to approve demonstrations and ideological distance. The coefficient
depicting ideological bias is estimated at -0.12 and is statistically significant at a level of 1%. Thus,
for each one-unit increase of ideological distance, the likelihood of authorizing a demonstration
declines by 0.12. The intercept of the model is estimated at 4.3; this expresses the average
likelihood of approval by respondents who are perfectly ideologically aligned with the applying
organization. The middle respondents (those scoring 5 on the ideological distance scale) approve
demonstrations with an average score of approximately 3.7, while the likelihood of demonstration
approval in the case of extreme ideological mismatch (10 on the ideological distance scale) is about
3.1. We therefore can conclude that in comparison to middle respondents, ideologically aligned
respondents are more likely to authorize a demonstration and ideologically misaligned respondents
are less likely to do so. This again is in line with H1. The magnitude of the effect (the ideological
bias) is similar to what we found in experiment 1. Given the similarity of the experimental design,
these results replicate and indicate the robustness of the ideological bias.
Moving on to comparisons between the control group and the experimental groups, we see that the
pattern changes. However, the deviation from the pattern established in the control group varies
across experimental groups. When comparing the control group to the experimental group where
respondents were subject to impartiality declaration treatment (Panel A in Figure 5), we observe
only a slight deviation from the pattern established in the control group. The interaction term that
tests for this deviation is not statistically significant. However, when we look more closely at the
differences (marginal effects) between the treatment and control groups at each level of ideological
distance, we conclude that statistically significant differences do occur at the score of 4 or higher
on the ideological distance spectrum (see Table E2.4 in the Supplementary Material). Hence, the
effect of the impartiality declaration is discernible at the higher levels of ideological distance.
Panel B in Figure 5 displays the differences between the control group and the experimental group
where respondents were subject to constitutional rights declaration treatment. The disparity
between the control group and the treatment group here appears to be wider in comparison to the
results of the impartiality declaration treatment. This is reflected in the fact that the interaction
term for constitutional rights declaration treatment is statistically significant at the level of 5%.
However, a closer look at the differences between the treatment and the control group at each score
of ideological difference indicates that the statistically significant disparity occurs at the score of
4 and higher on the ideological distance spectrum (see Table E2.5 in the Supplementary Material).
That is, in both treatments (impartiality and constitutional rights declarations), we observe
differences between the treatment and control groups at the higher levels of ideological distances.
The effect of the constitutional right declaration seems to be larger in magnitude than that of the
impartiality declaration, yet the test for differences between the two does not yield statistically
significant results (see the “Comparisons across Treatment Groups” section in the Supplementary
Material).
The two bottom panels in Figure 5 display the differences between the control group and treatment
groups when respondents were required to copy and sign the declaration (and not only read it).
The comparison between the impartiality declaration + signature group and the control group
in Panel C clearly suggests that ideological bias was mitigated in the treatment group. In this
experimental group, the interaction term with the ideological distance is largest in magnitude
(compared to the other interaction terms) and statistically significant at a level of 1%. When
focusing on particular scores of ideological distance, we already detect statistically significant
15
differences between the treatment group and control group starting at a score of 3 (see Table E2.6
in the Supplementary Material). In comparison to the impartiality declaration treatment that did
not require respondents to copy and sign the declaration, the impartiality declaration + signature
treatment proved to be statistically more effective, particularly in the case of respondents scoring
5 or more on the ideological distance scale (see the “Comparisons across Treatment Groups”
section in the Supplementary Material).
Panel D of Figure 5 displays the ideological distance scores of the constitutional rights
declaration + signature treatment group in comparison to the scores of the control group. This
treatment appears to have the most balanced effect across all ideological distance scores. However,
a closer look at the divergence between the treatment and control groups reveals statistically
significant differences only for respondents scoring 2 or higher (see Table E2.7 in the
Supplementary Material). Thus, for the most aligned respondents (those scoring 0 or 1 on the
ideological distance scale), we cannot provide evidence that the treatment is effective. It is
interesting to note that we did not find statistical evidence to support our assumption that adding a
requirement to copy and sign the declaration would increase the impact of the constitutional rights
declaration treatment (see the “Comparisons across Treatment Groups” section in the
Supplementary Material).
Based on these results, we conclude that the treatment conditions – nudges – significantly
mitigated the ideological bias in authorizing demonstrations. Thus, we provide evidence for H4.
However, the debiasing effects of treatments were found only for respondents who are
ideologically distant from the applying organization. The nudges appeared to be ineffective in the
case of strongly aligned respondents, suggesting that in-group love bias is particularly ingrained.
These results are robust to including control variables (see columns 2 and 3 of Table E2.3 in the
Supplementary Material) and dealing only with respondents who passed the attention check (see
the “Attention Check” section in the Supplementary Material). In the latter case, however, the
nudge works on a narrower group of strongly misaligned respondents.
16
Figure 5. Likelihood of Authorizing a Demonstration and Ideological Distance in Experiment
2
We also performed a robustness check in experiment 2 to see whether our experimental
manipulation influenced the respondents’ ranking of their ideology. We found no statistically
significant differences between the control and treatment groups in their ranking of ideology
(F(4)=0.76, p=0.554), thus confirming that our experimental manipulation did not affect our
independent variable.
17
4. General Discussion and Policy Implications
The investigation of the role of ideological bias in decisions related to constitutional rights is
especially important in times of great political and ideological polarization as we witness in many
countries nowadays. In this paper, we have attempted to address two questions. First, we
investigated the nature of ideological bias in the context of constitutional rights. Second, we
examined different behavioral interventions to assess whether ideological bias can be mitigated.
Our findings in both experiments confirmed previous findings on ideological bias. Participants
were more prone to approve a demonstration when ideologically aligned with the applying
organization. However, contrary to the specific literature on morality-based groups (Parker and
Janoff-Bulman2013; Weisel and Böhm, 2015), we demonstrated that this bias is driven solely by
in-group favoritism, rather than a combination of in-group favoritism and out-group derogation.
With respect to the behavioral interventions, we found that using anchoring in combination with
cognitive dissonance did not mitigate the ideological bias (experiment 1). One explanation might
be that the behavioral intervention was not sufficiently strong to evoke inconsistency (triggering
cognitive dissonance) that could only be resolved through a change in behavior.
In contrast, the second behavioral intervention, which combined the saliency of morality with
cognitive dissonance, was found to be successful in mitigating ideological bias (experiment 2). In
particular, requiring the participants to read a declaration, or read and sign it, as a mechanism of
self-commitment to be impartial in their decision or to prioritize constitutional rights reduced the
influence of ideological bias. When signing such a declaration, participants were more prone to
approve the application for demonstration – even by organizations ideologically distant from them
as compared to participants who were not exposed to this experimental manipulation. The
relative effectiveness of this intervention, as compared to the behavioral intervention in experiment
1, might be explained by this intervention’s ability to evoke a sense of inconsistency that was
harder to mitigate simply through self-justification.
Despite the promising results in experiment 2, it should be noted that ideological bias was
mitigated, but not entirely eliminated. When there was complete ideological alignment between
the participants and the applying organization, participants still exhibited ideologically biased
decisions. This is especially a concern given our findings with respect to the nature of ideological
bias – that is, it is driven by in-group love. These results suggest that in-group love is an extremely
powerful bias that is difficult to eliminate.
The contribution in this paper is threefold. First, to the best of our knowledge, we are the first to
identify the nature of ideological bias in the context of constitutional rights. The search for
potential solutions should be informed by this question. To a certain extent, our findings contradict
recent literature asserting that despite the general dominancy of in-group favoritism, there is a
preponderance of out-group derogation in the case of morality-based. Second, despite the
extensive literature on ideological bias, empirical testing of potential solutions is scarce. Therefore,
the additional novelty of this paper is to examine different behavioral interventions to address this
problem. In terms of policy implications, our study offers a relatively cheap intervention in
procedures where constitutional rights need to be balanced against other interests.
The use of a representative sample and a randomized survey experiment increased the strength of
the results. Furthermore, most of the studies on ideological bias have been conducted on Anglo-
American participants. Therefore, an additional contribution of this paper is to expand the target
population for investigating ideological bias in constitutional questions and intergroup bias.
18
Finally, contrary to the pessimistic view that e-signatures do not possess the power of real
signatures to curb dishonest behavior (Chou, 2015), we demonstrated that e-signatures are also
powerful in enhancing ethical behavior.
Despite the contribution of our experiments, they also have several limitations, which open an
opportunity for further research. The study was conducted on the Polish general population.
Though we believe this context was suitable in light of the current political polarization, additional
research should be conducted in other countries in order to generalize our results. Furthermore, the
participants were lay people rather than real policy/decision-makers; therefore, the next step is to
test our questions on experts. Nevertheless, many studies have shown that experts and lay people
act similarly when behavioral biases are involved (Guthrie, Rachlinski and Wistrich, 2009; Plous,
1993). In addition, even though our participants were not real policy makers, we should remember
that an experimental setting allows for more freedom than a real setting. The decisions of policy
makers may still be challenged in court. The respondents in our study participated in a completely
anonymous setting, and had no stakes in fulfilling or reneging on their commitment. Therefore,
the effect of the intervention in experiment 2 might even be considered conservative.
Finally, as with other studies on nudging, our paper presents a one-shot game. It is unclear whether
the mitigating effect on ideological bias can be maintained in the long run with the same
intervention. The long-term effect of such interventions should be studied. Nevertheless, in view
of the low costs of the behavioral intervention, policy makers should consider implementing it.
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