Linda Thunstrom: Are Thoughts and Prayers Empty Gestures to Suffering Disaster Victims?
Linda Thunstrom, PhD is a Swedish economist working as an assistant professor of economics at the University of Wyoming. (That’s in Laramie, Wyoming, not Wyoming, Sweden.) Her research interests include behavioral, experimental, public, and health economics. Her interests merged after Hurricane Florence when she became curious about the effect that offering thoughts and prayers might have on potential donors to natural disasters.
She set up a study to see if potential donors might feel like they don’t need to make a monetary donation to the victims if they’ve already offered up some thoughts and prayers. Her results may surprise you.
And she didn’t stop there. She also looked at this question from the recipient’s end. As an economist, she framed the study in monetary terms and wondered if disaster victims might take less money in a donation if they knew someone was praying for them – especially if it were a Christian stranger or a priest. Again: fascinating results!
We also talked about willful ignorance and the role it plays in our decision-making. Willful ignorance involves neglecting information about how your actions will affect others or yourself. It’s different from and less harmful than outright self-deception. Self-deception is commonly associated with lying to make yourself feel better. The big worry with self-deception is that you start believing your own lies.
Willful ignorance is like heading into the basement to get a Coke Zero and noticing a box of Oreo cookies and deciding that now is probably a pretty good time to have one, or two, of those chocolate calorie bombs. We are neglecting the facts that we already know about Oreo cookies: they’re not really good for. But we nab a couple anyway.
We’d like to thank you to Andrea Mannberg, a guest from Episode 199, for introducing us to Linda. Both of these economists are applying their training to fantastically interesting topics and we’re grateful for both of their work.
© 2021 Behavioral Grooves