Max Roll­wage
February 2020

What do you work on?

I am working on the cog­ni­tive and neural mech­a­nisms that enable people to revise their beliefs/decisions when pre­sent­ed with new evi­dence. More specif­i­cal­ly, I am inter­est­ed in sit­u­a­tions where people seem unwill­ing to revise their beliefs, as exem­pli­fied by people with radical polit­i­cal or reli­gious beliefs.

“We hypoth­e­sized that radical beliefs might be asso­ci­at­ed with a domain-general deficit in rec­og­niz­ing and revis­ing our own mistakes.”

What did you do using Gorilla?

We inves­ti­gat­ed the cog­ni­tive under­pin­nings of radical (polit­i­cal) beliefs. Specif­i­cal­ly, we hypoth­e­sized that radical beliefs might be asso­ci­at­ed with a domain-general deficit in rec­og­niz­ing and revis­ing our own mis­takes. This would indi­cate a problem with metacog­ni­tion, rather than “first-order” task performance.

We used Gorilla to imple­ment this study, as our research ques­tion required large cohorts of par­tic­i­pants, coming from a diverse demo­graph­ic back­ground and having a wide range of polit­i­cal opin­ions. The Gorilla Code Editor was most helpful in allow­ing us to imple­ment and host bespoke behav­iour­al tasks online, without man­ag­ing our own server.

We used per­cep­tu­al tasks to measure the insight people have about the cor­rect­ness of their deci­sions. In our tasks par­tic­i­pants had to judge which of two patches con­tained more flick­er­ing dots, before rating their con­fi­dence in this deci­sion. Here, a strong cor­re­spon­dence between con­fi­dence ratings and actual accu­ra­cy (i.e. high con­fi­dence when correct and low con­fi­dence when incor­rect) indi­cates good metacog­ni­tive ability.

We com­bined these mea­sures of metacog­ni­tion with ques­tion­naire mea­sures about pol­i­tics and espe­cial­ly radical beliefs, e.g. the intol­er­ance people hold against oppos­ing polit­i­cal opinions.

What did you find?

As pre­dict­ed, we found that indi­vid­u­als holding radical beliefs dis­played a spe­cif­ic impair­ment in metacog­ni­tive abil­i­ties about low-level per­cep­tu­al dis­crim­i­na­tion judg­ments. Specif­i­cal­ly, more radical par­tic­i­pants dis­played less insight into the cor­rect­ness of their choices, and reduced updat­ing of their con­fi­dence when pre­sent­ed with addi­tion­al evi­dence (i.e. seeing the patches with dots again before rating their con­fi­dence). Our find­ings point to a generic resis­tance to rec­og­nize and revise incor­rect beliefs as a poten­tial driver of radicalization.

Did you include any special fea­tures in your study to ensure good quality data? If so, what did you do?

We include catch ques­tions in ques­tion­naires (e.g. “If you have read the ques­tion please answer with: Agree com­plete­ly”) to screen out people that answer ran­dom­ly. We also set a cri­te­ri­on for behav­iour­al task per­for­mance to make sure that people were paying atten­tion to the task.

More gen­er­al­ly, we incen­tivized people by paying them bonus money accord­ing to their task per­for­mance. I suspect that incen­tiviza­tion is the most crucial factor to ensure engagement.

What are the main ways people mis­un­der­stand your thesis?

In our recent study, we show that people with radical polit­i­cal beliefs show reduced insight into the cor­rect­ness of their deci­sions. This effect is present on both extremes of the polit­i­cal spec­trum. When I present those results, people often equate “radical” with “far right” (and ignore the far left) which is not what we find. There might be some selec­tive lis­ten­ing going on when people inter­pret our findings!

What real-world problem do you see that your research could impact?

In my eyes, under­stand­ing soci­etal polar­iza­tion is a crucial goal and there­fore I believe my research has direct rel­e­vance for an impor­tant issue of our time. Under­stand­ing the cog­ni­tive under­pin­nings of radical beliefs will hope­ful­ly help us to coun­ter­act the process of rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the future.

“Online research might be a game changer in solving the repli­ca­tion crisis.”

Has this study been published?

The study has been pub­lished in Current Biology here.

How do you think online research is going to change your field?

Online research will have a huge impact on the field of psy­chol­o­gy and cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science. In par­tic­u­lar, online research might be a game changer in solving the repli­ca­tion crisis. For instance, since it is rel­a­tive­ly easy, fast and inex­pen­sive to acquire online data, we have started to run inter­nal repli­ca­tion samples for all effects we find in our online studies. This helps to estab­lish the robust­ness of our effects. Such an approach could move the field towards more repro­ducible findings.

What is the biggest advan­tage of online research methods?

The pos­si­bil­i­ty to acquire large data within a short time. The samples also tend to be more rep­re­sen­ta­tive and diverse than the samples we have usually in the lab.

How did Gorilla make your life or research better, easier or faster?

For pilot­ing, it is great that the task builder pro­vides an inter­face with which it is pos­si­ble to create and test an experiment within a few hours/days. The ability to conduct complex behav­iour­al exper­i­ments online makes it pos­si­ble to acquire large data sets in very little time.

For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?

The task builder is very helpful for design­ing quick and easy behav­iour­al experiments.

What improve­ments would you like to see in Gorilla to make your research easier?

I think it would be great to have more inte­gra­tion between the task builder and the coding inter­face. I might not be up to date on this, but my expe­ri­ence is that using the task builder is fast and easy but under­stand­ably restrict­ed in scope, whereas coding a task from scratch takes a lot of time, but is very flex­i­ble. If it would be pos­si­ble to combine the best out of both worlds – for instance allow­ing edits to code created in the task builder – that would be extreme­ly helpful!

Response from Gorilla:

Hi Max,

We com­plete­ly agree! It’s already pos­si­ble to sup­ple­ment the task builder with script (see exam­ples here). But, we want to make this even better. We’re making some under­ly­ing archi­tec­ture changes to the task builder at the moment to make this possible.

Next year (2019), we expect there will be more options for users to add func­tion­al­i­ty to the task builder. In par­tic­u­lar, your two requests: (1) on the fly adap­tive trial gen­er­a­tion and (2) stimuli (visual and audi­to­ry) gen­er­at­ed in script.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I am a sports enthu­si­ast, espe­cial­ly enjoy­ing outdoor sports like climb­ing and hiking.

What science book have you read recent­ly that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

Surfing Uncer­tain­ty by Andy Clark

Max Roll­wage
Cognitive Neuroscience: Decision-making, metacognition, computational modelling
PhD student
Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging
Max Rollwage

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