Jiaying Zhao

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

 
 

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.

 

Jiaying is a dedicated, caring, and open-minded supervisor who sets a high standard for my PhD and guides me to think critically about human psychology, sustainability, and research design. She is generous with her time to discuss and brainstorm ideas with students and actively supports interdisciplinary collaboration. Her enthusiasm about and commitment with her students' research (not to mention her novel and interesting work) make her an exceptional supervisor and continue to inspire me in my PhD journey. I am glad to have such a great supervisor.

Rumi Naito (2019)

 

I'm privileged to have two #GreatSupervisors at #UBC who teach me a lot about many things. I especially learn from their tenacity and persistence on everything they do. It’s contagious. Thanks @KaiChanUBC and @jiayingzhao for sharing your time and knowledge with me!

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

A cognitive framework of nudge and sludge (2023)

Public and private institutions have made significant progress in developing interventions that can influence people's behavior in predictable ways without restricting their freedom of choice or drastically altering the incentive structure. A nudge is designed to facilitate actions by minimizing friction, while a sludge is an intervention that inhibits actions by increasing friction, but the underlying cognitive mechanisms behind these interventions remain largely unknown. This research proposes a new cognitive framework in Chapter 1 that categorizes these interventions based on six cognitive processes: attention, perception, memory, effort, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation. In Chapter 2, a meta-analysis is conducted on field experiments that contain real behavioral measures (n=184 papers, k=184 observations, N=2,156,137 participants) from 2008 to 2021 to examine the effect size of these interventions targeting each cognitive process. Interventions changing effort are more effective than interventions changing intrinsic motivation. Chapter 3 examines whether drawing attention to motivational consistent climate information by highlighting strong climate evidence (attention nudge) influences subsequent hypothetical climate actions. Liberals were more likely to sign the petition or donate to an environmental organization when the motivationally consistent evidence was highlighted. Chapter 4 aims to reduce waste contamination in student residences by providing immediate feedback in a sorting game (perception nudge). In the feedback building, the weight of compost materials increased while the contamination rate decreased. Chapter 5 tests three behavioral interventions to reduce plastic waste in a high-rise office building: simplified recycling signage (attention nudge), signage with a marine animal trapped in plastic debris (perception sludge), and signage with a plastic reduction pledge (intrinsic motivation nudge). The most effective intervention, perception sludge, reduced plastic waste by 17%. Chapter 6 develops 12 behavioral interventions based on the six cognitive processes and tests their effectiveness in reducing single-use plastic produce bags in a simulated online shopping task. Each intervention reduced produce bag use by 9.2% to 48.7% against the control condition. Overall, this framework provides cognitive principles for organizing nudge and sludge and helps inform the development of future interventions based on cognitive insights gained from the meta-analysis, online experiments, and field experiments.

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Messaging for wildlife conservation : leveraging attitudes, intentions, and actions for transformative change (2023)

Addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution requires immediate and coordinated action that fundamentally transforms current social, political, andeconomic systems. Drawing on theories of human action in psychology and sociology, this dissertation explores dynamic processes of social change for environmental sustainability andexamines how messaging can motivate individuals to take conservation actions, using the global wildlife trade as a case. Chapter 2 develops an integrative framework that identifies key elements of social change at individual and system levels and explains how these elements might interact topromote pro-environmental social norms and large-scale behavioral shifts. The framework serves as the conceptual and theoretical foundation for the subsequent chapters. Chapter 3 examines how individuals intend to engage in wildlife conservation through different patterns of action and what factors correlate with these intentions. Using an online US sample (n=527), I show that there are three distinct types of individual action that can contribute to the transformation of the exotic pet trade. Based on the same sample, Chapter 4 quantifies and evaluates the impact of conservationmessaging to reduce demand for exotic pets and engage people in civic action for wildlife conservation. The study shows that, while conservation messaging can be effective in changingattitudes and reducing demand for wildlife entertainment, different strategies are needed topromote more effortful actions such as civic engagement and to discourage exotic pet ownership.Chapter 5 develops a novel audience segmentation approach to investigate the heterogeneity ofpeople and their responses to conservation messaging, using an online US sample (n=2953) in bothquantitative and qualitative methods. I show that conservation messages can have different effects depending on audience segments and that each group has distinct reasoning for action and inactionon wildlife conservation. Taken together, this dissertation highlights the need for more integratedapproaches and targeted behavioral interventions to amplify wildlife conservation efforts across diverse populations.

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The impact of cash transfers across the economic spectrum (2022)

Cash transfers are an effective tool to alleviate poverty in lower income countries. By enabling people to flexibly meet their needs, cash transfers improve health, psychological well-being, education, and employment outcomes. Despite these documented benefits for people living in poverty, there is a dearth of research across diverse socioeconomic circumstances. In this dissertation, I examine how cash transfers influence people’s well-being across the global economic spectrum (i.e., people who are homeless, and people with low, middle, and high incomes). In Study 1, I use a cluster-randomized controlled trial to test the impact of an unconditional cash transfer of CAD$7,500 to each of 50 individuals experiencing homelessness, with another 65 as controls in Vancouver, BC. Over one year, cash recipients spent fewer days homeless, increased savings and spending with no increase in temptation goods spending, and generated societal net savings of $777 per recipient via reduced time in shelters. In Study 2, I document a potential barrier to implementing cash transfer policies for people experiencing homelessness: there is public mistrust toward the ability of homeless individuals to manage money. In Study 3, I test interventions to overcome this mistrust and increase public support for such a policy using messaging that highlights the benefits of cash transfers. These studies provide the first empirical evidence demonstrating the potential for cash transfers as a tool to address homelessness; but, do the benefits of cash transfers extend beyond those living in poverty? In Studies 4-5, I analyzed data from another randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of cash transfers with a diverse sample spanning the global economic spectrum. Two-hundred people from seven countries received cash gifts of $10,000 each, with another 100 as controls. In Study 4a, I show that cash recipients at most income levels experienced gains in well-being, but the gains were largest for lower-income recipients. In Study 4b, I find that cash recipients spent significant portions of the money generously on others, illustrating how benefits can spread through social networks. Overall, this research demonstrates that cash transfers are a flexible tool that can provide benefits across the economic spectrum.

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A weighted summation framework for conjunctive predictions (2021)

The mind readily learns predictive relationships in the environment where a cue predicts a specific outcome. This research examines a novel question: How does the mind spontaneously generate predictions when multiple cues associated with different outcomes are jointly presented. I propose a weighted summation framework to model human predictions: when encountering joint cues, the mind sums up the associated outcomes based on their respective probabilities. The conjunction that represents the overlap of the two outcomes would have the highest summed probability, and would be prioritized and consistently predicted. To examine the research question, Experiments 1-3 employed a spatial search paradigm. Participants were first exposed to cue-location associations where specific color (Experiments1-2) or texture cues (Experiment 3) predicted target appearance in specific locations. Then, two cues jointly appeared either side-by-side (Experiments 1-2) or into a new object (Experiment 3), and the target appeared in all locations with equal frequency. Following the two cues, there would be locations consistent with both of them, making these locations the conjunctive locations. The results showed that search time was faster when the target appeared in the conjunctive location. In Experiments 4-6, an attention tracking paradigm was used to extend the findings in Experiment 1. The results showed that when two cues jointly appeared, participants tended to first check the conjunctive location for the target, suggesting they made conjunctive predictions. Experiments 7-9 aimed to further extend the previous findings. Specifically, Experiment 7 replicated previous results with a conceptual paradigm, where each cue was associated with a conceptual category of objects (e.g., red predicts large objects). Experiments 8-9 examined weighted subtraction, where participants were exposed to associations between a pair of joint cues and specific spatial locations, and made predictions when they encounter a single cue from the pair. Experiments 10-11 examined the role of exposure in forming conjunctive predictions, where exposure was replaced with only explicit instructions (Experiment 10), or the strength of cue-outcome associations was reduced during exposure (Experiment 11). Overall, the results of the current research suggested that people tended to make conjunctive predictions when encountering joint cues, consistent with the weighted summation framework.

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Losing woodcreepers, iconizing manakins, and despising grackles : understanding human-bird relationships in agro-ecological landscapes (2019)

Although the interconnectedness of humans and the environment has long been recognized, the ecological and social dimensions of biodiversity have been largely treated separately. In this dissertation, I explore human-bird relationships in Costa Rican agro-ecological landscapes via an interdisciplinary perspective. I do so by exploring four research questions through four complementary studies and three original datasets. I seek to better understand how human-induced changes to the environment shape avian biodiversity patterns, and how birds affect people via the non-material benefits and harms derived from and constructed with birds (i.e., cultural ecosystem services and disservices). Using avian point counts in North-western Costa Rica (n=150 point count locations) that expand through a rainfall gradient, I first explore how avian taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity vary across precipitation and tree cover gradients at local scales (i.e., alpha diversity). Drawing on methods from community ecology and global change ecology, I explain how the three dimensions of avian biodiversity show contrasting responses across environmental gradients. Second, I explain how different stakeholders in North-western Costa Rica perceive the avifauna of the region (n=199 species). I develop a new survey tool to capture bird-related cultural ecosystem services and disservices. I show how certain species (e.g., Long-tailed Manakin) are cherished while others are despised (e.g., Great-tailed Grackles). Third, I compiled an extensive dataset of functional traits (n=20 functional traits) that include morphological, acoustic, aesthetic, ecological, and life-history traits for all species. I analyze these data using an information-theoretic approach to identify which traits best predict cultural ecosystem service and disservice scores. I show that diet, forest-affiliation, and plumage characteristics are significant predictors of how people perceive avian species. Fourth, I combine the ecological and social data to explore how culturally important birds vary across tree cover and precipitation gradients. I also evaluate the spatial distribution patterns of highly charismatic species and show that local forest cover, particularly in wetter regions is essential for safeguarding culturally important birds. Finally, I discuss how human-bird relationships represent a testing ground for evaluating relationships between humans and the non-human world from a variety of academic perspectives and provide recommendations for conservation planning.

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Sustainability by design: motivating pro-environmental action and improving waste diversion (2018)

Engaging the public in sustainable actions is essential for reaching local and global sustainability goals. The first two research questions of this dissertation focus on strategies to reduce contamination of waste in private and public areas through active and passive prompts, and immediate feedback on errors. The third research question expands the behavioural analysis to examine willingness to act in several pro-environmental domains: waste, water, food and biodiversity. Together, this thesis aims to contribute to best practices in the field of waste diversion, community engagement and long-term pro-environmental behaviour change. The first study of this dissertation shows that providing active guidance during a public festival helped people sort waste significantly better than stand-alone prompt interventions of 2D signage and real-life 3D items. The effects were consistent across all waste streams and show the importance of guidance and feedback at the time of sorting to help reduce contamination and achieve zero waste goals. The second study demonstrated that immediate feedback on sorting errors through a computer game also improved sorting accuracy in the lab, and benefits persisted even when feedback was removed in the second trial. The game was additionally tested in a field study in student residence buildings, resulting in the weight of compost materials increasing while bin contamination decreased. The third key finding of this dissertation demonstrates that botanical gardens can help engage local visitors in sustainability topics through team-building activities while immersed in nature. After their visit, participants were more knowledgeable about environmental issues, more connected to nature, and showed greater willingness to engage in sustainability actions. These findings in aggregate suggest that active guidance, timely feedback, and engaging nature tours can be effective tools to raise awareness and educate the public in recycling and composting adherence. However, knowledge alone is insufficient to lead to pro-environmental behaviour if the overarching systems of provision are not designed to leveraging people’s desire for convenience and behavioural shortcuts. In addition to environmental education and awareness, special attention needs to be paid to convenience, socio-normative cues and material infrastructure.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

How does choice architecture influence attention and decision making? (2023)

Choice architecture has a profound influence on human decision making, but the underlying cognitive mechanisms remain unclear. We propose that choice architecture guides visual attention to shape decision making. In a pre-registered experiment (N=646), participants were presented with two credit cards under different choice architecture conditions and were asked to choose the better card for themselves given their financial situation. We used a factorial between-subjects design with eight conditions: default (better card vs. worse card was pre-selected) x instructions (pre-selection was described as intentional vs. random) x presentation order (better card vs. worse card was presented on the left). Pre-registered analyses showed that participants paid more attention to the card when it was pre-selected than when not, and more likely to choose the pre-selected card. Participants also paid more attention to the better card and were more likely to choose it when it was presented on the left than on the right. However, instructions about the pre-selection had a limited impact on attention or choice. Exploratory analyses showed that attention mediated the effect of default and presentation order on choice, and choice also mediated the effect of default and presentation order on attention. These findings suggest that choice architecture guides visual attention to shape decision making. The current study provides new insights on the attentional mechanism of choice architecture, with implications for practitioners and policymakers on designing optimal choice architecture to aid decision making for consumers.

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How does framing influence preference for multiple solutions to societal problems? (2023)

Solutions to environmental and social problems are often framed in dichotomous ways, which can be counterproductive. Instead, multiple solutions are often needed to fully address these problems. Here we examine how framing influences people’s preference for multiple solutions. In a pre-registered experiment, participants (N=1,432) were randomly assigned to one of four framing conditions. In the first three conditions, participants were presented with eight problems, each framed with multiple causes, multiple impacts, or multiple solutions to the problem. The control condition did not present any framing information. Participants indicated their preferred solution, perceived severity and urgency of the problem, and their dichotomous thinking tendency. Pre-registered analyses showed that none of the three frames had a significant impact on preference for multiple solutions, perceived severity, perceived urgency, or dichotomous thinking. However, exploratory analyses showed that perceived severity and urgency of the problem were positively correlated with people’s preference for multiple solutions, while dichotomous thinking was negatively correlated. These findings show a limited impact of framing on multi-solution preference. Future interventions should focus on addressing perceived severity and urgency, or decreasing dichotomous thinking to encourage people to adopt multiple solutions to address complex environmental and social problems.

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Boosting understanding of lifestyle carbon emissions: evaluating the effectiveness of carbon calculators and carbon labels to promote climate action (2022)

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with products and actions are challenging for people to conceptualize, making personal carbon calculators and carbon labels promising options to aid climate-friendly decision-making. My first study used a pre-registered between-subjects experiment (N = 790) to evaluate the efficacy of a carbon calculator for promoting climate action. Behavioural intentions for 2023 and reported behaviours in 2019 were used to quantify a projected change in carbon footprint—including domains of food, transportation, housing, and material purchases—and I compared how this intended shift in emissions differed between groups. Those provided with feedback about their carbon footprint planned to decrease their personal emissions in the future by 13.02% (M = -1.42 tonnes CO2e) while the control group did not (M = 0.05 tonnes CO2e) and this difference was significant (t(788) = 4.03, p .33, p<.01 labels="" also="" led="" to="" significantly="" more="" accurate="" estimates="" of="" the="" ghg="" emissions="" in="" menu="" items="" relative="" control="" group="" .3158="" p=".006)" and="" mediation="" analysis="" revealed="" that="" knowledge="" explained="" effect="" on="" food="" emissions.="" though="" information="" provision="" alone="" is="" insufficient="" address="" climate="" crisis="" my="" findings="" indicate="" boosting="" about="" greenhouse="" gas="" via="" carbon="" calculators="" can="" help="" individuals="" make="" pro-climate="" choices="" their="" daily="" lives.="">
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On the acceptance of intergenerational legacies: a comparison of Canada and Japan (2020)

Justice negotiations for climate change, as with other multi-generational issues, have been challenging. Parties in these justice negotiations diverge on how to treat unequally distributed legacies, the product of historical actions. Two issues often emerge: 1) how to balance the positive and negative outcomes associated with the legacies, and 2) how to differentiate between actions undertaken with known outcomes vs. unintended outcomes. Although scarce, literature hints that cultural differences exist in the norms of obligation towards positive and negative consequences, and of valuing the intention when judging an action. Exploring these differences is crucial to understanding the underlying causes of disagreements in historical justice negotiations. We conducted a survey in Canada and Japan using an analogy of inheritance and debt. Specifically, we collected data on whether and on what conditions Canadians and Japanese 1) accept inheritance, 2) change their likelihood of inheritance acceptance after learning about means of wealth accumulation, 3) accept debt, 4) change their mind about inheritance acceptance after learning about debt, and 5) settle debt. Our statistical analyses yield several findings. First, Canadians are more likely to accept inheritance than Japanese, and care less about positive and negative externalities. Second, intent does not matter. Third, Japanese are more likely than Canadians to decline inheritance when debts are attached. Fourth, Japanese are more likely to settle greater amount of debt than Canadians regardless of debt type. In addition, our analysis also demonstrated that people are more likely to settle a greater fraction of debt if they are women and non-Judeo-Christian. Finally, participants in our study were less likely to settle debt to environmental causes, compared to the debt to employee, bank, or tax. The findings point to significant differences in the way groups view consequences and obligations in justice negotiations. For negotiations to be successful, countries must come to a shared understanding of intergenerational responsibilities. We hope that this study raises the need for further research and informs the international community of the need of examining and addressing the differences in the perceptions of those charged with dealing with climate justice and similar negotiations.

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The roles of affect and sustainability education in increasing pro-environmental behaviour in a botanical garden (2020)

Generating behaviour change for transformation toward sustainability is a significant challenge of our time. In order to reach local and global sustainability goals, behaviour change at a large scale is not only necessary but crucial. A key question is how to promote pro-environmental behaviour. Multiple factors have been found to influence pro-environmental behaviour, including affect, environmental concerns, and environmental education. To date, the relationship between these factors is still unclear. In this thesis, I conducted a field experiment at University of British Columbia Botanical Garden to determine how a sustainability education program and affect influence pro-environmental behaviour. Of particular interest is the arousal dimension of affect, the state of being physiologically alert and attentive. In the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to spend time in the garden (ground walk condition), spend time in the garden and receive sustainability education (ground walk + education condition), go on a tree-top canopy walk (arousal condition), go on a tree-top canopy walk and receive sustainability education (arousal + education condition), or a control condition where they did not go on any walk or receive education. In the education condition, participants received verbal and interactive education from instructors on the Sustainable Development Goals. I measured participants’ arousal level as well as positive and negative affect at the end of the experiment. In addition, I also measured pro-environmental behaviour, which included donations, signing up to receive newsletters from UBC Botanical Garden, signing up to receive volunteering opportunities from the Garden, and signing four petitions. I found that participants in the canopy walk conditions reported higher levels of arousal than the ground walk conditions, but they did not perform more pro-environmental behaviours. The results indicated no significant effect of either arousal or education on pro-environmental behaviour. The study contributes to the currently limited experimental evidence to understand affect, education, and pro-environmental behaviours, and highlights the complicated relationship between these factors. It calls for further research to better understand how we can leverage affective experiences and design education programs to foster pro-environmental behaviour.

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Perceived food quality and production quality in consumer evaluation of agrifood products (2019)

Designing agricultural systems that balance food production with environmental sustainability will be pivotal in supporting a growing population while living within planetary boundaries. Yet the literature on the demand side of food production rests largely on consumer choices driven by food safety, health, and dietary concerns. Very little work pertains to people’s thinking about food production or the supply end of food systems, with the exception of some work on preferences for organics or GM-free products. The current study thus seeks to explore the fuller set of latent factors underlying consumer evaluation of food products. It seeks, in particular, to explore people’s logics as to how they evaluate foods – be they driven by the perceived health attributes of food versus the quality of production of that food. A study was thus conducted to understand people’s evaluation of food items. We surveyed 319 participants using Amazon Mechanical Turk. Each participant was asked to to judge 14 agrifood products on 19 attributes. These attributes spanned concepts on production, environmental impact of production, preferences, and economic value. An exploratory factor analysis revealed two discrete factors: one factor pertained primarily to the quality of the food items themselves (e.g., organics, nutrition, flavor), and the second primarily addressed the quality of food production regarding agricultural inputs and degree of environmental impact (e.g., pesticide use, biodiversity impact, climate change consequence). From the one-way between subject ANOVAs and regression analyses, we found distinct relationships between demographic variables and perceived food and production qualities. These findings suggest that quality of production figures prominently in food perception, which was not previously considered as a part of consumer food choices, at least not for the average (versus ‘ethical’ or ‘green’) consumer. The understanding that quality of agrifood production is a factor among consumers is a valuable finding with implications for marketing, policy, and consumer decision making. The consideration of sustainable production by consumers has the potential to inform and guide the creation of food policies aimed at improved environmental sustainability, and interventions on consumer decision making regarding commensurate goals.

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Statistical learning creates novel object associations via transitive relations (2018)

A remarkable ability of the cognitive system is to make novel inferences based on prior experiences. What mechanism supports such inference? We propose that statistical learning is a process where transitive inferences of new associations are made between objects that have never been directly associated. After viewing a continuous sequence containing two base pairs (e.g., A-B, B-C), participants automatically inferred a transitive pair (e.g., A-C) where the two objects had never co-occurred before (Experiment 1). This transitive inference occurred in the absence of explicit awareness of the base pairs. However, participants failed to infer the transitive pair from three base pairs (Experiment 2), showing the limits of the transitive inference (Experiment 3). We further demonstrated that this transitive inference can operate across the categorical hierarchy (Experiments 4-7). The findings revealed a novel consequence of statistical learning where new transitive associations between objects are implicitly inferred.

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Attentional trade-offs under resource scarcity (2017)

Resource scarcity poses challenging demands on the cognitive system. Budgeting with limited resources induces an attentional focus on the problem at hand, but it also comes with a cost. Specifically, scarcity causes a failure to notice beneficial information in the environment, or remember to execute actions in the future, that help alleviate the condition of scarcity. This neglect may arise as a result of attentional narrowing. Attentional trade-offs under scarcity can further determine memory encoding. In seven experiments, we demonstrated that participants under scarcity prioritized price information but neglected a useful discount when ordering food from a menu (Experiment 1); they showed better recall for information relevant to the focal task at a subsequent surprise memory test (Experiments 2 and 3); they performed more efficiently on the focal task but neglect a useful cue in the environment that could save them resources (Experiments 4-6); and they failed to remember the previous instructions to execute future actions that could save them resources (Experiment 7). These results collectively demonstrate that scarcity fundamentally shapes the way people process information in the environment, by directing attention to the most urgent task, while inducing a neglect of other information that can be beneficial. The attentional neglect and memory failures may lead to suboptimal behaviors that further aggravate the condition of scarcity. The results provide new insights on the behaviors of the poor, and also important implications for public policy and the design of welfare services and programs for low-income individuals.

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Mechanisms of randomness cognition (2017)

The environment is inherently noisy, with regularities and randomness. Therefore, the challenge for the cognitive system is to detect signals from noise. This extraction of regularities forms the basis of many learning processes, such as conditioning and language acquisition. However, people often have erroneous beliefs about randomness. One pervasive bias in people’s conception of randomness is that they expect random sequences to exhibit greater alternations than typically produced by random devices (i.e., the over-alternation bias). To explain the causes of this bias, in the thesis, I examined the cognitive and neural mechanisms of randomness perception. In six experiments, I found that the over-alternation bias was present regardless of the feature dimensions, sensory modalities, and probing methods (Experiment 1); alternations in a binary sequence were harder to encode and are under-represented compared with repetitions (Experiments 2-5); and hippocampal neurogenesis was a critical neural mechanism for the detection of alternating patterns but not for repeating patterns (Experiment 6). These findings provide new insights on the mechanisms of randomness cognition; specifically, we revealed different mechanisms involved in representing alternating patterns versus repeating patterns.

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Ensemble perception of multiple spatially intermixed sets (2016)

The visual system is remarkably efficient at extracting summary statistics from the environment. Yet at any given time, the environment consists of many groups of objects distributed over space. Thus, the challenge for the visual system is to summarize over multiple sets distributed across space. My thesis work investigates the capacity constraints and computational efficiency of ensemble perception, in the context of perceiving multiple spatially intermixed groups of objects. First, in three experiments, participants viewed an array of 1 to 8 intermixed sets of circles. Each set contained four circles in the same colors but with different sizes. Participants estimated the mean size of a probed set. Which set would be probed was either known before onset of the array (pre-cue), or after that (post-cue). Fitting a uniform-normal mixture model to the error distribution, I found participants could reliably estimate mean sizes for maximally four sets (Experiment 1). Importantly, their performance was unlikely to be driven by a subsampling strategy (Experiment 2). Allowing longer exposure to the stimulus array did not increase the capacity, suggesting ensemble perception was limited by an internal resource constraint, rather than an information encoding rate (Experiment 3). Second, in two experiments, I showed that the visual system could hold up to four ensemble representations, or up to four individual items (Experiment 4), and an ensemble representation had an information uncertainty (entropy) level similar to that of an individual representation (Experiment 5). Taken together, ensemble perception provides a compact and efficient way of information processing.

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Exploring attitudes and preferences toward species at risk in British Columbia (2015)

There are 199 species at risk in British Columbia (B.C.). To elicit public support to conserve biodiversity, it is important to understand people’s attitudes and preferences toward species at risk. Here we examine how people perceive endangered species in B.C., how message framing shapes the attitudes toward the species, and whether implicit or explicit preferences determine willingness to pay for conservation. In Study 1 reported in Chapter 2, we presented three messages about sea otters to 623 residents in B.C., and measured the change in their attitudes toward sea otters using Kellert’s typology of basic attitudes toward wildlife. The messages were framed as either positive (as a keystone species), negative (resource conflict with First Nations’ fishermen in the West Coast of Vancouver Island), or neutral (biological facts). We found that the negative message promoted acceptance for managing sea otters and their habitats for use values (utilitarian-consumption, utilitarian-habitat), and for exerting control over sea otters (dominionistic). This shift in attitudes occurred even though the negative message was perceived as less convincing and believable than the positive or neutral messages. The positive message, on the other hand, decreased utilitarian-consumption attitudes. In Study 2 reported in Chapter 3, we evaluated people’s implicit and explicit preferences for four species at risk in B.C. (sea otter, American badger, caribou, and yellow-breasted chat). We found that explicit rather than implicit preference predicts willingness to pay for conservation of each species, and findings suggest that people apply the affect heuristic when judging species—species that are less liked may be perceived as riskier, and vice versa—. This finding holds for both residents in B.C. (n=55) and outside of B.C. (n=463). The results from the two studies highlight the importance of attitudes, messaging, and preference when designing conservation campaigns and efforts.

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