June 2007

IZA DP No. 2832: Cognitive Dissonance, Pessimism, and Behavioral Spillover Effects

published in: Journal of Economic Psychology, 2011, 32 (3), 295-306

This paper reports results from a unique two-stage experiment designed to examine the spillover effects of optimism and pessimism. In stage 1, we induce optimism or pessimism onto subjects by randomly assigning a high or low piece rate for performing a cognitive task. We find that participants receiving the low piece rate are significantly more pessimistic with respect to performance on this task. In stage 2 individuals participate in an ultimatum game. We find that minimum acceptable offers are significantly lower for pessimistic subjects, though this pessimism was generated in a completely unrelated environment. These results highlight the existence of important spillover effects that can be behaviorally and economically important – for example, pessimism regarding one’s initial conditions (e.g., living in poverty) may have spillover effects on one’s future labor market outcomes.