Lucius Caviola

1116 karmaJoined Mar 2015New York, NY, USA
luciuscaviola.com

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I research the psychology of effective altruism and longtermism.

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The Global Risk Behavioral Lab is looking for a full-time Junior Research Scientist (Research Assistant) and a Research Fellow for one year (with the possibility of renewal).

The researchers will work primarily with Prof Joshua Lewis (NYU), Dr Lucius Caviola (University of Oxford), researchers at Polaris Ventures, and the Effective Altruism Psychology Research Group. Our research studies psychological aspects of relevance to global catastrophic risk and effective altruism. A research agenda is here

Location: New York University or Remote

Apply now

Research topics include:

  • Judgments and decisions about global catastrophic risk from artificial intelligence, pandemics, etc. 
  • The psychology of dangerous actors that could cause large-scale harm, such as malevolent individuals or fanatical and extremist ideological groups
  • Biases that prevent choosing the most effective options for improving societal well-being, including obstacles to an expanded moral circle

Suggested skills: Applicants for the Junior Research Scientist position ideally have some experience in psychological/behavioral/social science research. Applicants for the Research Fellow position can also come from other fields relevant to studying large-scale harm from dangerous actors.
 

Thanks Ben!

13.6% (3 people) of the 22 students who clicked on a link to sign up to a newsletter about EA already knew what EA was.

And 6.9% of the 115 students who clicked on at least one link (e.g. EA website, link to subscribe to newsletter, 80k website) already knew what EA was.

Another potentially useful measure (to get at people’s motivation to act) could be this one:

“Some people in the Effective Altruism community have changed their career paths in order to have a career that will do the most good possible in line with the principles of Effective Altruism. Could you imagine doing the same now or in the future? Yes / No”

Of the total sample, 42.9% said yes to it. And of those people, only 10.4% already knew what EA was.

And if we only look at those who are very EA-sympathetic (scoring high on EA agreement, effectiveness-focus, expansive altruism and interest to learn more about EA), the number is 21.8%. In other words: of the most EA-sympathetic students who said they could imagine changing their career to do the most good, 21.8% (12 people) already knew what EA was.

(66.3% of the very EA-sympathetic students said they could imagine changing their career path to do the most good.)

A caveat is that some of these percentages are inferred from relatively small sample sizes — so they could be off.

We've asked them about a few 'schools of thought': effective altruism, utilitarianism, existential risk mitigation, longtermism, evidence-based medicine, poststructuralism (see footnote 4 for results). But very good idea to ask about a fake one too!

(Note that we also asked participants who said they have heard of EA to explain what it is. And we then manually coded whether their definition was sufficiently accurate. That's how we derived the 7.4% estimate.)

We considered this too. But the significant correlations with education level and income held even after controlling for age. (We mention this below one of the tables.)

I see that it may seem surprising at first glance that education doesn't correlate positively with our two scales. (Like David, I am not sure if the negative correlation will hold up.) It seems surprising because we know that most existing highly engaged EAs are highly educated (and likely have high cognitive abilities). But what this lack of positive correlation shows is simply that high education (and probably also high cognitive abilities) is not required to intuitively share the core moral values of EA.

As we point out in the article, there are likely several additional factors that predict whether someone will become a highly engaged EA. And it's possible that education (and likely high cognitive abilities) is such an additional, and psychologically separate, factor.
 

Just to add to what David said: It's difficult to say  whether our NYU business sample or our MTurk sample is more representative of our primary target audience. The best way to find out is to do a large representative survey, e.g., amongst students at a top uni (of all study subjects - not just business).

 

Yes, it was initially quite surprising that so many donors are willing to support the matching system. We found similar results when we tested it with MTurk participants (who were given a small bonus which they could give or keep; see Study 7). One possibility is that it's a kind of intergenerational reciprocity tendency, where people who benefited from the generosity of previous donors want to pay it forward to the next ones.

Thanks!

Perhaps, but we are uncertain. It depends on whether we can find a scalable strategy for reaching donors who are amenable to EA but not yet engaged with effective altruism. Such a strategy might come from paid advertising, further earned media coverage (our strategy so far), or from the formation of institutional relationships (e.g. with businesses, universities, or wealth managers) who offer guidance or incentives for charitable giving.

Yes, we've recently introduced our donors to GWWC. (Results of that campaign are not in yet.)

Thanks, Linch.

First, you’re right that several EA psychology researchers are studying how people donate to charity. But most of them (including myself) are also studying other EA-related topics, such as the psychology of xrisk and longtermism, moral attitudes towards animals, etc. My hunch is that only a minority of currently ongoing EA psychological research projects have charitable giving as their primary topic of interest.

Second, as David pointed out, donation choices are a useful behavioral outcome measure when studying the public’s beliefs, attitudes and preferences about EA related issues more generally. In many cases, the goal of the research is not necessarily to understand how people donate to charity specifically but to understand the fundamental psychological drivers of and obstacles to EA-aligned attitudes and behavior more generally (example). Studying these in the context of charitable giving is an obvious and often straightforward first step — in the hope that these insights can be generalized.

For example, the fact that people are willing to split their donation, as described in the post, tells us something more fundamental about people’s preferences structure (the fact that most people value effectiveness but only as a secondary preference), the potential market size of EA in the general public, and possible routes for reaching a wider adoption of EA ideas. Another example is the study of individual differences: who are the people who immediately find EA ideas appealing, where can we find them and how should we target them? It’s natural to test this, in part, by observing people’s donation choices.

My view on prioritization is that psychological research can be useful when it yields such fundamental insights. But there can also be really useful applied research, such as marketing or psychometric research that can be practically useful for recruitment.

I don't think our findings suggest that people have a preference for populations with higher variance in welfare (i.e. greater differences in how how happy they are). All else equal, people probably have a strong preference for fair welfare distribution (even in the US). But sometimes they may choose the option that contains more welfare variance because this population has a higher average or total level (or for some other reasons).

I agree with you that it would be very interesting to do a cross cultural study. I don't have a specific hypothesis about cross cultural differences though. Note that there already exists some cross cultural research on fairness and prosocial behavior.

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