This project focuses on the impact of vulnerability on decision-making. The developing theoretical model predicts that people in vulnerable circumstances (such as concern over terrorist action, financial need, illness) will make decisions in the domain in which they are vulnerable that show several attributes: a preference for action to alter the status-quo to a more beneficial position; a sensitivity to the potential benefits of decision options (more than is true for less vulnerable others); and equivalent sensitivity to the costs of decision options (relative to those lower in vulnerability).

This research is exploratory and high risk, because it flies in the face of established conventions regarding decision-making under risky conditions and because it proposes to examine decision-making in at-risk populations. Whether the ideas will merit more extensive grant support can be determined easily through the proposed initial studies.

The intellectual significance of the research and its broader impact both derive from the implications for understanding the decision-making processes of vulnerable people and the policies that affect them. For example, when vulnerability to the threat of terrorism is high, people may support what may be risky foreign policies when they believe those policies will have benefits that may reduce vulnerability. When people with health disorders experience a high level of symptoms, they may seek out experimental, even unproven treatments that hold out the lure of benefits, even as they appreciate the substantial costs that may also be entailed. People with few financial resources may be especially susceptible to financial pitches and policies that emphasize good outcomes, leading low income people to be vulnerable to financial schemes that promise high returns in the context of high risk. All of these are significant social and fiscal issues that affect the lives of all people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Amber L. Story
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University of California Los Angeles
Los Angeles
United States
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