Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

California Requires Suicide Prevention Phone Number On Student IDs

Mark Kreider
Kaiser Health News
Originally posted August 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

A California law that has greeted students returning to school statewide over the past few weeks bears a striking resemblance to that Palo Alto policy from four years ago. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, all IDs for California students in grades seven through 12, and in college, must bear the telephone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That number is 800-273-TALK (8255).

“I am extremely proud that this strategy has gone statewide,” said Herrmann, who is now superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District near Sacramento.

The new student ID law marks a statewide response to what educators, administrators and students themselves know is a growing need.

The numbers support that idea — and they are as jarring as they are clarifying.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death in the United States among people ages 10 to 24 in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The suicide rate among teenagers has risen dramatically over the past two decades, according to data from the CDC.

The info is here.

Reasons or Rationalisations: The Role of Principles in the Moral Dumbfounding Paradigm

Cillian McHugh, Marek McGann, Eric Igou, & Elaine L. Kinsella 
PsyArXiv
Last edited August 15, 2019

Abstract

Moral dumbfounding occurs when people maintain a moral judgment even though they cannot provide reasons for it. Recently, questions have been raised about whether dumbfounding is a real phenomenon. Two reasons have been proposed as guiding the judgments of dumbfounded participants: harm-based reasons (believing an action may cause harm) or norm-based reasons (breaking a moral norm is inherently wrong). Participants who endorsed either reason were excluded from analysis, and instances of moral dumbfounding seemingly reduced to non-significance. We argue that endorsing a reason is not sufficient evidence that a judgment is grounded in that reason. Stronger evidence should additionally account for (a) articulating a given reason, and (b) consistently applying the reason in different situations. Building on this, we develop revised exclusion criteria across 2 studies. Study 1 included an open-ended response option immediately after the presentation of a moral scenario. Responses were coded for mention of harm-based or norm-based reasons. Participants were excluded from analysis if they both articulated and endorsed a given reason. Using these revised criteria for exclusion, we found evidence for dumbfounding, as measured by the selecting of an admission of not having reasons. Study 2 included a further three questions assessing the consistency with which people apply harm-based reasons. As predicted, few participants consistently applied, articulated, and endorsed harm-based reasons, and evidence for dumbfounding was found.

The research is here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Aiming For Moral Mediocrity

Eric Schwitzgebel
Res Philosophica, Vol 96 (3), July 2019.
DOI: 10.11612/resphil.1806

Abstract

Most people aim to be about as morally good as their peers—not especially better, not especially worse. We do not aim to be good, or non-bad, or to act permissibly rather than impermissibly, by fixed moral standards. Rather, we notice the typical behavior of our peers, then calibrate toward so-so. This is a somewhat bad way to be, but it’s not a terribly bad way to be. We are somewhat morally criticizable for having low moral ambitions. Typical arguments defending the moral acceptability of low moral ambitions—the So-What-If-I’m-Not-a-Saint Excuse, the Fairness Objection, the Happy Coincidence Defense, and the claim that you’re already in The-Most-You-Can-Do Sweet Spot—do not survive critical scrutiny.

Conclusion

Most of us do not aim to be morally good by absolute standards. Instead we aim to be about as morally good as our peers. Our peers are somewhat morally criticizable—not morally horrible, but morally mediocre. If we aim to approximately match their mediocrity, we are somewhat morally
criticizable for having such low personal moral ambitions. It’s tempting to try to rationalize one’s mediocrity away by admitting merely that one is not a saint, or by appealing to the Fairness Objection or the Happy Coincidence Defense, or by flattering oneself that one is already in TheMost-You-Can-Do Sweet Spot—but these self-serving excuses don’t survive scrutiny.

Consider where you truly aim. Maybe moral goodness isn’t so important to you, as long as you’re not among the worst. If so, own your mediocrity.  Accept the moral criticism you deserve for your low moral ambitions, or change them.

When do we punish people who don’t?

Martin, J., Jordan, J., Rand, D., & Cushman, F.
(2019). Cognition, 193(August)
doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104040

Abstract

People often punish norm violations. In what cases is such punishment viewed as normative—a behavior that we “should” or even “must” engage in? We approach this question by asking when people who fail to punish a norm violator are, themselves, punished. (For instance, a boss who fails to punish transgressive employees might, herself, be fired). We conducted experiments exploring the contexts in which higher-order punishment occurs, using both incentivized economic games and hypothetical vignettes describing everyday situations. We presented participants with cases in which an individual fails to punish a transgressor, either as a victim (second-party) or as an observer (third-party). Across studies, we consistently observed higher-order punishment of non-punishing observers. Higher-order punishment of non-punishing victims, however, was consistently weaker, and sometimes non-existent. These results demonstrate the selective application of higher-order punishment, provide a new perspective on the psychological mechanisms that support it, and provide some clues regarding its function.

The research can be found here.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sex misconduct claims up 62% against California doctors

Vandana Ravikumar
USAToday.com
Originally posted August 12, 2019

The number of complaints against California physicians for sexual misconduct has risen by 62% since the fall of 2017, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.

The investigation, published Monday, found that the rise in complaints coincides with the beginning of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged victims of sexual misconduct or assault to speak out about their experiences. Though complaints of sexual misconduct against physicians are small in number, they are among the fastest growing types of allegations.

Recent high-profile incidents of sexual misconduct involving medical professionals were also a catalyst, the Times reported. Those cases include the abuses of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor who was sentenced in 2018 for 40-175 years in prison for molesting hundreds of young athletes.

That same year, hundreds of women accused former University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall of inappropriate behavior. Tyndall, who worked at the university for nearly three decades, was recently charged for sexually assaulting 16 women.

The info is here.

Increasing altruistic and cooperative behaviour with simple moral nudges

Valerio Capraro, Glorianna Jagfeld,
Rana Klein, Mathijs Mul & Iris van de Pol
Natrure.com
Published Online August 15, 2019

The conflict between pro-self and pro-social behaviour is at the core of many key problems of our time, as, for example, the reduction of air pollution and the redistribution of scarce resources. For the well-being of our societies, it is thus crucial to find mechanisms to promote pro-social choices over egoistic ones. Particularly important, because cheap and easy to implement, are those mechanisms that can change people’s behaviour without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives, the so-called “nudges”. Previous research has found that moral nudges (e.g., making norms salient) can promote pro-social behaviour. However, little is known about whether their effect persists over time and spills across context. This question is key in light of research showing that pro-social actions are often followed by selfish actions, thus suggesting that some moral manipulations may backfire. Here we present a class of simple moral nudges that have a great positive impact on pro-sociality. In Studies 1–4 (total N =  1,400), we use economic games to demonstrate that asking subjects to self-report “what they think is the morally right thing to do” does not only increase pro-sociality in the choice immediately after, but also in subsequent choices, and even when the social context changes. In Study 5, we explore whether moral nudges promote charity donations to humanitarian organisations in a large (N =  1,800) crowdfunding campaign. We find that, in this context, moral nudges increase donations by about 44 percent.

The research is here.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

To Study the Brain, a Doctor Puts Himself Under the Knife

Adam Piore
MIT Technology Review
Originally published November 9, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Kennedy became convinced that the way to take his research to the next level was to find a volunteer who could still speak. For almost a year he searched for a volunteer with ALS who still retained some vocal abilities, hoping to take the patient offshore for surgery. “I couldn’t get one. So after much thinking and pondering I decided to do it on myself,” he says. “I tried to talk myself out of it for years.”

The surgery took place in June 2014 at a 13-bed Belize City hospital a thousand miles south of his Georgia-based neurology practice and also far from the reach of the FDA. Prior to boarding his flight, Kennedy did all he could to prepare. At his small company, Neural Signals, he fabricated the electrodes the neurosurgeon would implant into his motor cortex—even chose the spot where he wanted them buried. He put aside enough money to support himself for a few months if the surgery went wrong. He had made sure his living will was in order and that his older son knew where he was.

(cut)

To some researchers, Kennedy’s decisions could be seen as unwise, even unethical. Yet there are cases where self-experiments have paid off. In 1984, an Australian doctor named Barry Marshall drank a beaker filled with bacteria in order to prove they caused stomach ulcers. He later won the Nobel Prize. “There’s been a long tradition of medical scientists experimenting on themselves, sometimes with good results and sometimes without such good results,” says Jonathan Wolpaw, a brain-computer interface researcher at the Wadsworth Center in New York. “It’s in that tradition. That’s probably all I should say without more information.”

The info is here.


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Do People Want to Be More Moral?

Jessie Sun and Geoffrey Goodwin
PsyArXiv Preprints
Originally posted August 26, 2019

Abstract

Most people want to change some aspects of their personality, but does this phenomenon extend to moral character, and to close others? Targets (N = 800) and well-acquainted informants (N = 958) rated targets’ personality traits and reported how much they wanted the target to change each trait. Targets and informants reported a lower desire to change more morally-relevant traits (e.g., honesty, compassion), compared to less morally-relevant traits (e.g., anxiety, sociability). Moreover, although targets and informants generally wanted targets to improve more on traits that targets had less desirable levels of, targets’ moral change goals were less calibrated to their current levels. Finally, informants wanted targets to change in similar ways, but to a lesser extent, than targets themselves did. These findings shed light on self–other similarities and asymmetries in personality change goals, and suggest that the general desire for self-improvement may be less prevalent in the moral domain.

From the Discussion:

Why don’t people particularly want to be more moral? One possibility is that people see less room for improvement on moral traits, especially given the relatively high ratings on these traits.  Our data cannot speak directly to this possibility, because people might not be claiming that they have the lowest or highest possible levels of each trait when they “strongly disagree” or “strongly agree” with each trait description (Blanton & Jaccard, 2006). Testing this idea would therefore require a more direct measure of where people think they stand, relative to these extremes.

A related possibility is that people are less motivated to improve moral traits because they already see themselves as being quite high on such traits, and therefore morally “good enough”—even if they think they could be morally better (see Schwitzgebel, 2019). Consistent with this idea, supplemental analyses showed that people are less inclined to change the traits that they rate themselves higher on, compared to traits that they rate themselves lower on. However, even controlling for current levels, people are still less inclined to change more morally-relevant traits(see Supplemental Materialfor these within-person analyses), suggesting that additional psychological factors might reducepeople’s desire to change morally-relevant traits.One additional possibility is that people are more motivated to change in ways that will improve their own well-being(Hudson & Fraley, 2016). Whereas becoming less anxious has obvious personal benefits, people might believe that becoming more moral would result in few personal benefits (or even costs).

The research is here.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Intention matters to make you (im)moral: Positive-negative asymmetry in moral character evaluations

Paula Yumi Hirozawa, M. Karasawa & A. Matsuo
(2019) The Journal of Social Psychology
DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2019.1653254

Abstract

Is intention, even if unfulfilled, enough to make a person appear to be good or bad? In this study, we investigated the influence of unfulfilled intentions of an agent on subsequent moral character evaluations. We found a positive-negative asymmetry in the effect of intentions. Factual information concerning failure to fulfill a positive intention mitigated the morality judgment of the actor, yet this mitigation was not as evident for the negative vignettes. Participants rated an actor who failed to fulfill their negative intention as highly immoral, as long as there was an external explanation to its unfulfillment. Furthermore, both emotional and cognitive (i.e., informativeness) processes mediated the effect of negative intention on moral character. For the positive intention, there was a significant mediation by emotions, yet not by informativeness. Results evidence the relevance of mental states in moral character evaluations and offer affective and cognitive explanations to the asymmetry.

Conclusion

In this study, we investigated whether intentions by themselves are enough to make an agent appear to be good or bad. The answer is yes, but with a detail. We found negative intentions are more indicative of an immoral character than positive intentions are diagnostic of moral character. Simply intending to offer cookies should not, after all, make a neighbor particularly virtuous, unless the intention is acted out. The positive-negative asymmetry demonstrated in the present study may capture a fundamental aspect of people’s moral judgments, particularly for disposition-based evaluations.