Abstract for: Democracies must deal with misleading advice regarding complex problems
Democracies rely on informed citizens. Previous studies show evidence of voter ignorance that is somewhat corrected for by "cognitive heuristics". But what if problems are 'wicked' and heuristics lead to systematic and severe biases? Here focus is on a biasing 'wait and see' heuristic. This is a trusted heuristic that is used with minimal effort, repeatedly, and successfully in everyday life. A laboratory experiment shows that subjects apply the very same heuristic also to a wicked dynamic problem, with miserable results. On the optimistic side, proactive expert advice counteracts biases caused by the wait and see heuristic. However, when expert advice is challenged by misleading advice, most of the positive effect of the expert advice disappears. The experiment generalizes to a large number of important and wicked social problems. The biasing heuristic and the misleading advice call for innovative information policies to help democracies benefit from existing and reliable knowledge.