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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Believing that life is fair might make you a terrible person

By Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian
Originally posted on February 3, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

What’s truly unsettling about the just-world bias is that while it can have truly unpleasant effects, these follow from what seems like the entirely understandable urge to believe that things happen for a reason. After all, if we didn’t all believe that to some degree, life would be an intolerably chaotic and terrifying nightmare in, which effort and payback were utterly unrelated, and there was no point planning for the future, saving money for retirement or doing anything else in hope of eventual reward. We’d go mad. Surely wanting the world to make a bit more sense than that is eminently forgivable?

Yet, ironically, this desire to believe that things happen for a reason leads to the kinds of positions that help entrench injustice instead of reducing it.

The entire article is here.

Editor's Note: My suspicion is that this has a direct application to therapist's views of patients.  Self-reflection and understanding biases help to reduce negative influences in our lives.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Medical Necessity and Unnecessary Care

By Paul Keckley
The Health Care Blog
Originally posted January 29, 2015

Unnecessary care that’s not evidence-based—usually associated with excess testing, surgical procedures or over-prescribing—accounts for up to 30% of what is spent in healthcare. In recent months, enforcement actions against physicians and hospitals have gained increased attention. But unnecessary care and over-utilization is not a new story or one that’s easy to understand.


What does it mean?

Documentation is key. Accurate clinical documentation across sites and systems of care is table stakes.

Transparency about medical necessity and unnecessary care is assured. Data about the performance of every practitioner, hospital, and health system will be widely accessible.

The entire blog post is here.

U.S. Military Document Says Force-Feeding Violates Medical Ethics and International Law

Physicians for Human Rights
Press Release
Originally published January 30, 2015

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today that a newly public U.S. military document acknowledging that force-feeding violates medical ethics shows the unlawfulness of hunger strike practices at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. PHR called on the U.S. government to end all policies requiring clinicians to violate professional ethics and to immediately drop charges against the Navy nurse who refused to force-feed detainees.

“This document exposes the flawed medical and legal reasoning at the heart of Guantánamo’s force-feeding policy,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor. “Forcing treatment on mentally competent persons constitutes ill-treatment and possibly torture and is contrary to professional ethics. There is no evidence for the government’s claim that it is diagnosing or treating suicide or self-harm. Yet the command structure orders doctors and nurses to carry out force-feeding anyway, and attempts to justify the practice on the basis of medical necessity. The Navy nurse who stood up against this contradictory and harmful policy should not be discharged.”

The entire story is here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Burnout Rates Soar Among Family Physicians

By Diana Philips
Originally published January 28, 2015

Nearly half of family physicians younger than 35 years feel burned out, according to a new survey conducted by Medscape. In the 2015 Family Physician Lifestyle report, which updates a previous report on physician lifestyle and burnout, 43% of family physicians in this age group responded that they had burnout, defined as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. This is a substantial increase over the rates documented in the 2013 report, in which fewer than 10% of the youngest family physicians said they felt burned out.

The entire article is here.

Reason and Science Make Us Moral

Michael Shermer on "The Moral Arc"
Originally posted January 20, 2015

"You can't just say, 'This is the way it is, therefore it ought to be that way.' You've got to have good reasons," says Michael Shermer, referencing the common "is-ought fallacy" most famously explained by David Hume. "Well, I claim that we do have good reasons: Democracies are better than autocracies. Free markets are better than tyrannical, top-down economic systems. There are certain things we know work. You can measure it!"

Shermer is the longtime editor of Skeptic magazine, a visiting professor at Chapman University, and author of the new book The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Towards Truth, Justice, and Freedom, in which he argues that humanity has become measurably more moral over time and that this is a direct outgrowth of the rise of Enlightenment ideals of reason, empricism, and the rejection of blind faith and tradition.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller interviewed Shermer and explored such topics as the meaning of morality, the relationship between morality and markets, the possibility (or impossibility) of consensus around moral truths, and the biggest obstacles impeding further moral progress.

Approximately 20 minutes. Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Justin Monticello and Paul Detrick. Edited by Weissmueller. Music by Chris Zabriskie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Myth of Harmless Wrongs in Moral Cognition: Automatic Dyadic Completion From Sin to Suffering

By Kurt Gray, Chelsea Schein, and Adrian Ward
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
2014, Vol. 143, No. 4, 1600–1615


When something is wrong, someone is harmed. This hypothesis derives from the theory of dyadic
morality, which suggests a moral cognitive template of wrongdoing agent and suffering patient (i.e.,
victim). This dyadic template means that victimless wrongs (e.g., masturbation) are psychologically
incomplete, compelling the mind to perceive victims even when they are objectively absent. Five studies reveal that dyadic completion occurs automatically and implicitly: Ostensibly harmless wrongs are perceived to have victims (Study 1), activate concepts of harm (Studies 2 and 3), and increase perceptions of suffering (Studies 4 and 5). These results suggest that perceiving harm in immorality is intuitive and does not require effortful rationalization. This interpretation argues against both standard interpretations of moral dumbfounding and domain-specific theories of morality that assume the psychological existence of harmless wrongs. Dyadic completion also suggests that moral dilemmas in which wrongness (deontology) and harm (utilitarianism) conflict are unrepresentative of typical moral cognition.

The entire article is here.

The Myth of the Harmless Wrong

By Kurt Gray and Chelsea Schein
The New York Times Sunday Review
Originally published January 30, 2015

Here is two excerpts:

The technical name for this psychological link between judgments of immorality and perceptions of harm is “dyadic completion.” Whether liberal or conservative, people understand immorality though a universal template — a dyad of perpetrator and victim. Most immoral acts have a “complete” dyad, such as murder (murderer and murdered), theft (thief and thieved) and abuse (abuser and abused). But with many morally controversial acts, such as those involving adult pornography, prostitution, drugs or homosexuality, the victims seem less obvious or absent altogether.


Liberals and conservatives may disagree on specific issues, but fundamentally they have the same moral mind. Both demonstrate dyadic completion. Conservatives may see immorality and harm in homosexuality and gun control, and liberals may see immorality and harm in religion in schools and genetically modified foods.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Therapeutic Harm and Cultural Oppression

By Derald Wing Sue
The Counseling Psychologist 
January 6, 2015 0011000014565713


The divergent discourses between scholars from the potentially harmful treatment and multicultural psychology camps are accurately observed by Wendt, Gone, and Nagata. I argue that the differences in perspectives between the two groups are more about a clash of therapeutic worldviews, that they are often antagonistic to one another, that conversations have been a one-way process (with one side “not wanting to hear”), and that sociopolitical forces play a significant role in preventing a true dialogue from occurring. I conclude that the ultimate harm to groups of color is cultural oppression.

The entire article is here.

The Importance of Moral Construal

Moral versus Non-Moral Construal Elicits Faster, More Extreme, Universal Evaluations of the Same Actions

By Jay J. Van Bavel, Dominic J. Packer, Ingrid J. Haas, and William A. Cunningham
PLoS ONE 7(11): e48693. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048693


Over the past decade, intuitionist models of morality have challenged the view that moral reasoning is the sole or even primary means by which moral judgments are made. Rather, intuitionist models posit that certain situations automatically elicit moral intuitions, which guide moral judgments. We present three experiments showing that evaluations are also susceptible to the influence of moral versus non-moral construal. We had participants make moral evaluations (rating whether actions were morally good or bad) or non-moral evaluations (rating whether actions were pragmatically or hedonically good or bad) of a wide variety of actions. As predicted, moral evaluations were faster, more extreme, and more strongly associated with universal prescriptions—the belief that absolutely nobody or everybody should engage in an action—than non-moral (pragmatic or hedonic) evaluations of the same actions. Further, we show that people are capable of flexibly shifting from moral to non-moral evaluations on a trial-by-trial basis. Taken together, these experiments provide evidence that moral versus non-moral construal has an important influence on evaluation and suggests that effects of construal are highly flexible. We discuss the implications of these experiments for models of moral judgment and decision-making.

The entire article is here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Parents who wish no further treatment for their child

By M.A. de Vos, A.A. Seeber, S.K.M. Gevers, A.P. Bos, F. Gevers, and D.L. Williams
J Med Ethics 2015;41:195-200 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101395



In the ethical and clinical literature, cases of parents who want treatment for their child to be withdrawn against the views of the medical team have not received much attention. Yet resolution of such conflicts demands much effort of both the medical team and parents.


To discuss who can best protect a child's interests, which often becomes a central issue, putting considerable pressure on mutual trust and partnership.


We describe the case of a 3-year-old boy with acquired brain damage due to autoimmune-mediated encephalitis whose parents wanted to stop treatment. By comparing this case with relevant literature, we systematically explored the pros and cons of sharing end-of-life decisions with parents in cases where treatment is considered futile by parents and not (yet) by physicians.


Sharing end-of-life decisions with parents is a more important duty for physicians than protecting parents from guilt or doubt. Moreover, a request from parents on behalf of their child to discontinue treatment is, and should be, hard to over-rule in cases with significant prognostic uncertainty and/or in cases with divergent opinions within the medical team.

The entire article is here.

On making the right choice: A meta-analysis and large-scale replication attempt of the unconscious thought advantage

M.R. Nieuwenstein, T. Wirenga, R.D. Morey, J.M. Wichers, T.N. Blom, E. Wagenmakers, and H. vanRijn
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2015, pp. 1-17


Are difficult decisions best made after a momentary diversion of thought? Previous research addressing this important question has yielded dozens of experiments in which participants were asked to choose the best of several options (e.g., cars or apartments) either after conscious deliberation, or after a momentary diversion of thought induced by an unrelated task. The results of these studies were mixed. Some found that participants who had first performed the unrelated task were more likely to choose the best option, whereas others found no evidence for this so-called unconscious thought advantage (UTA). The current study examined two accounts of this inconsistency in previous findings. According to the reliability account, the UTA does not exist and previous reports of this effect concern nothing but spurious effects obtained with an unreliable paradigm. In contrast, the moderator account proposes that the UTA is a real effect that occurs only when certain conditions are met in the choice task. To test these accounts, we conducted a meta-analysis and a large-scale replication study (N = 399) that met the conditions deemed optimal for replicating the UTA. Consistent with the reliability account, the large-scale replication study yielded no evidence for the UTA, and the meta-analysis showed that previous reports of the UTA were confined to underpowered studies that used relatively small sample sizes. Furthermore, the results of the large-scale study also dispelled the recent suggestion that the UTA might be gender-specific. Accordingly, we conclude that there exists no reliable support for the claim that a momentary diversion of thought leads to better decision making than a period of deliberation.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A fault in our design

We tend to think that technological progress is making us more resilient, but it might be making us more vulnerable

By Colin Dickey
Aeon Magazine
Originally published January 23, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Freed from the constant worry of danger, we tend to forget that there ever was a danger in the first place. We’ve immunised ourselves from the fear of diseases that once plagued us, to the point where they’re now killing us once more. Fuelled by the viral spread of misinformation and paranoia, vaccine use has plummeted in parts of the Western world, leading to a resurgence in viruses. In the US, mortality rates for pertussis (whooping cough) dropped from 1,100 in 1950 to six in 1995, yet in the past decade outbreaks have once again spiked – more than 48,000 cases were reported in 2013, significantly outnumbering the 5137 cases that were reported back in 1995.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Clinical supervision of psychotherapy: essential ethics issues for supervisors and supervisees

By Jeffrey E. Barnett and Corey H. Molzon
J Clin Psychol 2014 Nov 14;70(11):1051-61. Epub 2014 Sep 14.


Clinical supervision is an essential aspect of every mental health professional's training. The importance of ensuring that supervision is provided competently, ethically, and legally is explained. The elements of the ethical practice of supervision are described and explained. Specific issues addressed include informed consent and the supervision contract, supervisor and supervisee competence, attention to issues of diversity and multicultural competence, boundaries and multiple relationships in the supervision relationship, documentation and record keeping by both supervisor and supervisee, evaluation and feedback, self-care and the ongoing promotion of wellness, emergency coverage, and the ending of the supervision relationship. Additionally, the role of clinical supervisor as mentor, professional role model, and gatekeeper for the profession are discussed. Specific recommendations are provided for ethically and effectively conducting the supervision relationship and for addressing commonly arising dilemmas that supervisors and supervisees may confront.

The entire article is here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cognitive enhancement kept within contexts: neuroethics and informed public policy

By John R. Shook, Lucia Galvagni, and James Giordano
Front Syst Neurosci. 2014; 8: 228.
Published online Dec 5, 2014. doi:  10.3389/fnsys.2014.00228


Neurothics has far greater responsibilities than merely noting potential human enhancements arriving from novel brain-centered biotechnologies and tracking their implications for ethics and civic life. Neuroethics must utilize the best cognitive and neuroscientific knowledge to shape incisive discussions about what could possibly count as enhancement in the first place, and what should count as genuinely “cognitive” enhancement. Where cognitive processing and the mental life is concerned, the lived context of psychological performance is paramount. Starting with an enhancement to the mental abilities of an individual, only performances on real-world exercises can determine what has actually been cognitively improved. And what can concretely counts as some specific sort of cognitive improvement is largely determined by the classificatory frameworks of cultures, not brain scans or laboratory experiments. Additionally, where the public must ultimately evaluate and judge the worthiness of individual performance enhancements, we mustn’t presume that public approval towards enhancers will somehow automatically arrive without due regard to civic ideals such as the common good or social justice. In the absence of any nuanced appreciation for the control which performance contexts and public contexts exert over what “cognitive” enhancements could actually be, enthusiastic promoters of cognitive enhancement can all too easily depict safe and effective brain modifications as surely good for us and for society. These enthusiasts are not unaware of oft-heard observations about serious hurdles for reliable enhancement from neurophysiological modifications. Yet those observations are far more common than penetrating investigations into the implications to those hurdles for a sound public understanding of cognitive enhancement, and a wise policy review over cognitive enhancement. We offer some crucial recommendations for undertaking such investigations, so that cognitive enhancers that truly deserve public approval can be better identified.

The entire article is here.

The Virtue of Scientific Thinking

By Steven Shapin
The Boston Review
Originally published January 20, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

So natural science without the capacity of moral uplift, and grown-up scientists, so to speak, without moral authority, are—in historical terms—recent creations. Both the disenchantment of the world and the supposed invalidity of inferring ought from is derive from the historical development of a conception of nature stripped of the moral powers it once possessed. That development reached its culmination in the science and metaphysics of Darwin and the scientific naturalists of the late nineteenth century. Their modern conception of nature could not make those who studied it more moral than anyone else because no sermons in stones were to be discerned. Nature, said the great nineteenth-century biologist T. H. Huxley, “is no school of virtue.”

The insistence that science cannot make you good, or make the scientist into a moral authority, flowed from a natural philosophical position: there are no spiritual forces operating in nature and there is no divine meaning to be discerned in nature. That is to say, Weber was making a sociological statement about what belongs to certain social roles, but he was doing so by way of historical changes in science and metaphysics.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Batgirl's Psychologist

By applying characters' fictional psyches to real-life problems, a cosplay enthusiast turned a passion for comic books into a mental-health career.

Erika Hayasaki
The Atlantic
Originally published January 27, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Despite her excellent credentials and high grades, she carried with her traces of imposter syndrome—the fear that colleagues would discover she wasn’t smart or talented enough to be in her position. It is an anxiety that many career-driven women who excel in their fields experience, as noted in a famous 1978 study in Psychotherapy Theory, Research, and Practice, in which observations of 150 highly successful women found that they often thought of themselves as frauds and did not “experience an internal sense of success.”

The entire article is here.

Science cannot determine human values

Earp, B. D. (in press). Science cannot determine human values.
Think: A  Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, in press.

Sam Harris, in his book The Moral Landscape, famously argues that “science can determine human values.” Against this view, I argue that while secular moral philosophy can certainly help us to determine our values, science—at least as that word is commonly understood—must play a subservient role. To the extent that science can “determine” what we ought to do, it is only by providing us with empirical information, which can then be slotted into a chain of deductive (moral) reasoning. The premises of such reasoning, however, can in no way be derived from the scientific method: they come, instead, from philosophy—and common sense.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The neural pathways, development and functions of empathy

By Jean Decety
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
Volume 3, June 2015, Pages 1–6


• Empathy has evolved in the context of parental care and kinship relationships.
• Conserved neural circuits connecting brainstem, basal ganglia, insula and orbitofrontal cortex.
• It emerges early in life.
• Empathy is modulated by interpersonal and contextual factors.
• Empathy is flexible and can be promoted.


Empathy reflects an innate ability to perceive and be sensitive to the emotional states of others coupled with a motivation to care for their wellbeing. It has evolved in the context of parental care for offspring as well as within kinship. Current work demonstrates that empathy is underpinned by circuits connecting the brainstem, amygdala, basal ganglia, anterior cingulate cortex, insula and orbitofrontal cortex, which are conserved across many species. Empirical studies document that empathetic reactions emerge early in life, and that they are not automatic. Rather they are heavily influenced and modulated by interpersonal and contextual factors, which impact behavior and cognitions. However, the mechanisms supporting empathy are also flexible and amenable to behavioral interventions that can promote caring beyond kin and kith.

The entire article is here.

Moral Judgment as a Natural Kind

By Victor Kumar
Forthcoming in Philosophical Studies

Moral judgments seem to be different from other normative judgments, even apart from their characteristic subject matter. Two people might both disapprove of an action, for example, although one judges it a moral violation and the other a breach of etiquette. Philosophers have traditionally attempted to define moral judgment through reflection alone. However, psychological research on the “moral/conventional distinction” offers a promising source of empirical evidence about the distinctive nature of moral judgment.

Several authors treat the ability to draw a distinction between morality and convention as a test for the presence of moral judgments (Blair 1995; Nichols 2004a; Prinz 2007; Levy 2007). None, however, develops the implied theory of moral judgment.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The ethics of deep brain stimulation

Unterrainer M, Oduncu FS
Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy [2015]


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an invasive technique designed to stimulate certain deep brain regions for therapeutic purposes and is currently used mainly in patients with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease. However, DBS is also used increasingly for other experimental applications, such as the treatment of psychiatric disorders (e.g. severe depression), weight reduction. Apart from its therapeutic potential, DBS can cause severe adverse effects, some that might also have a significant impact on the patient's personality and autonomy by the external stimulation of DBS which effects lie beyond the individual's control and free will. The article's purpose is to outline the procedures of DBS currently used in therapeutic and experimental applications and to discuss the ethical concerns regarding this procedure. It will address the clinical benefit-risk-ratio, the particular ethics of research in this field, and the ethical issues raised by affecting a patient's or an individual's personality and autonomous behaviour. Moreover, a potential ethical guideline, the Ulysses contract is discussed for the field of clinical application as well as the question of responsibility.

The entire article is here.

How Diederik Stapel Became A Science Fraud

By Neuroskeptic
Discover Magazine Blog
Originally published January 20, 2015

Two years ago, Dutch science fraudster Diederik Stapel published a book, Ontsporing (“Derailment”), describing how he became one of the world’s leading social psychologists, before falling from grace when it emerged that he’d fabricated the data in dozens of papers.

The entire blog post is here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Rights

Book Review by Idil Boran
Notre Dame Philosophical Review
Originally published January 14, 2015

Alan Patten, Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Rights, Princeton University Press, 2014, 327pp., $45.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780691159379.

Those interested in moral and political philosophy over the last three decades will remember that questions pertaining to cultural diversity and minority rights dominated the literature during that period. The center of gravity was Will Kymlicka's compelling discussion and justification of minority rights within the framework of philosophical liberalism. The debate that ensued didn't just give rise to a constellation of philosophical arguments and positions. It created a global movement, giving inspiration to the then newly forming states of the post-Soviet era to rethink how politics of cultural identity could be integrated with principles of liberalism. Around ten years ago, however, scholarly interest in these theoretical questions was already starting to run its course. Many specialists who were associated with issues of liberalism and minority rights in the 1990's gradually began exploring new horizons of normative inquiry on justice as time went on. Some moved on to issues of global justice, and the role and status of state institutions and the relevance of borders for inquiry on justice. Others returned to the debates on egalitarianism and distributive justice, or other related themes.

The entire book review is here.

A Little Girl Died Because Canada Chose Cultural Sensitivity Over Western Medicine

By Jerry Coyne
The New Republic
Originally published

On Monday, Makayla Sault, an 11-year-old from Ontario and member of the Mississauga tribe of the New Credit First Nation, died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia after suffering a stroke the previous day. This would normally not be big news in Canada or the U.S.—except for the fact that Makayla's death was probably preventable and thus unnecessary.

Makayla died not only from leukemia, but from faith—the faith of her parents, who are pastors. They not only inculcated her with Christianity, but, on religious grounds, removed her from chemotherapy to put her in a dubious institute of “alternative medicine” in Florida.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?

Philosophers and scientists have been at war for decades over the question of what makes human beings more than complex robots

By Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian
Originally posted on January 21, 2015

One spring morning in Tucson, Arizona, in 1994, an unknown philosopher named David Chalmers got up to give a talk on consciousness, by which he meant the feeling of being inside your head, looking out – or, to use the kind of language that might give a neuroscientist an aneurysm, of having a soul. Though he didn’t realise it at the time, the young Australian academic was about to ignite a war between philosophers and scientists, by drawing attention to a central mystery of human life – perhaps the central mystery of human life – and revealing how embarrassingly far they were from solving it.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Person-Centered Approach to Moral Judgment

By Eric Luis Uhlman, David Pizarro, and Daniel Diermeier
Perspectives on Psychological Science January 2015 vol. 10 no. 1 72-81

Both normative theories of ethics in philosophy and contemporary models of moral judgment in
psychology have focused almost exclusively on the permissibility of acts, in particular whether
acts should be judged based on their material outcomes (consequentialist ethics) or based on
rules, duties, and obligations (deontological ethics). However, a longstanding third perspective
on morality, virtue ethics, may offer a richer descriptive account of a wide range of lay moral
judgments. Building on this ethical tradition, we offer a person-centered account of moral
judgment, which focuses on individuals as the unit of analysis for moral evaluations rather than
on acts. Because social perceivers are fundamentally motivated to acquire information about the
moral character of others, features of an act that seem most informative of character often hold
more weight than either the consequences of the act, or whether or not a moral rule has been
broken. This approach, we argue, can account for a number of empirical findings that are either
not predicted by current theories of moral psychology, or are simply categorized as biases or
irrational quirks in the way individuals make moral judgments.

The entire article is here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Diagnosis or Delusion?

Patients who say they have Morgellons point to skin lesions as proof of their disease. But doctors believe the lesions are self-inflicted—that the condition is psychological, not dermatological.

By Katherine Foley
The Atlantic
Originally published January 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

When patients with these symptoms seek dermatological treatment, they’re usually told that they have delusions of parasitosis, a condition in which people are falsely convinced that they’re infested with parasites—told, in other words, that the crawling, itching sensations under their skin are only in their heads, and the fibers are remnants from clothing. Still, they pick away, trying to get the feeling out. According to Casey, most doctors refuse to even examine the alleged skin fibers and only offer anti-psychotic medication as treatment. It took her three years to find a dermatologist willing to treat her in any other way, and she and her husband had to drive all the way from California to Texas to see him.

The article outlining the conundrum is here.

Me, My “Self” and You: Neuropsychological Relations between Social Emotion, Self-Awareness, and Morality

By Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
Emotion Review July 2011 vol. 3 no. 3 313-315


Social emotions about others’ mind states, for example, compassion for psychological pain or admiration for virtue, are an important foundation for morality because they help us decide how to treat other people. Although these emotions are ostensibly concerned with the mental qualities and situations of others, they can precipitate intimately subjective reflections on the quality of one’s own social life and mind, and via these reflections incite a desire to engage in meaningful moral actions. Our interview and neural data suggest that the shift from social emotion to introspection may be facilitated by conscious mental evaluation of emotion-related visceral sensations.

The entire paper is here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How Patient Suicide Affects Psychiatrists

By Sulome Anderson
The Atlantic
Originally posted January 20, 2015

It’s hard to listen to a psychiatrist who sounds so broken. I expect a mental-health provider to seem healthy, detached. But even over the phone, the weariness in Dr. Brown’s voice is palpable.

“This is what we do when people die,” he says. “Even if they die an expected death, it seems to be human nature to go back over [it]. What should I have said that I didn't, or shouldn’t have said that I did? Could I have done more or did I do too much? This seems to be a part of the grieving process. I think it's especially intense in a situation where you have direct responsibility for helping the person get better.”

Brown lost a patient to suicide last year. She was a long-term client of his, the mother of a large, loving family. Right after a session with him, she went home and killed herself. Two months later, Brown’s son did the same thing.

The entire article is here.

Dimensions of Moral Emotions

By Kurt Gray and Daniel M. Wegner
Emotion Review Vol. 3, No. 3 (July 2011) 258–260


Anger, disgust, elevation, sympathy, relief. If the subjective experience of each of these emotions is the same whether elicited by moral or nonmoral events, then what makes moral emotions unique? We suggest that the configuration of moral emotions is special—a configuration given by the underlying structure of morality. Research suggests that people divide the moral world along the two dimensions of valence (help/harm) and moral type (agent/patient). The intersection of these two dimensions gives four moral exemplars—heroes, villains, victims and beneficiaries—each of which elicits unique emotions. For example, victims (harm/patient) elicit sympathy and sadness. Dividing moral emotions into these four quadrants provides predictions about which emotions reinforce, oppose and complement each other.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Can Pigs Empathize?

By Felicity Muth
Scientific American
Originally published January 13, 2015

There are a handful of traits that scientists and philosophers would argue would make us human, including self-awareness and language. Another key part of being human is thought to be our ability to empathize (although I sometimes find myself doubting some humans’ abilities to empathize). I also doubt that we are the only animal that has empathy. However, this can be tricky to test. If we define empathy as Franz de Waal does as ‘‘the capacity to be affected by and share the emotional state of another, assess the reasons for the other’s state and identify with the other, adopting his or her perspective’’ how would we go about testing this in a non-human animal?

The entire article is here.

Varieties of Moral Emotional Experience

By Hanah A. Chapman and Adam K. Anderson
Emotion Review Vol. 3, No. 3 (July 2011) 255–257


Although much research on emotion and morality has treated emotion as a relatively undifferentiated construct, recent work shows that moral transgressions can evoke a variety of distinct emotions. To accommodate these results, we propose a multiple-appraisal model in which distinct appraisals lead to different moral emotions. The implications of this model for our understanding of the
relationship between appraisals, emotions and judgments are discussed. The complexity of moral emotional experience presents a methodological challenge to researchers, but we submit that a complete understanding of human morality must acknowledge the differentiated nature of moral emotions.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

People can be convinced they committed a crime that never happened

Association for Psychological Science
Press Release on January 15, 2015

Evidence from some wrongful-conviction cases suggests that suspects can be questioned in ways that lead them to falsely believe in and confess to committing crimes they didn't actually commit. New research provides lab-based evidence for this phenomenon, showing that innocent adult participants can be convinced, over the course of a few hours, that they had perpetrated crimes as serious as assault with a weapon in their teenage years.

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates that the participants came to internalize the stories they were told, providing rich and detailed descriptions of events that never actually took place.

"Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate, and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories," says psychological scientist and lead researcher Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire in the UK.

The entire article is here.

On Disgust and Moral Judgment

By David Pizarro, Yoel Inbar, and Chelsea Helion
Emotion Review, Vol 3, No. 3 (July 2011), 267-268.


Despite the wealth of recent work implicating disgust as an emotion central to human morality, the nature of the causal relationship between disgust and moral judgment remains unclear. We distinguish between three related claims regarding this relationship, and argue that the most interesting claim (that disgust is a moralizing emotion) is the one with the least empirical support.

The entire article is here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

From moral concern to moral constraint

By Fiery Cushman
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
Available online 17 January 2015


Current research into the neural basis of moral decision-making endorses a common theme: The mechanisms we use to make value-guided decisions concerning each other are remarkably similar to those we use to make value-guided decisions for ourselves. In other words, moral decisions are just another kind of ordinary decision. Yet, there is something unsettling about this conclusion: We often feel as if morality places an absolute constraint on our behavior, in a way unlike ordinary personal concerns. What is the neural and psychological basis of this feeling of moral constraint? Several models are considered and outstanding questions highlighted.


• Morality involves concern for others, and constraints on action.
• Our concern for others is processed similarly to our concern for ourselves.
• Much less is understood about the neural basis of our sense of ‘constraint’.
• Some evidence favors a role for model-free value representation.
• Some evidence favors a role for mechanisms of third party evaluation.

The entire article is here.

Emotion and Morality: A Tasting Menu

By Joshua Greene
Emotion Review Vol. 3, No. 3 (2011) 1–3

In recent years, moral psychology has undergone a renaissance characterized by two dramatic changes (Haidt, 2007). First, the scientific study of morality has become a broad, interdisciplinary
enterprise, drawing on insights and methods from philosophy, neuroscience, economics, anthropology, biology, and all quarters of psychology. Second, emotion now plays a central role in moral psychology research. This special section on Emotion and Morality is a testament to the ingenuity, openmindedness, and energy that has infused this field.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why violent psychopaths don’t ‘get’ punishment

By Nick Haslam
The Conversation
Originally published January 29, 2015

The psychologist David Lykken once wrote that most violent crime could be prevented by cryogenically freezing all males aged 12 to 28. Although this option might be appealing at times for high school teachers and parents of teenage boys, it has some fairly obvious problems. For one thing, 28-year-old men might react violently, after thawing out, when they realise they’ve been cheated of their youth.

More seriously, the cryogenic solution misses the point that a small minority of men commit the great majority of violent crime. Many of these men meet the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder. People with this condition have a history of impulsive aggression, risk-taking and irresponsibility that extends back into childhood.

The entire article is here.

Lies, fraud, conflicts of interest, and bogus science: The real Dr. Oz effect

By Scott Gavura
Science-Based Medicine
Originally published January 29, 2015

I thought I’d written my final post on the Dr. Oz-fueled green coffee bean extract (GCBE) diet supplement fad. But now there’s another appalling chapter, one that documents just how much contempt The Dr. Oz Show seems to show for its audience, and how little Dr. Oz seems to care about providing advice based on good science. This week it was revealed that the “naturopath” that Dr. Oz originally featured in his GCBE segment, Lindsey Duncan, didn’t disclose a direct conflict of interest when he spoke. After inaccurately describing the supplement’s effectiveness, he directed consumers, using keywords, to web sites that he owned or operated. The infamous “Dr. Oz Effect” worked, with Duncan selling $50 million in GCBE supplements in the following months and years. This week it was announced that Duncan and his companies have been fined $9 million by the Federal Trade Commission. The documentation released by the FTC [PDF] gives remarkable insight into how a scam to make millions was launched, and how the Dr. Oz Show is a platform for the routine promotion of dubious “experts” and worthless supplements.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s assisted suicide laws

By Laura Stone
Global News
Originally posted February 6, 2015

Canada’s high court has struck down the country’s laws against physician-assisted suicide.

That means it will no longer be against the law for a doctor to help someone who is terminally ill to end their life – but the new rules won’t kick in for a year.

And it can only be done under several conditions.

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Criminal Code laws prohibiting physician-assisted death infringes Section 7 of the Charter, which states that everyone has right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The entire article and videos are here.

Death by Robot

By Robin Marantz Henig
The New York Times Magazine
Originally published January 9, 2015

Imagine it’s a Sunday in the not-too-distant future. An elderly woman named Sylvia is confined to bed and in pain after breaking two ribs in a fall. She is being tended by a helper robot; let’s call it Fabulon. Sylvia calls out to Fabulon asking for a dose of painkiller. What should Fabulon do?

The coders who built Fabulon have programmed it with a set of instructions: The robot must not hurt its human. The robot must do what its human asks it to do. The robot must not administer medication without first contacting its supervisor for permission. On most days, these rules work fine. On this Sunday, though, Fabulon cannot reach the supervisor because the wireless connection in Sylvia’s house is down. Sylvia’s voice is getting louder, and her requests for pain meds become more insistent.

The entire article is here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Harvard Tells Profs Not to Sleep With Undergrads

By John Lauerman
Bloomberg Business
Originally posted February 5, 2015

Harvard University banned professors from having “sexual or romantic relationships” with undergraduates, joining a list of campuses that have taken similar steps.

Many colleges discourage but don’t ban sex between professors and students. While a national professors’ group doesn’t favor such a prohibition, recent moves by Harvard, Yale University and the University of Connecticut suggest the tide may be turning.

Insights for Writing a Code of Ethics or Conduct

Risk management, strategy, and analysis from Deloitte
via The Wall Street Journal

The heart of an organization is often expressed in its code of ethics or code of conduct. It tells the world what really matters to an organization and what it is all about. Companies that follow both the letter and the spirit of the law by taking a “value-based” approach to ethics and compliance may have a distinct advantage in the marketplace. Give the average employee a legalistic “thou shall not….” code, and a negative response is almost guaranteed. Give employees a document that states clearly and concisely the organization’s expectations, outlines acceptable behaviors and presents viable options for asking questions and voicing concerns, and the likelihood is much greater that they will meet those expectations and exhibit the desired behaviors. Make the contents of the code equally applicable to, and understood by, everyone in the organization—at all levels, across all business units and spanning the geographies—and you have a key ingredient for a code that becomes ingrained in the corporate culture, with all of the benefits.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Women and Leadership

Public Says Women are Equally Qualified, but Barriers Persist

Pew Research
Originally published January 14, 2015

According to the majority of Americans, women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men. The same can be said of their ability to dominate the corporate boardroom. And according to a new Pew Research Center survey on women and leadership, most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders.

So why, then, are women in short supply at the top of government and business in the United States? According to the public, at least, it’s not that they lack toughness, management chops or proper skill sets.

The entire article is here.

Reducing Social Stress Elicits Emotional Contagion of Pain in Mouse and Human Strangers

By Loren J. Martin, Georgia Hathaway, Kelsey Isbester, Sara Mirali, Erinn L. Acland, Nils Niederstrasser, Peter M. Slepian, Zina Trost, Jennifer A. Bartz, Robert M. Sapolsky, Wendy F. Sternberg, Daniel J. Levitin, Jeffrey S. Mogil
Current Biology, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.028


• Emotional contagion of pain in stranger mice can be elicited by stress reduction
• Emotional contagion of pain in cagemate mice can be blocked by stress
• Emotional contagion of pain in humans occurs in friends, but not strangers
• Stress reduction in humans can elicit emotional contagion of pain in strangers


Empathy for another’s physical pain has been demonstrated in humans and mice; in both species, empathy is stronger between familiars. Stress levels in stranger dyads are higher than in cagemate dyads or isolated mice, suggesting that stress might be responsible for the absence of empathy for the pain of strangers. We show here that blockade of glucocorticoid synthesis or receptors for adrenal stress hormones elicits the expression of emotional contagion (a form of empathy) in strangers of both species. Mice and undergraduates were tested for sensitivity to noxious stimulation alone and/or together (dyads). In familiar, but not stranger, pairs, dyadic testing was associated with increased pain behaviors or ratings compared to isolated testing. Pharmacological blockade of glucocorticoid synthesis or glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptors enabled the expression of emotional contagion of pain in mouse and human stranger dyads, as did a shared gaming experience (the video game Rock Band) in human strangers. Our results demonstrate that emotional contagion is prevented, in an evolutionarily conserved manner, by the stress of a social interaction with an unfamiliar conspecific and can be evoked by blocking the endocrine stress response.

The entire article is here.

A Science Daily article and summary can be found here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

“Nones” on the Rise

Pew Research
Religion and Public Life Project
Originally published October 9, 2012

Here are some excerpts:

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones.4 A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.


The unaffiliated also are not uniformly hostile toward religious institutions. They are much more likely than the public overall to say that churches and other religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules, and too involved in politics.

The entire report is here.

How secular family values stack up

By Phil Zuckerman
The LA Times Op Ed
Originally posted January 15, 2015

More children are “growing up godless” than at any other time in our nation's history. They are the offspring of an expanding secular population that includes a relatively new and burgeoning category of Americans called the “Nones,” so nicknamed because they identified themselves as believing in “nothing in particular” in a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center.


He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious' parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

The entire piece is here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Elderly cousins undergo joint euthanasia for fear of being separated

By Lyndsey Telford
The Telegraph
Originally posted February 1, 2015

Two elderly Scottish cousins who relied on each other to get by have undergone joint euthanasia because they feared being put in separate care homes.

Stuart Henderson, 86, and Phyllis McConachie, 89, took their lives together in a Swiss clinic in November last year. Neither was terminally ill.

The pair had lived together for 40 years and managed to look after each other in a sheltered housing complex.

But, with Ms McConachie having injured her hip in a fall and with Mr Henderson’s onset dementia, the cousins worried they would be sent to different homes and separated.

Their joint deaths have sparked outrage among anti-euthanasia campaigners, who have described their case as “the ultimate abandonment” due to a lack of patient-centred care in the UK.

The entire article is here.

How to get kids to tell the truth? It's not all about carrot or stick

By Dan Jones
Research Digest Blog
Originally published January 15, 2015

All parents have to come to terms with the fact that their little angels will, from time to time, act like little devils. They’ll throw tantrums over trivial issues, or they’ll push, hit, bite or scratch other kids. And at some point they’ll start lying about what they’ve done.

Lying is perfectly normal among children, not a sign of a sociopath in the making. Many kids start telling the odd fib around their second birthday, and by the time they’re 4 or 5 they’re even better at the art of manipulating the truth, and keeping it from us. So how can parents help their kids internalise the lesson that honesty is the best — or at least the socially preferred — policy?

The entire blog post is here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Board Votes to End Solitary Confinement for Rikers Inmates Under 21 By 2016

By Jillian Jorgensen
The New York Observer
Originally published January 13, 2014

The Board of Correction today approved a plan for an enhanced supervision unit touted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte—but also voted to end solitary confinement for all inmates on Rikers Island under 21 by 2016, a sweeping change that will set the department apart from jail systems nationwide.

The board voted unanimously today to create the new Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit touted by Mr. Ponte and Mr. de Blasio at a visit to Rikers Island last month, as well as a previously discussed plan to limit the use of punitive segregation—in which inmates who commit an infraction are locked up for 23-hours a day—to no more than 30 days per offense.

The entire article is here.

This Is What Happens When We Lock Children in Solitary Confinement

By Dana Liebelson
Mother Jones
Originally published Jan/Feb 2015

Here are two excerpts:

While in isolation, Kenny—who was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder prior to the sixth grade—wrote to his mother, Melissa Bucher, begging her to make the two-hour drive to visit him. "I don't feel like I'm going to make it anymore," he wrote. "I'm in seclusion so I can't call and I'm prolly going to be in here for a while. My mind is just getting to me in here."


THE PRACTICE OF ISOLATING PRISONERS is deeply rooted in American history. In 1787, a group of prison reformers joined by Benjamin Franklin argued that if inmates were left alone in silence, they would become repentant. This Quaker-inspired method resulted in the creation, in 1790, of a penitentiary house containing 16 solitary cells in Philadelphia's Walnut Street Jail. Some 50 years later, Charles Dickens visited the city's lockups, of which he wrote, "The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong." In its most recent census of state and federal adult prisons, in 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly 82,000 men and women were in "restricted housing"—a lowball figure that doesn't include jails or immigration facilities.

The entire article is here.

Thanks to Deborah Derrickson Kossman for this contribution.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

More Americans Getting Mental Health Treatment

By Deborah Brauser
Originally published January 27, 2015

Behavioral health in the United States appears to be improving, especially for those between the ages of 12 and 17 years, a new report suggests.

The latest national behavioral health barometer from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that treatment for adults with mental illness increased from 62.9% in 2012 to 68.5% 1 year later. Substance use treatment for all age groups also increased significantly.

The entire article is here.

When is diminishment a form of enhancement?

Rethinking the enhancement debate in biomedical ethics

By Brian Earp, Anders Sandberg, Guy Kahane, & Julian Savulescu
Front. Syst. Neurosci., 04 February 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00012

The enhancement debate in neuroscience and biomedical ethics tends to focus on the augmentation of certain capacities or functions: memory, learning, attention, and the like. Typically, the point of contention is whether these augmentative enhancements should be considered permissible for individuals with no particular “medical” disadvantage along any of the dimensions of interest. Less frequently addressed in the literature, however, is the fact that sometimes the diminishment of a capacity or function, under the right set of circumstances, could plausibly contribute to an individual's overall well-being: more is not always better, and sometimes less is more. Such cases may be especially likely, we suggest, when trade-offs in our modern environment have shifted since the environment of evolutionary adaptation. In this article, we introduce the notion of “diminishment as enhancement” and go on to defend a welfarist conception of enhancement. We show how this conception resolves a number of definitional ambiguities in the enhancement literature, and we suggest that it can provide a useful framework for thinking about the use of emerging neurotechnologies to promote human flourishing.

The entire article is here.