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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

APA names lawyer to examine claims it aided U.S. government in shielding psychologists who tortured prisoners

By John Bohannon
Science Magazine
Originally published November 17, 2014

The American Psychological Association (APA) last week named a former federal prosecutor to lead an investigation into its role in supporting the U.S. government’s interrogation of suspected terrorists.

A new book by reporter James Risen of The New York Times alleges that APA, the largest U.S. professional association of psychologists, bent its ethical guidelines to give psychologists permission to conduct such interrogations at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere. The motivation, according to Risen, was to stay in the good graces of U.S. intelligence and defense officials. APA has denied the allegations and says that it worked closely with the CIA and the Pentagon "to ensure that national security policies were well-informed by empirical science."

The entire article is here.

(Un)just Deserts: The Dark Side of Moral Responsibility

By Gregg D. Caruso

What would be the consequence of embracing skepticism about free will and/or desert-based moral responsibility? What if we came to disbelieve in moral responsibility? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings? Would it cause nihilism and despair as some maintain? Or perhaps increase anti-social behavior as some recent studies have suggested (Vohs and Schooler 2008; Baumeister, Masicampo,and DeWall 2009)? Or would it rather have a humanizing effect on our practices and policies, freeing us from the negative effects of what Bruce Waller calls the “moral responsibility system” (2014, p. 4)? These questions are of profound pragmatic importance and should be of interest
independent of the metaphysical debate over free will. As public proclamations of skepticism continue to rise, and as the mass media continues to run headlines announcing free will and moral responsibility are illusions, we need to ask what effects this will have on the general public and what
the responsibility is of professionals.

In recent years a small industry has actually grown up around precisely these questions. In the skeptical community, for example, a number of different positions have been developed and advanced—including Saul Smilansky’s illusionism (2000), Thomas Nadelhoffer’s disillusionism
(2011), Shaun Nichols’ anti-revolution (2007), and the optimistic skepticism of Derk Pereboom (2001, 2013a, 2013b), Bruce Waller (2011), TamlerSommers (2005, 2007), and others.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Shrinking World of Ideas

By Arthur Krystal
The Chronicle Review
Originally posted November 21, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

For instance, psychologists and legal scholars, spurred by brain research and sophisticated brain-scanning techniques, have begun to reconsider ideas about volition. If all behavior has an electrochemical component, then in what sense—psychological, legal, moral—is a person responsible for his actions? Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen in a famous 2004 paper contend that neuroscience has put a new spin on free will and culpability: It "can help us see that all behavior is mechanical, that all behavior is produced by chains of physical events that ultimately reach back to forces beyond the agent’s control." Their hope is that the courts will ultimately discard blame-based punishment in favor of more "consequentialist approaches."

All this emphasis on the biological basis of human behavior is not to everyone’s liking. The British philosopher Roger Scruton, for one, takes exception to the notion that neuroscience can explain us to ourselves. He rejects the thought that the structure of the brain also structures the person, since an important distinction exists between an event in the brain and the behavior that follows. And, by the same token, the firing of neurons does not in a strictly causal sense account for identity, since a "person" is not identical to his or her physiological components.

The entire article is here.

Core Values Versus Common Sense Consequentialist Views Appear Less Rooted in Morality

By Tamar Kreps and Knight Way
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
November 2014 vol. 40 no. 11 1529-1542


When a speaker presents an opinion, an important factor in audiences’ reactions is whether the speaker seems to be basing his or her decision on ethical (as opposed to more pragmatic) concerns. We argue that, despite a consequentialist philosophical tradition that views utilitarian consequences as the basis for moral reasoning, lay perceivers think that speakers using arguments based on consequences do not construe the issue as a moral one. Five experiments show that, for both political views (including real State of the Union quotations) and organizational policies, consequentialist views are seen to express less moralization than deontological views, and even sometimes than views presented with no explicit justification. We also demonstrate that perceived moralization in turn affects speakers’ perceived commitment to the issue and authenticity. These findings shed light on lay conceptions of morality and have practical implications for people considering how to express moral opinions publicly.

The entire article is here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trait Positive Emotion Is Associated with Increased Self-Reported Empathy but Decreased Empathic Performance

By Hillary C. Devlin, Jamil Zaki, Desmond C. Ong, and June Gruber
Published: October 29, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110470


How is positive emotion associated with our ability to empathize with others? Extant research provides support for two competing predictions about this question. An empathy amplification hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with greater empathy, as it often enhances other prosocial processes. A contrasting empathy attenuation hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with lower empathy, because positive emotion promotes self-focused or antisocial behaviors. The present investigation tested these competing perspectives by examining associations between dispositional positive emotion and both subjective (i.e., self-report) and objective (i.e., task performance) measures of empathy. Findings revealed that although trait positive emotion was associated with increased subjective beliefs about empathic tendencies, it was associated with both increases and decreases in task-based empathic performance depending on the target’s emotional state. More specifically, trait positive emotion was linked to lower overall empathic accuracy toward a high-intensity negative target, but also a higher sensitivity to emotion upshifts (i.e., shifts in emotion from negative to positive) toward positive targets. This suggests that trait positive affect may be associated with decreased objective empathy in the context of mood incongruent (i.e., negative) emotional stimuli, but may increase some aspects of empathic performance in the context of mood congruent (i.e., positive) stimuli. Taken together, these findings suggest that trait positive emotion engenders a compelling subjective-objective gap regarding its association with empathy, in being related to a heightened perception of empathic tendencies, despite being linked to mixed abilities in regards to empathic performance.

The entire article is here.

Implicit Bias and Moral Responsibility: Probing the Data.

By Neil Levy


Psychological research strongly suggests that many people harbor implicit attitudes that
diverge from their explicit attitudes, and that under some conditions these people can be
expected to perform actions that owe their moral character to the agent’s implicit attitudes. In
this paper, I pursue the question whether agents are morally responsible for these actions by
probing the available evidence concerning the kind of representation an implicit attitude is.
Building on previous work, I argue that the reduction in the degree and kind of reasons sensitivity
these attitudes display undermines agents’ responsibility-level control over the moral
character of actions. I also argue that these attitudes do not fully belong to agents’ real selves in
ways that would justify holding them responsible on accounts that centre on attributability.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Privacy and Information Technology

By Jeroen van den Hoven, Martijn Blaauw, Wolter Pieters, and Martijn Warnier
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Human beings value their privacy and the protection of their personal sphere of life. They value some control over who knows what about them. They certainly do not want their personal information to be accessible to just anyone at any time. But recent advances in information technology threaten privacy and have reduced the amount of control over personal data and open up the possibility of a range of negative consequences as a result of access to personal data. The 21st century has become the century of Big Data and advanced Information Technology allows for the storage and processing of exabytes of data. The revelations of Edward Snowden have demonstrated that these worries are real and that the technical capabilities to collect, store and search large quantities of data concerning telephone conversations, internet searches and electronic payment are now in place and are routinely used by government agencies. For business firms, personal data about customers and potential customers are now also a key asset. At the same time, the meaning and value of privacy remains the subject of considerable controversy. The combination of increasing power of new technology and the declining clarity and agreement on privacy give rise to problems concerning law, policy and ethics. The focus of this article is on exploring the relationship between information technology (IT) and privacy. We will both illustrate the specific threats that IT and innovations in IT pose for privacy, and indicate how IT itself might be able to overcome these privacy concerns by being developed in a ‘privacy-sensitive way’. We will also discuss the role of emerging technologies in the debate, and account for the way in which moral debates are themselves affected by IT.

The entire entry is here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

If Everything Is Getting Better, Why Do We Remain So Pessimistic?

By the Cato Institute

Featuring Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; with comments by Brink Lindsey, Vice President for Research, Cato Institute; and Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Originally posted November 19, 2014

Evidence from academic institutions and international organizations shows dramatic improvements in human well-being. These improvements are especially striking in the developing world. Unfortunately, there is often a wide gap between reality and public perceptions, including that of many policymakers, scholars in unrelated fields, and intelligent lay persons. To make matters worse, the media emphasizes bad news, while ignoring many positive long-term trends. Please join us for a discussion of psychological, physiological, cultural, and other social reasons for the persistence of pessimism in the age of growing abundance.

The video and audio can be seen or downloaded here.

Editor's note: This video is important to psychologists to show cultural trends and beliefs that may be perpetrated by media hype.  This panel also highlights cognitive distortions, well being, and positive macro trends.  If you can, watch the first presenter, Dr. Steven Pinker.  If nothing else, you may feel a little better after watching the video.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Culture Of Psychological Science At Stake

By Tania Lombrozo
NPR Cosmos and Culture
Originally published November 18, 2014

In a video released today at, psychologist Simone Schnall raises interesting questions about the role of replication in social psychology and about what counts as "admissible evidence" in science.

Schnall comes at the topic from recent experience: One of her studies was selected for a replication attempt by a registered replication project, and the replication failed to find the effect from her original study.

An occasional failure to replicate isn't too surprising or disruptive to the field — what makes Schnall's case somewhat unique is the discussion that ensued, which occurred largely on blogs and social media. And it got ugly.

The entire NPR article is here.

Dr. Schnall's Edge Video is here.