Some surmise that a feeling of ignorance about the sequestration and beyond may be exacerbating people's on-edge feeling. "I wonder if it's just confusion," said William Congdon, an economist at The Brookings Institution specializing in the application of insights from behavioral economics. That can add fuel to the tax season fire. "As with anything people don't understand and can't control anxiety runs high," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer research psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University. "And anxiety by nature often interferes with logic." The confusion over the legislative shifts and tax bracket minutiae can inhibit people's ability to analyze the changes--and their economic implications--in a clear-headed manner. "I don't think many really understand how their lives will be impacted," Yarrow said. "They search for clarity and the logic portion of anxiety gives rumors a leg up. Already trust in the government is abysmal, and I think it's been compounded by the politicizing and lack of clarity about the ramifications of the sequester." Tax forms have always been confusing, burdensome. The IRS has, since its inception, long been a specter for people come April. But the confusion and lack of trust are especially high given how in the dark people seem to be. Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, agrees that there is not this intangible general fear but a compromised faith in the government's ability to manage changes. "I don't think the question here is fear," he said. "Fear is, 'you see a tiger, and you become afraid.' I think here is a reduction in trust. And trust is about the fact that the other party is not acting according to the rules and acting in a random and unreliable way."
To Ariely's eye, the government and IRS have created an "erosion of trust" with the populace by introducing these policy jukes and pivots.
If somehow in this confusing tax year people do get an unexpected tax return, they're not going to on a shopping spree: only 2% of respondents said they would splurge on clothes or electronics compared to 30% who said they would save or invest the money.