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Changing Frames, Beliefs and Behaviours


Conventional economics uses a utility maximizing model, abstracting from the reasons for which agents act. I've used a reason-based model of the decision making process (Gold, 2004; Gold and List, 2004), to show how behaviour depends both on the agent's ' belief system', or the set of propositions that she has a disposition to accept, and on the agent's 'frame', or the set of concepts she uses in thinking about the situation. This implies that changes in behaviour may be driven by belief change or by frame change. What is it to hold a belief and how do beliefs change? Are beliefs binary or do agents have 'credence levels'? What is the updating process, e.g. is it Bayesian? Is the agent equally likely to change any of her beliefs? Agents may be more resistant to changing beliefs that are central to their belief systems than those that are at the periphery.

In this case, they may not revise central beliefs despite conflicting evidence, and, when two beliefs conflict, the belief that is less central may be the one that changes. Given that beliefs are held as part of a belief system, and connected to other beliefs, how does that affect their likelihood of changing? Can we learn anything about belief change from network and parallel constraint models? How do agents' frames change? First they must perceive two possible representations of their situation contemporaneously. Then, there are two responses: they might either 'switch' to one dominant frame or 'compromise' between the two. Which of these occurs in which situations? This depends on factors like whether the choice variable is discrete or continuous, what the different available frames are, the salience of the different frames and the type of reasons they trigger (e.g. moral or non-moral). With both belief and frame change, I answer two questions: What does rationality require? What do agents actually do? I will formulate empirically testable hypotheses and conduct laboratory experiments to assess them.

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