Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Algorithmic Assessments, Transparency, and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Kevin Bauer & Andrej Gill,  2023, Information Systems Research, [published online: May 03, 2023]

Predictive algorithmic scores can significantly impact the lives of assessed individuals by shaping decisions of organizations and institutions that affect them, for example, influencing the hiring prospects of job applicants or the release of defendants on bail. To better protect people and provide them the opportunity to appeal their algorithmic assessments, data privacy advocates and regulators increasingly push for disclosing the scores and their use in decision-making processes to scored individuals. Although inherently important, the response of scored individuals to such algorithmic transparency is understudied and therefore demands further research. Inspired by psychological and economic theories of information processing, we aim to fill this gap. We conducted a comprehensive experimental study with five treatment conditions to explore how and why disclosing the use of algorithmic scoring processes to (involuntarily) scored individuals affects their behaviors. Our results provide strong evidence that the disclosure of fundamentally erroneous algorithmic scores evokes self-fulfilling prophecies that endogenously steer the behavior of scored individuals toward their assessment, enabling algorithms to help produce the world they predict. Occurring self-fulfilling prophecies are consistent with an anchoring effect and the exploitation of available moral wiggle room. Because scored individuals interpret others’ motives for overriding human expert and algorithmic scores differently, self-fulfilling prophecies occur in part only when disclosing algorithmic scores. Our results emphasize that isolated transparency measures can have considerable side effects with noticeable implications for the development of automation bias, the occurrence of feedback loops, and the design of transparency regulations.