BEHAVE-research covered extensively in Portraits of Science

Every year, to celebrate its birthday (its Dies Natalis in its official, Latin name), TU Delft publishes a series of about ten ‘portraits of science’, in which it showcases noteworthy research and teaching efforts by TU Delft staff in the preceding year. In this year’s portraits, which focused on resilience in the context of covid, BEHAVE-research was covered extensively in the interview with Caspar. Here, he highlights work done with Tom van den Berg and Maarten Kroesen about the – almost non-existing – empirical relation between peoples’ endorsement of abstract moral values such as fairness and their concrete compliance with covid-regulations in specific situations. Another topic discussed in the portrait refers to a recently published paper with Niek Mouter and Erlend Sandorf in which the taboo trade off between Health and the Economy is examined. Finally, attention is devoted to spin-off Councyl which develops expert systems for ICU-staff to help them make difficult choices in terms of which Covid-patients (not) to admit to the ICU. Thank you Peter Baeten (interview) and Marcel Krijgsman (pictures) for a nice interview + photoshoot!


New article about the ethics of autonomous vehicles

Much has been written about the ethics of autonomous vehicles in recent years. In particular, the trolley problem thought experiment has been widely debated in the context of autonomous driving. But what do tech companies say about this? In this article published recently in Transport Reviews, Andreia Martinho, Nils Herber, Maarteen Kroesen, and Caspar Chorus looked at the industry reports of companies with autonomous driving testing permit in California to find some answers.

The onset of autonomous driving has provided fertile ground for discussions about ethics in recent years. These discussions are heavily documented in the scientific literature and have mainly revolved around extreme traffic situations depicted as moral dilemmas, i.e. situations in which the autonomous vehicle (AV) is required to make a difficult moral choice. Quite surprisingly, little is known about the ethical issues in focus by the AV industry. General claims have been made about the struggles of companies regarding the ethical issues of AVs but these lack proper substantiation. As private companies are highly influential on the development and acceptance of AV technologies, a meaningful debate about the ethics of AVs should take into account the ethical issues prioritised by industry. In order to assess the awareness and engagement of industry on the ethics of AVs, we inspected the narratives in the official business and technical reports of companies with an AV testing permit in California. The findings of our literature and industry review suggest that: (i) given the plethora of ethical issues addressed in the reports, autonomous driving companies seem to be aware of and engaged in the ethics of autonomous driving technology; (ii) scientific literature and industry reports prioritise safety and cybersecurity; (iii) scientific and industry communities agree that AVs will not eliminate the risk of accidents; (iv) scientific literature on AV technology ethics is dominated by discussions about the trolley problem; (v) moral dilemmas resembling trolley cases are not addressed in industry reports but there are nuanced allusions that unravel underlying concerns about these extreme traffic situations; (vi) autonomous driving companies have different approaches with respect to the authority of remote operators; and (vii) companies seem invested in a lowest liability risk design strategy relying on rules and regulations, expedite investigations, and crash/collision avoidance algorithms.

Two keynotes based on BEHAVE-research

This week, two keynotes will showcase BEHAVE-research to the wider community of researchers and practitioners in the fields of moral decision making for humans and artificial intelligence (AI).

First, Caspar will given the opening keynote at the inaugural World Museum Forum hosted by the National Museum of Korea: after the Forum is opened by the Minister of Culture of South Korea, Caspar will present BEHAVE-research into human and ethical decision making by AI. This talk will build largely on work done by Andreia Martinho, PhD-candidate in BEHAVE. The focus will be on the discrepancy between how industry and academia perceive and deal with ethical issues of AI, and on the variety of views that exist in academia on this topic. Finally, an approach to capture such moral uncertainty in AI will be presented.

Second, Caspar will, together with Prof. Geert Kazemier (director of Cancer Center Amsterdam at the Amsterdam University Medical Center), give the opening keynote of the Fall conference of the Netherlands Surgeons Association. In this talk, Caspar will explore how difficult moral choices made by medical professionals can be supported by moral choice models. This talk will build on BEHAVE-research into moral decision modeling and specifically on use-cases done by spin-off Councyl for several Dutch hospitals.

We are pleased with these opportunities granted to BEHAVE to present our research to the wider community of researchers and practitioners!

New BEHAVE paper: Obfuscation maximization-based decision-making

A new BEHAVE paper on obfuscation has been published in Mathematical Social Sciences.  The paper proposes a novel decision-making model based on obfuscation maximizaiton. A primer version of the paper has been presented in several conferenceds and colloquiums. The paper is a joint effort of previous, current, and new members or friends of the team, including Caspar, Sander, Aemiro, Erlend, Anae, and Teodora. Let’s celebrate!

The abstract is cited here:

Theories of decision-making are routinely based on the notion that decision-makers choose alternatives which align with their underlying preferences – and hence that their preferences can be inferred from their choices. In some situations, however, a decision-maker may wish to hide his or her preferences from an onlooker. This paper argues that such obfuscation-based choice behavior is likely to be relevant in various situations, such as political decision-making. This paper puts forward a simple and tractable discrete choice model of obfuscation-based choice behavior, by combining the well-known concepts of Bayesian inference and information entropy. After deriving the model and illustrating some key properties, the paper presents the results of an obfuscation game that was designed to explore whether decision-makers, when properly incentivized, would be able to obfuscate effectively, and which heuristics they employ to do so. Together, the analyses presented in this paper provide stepping stones towards a more profound understanding of obfuscation-based decision-making.


Aemiro Melkamu Daniel joins BEHAVE-program as a Postdoc

On October 1st, Aemiro joined the BEHAVE research program as a postdoc fellow. He holds a PhD in economics from Umeå University in Sweden, and has particular expertise in choice behavior analysis. His research combines microeconomic theories with insights from behavioral sciences to understand individual decision-making using choice modelling as a core analytical tool. In his PhD, Aemiro studied choice behavior related to household energy mainly using choice experiments. His main research responsibility in the BEHAVE program is to develop and apply discrete choice models to analyze decisions involving moral behavior in transportation, public health and other domains. Welcome to BEHAVE, Aemiro – we are looking forward to a fruitful collaboration!

New publication: how do people weigh fatalities caused by self-driving cars?

In a new paper which has been published today in the European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research (EJTIR), we study how people weigh fatalities caused by self-driving cars differently from fatalities caused by human drivers, and we show how part of this difference relates to a reference-level effect that is often seen in moral choice contexts. Lead author of the paper is Bing Huang; Caspar Chorus and Sander van Cranenburgh are co-authors. Here is the abstract:

Although Automated vehicles (AVs) are expected to have a major and positive effect on road safety, recent accidents caused by AVs tend to generate a powerful negative impact on the public opinion regarding safety aspects of AVs. Triggered by such incidents, many experts and policy makers now believe that paradoxically, safety perceptions may well prohibit or delay the rollout of AVs in society, in the sense that AVs will need to become much safer than conventional vehicles (CVs), before being accepted by the public. In this study, we provide empirical insights to investigate and explain this safety paradox. Using stated choice experiments, we show that there is indeed a difference between the weight that individuals implicitly attach to an AV-fatality and to a CV-fatality. However, the degree of overweighting of AV-fatalities, compared to CV-fatalities, is considerably smaller than what has been suggested in public opinions and policy reports. We also find that the difference in weighting between AV-fatalities and CV-fatalities is (partly) related to a reference level effect: simply because the current number of fatalities caused by AVs is extremely low, each additional fatality carries extra weight. Our findings suggest that indeed, AVs have to become safer—but not orders of magnitude safer—than CVs, before the general public will develop a positive perception of AVs in terms of road safety. Ironically, our findings also suggest that the inevitable occurrence of more AV-related road accidents will in time lead to a diminishing degree of overweighting of safety issues surrounding the AV.



BEHAVE paper about morality and aggressive driving published

A new paper by Tom van den Berg Maarten Kroesen, and Caspar Chorus is now published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour (the paper is availble here). The paper is a conceptual and empirical exploration of the relationship between people’s general moral values and their (aggressive) driving behavior. It concludes that general moral values are bad predictors of how people behave on the road.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Risky and aggressive driving is an important cause of traffic casualties and as such a major health and cost problem to society. Given the consequences for others, risky and aggressive driving has a clear moral component. Surprisingly, however, there has been little research on the relation between morality and risky and aggressive driving behavior. In this study we aim at addressing this gap. First, we present a conceptual analysis of the relationship between moral values and aggressive driving behavior. For this purpose, we extend Schwartz’s integrated model of ethical decision making and apply it to the context of aggressive driving. This conceptual analysis shows that moral decision-making processes consist of several stages, like moral awareness, moral judgment and moral intent, each of which are influenced by individual and situational factors and all of which need to materialize before someone’s generally endorsed moral value affects concrete behavior. This suggests that the moral value-aggressive driving relationship is rather indeterminate. This conceptual picture is confirmed by our empirical investigation, which tests to what extent respondents’ moral values, measured through the Moral Foundation Questionnaire, are predictive of respondents’ aggressive driving behavior, as measured through an aggressive driving behavior scale. Our results show few and rather weak empirical relationships between moral values and committed aggressive driving behaviors, as was expected in light of our conceptual analysis. We derive several policy implications from these results.

BEHAVE paper concerning COVID-19 lockdown published

A new paper about trade offs between health and economic effects of lockdown policies, with a particular focus on moral taboo-based decision-making, has been published today in Plos One (see the paper here). The paper is a joint effort of Caspar Chorus,  Niek Mouter and Erlend Dancke Sandorf, and is co-sponsored by the TU Delft Covid-19 response fund.

The research was discussed in a news item on leading Dutch news outlet NOS, which zoomed in on the taboos surrounding cost-benefit analysis in the context of covid-policy development.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

We report and interpret preferences of a sample of the Dutch adult population for different strategies to end the so-called ‘intelligent lockdown’ which their government had put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a discrete choice experiment, we invited participants to make a series of choices between policy scenarios aimed at relaxing the lockdown, which were specified not in terms of their nature (e.g. whether or not to allow schools to re-open) but in terms of their effects along seven dimensions. These included health-related effects, but also impacts on the economy, education, and personal income. From the observed choices, we were able to infer the implicit trade-offs made by the Dutch between these policy effects. For example, we find that the average citizen, in order to avoid one fatality directly or indirectly related to COVID-19, is willing to accept a lasting lag in the educational performance of 18 children, or a lasting (>3 years) and substantial (>15%) reduction in net income of 77 households. We explore heterogeneity across individuals in terms of these trade-offs by means of latent class analysis. Our results suggest that most citizens are willing to trade-off health-related and other effects of the lockdown, implying a consequentialist ethical perspective. Somewhat surprisingly, we find that the elderly, known to be at relatively high risk of being affected by the virus, are relatively reluctant to sacrifice economic pain and educational disadvantages for the younger generation, to avoid fatalities. We also identify a so-called taboo trade-off aversion amongst a substantial share of our sample, being an aversion to accept morally problematic policies that simultaneously imply higher fatality numbers and lower taxes. We explain various ways in which our results can be of value to policy makers in the context of the COVID-19 and future pandemics.


BEHAVE Research featured in EU Horizon Magazine

A new article in the EU Research and innovation magazine Horizon features work from the BEHAVE group into moral decision making during the covid-19 pandemic. The full article can be found here; an excerpt of the text relating to our research program reads as follows: Professor Caspar Chorus, who researches choice behaviour modelling at Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands and coordinates the BEHAVE project, has been studying how to turn these difficult moral choices into mathematical models that combine behavioural science and philosophy into a format that economists can use to make decisions. The technique asks participants to make dozens of these morally difficult choices, and when they are analysed can provide insights into the public preference. ‘Mathematically we were able to obtain what we call a utility function – you can think of this as a goal function that encapsulates the different effects of a policy and attaches weight to each effect. People are very poor at explaining those weights themselves, but we can learn these from the choices they make.’ His work is already helping to inform the Dutch government about some of the tricky decisions they have faced with regard to the pandemic. But it has also revealed one approach governments might take if they are hoping to bring about long lasting transformations. ‘People have some deep-seated moral values, which can be quite different from the moral actions they take,’ said Prof. Chorus. ‘Most governments think that if you can alter people’s attitudes then you will ultimately alter their behaviour – so if you convince people of a moral value like cycling is better for the environment, for example, then they will take a moral action and cycle more. ‘We have found from our research that this approach is much weaker than the other way around. If people have to start cycling because of an external factor like public transport stops running, like it did in the pandemic, then they (may) discover they like it and are more likely to stick with it. This effect is much stronger than an information campaign.’ He believes that this lesson could prove useful for governments hoping to use the pandemic to transform their economies and societies for the better. The pandemic has offered a period of intense disruption, which if harnessed could lead to lasting long-term change. ‘The key is to establish the right behaviours,’ said Prof. Chorus.

BEHAVE teams up with Erasmus University to study moral decisions in Public Health

A joint proposal funded by Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management headed by Esther de Bekker-Grob will be funding a PhD-student to be partly based in the BEHAVE-group. The PhD-student, who will be co-funded by BEHAVE, will study moral preferences in the population regarding the scarce allocation of resources in healthcare settings, such as ICU-beds during pandemics. New moral choice models will be developed, and using choice experiments these will be put to the test empirically. Results will be discussed with healthcare professionals to develop a deeper understanding into the moral dimensions of tricky health care decisions. Caspar will act as second promotor; Health philosopher Maartje Schermer (Erasmus Medical Center) and Econometrician Bas Donkers (Erasmus University) will provide invaluable input from their research fields. Looking forward to this collaborative effort in a research area with great relevance for BEHAVE!