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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Gender Differences in Responses to Moral Dilemmas: A Process Dissociation Analysis

Rebecca Friesdorf, Paul Conway, and Bertram Gawronski
Pers Soc Psychol Bull, first published on April 3, 2015


The principle of deontology states that the morality of an action depends on its consistency with moral norms; the principle of utilitarianism implies that the morality of an action depends on its consequences. Previous research suggests that deontological judgments are shaped by affective processes, whereas utilitarian judgments are guided by cognitive processes. The current research used process dissociation (PD) to independently assess deontological and utilitarian inclinations in women and men. A meta-analytic re-analysis of 40 studies with 6,100 participants indicated that men showed a stronger preference for utilitarian over deontological judgments than women when the two principles implied conflicting decisions (d = 0.52). PD further revealed that women exhibited stronger deontological inclinations than men (d = 0.57), while men exhibited only slightly stronger utilitarian inclinations than women (d = 0.10). The findings suggest that gender differences in moral dilemma judgments are due to differences in affective responses to harm rather than cognitive evaluations of outcomes.

The article is here.

An Ethical Argument for Regulated Cognitive Enhancement in Adults

by Selin Isguven
Voices in Bioethics

Human enhancement consists of methods to surpass natural and biological limitations, usually with the aid of technology. Treatment and enhancement are considered to be different in that treatment aims to cure an existing medical condition and restore the patient to a normal, healthy, or species-typical state whereas enhancement aims to improve individuals beyond such a state.  However, the line between treatment and enhancement remains debatable. There is no one agreed-upon definition of the normal human condition; this definition depends on factors such as time period and location, among many. In fact, the debate stems from discussions about the scope of medicine and the definition of ‘healthy.’  For some, like Norman Daniels, a healthy state is the absence of disease whereas for others, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), it is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.”[1] These two definitions of a healthy state are clearly not identical and there exist similarly differing opinions on what is considered ‘beyond’ healthy, as well.

The article is here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How Curiosity Can Protect the Mind from Bias

By Tom Stafford
Originally published 8 September 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The team confirmed this using an experiment which gave participants a choice of science stories, either in line with their existing beliefs, or surprising to them. Those participants who were high in scientific curiosity defied the predictions and selected stories which contradicted their existing beliefs – this held true whether they were liberal or conservative.

And, in case you are wondering, the results hold for issues in which political liberalism is associated with the anti-science beliefs, such as attitudes to GMO or vaccinations.

So, curiosity might just save us from using science to confirm our identity as members of a political tribe. It also shows that to promote a greater understanding of public issues, it is as important for educators to try and convey their excitement about science and the pleasures of finding out stuff, as it is to teach people some basic curriculum of facts.

The article is here.

Priming Children’s Use of Intentions in Moral Judgement with Metacognitive Training

Gvozdic, Katarina and others
Frontiers in Psychology  
18 March 2016


Typically, adults give a primary role to the agent's intention to harm when performing a moral judgment of accidental harm. By contrast, children often focus on outcomes, underestimating the actor's mental states when judging someone for his action, and rely on what we suppose to be intuitive and emotional processes. The present study explored the processes involved in the development of the capacity to integrate agents' intentions into their moral judgment of accidental harm in 5 to 8-year-old children. This was done by the use of different metacognitive trainings reinforcing different abilities involved in moral judgments (mentalising abilities, executive abilities, or no reinforcement), similar to a paradigm previously used in the field of deductive logic. Children's moral judgments were gathered before and after the training with non-verbal cartoons depicting agents whose actions differed only based on their causal role or their intention to harm. We demonstrated that a metacognitive training could induce an important shift in children's moral abilities, showing that only children who were explicitly instructed to "not focus too much" on the consequences of accidental harm, preferentially weighted the agents' intentions in their moral judgments. Our findings confirm that children between the ages of 5 and 8 are sensitive to the intention of agents, however, at that age, this ability is insufficient in order to give a "mature" moral judgment. Our experiment is the first that suggests the critical role of inhibitory resources in processing accidental harm.

The article is here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Ethics of Behavioral Health Information Technology

Michelle Joy, Timothy Clement, and Dominic Sisti
JAMA. Published online September 08, 2016.

Here is an excerpt:

Individuals with mental illness and addiction experience negative stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, distancing, and marginalization—social dynamics commonly called stigma. These dynamics are also often internalized and accepted by individuals with mental health conditions, amplifying their negative effect. Somewhat counterintuitively, stigmatizing beliefs about these patients are common among health care workers and often more common among mental health care professionals. Given these facts, the reinforcement of any stigmatizing concept within the medical record system or health information infrastructure is ethically problematic.

Stigmatizing iconography presents the potential for problematic clinical consequences. Patients with dual psychiatric and medical conditions often receive low-quality medical care and experience worse outcomes. One factor in this disparity is the phenomenon of diagnostic overshadowing. For example, diagnostic overshadowing can occur in patients with co-occurring mental illness and conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. These patients are less likely to receive appropriate medical care than patients without a mental health condition—their psychiatric conditions overshadow their other conditions, potentially biasing the clinician’s judgment about diagnosis and treatment such that the clinician may misattribute physical symptoms to mental health problems.

The article is here.

Psychopathy increases perceived moral permissibility of accidents

Young, Liane; Koenigs, Michael; Kruepke, Michael; Newman, Joseph P.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 121(3), Aug 2012, 659-667.


Psychopaths are notorious for their antisocial and immoral behavior, yet experimental studies have typically failed to identify deficits in their capacities for explicit moral judgment. We tested 20 criminal psychopaths and 25 criminal nonpsychopaths on a moral judgment task featuring hypothetical scenarios that systematically varied an actor's intention and the action's outcome. Participants were instructed to evaluate four classes of actions: accidental harms, attempted harms, intentional harms, and neutral acts. Psychopaths showed a selective difference, compared with nonpsychopaths, in judging accidents, where one person harmed another unintentionally. Specifically, psychopaths judged these actions to be more morally permissible. We suggest that this pattern reflects psychopaths' failure to appreciate the emotional aspect of the victim's experience of harm. These findings provide direct evidence of abnormal moral judgment in psychopathy.

The article is here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Workshop on ethics of monkey research earns cheers and boos

By David Grimm
Science Insider
Originally posted September 8, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Jeffrey Kahn, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and the chair of the chimpanzee report, added that nonhuman primate research should only be conducted if it has to be conducted. “It’s not ethically acceptable to do research that is not necessary. Being ‘necessary’ is not the same as ‘worth doing.’”

That led to a debate about just what constituted “necessary” and “moral justification.” Even research that doesn’t have an immediate translation to people—like figuring out how the monkey brain works—is necessary, argued Newsome, because it could eventually lead to significant new knowledge that might improve human health. “It will be a tragedy for the world if we don’t leave room for basic science.” Most attendees seemed to agree, with some stating that not doing research on monkeys was ethically indefensible because humans would suffer down the line.

Despite that ethical debate, animal welfare groups said they were upset that science—not welfare—dominated the workshop. Of the 13 speakers, eight make their living working with nonhuman primates. The workshop also only devoted 2 minutes—instead of its scheduled 30 minutes—to public comments. “We are extremely disappointed that no animal protection groups were invited,” wrote Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues for The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C., in an email to ScienceInsider. “It is clear that NIH has not followed through on what Congress requested, which was to examine ethical policies and processes.”

The article is here.

Alexithymia increases moral acceptability of accidental harms

Indrajeet Patil and Giorgia Silani
Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2014 Vol. 26, No. 5, 597


Previous research shows that when people judge moral acceptability of others' harmful behaviour, they not only take into account information about the consequences of the act but also an actor's belief while carrying out the act. A two-process model has been proposed to account for this pattern of moral judgements and posits: (1) a causal process that detects the presence of a harmful outcome and is motivated by empathic aversion stemming from victim suffering; (2) a mental state-based process that attributes beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. to the agent in question and is motivated by imagining personally carrying out harmful actions. One prediction of this model would be that personality traits associated with empathy deficits would find accidental harms more acceptable not because they focus on innocent intentions but because they have reduced concern for the victim's well-being. In this study, we show that one such personality trait, viz. alexithymia, indeed exhibits the predicted pattern and this increased acceptability of accidental harm in alexithymia is mediated by reduced dispositional empathic concern. Results attest to the validity of two-process model of intent-based moral judgements and emphasise key role affective empathy plays in harm-based moral judgements.

The article is here.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Can IVF influence human evolution?

Hans Ivar Hanevik, Dag O. Hessen, Arne Sunde, and Jarle Breivik
Human Reproduction (2016) 31 (7): 1397-1402 first published online April 19, 2016 doi:10.1093/humrep/dew089


IVF, a procedure in which pharmacological and technological manipulation is used to promote pregnancy, offers help to infertile couples by circumventing selection at the most fundamental level. Fertility is clearly one of the key fitness-promoting drivers in all forms of sexually reproducing life, and fertilization and pregnancy are fundamental evolutionary processes that involve a range of pre- and post-zygotic screening mechanisms. Here, we discuss the various selection and screening factors involved in fertilization and pregnancy and assess IVF practices in light of these factors. We then focus on the possible consequences of these differences in selection pressures, mainly at the individual but also at the population level, to evaluate whether changes in the reproducing genotype can affect human evolution. The aim of the article is not to argue for or against IVF, but to address aspects of assisted reproduction in an evolutionary context.

The article is here.

How Tech Giants Are Devising Real Ethics for Artificial Intelligence

By John Markoff
The New York Times
Originally published September 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

One main concern for people in the tech industry would be if regulators jumped in to create rules around their A.I. work. So they are trying to create a framework for a self-policing organization, though it is not clear yet how that will function.

“We’re not saying that there should be no regulation,” said Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the Stanford report. “We’re saying that there is a right way and a wrong way.”

While the tech industry is known for being competitive, there have been instances when companies have worked together when it was in their best interests. In the 1990s, for example, tech companies agreed on a standard method for encrypting e-commerce transactions, laying the groundwork for two decades of growth in internet business.

The authors of the Stanford report, which is titled “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030,” argue that it will be impossible to regulate A.I. “The study panel’s consensus is that attempts to regulate A.I. in general would be misguided, since there is no clear definition of A.I. (it isn’t any one thing), and the risks and considerations are very different in different domains,” the report says.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why Facts Don’t Unify Us

By Tali Sharot and Cass Sunstein
The New York Times
Originally published September 2, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

These findings help explain polarization on many issues. With respect to the Affordable Care Act, for example, people encounter good news, to the effect that it has helped millions of people obtain health insurance, and also bad news, to the effect that health care costs and insurance premiums continue to increase. For the act’s supporters, the good news will have far more impact than the bad; for the opponents, the opposite is true. As the sheer volume of information increases, polarization will be heightened as well.

Essentially the same tale can be told with respect to immigration, terrorism, increases in the minimum wage — and candidates for the highest office in the land. Voters are now receiving a steady stream of both positive and negative information about Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Which kind of news will have a large impact will depend partly on people’s motivations and initial convictions.

But there’s an important qualification. In our experiment, a strong majority showed movement; few people were impervious to new information. Most people were willing to change their views, at least to some extent.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Moral minds

By Kirsten Weir
The Monitor on Psychology
September 2016, Vol 47, No. 8
Print version: page 42

Here is an excerpt:

"As young as you can test them, babies like good guys and don't like bad guys," Bloom says. "This suggests some sort of nascent moral understanding very early on."

Bloom likens that understanding to the building blocks of human language. "There's some evidence we start with rudimentary language capacity, but languages across the world differ in all sorts of ways," he says. "Obviously, culture matters."

Other psychologists, meanwhile, have tried to understand why morality varies from culture to culture, while retaining some common themes. Haidt's moral foundations theory proposes that there are at least six (and likely more) systems that provide a foundation of morality: care/harm; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation; and liberty/oppression.

The article is here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles

Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan
NBER Working Paper No. 22611
September 2016


Employing the universe of juvenile court decisions in a U.S. state between 1996 and 2012, we
analyze the effects of emotional shocks associated with unexpected outcomes of football games
played by a prominent college team in the state. We investigate the behavior of judges, the
conduct of whom should, by law, be free of personal biases and emotions. We find that
unexpected losses increase disposition (sentence) lengths assigned by judges during the week
following the game. Unexpected wins, or losses that were expected to be close contests ex-ante,
have no impact. The effects of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black
defendants. We present evidence that the results are not influenced by defendant or attorney
behavior or by defendants’ economic background. Importantly, the results are driven by judges
who have received their bachelor’s degrees from the university with which the football team is
affiliated. Different falsification tests and a number of auxiliary analyses demonstrate the
robustness of the findings. These results provide evidence for the impact of emotions in one
domain on a behavior in a completely unrelated domain among a uniformly highly-educated
group of individuals (judges), with decisions involving high stakes (sentence lengths). They also
point to the existence of a subtle and previously-unnoticed capricious application of sentencing.

Stop ignoring misconduct

Donald S. Kornfeld & Sandra L. Titus
Originally posted 31 August 2016

The history of science shows that irreproducibility is not a product of our times. Some 350 years ago, the chemist Robert Boyle penned essays on “the unsuccessfulness of experiments”. He warned readers to be sceptical of reported work. “You will meet with several Observations and Experiments, which ... may upon further tryal disappoint your expectation.” He attributed the problem to a 'lack of skill in the scientist and the lack of purity of the ingredients', and what would today be referred to as inadequate statistical power.

By 1830, polymath Charles Babbage was writing in more cynical terms. In Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, he complains of “several species of impositions that have been practised in science”, namely “hoaxing, forging, trimming and cooking”.

In other words, irreproducibility is the product of two factors: faulty research practices and fraud.

The article is here.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Meta-Analytic Review of Moral Licensing

Irene Blanken, Niels van de Ven, and Marcel Zeelenberg
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41(4) · February 2015

Moral licensing refers to the effect that when people initially behave in a moral way, they are later more likely to display behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic. We provide a state-of-the-art overview of moral licensing by conducting a meta-analysis of 91 studies (7,397 participants) that compare a licensing condition with a control condition. Based on this analysis, the magnitude of the moral licensing effect is estimated to be a Cohen's d of 0.31. We tested potential moderators and found that published studies tend to have larger moral licensing effects than unpublished studies. We found no empirical evidence for other moderators that were theorized to be of importance. The effect size estimate implies that studies require many more participants to draw solid conclusions about moral licensing and its possible moderators.

The article is here.

Does Situationism Threaten Free Will and Moral Responsibility?

Michael McKenna and Brandon Warmke
Journal of Moral Psychology


The situationist movement in social psychology has caused a considerable stir in philosophy over the last fifteen years. Much of this was prompted by the work of the philosophers Gilbert Harman (1999) and John Doris (2002). Both contended that familiar philosophical assumptions about the role of character in the explanation of human action were not supported by the situationists experimental results. Most of the ensuing philosophical controversy has focused upon issues related to moral psychology and ethical theory, especially virtue ethics. More recently, the influence of situationism has also given rise to further questions regarding free will and moral responsibility (e.g., Brink 2013; Ciurria 2013; Doris 2002; Mele and Shepherd 2013; Miller 2016; Nelkin 2005; Talbert 2009; and Vargas 2013b). In this paper, we focus just upon these latter issues. Moreover, we focus primarily on reasons-responsive theories. There is cause for concern that a range of situationist findings are in tension with the sort of reasons-responsiveness putatively required for free will and moral responsibility. Here, we develop and defend a response to the alleged situationist threat to free will and moral responsibility that we call pessimistic realism. We conclude on an optimistic note, however, exploring the possibility of strengthening our agency in the face of situational influences.

The article is here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Woman uses Indiana religious objections law in defense against child abuse charges

The Chicago Tribune
Originally published August 31. 2016

The attorney for a woman charged with child abuse for allegedly beating her son with a coat hanger says Indiana's religious objections law gives her the right to discipline her children according to her evangelical Christian beliefs.

Kihn Par Thaing, 30, of Indianapolis was arrested in February on felony abuse and neglect charges after a teacher discovered her 7-year-old son's injuries. Thaing is accused of beating her son with a coat hanger, leaving him with 36 bruises and red welts.

Her attorney, Greg Bowes, argues in court documents filed July 29 that the state shouldn't interfere with Thaing's right to raise her children as she deems appropriate. He cited Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act as part of her defense, saying it gives her the right to discipline her children according to her beliefs.

Court documents cite biblical Scripture and state that a parent who "spares the rod, spoils the child."

The article is here.

Forget ideology, liberal democracy’s newest threats come from technology and bioscience

John Naughton
The Guardian
Originally posted August 28, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Here Harari ventures into the kind of dystopian territory that Aldous Huxley would recognise. He sees three broad directions.

1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, and the economic system will stop attaching much value to them.

2. The system will still find value in humans collectively but not in unique individuals.

3. The system will, however, find value in some unique individuals, “but these will be a new race of upgraded superhumans rather than the mass of the population”. By “system”, he means the new kind of society that will evolve as bioscience and information technology progress at their current breakneck pace. As before, this society will be based on a deal between religion and science but this time humanism will be displaced by what Harari calls “dataism” – a belief that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any entity or phenomenon is determined by its contribution to data processing.

The article is here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

State mental hospitals were closed to give people with mental illness greater freedom

but it increased the risk they’d get no care at all.

By The Spotlight Team
The Boston Globe
Originally posted August 28, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The result is a system that’s defined more by its gaps and gross inadequacies than by its successes — severely underfunded, largely uncoordinated, often unreliable, and, at times, startlingly unsafe. It is a system that prizes independence for people with mental illness but often ignores the accompanying risks to public safety. A system that puts blind belief in the power of antipsychotic drugs and immense trust in even the very sickest to take them willingly. A system that too often leaves people in mental health crisis with nowhere to turn.

It was never supposed to be this way. President Kennedy and his allies recognized the grim state of America’s mental institutions — which at their peak housed nearly 560,000 people — and promised a robust, humane system of community-based treatment in their place.

The article is here.

Big data, Google and the end of free will

Yuval Noah Harari
Financial Times
Originally posted August August 26, 2016

Here are two excerpts:

This has already happened in the field of medicine. The most important medical decisions in your life are increasingly based not on your feelings of illness or wellness, or even on the informed predictions of your doctor — but on the calculations of computers who know you better than you know yourself. A recent example of this process is the case of the actress Angelina Jolie. In 2013, Jolie took a genetic test that proved she was carrying a dangerous mutation of the BRCA1 gene. According to statistical databases, women carrying this mutation have an 87 per cent probability of developing breast cancer. Although at the time Jolie did not have cancer, she decided to pre-empt the disease and undergo a double mastectomy. She didn’t feel ill but she wisely decided to listen to the computer algorithms. “You may not feel anything is wrong,” said the algorithms, “but there is a time bomb ticking in your DNA. Do something about it — now!”


But even if Dataism is wrong about life, it may still conquer the world. Many previous creeds gained enormous popularity and power despite their factual mistakes. If Christianity and communism could do it, why not Dataism? Dataism has especially good prospects, because it is currently spreading across all scientific disciplines. A unified scientific paradigm may easily become an unassailable dogma.

The article is here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

How Should Clinicians Treat Patients Who Might Be Undocumented?

Commentary by Jeff Sconyers and Tyler Tate
AMA Journal of Ethics. March 2016, Volume 18, Number 3: 229-236.
 doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2016.18.03.ecas4-1603.

Here is an excerpt:

Ethical Considerations

In terms of the ethical analysis of this case, there is no better place to start than the Hippocratic Oath. While the oath never explicitly states primum non nocere (first do no harm), a phrase it is often assumed to contain, it does give us the informative statement “Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick…whether they are free men or slaves” [10]. The normative claim implicit here is that it is the duty of the physician to take care of anyone who comes to him or her for care, regardless of that person’s societal status. This claim is intimately related to the principle of beneficence, which is a broad concept encompassing acts of mercy, kindness, charity, altruism, love, humanity, and a deep concern for the promotion of the good of others [11]. At times, the demands of beneficence can conflict with an agent’s desire for a comfortable life; this conflict will influence Dr. Connelly’s analysis of a relationship with Ms. Nunez.

We believe that if a patient has an acute life-threatening condition (for example, a stroke, respiratory distress, or ongoing blood loss), it is the physician’s moral obligation to treat him or her, except under rare and extenuating circumstances—such as certain risk of dangerous exposure, injury, or death from attempting treatment. (This moral obligation is different from the legal rules outlined above.) If a patient is in extremis, a physician must attempt to treat. However, these clear obligations need not apply in less acute scenarios like that of Dr. Connelly and Ms. Nunez.

The article is here.

The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions

By Emily Singer
Quanta Magazine
Originally posted August 23, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Glimcher is using both the brain and behavior to try to explain our irrationality. He has combined results from studies like the candy bar experiment with neuroscience data — measurements of electrical activity in the brains of animals as they make decisions — to develop a theory of how we make decisions and why that can lead to mistakes.

Glimcher has been one of the driving forces in the still young field of neuroeconomics. His theory merges far-reaching research in brain activity, neuronal networks, fMRI and human behavior. “He’s famous for arguing that neuroscience and economics should be brought together,” said Nathaniel Daw, a neuroscientist at Princeton University. One of Glimcher’s most important contributions, Daw said, has been figuring out how to quantify abstract notions such as value and study them in the lab.

In a new working paper, Glimcher and his co-authors — Kenway Louie, also of NYU, and Ryan Webb of the University of Toronto — argue that their neuroscience-based model outperforms standard economic theory at explaining how people behave when faced with lots of choices. “The neural model, described in biology and tested in neurons, works well to describe something economists couldn’t explain,” Glimcher said.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Forgive Us Our Trespasses: Priming a Forgiving (But Not a Punishing) God Increases Unethical Behavior

Amber E DeBono, Azim Shariff, Sarah Poole, and Mark Muraven
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality · December 2016


Religious people differ in how punishing or forgiving they see their Gods. Such different beliefs may have distinct consequences in encouraging people to act in normative ways. Though a number of priming studies have shown a positive causal relationship between religion and normative behavior, few have primed different aspects of religion, and none has examined the punishing/forgiving dimension. In three experiments, Christians instructed to read and write about a forgiving God stole more money (Experiments 1 and 2) and cheated more on a math assignment (Experiment 3) than those who read and wrote about a punishing God, a forgiving human, a punishing human, or those in a control condition. These studies present a more complex and nuanced picture of the important relationship between religion and normative behavior.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Psychiatrist diagnosed local optician without meeting him

By Kelly Bennett
CBC News
Originally posted: Aug 25, 2016

A Burlington optician is outraged after discovering a psychiatrist he'd never met wrote a critical two-page psychiatric evaluation about him without ever seeing or talking to him.

The optician, Jay Hakim, filed a complaint with the provincial medical regulator, which concluded the psychiatrist's conduct was appropriate.

Hakim appealed the regulator's decision; that appeal was held in a hearing downtown Hamilton on Wednesday.

The case raises "some very serious consequences for society" if it's allowed to stand, Hakim argued.

It also parallels issues raised in the United States over whether psychiatrists can ethically provide opinions on the mental health of presidential candidates they've never met.

The article is here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Direct to consumer genetic testing and the libertarian right to test

Michele Loi
J Med Ethics 2016;42:574-577


I sketch a libertarian argument for the right to test in the context of ‘direct to consumer’ (DTC) genetic testing. A libertarian right to genetic tests, as defined here, relies on the idea of a moral right to self-ownership. I show how a libertarian right to test can be inferred from this general libertarian premise, at least as a prima facie right, shifting the burden of justification on regulators. I distinguish this distinctively libertarian position from some arguments based on considerations of utility or autonomy, which are sometimes labelled ‘libertarian’ because they oppose a tight regulation of the direct to consumer genetic testing sector. If one takes the libertarian right to test as a starting point, the whole discussion concerning autonomy and personal utility may be sidestepped. Finally, I briefly consider some considerations that justify the regulation of the DTC genetic testing market, compatible with the recognition of a prima facie right to test.

The article is here.

The first autonomous, entirely soft robot

By Leah Burrows
Harvard Gazette
Originally published August 24, 2016

Here are two excerpts:

Soft robotics could help revolutionize how humans interact with machines. But researchers have struggled to build entirely compliant robots. Electric power and control systems — such as batteries and circuit boards — are rigid, and until now soft-bodied robots have been either tethered to an off-board system or rigged with hard components.


“One longstanding vision for the field of soft robotics has been to create robots that are entirely soft, but the struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” said Wood. “This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs.”

The article and video are here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

World's First Self-Driving Taxis Debut in Singapore

Annabelle Liang and Dee-Ann Durbin
Associated Press
August 24, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The service will start small — six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year. The ultimate goal, say nuTonomy officials, is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which will help sharply cut the number of cars on Singapore's congested roads. Eventually, the model could be adopted in cities around the world, nuTonomy says.

For now, the taxis only will run in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called "one-north," and pick-ups and drop-offs will be limited to specified locations. And riders must have an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service. The company says dozens have signed up for the launch, and it plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.

The article is here.

Driven to extinction? The ethics of eradicating mosquitoes with gene-drive technologies

Jonathan Pugh
J Med Ethics 2016;42:578-581


Mosquito-borne diseases represent a significant global disease burden, and recent outbreaks of such diseases have led to calls to reduce mosquito populations. Furthermore, advances in ‘gene-drive’ technology have raised the prospect of eradicating certain species of mosquito via genetic modification. This technology has attracted a great deal of media attention, and the idea of using gene-drive technology to eradicate mosquitoes has been met with criticism in the public domain. In this paper, I shall dispel two moral objections that have been raised in the public domain against the use of gene-drive technologies to eradicate mosquitoes. The first objection invokes the concept of the ‘sanctity of life’ in order to claim that we should not drive an animal to extinction. In response, I follow Peter Singer in raising doubts about general appeals to the sanctity of life, and argue that neither individual mosquitoes nor mosquitoes species considered holistically are appropriately described as bearing a significant degree of moral status. The second objection claims that seeking to eradicate mosquitoes amounts to displaying unacceptable degrees of hubris. Although I argue that this objection also fails, I conclude by claiming that it raises the important point that we need to acquire more empirical data about, inter alia, the likely effects of mosquito eradication on the ecosystem, and the likelihood of gene-drive technology successfully eradicating the intended mosquito species, in order to adequately inform our moral analysis of gene-drive technologies in this context.

The article is here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Report: Gardens employer of Pulse nightclub shooter fined $150k

Lulu Ramadan
Originally posted September 10, 2016

The Palm Beach Gardens-based security company that employed the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was ordered to pay “the largest fine issued in history” of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for falsley reporting psychological testing information, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

G4S Secure Solutions was issued the $151,400 fine Friday, after the department found that the psychologist listed on a form that allowed Mateen to carry a weapon was not practicing as a screener. A total of 1,514 forms submitted between 2006 and 2016 erroneously listed psychologist Carol Nudelman’s name.

The form that allowed Mateen to carry a gun as a security guard was dated Sept. 6, 2007, nearly two years after Nudelman had retired.

The article is here.

What is a moral epigenetic responsibility?

Charles Dupras & Vardit Ravitsky
BMJ Blog
Originally posted August 23, 2016

Epigenetics is a recent yet promising field of scientific research. It explores the influence of the biochemical environment (food, toxic pollutants) and the social environment (stress, child abuse, socio-economic status) on the expression of genes, i.e. on whether and how they will switch ‘on’ or ‘off’. Epigenetic modifications can have a significant impact on health and disease later in life. Most surprisingly, it was suggested that some epigenetic variants (or ‘epi-mutations’) acquired during one’s life could be transmitted to offspring, thus having long-term effects on the health of future generations.

Epigenetics is increasingly capturing the attention of social scientists and ethicists, because it brings attention to the importance of environmental exposure for the developing foetus and child as a risk factor for common diseases such as cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity, allergies and cancers. Scholars such as Hannah Landecker, Mark Rothstein and Maurizio Meloni have argued that epigenetics may be used to promote various arguments in ongoing debates on environmental and social justice, as well as intergenerational equity. Some even suggested that epigenetics could lead to novel ways of thinking about moral responsibilities for health.

The blog post is here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New York State Bans Use of Unclaimed Dead as Cadavers Without Consent

By Nina Bernstein
The New York Times
Originally posted August 19, 2016

A bill that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed into law this week concerns the dead as much as the living and signals a big change in public attitudes about what one owes the other.

The law bans the use of unclaimed bodies as cadavers without written consent by a spouse or next of kin, or unless the deceased had registered as a body donor. It ends a 162-year-old system that has required city officials to appropriate unclaimed bodies on behalf of medical schools that teach anatomical dissection and mortuary schools that train embalmers.

The state’s medical schools recently announced that they were withdrawing their opposition to the measure, saying they would meet any shortfall in cadavers by expanding their programs for private body donations.

The article is here.

Supreme Court to Consider Legal Standard Drawn From ‘Of Mice and Men’

Adam Liptak
The New York Times
Originally published August 22, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Under medical standards from 1992, endorsed in Judge Cochran’s 2004 opinion, Mr. Moore was not intellectually disabled, the appeals court said. The court added that the seven factors listed in the 2004 opinion weighed heavily against Mr. Moore. He had, for instance, worn a wig during the robbery and tried to hide his shotgun in two plastic bags, which prosecutors said was evidence of forethought and planning.

In dissent, Judge Elsa Alcala said the 1992 medical standards used by the majority were “outdated and erroneous.” As for the seven factors, she wrote that “the Lennie standard does not meet the requirements of the federal Constitution.”

“I would set forth a standard,” Judge Alcala wrote, “that does not include any reference to a fictional character.”

The article is here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness

Steven D. Levitt
NBER Working Paper No. 22487
Issued in August 2016


Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This paper reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later. This correlation, however, need not reflect a causal impact. To assess causality, I use the outcome of a coin toss. Individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are much more likely to make a change and are happier six months later than those who were told by the coin to maintain the status quo. The results of this paper suggest that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.

The paper is here.

Ethicists unpack the argument for why doping should be kept out of sports

Olivia Goldhill
Originally published August 21, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Bioethicist Thomas Murray, who was chair of Ethical Issues Review Panel for the World Anti-Doping Agency for many years, says that doping “short-circuits the connection between talent, dedication, and performance in sport. It takes control and responsibility away from the athlete and gives it to the chemist or gene therapist or whoever’s manipulating the athlete’s body and physiology.”

Allowing doping would likely lead to a pharmaceutical race, with ever more effective drugs changing athletes’ ability. And even if athletes were able to take drugs safely under the supervision of doctors, Murray points out that still-growing teenagers mimicking their idols would face far greater risks.

Some sporting competitions might decide to allow certain drugs, he says, but to allow doping in the Olympics would make it impossible to compete without the help of pharmaceuticals.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morality (Book Chapter)

Jonathan Haidt and Selin Kesebir
Handbook of Social Psychology. (2010) 3:III:22.

Here is a portion of the conclusion:

 The goal of this chapter was to offer an account of what morality really is, where it came from, how it works, and why McDougall was right to urge social psychologists to make morality one of their fundamental concerns. The chapter used a simple narrative device to make its literature review more intuitively compelling: It told the history of moral psychology as a fall followed by redemption. (This is one of several narrative forms that people spontaneously use when telling the stories of their lives [McAdams, 2006]). To create the sense of a fall, the chapter began by praising the ancients and their virtue - based ethics; it praised some early sociologists and psychologists (e.g., McDougall, Freud, and Durkheim) who had “ thick ” emotional and sociological conceptions of morality; and it praised Darwin for his belief that intergroup competition contributed to the evolution of morality. The chapter then suggested that moral psychology lost these perspectives in the twentieth century as many psychologists followed philosophers and other social scientists in embracing rationalism and methodological individualism. Morality came to be studied primarily as a set of beliefs and cognitive abilities, located in the heads of individuals, which helped individuals to solve quandaries about helping and hurting other individuals. In this narrative, evolutionary theory also lost something important (while gaining much else) when it focused on morality as a set of strategies, coded into the genes of individuals, that helped individuals optimize their decisions about cooperation and defection when interacting with strangers. Both of these losses or “ narrowings ” led many theorists to think that altruistic acts performed toward strangers are the quintessence of morality.

The book chapter is here.

This chapter is an excellent summary for students or those beginning to read on moral psychology.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Rational and Emotional Sources of Moral Decision-Making: an Evolutionary-Developmental Account

Denton, K.K. & Krebs, D.L.
Evolutionary Psychological Science (2016). pp 1-14.


Some scholars have contended that moral decision-making is primarily rational, mediated by controlled, deliberative, and reflective forms of moral reasoning. Others have contended that moral decision-making is primarily emotional, mediated by automatic, affective, and intuitive forms of decision-making. Evidence from several lines of research suggests that people make moral decisions in both of these ways. In this paper, we review psychological and neurological evidence supporting dual-process models of moral decision-making and discuss research that has attempted to identify triggers for rational-reflective and emotional-intuitive processes. We argue that attending to the ways in which brain mechanisms evolved and develop throughout the life span supplies a basis for explaining why people possess the capacity to engage in two forms of moral decision-making, as well as accounting for the attributes that define each type and predicting when the mental mechanisms that mediate each of them will be activated and when one will override the other. We close by acknowledging that neurological research on moral decision-making mechanisms is in its infancy and suggesting that future research should be directed at distinguishing among different types of emotional, intuitive, rational, and reflective processes; refining our knowledge of the brain mechanisms implicated in different forms of moral judgment; and investigating the ways in which these mechanisms interact to produce moral decisions.

The article is here.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Additional Questions about the Applicability of “False Memory” Research

Kathryn Becker-Blease and Jennifer J. Freyd
Applied Cognitive Psychology, (2016)
DOI: 10.1002/acp.3266


Brewin and Andrews present a strong case that the results of studies on adults' false memories for childhood events yield small and variable effects of questionable practical significance. We discuss some fundamental limitations of the literature available for this review, highlighting key issues in the operationalization of the term 'false memory', publication bias, and additional variables that have been insufficiently researched. We discuss the implications of these findings in the real world. Ultimately, we conclude that more work is needed in all of these domains, and appreciate the efforts of these authors to further a careful and evidence-based discussion of the issues.

The article is here.

Aetna Shows Why We Need a Single-Payer System

By Robert Reich
Robert Reich Blog
Originally posted August 16, 2016

The best argument for a single-payer health plan is the recent decision by giant health insurer Aetna to bail out next year from 11 of the 15 states where it sells Obamacare plans.

Aetna’s decision follows similar moves by UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest insurer, and Humana, one of the other giants.

All claim they’re not making enough money because too many people with serious health problems are using the Obamacare exchanges, and not enough healthy people are signing up.

The problem isn’t Obamacare per se. It’s in the structure of private markets for health insurance – which creates powerful incentives to avoid sick people and attract healthy ones. Obamacare is just making the structural problem more obvious.

The entire blog post is here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Deutsche Bank's $10-Billion Scandal

By Ed Caesar
The New Yorker
Originally published August 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Scandals have proliferated at Deutsche Bank. Since 2008, it has paid more than nine billion dollars in fines and settlements for such improprieties as conspiring to manipulate the price of gold and silver, defrauding mortgage companies, and violating U.S. sanctions by trading in Iran, Syria, Libya, Myanmar, and Sudan. Last year, Deutsche Bank was ordered to pay regulators in the U.S. and the U.K. two and a half billion dollars, and to dismiss seven employees, for its role in manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate, or libor, which is the interest rate banks charge one another. The Financial Conduct Authority, in Britain, chastised Deutsche Bank not only for its manipulation of libor but also for its subsequent lack of candor. “Deutsche Bank’s failings were compounded by them repeatedly misleading us,” Georgina Philippou, of the F.C.A., declared. “The bank took far too long to produce vital documents and it moved far too slowly to fix relevant systems.”

The article is here.

How Emotions Shape Moral Behavior: Some Answers (and Questions) for the Field of Moral Psychology

Teper R., Zhong C.-B., and Inzlicht M.
Social and Personality Psychology Compass (2015), 9, 1–14


Within the past decade, the field of moral psychology has begun to disentangle the mechanics behind moral judgments, revealing the vital role that emotions play in driving these processes. However, given the well-documented dissociation between attitudes and behaviors, we propose that an equally important issue is how emotions inform actual moral behavior – a question that has been relatively ignored up until recently. By providing a review of recent studies that have begun to explore how emotions drive actual moral behavior, we propose that emotions are instrumental in fueling real-life moral actions. Because research examining the role of emotional processes on moral behavior is currently limited, we push for the use of behavioral measures in the field in the hopes of building a more complete theory of real-life moral behavior.

The article is here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

CRISPR helps evo-devo scientists to unpick the origins of adaptions

Editorial Comment
Originally published August 17, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The field of evolutionary developmental biology — evo-devo — is full of such creations: from mice with longer, bat-like limbs to fruit flies with torsos segmented like beetles’. But until now, the brute tools used to create these creatures have been imperfect.

This is about to change. In a paper published online on 17 August, a team used CRISPR–Cas9 to inactivate the genes involved in zebrafish development, resulting in fin tips more like the feet and digits of land vertebrates (T. Nakamura et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature19322; 2016). Other recent CRISPR experiments have tinkered with butterflies to learn how they see more colours than flies do, and done away with crustaceans’ claws to understand the origin of these specialized appendages.

The article is here.

APA Signs Onto Amicus Brief Supporting Confidentiality

Aaron Levin
Psychiatric News
Originally published August 11, 2016

APA has signed on to an amicus curiae brief with the California Psychiatric Association and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists in a case before the California Supreme Court with important implications for patient confidentiality and clinicians’ liability.

APA is concerned that a ruling in favor of the plaintiff would change the existing California standard (the so-called Tarasoff rule) requiring action when “a patient has communicated to the psychotherapist a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims.”

The case, Rosen v. Regents of the UCLA, arose when Damon Thompson, a student treated by UCLA’s counseling service, attacked and stabbed a fellow student, Katherine Rosen.

Under California law, a therapist has a “duty to protect” a potential victim if the patient makes a reasonably identifiable threat to harm a specific person.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Problem With Slow Motion

By Eugene Caruso, Zachary Burns & Benjamin Converse
The New York Times - Gray Matter
Originally published August 5, 2016

Here are two excerpts:

Watching slow-motion footage of an event can certainly improve our judgment of what happened. But can it also impair judgment?


Those who saw the shooting in slow motion felt that the actor had more time to act than those who saw it at regular speed — and the more time they felt he had, the more likely they were to see intention in his action. (We found similar results in a separate study involving video footage of a prohibited “helmet to helmet” tackle in the National Football League, where the question was whether the player intended to strike the opposing player in the proscribed manner.)

The article is here.

Truth in stereotypes

Lee Jussim
Aeon Magazine
Originally published August 15, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

These practices created what I call ‘The Myth of Stereotype Inaccuracy’. Famous psychologists declaring stereotypes inaccurate without a citation or evidence meant that anyone could do likewise, creating an illusion that pervasive stereotype inaccuracy was ‘settled science’. Subsequent researchers could declare stereotypes inaccurate and could create the appearance of scientific support by citing articles that also made the claim. Only if one looked for the empirical research underlying such claims did one discover that there was nothing there; just a black hole.

‘But wait!’ you say. ‘Researchers are often defining stereotypes as inaccurate, not declaring them to be empirically inaccurate, and they can define their terms how they choose.’ To which I reply: ‘Are you sure that is the argument you are going to use to defend the viability of “stereotypes are inaccurate”?’

Monday, September 5, 2016

Are There Still Too Few Suicides to Generate Public Outrage?

Lytle MC, Silenzio VB, Caine ED.
JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 17, 2016.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with the overall rate increasing 28.2% since 1999, driven by a 35.3% increase in suicides among persons 35 to 64 years of age.1 Suicides surpassed road traffic deaths in 2009, and the 42 773 suicides reported were more than double the 16 324 homicides in 2014. When coupled with deaths from other deliberate behaviors, research suggests that the mortality from self-directed injury exceeds 70 000 lives, making it the eighth leading cause of death while the death rates of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancers, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/AIDS continue to decrease.

The entire piece is here.

Are doctors who know the law more likely to follow it?

By Ben White and Lindy Willmott
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted August 17, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Compliance with the law was low with only 32% of doctors following the advance directive. Of interest was that doctors who knew the relevant law were more likely to comply with it and follow the advance directive than those doctors who did not know the law. Initially we thought that this could indicate that legal knowledge might lead to legal compliance. However, we then examined the reasons doctors gave for decision-making and also the factors they relied on to understand whether law was seen as important or not by doctors in their deliberations.


So legally knowledgeable doctors are more likely to comply with the law – but law does not seem to be shaping decision-making in this area. This presented a puzzle to us. What else could be responsible for the association between doctors’ legal knowledge and compliance? More work is needed to fully understand what is happening here but we suggest that ethical considerations are a likely candidate. Both law and autonomy-focused ethics point to following the advance directive hence a decision motivated by this ethical orientation would also comply with the law. And medical ethics and law are also often taught together in an integrated way and so more legally-informed specialists are likely to have had more instruction in ethics too.

The blog post is here.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Relaxing moral reasoning to win: How organizational identification relates to unethical pro-organizational behavior.

Chen, Mo; Chen, Chao C.; Sheldon, Oliver J.
Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 101(8), Aug 2016, 1082-1096.


Drawing on social identity theory and social–cognitive theory, we hypothesize that organizational identification predicts unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB) through the mediation of moral disengagement. We further propose that competitive interorganizational relations enhance the hypothesized relationships. Three studies conducted in China and the United States using both survey and vignette methodologies provided convergent support for our model. Study 1 revealed that higher organizational identifiers engaged in more UPB, and that this effect was mediated by moral disengagement. Study 2 found that organizational identification once again predicted UPB through the mediation of moral disengagement, and that the mediation relationship was stronger when employees perceived a higher level of industry competition. Finally, Study 3 replicated the above findings using a vignette experiment to provide stronger evidence of causality. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


Managerial Implications Section

In addition to these theoretical contributions, it is also worth briefly touching upon some implications of the present research for managerial practice. Unethical behaviors have proven costly for organizations (Cialdini et al., 2004), especially those behaviors conducted in the name of the organization, which are more likely to undermine stakeholders' organizational trust or even cause the collapse of an organization. In view of the dark side of organizational identification, managers should be aware of blind allegiance and loyalty to the organization among their employees and instead emphasize the importance of social responsibility and caring for all stakeholders. The linkage between organizational identification and moral disengagement we document here suggests that loyal organizational members are under greater pressure to relax their moral reasoning to execute their citizenship behavior, especially when stakes are high in a competitive environment. To counterbalance the tendency toward moral disengagement, organizations and managers need to clearly highlight the importance of hyper ethical values in organizational policies and practices and integrate such ethical standards into managerial decision-making. At the same time, organizations should strive to create a culture of social responsibility so as to reduce UPB (May et al., 2015) and reinforce ethical pro-organizational behavior.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Evidence-Based Practice and Psychological Treatments: The Imperatives of Informed Consent.

Charlotte R. Blease, Scott O. Lilienfeld and John M. Kelley
Front. Psychol., 10 August 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Professional competence—the ability to accurately assess problems, diagnose psychological disorders, recommend an appropriate course of treatment, and successfully carry out that treatment—varies depending on the degree to which the clinician keeps up to date with the latest research and effectively evaluates the evidence. The APA requires that clinicians be trained in EBP to be equipped to appraise the range of evidence regarding the efficacy of different forms of psychotherapy, to recognize the strengths and limitations of clinical intuition, and to understand the importance of patient preferences and values, as well as the relevance of the socio-cultural context in treating clients. In this way, the APA acknowledges that EBP requires knowledge of controlled clinical trials, but also underlines that trial data have inherent limitations. For example, such trials can be unrepresentative of individual patients given that they can be largely insensitive to such factors as age of patient, and comorbidity [American Psychological Association (APA), 2006; cf. Greenhalgh et al., 2014; Sheridan and Julian, 2016]. The APA also emphasizes the importance of keeping up to date with the latest process—and not merely outcome—data on how psychotherapies work [American Psychological Association (APA), 2006].

The duty to be professionally competent carries significant additional implications for the duty to respect patient autonomy. Historically, paternalism was the largely unquestioned bedrock of healthcare practice. Paternalism is defined as “the interference of a state or an individual by another person, against their will, and defended or motivated by the claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm” (Dworkin, 2010); it was defended on the grounds that doctors were the gatekeepers of medical knowledge, as well as the best judges of how to use that knowledge to serve the interests of patients. Today, healthcare ethics codes (in the West) eschew paternalism: professional clinicians are now obliged to be truthful and to provide adequate disclosure to patients about their diagnosis, the risks and benefits of various treatment options, and their duration and costs (Trachsel et al., 2015; Blease et al., 2016; Trachsel and Gaab, 2016). However, the quality of disclosures to patients depends on practitioner knowledge, illustrating once again why standards of evidence are enmeshed with ethics.

The article is here.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Small-scale societies exhibit fundamental variation in the role of intentions in moral judgment

H. Clark Barrett and others
PNAS 2016 113 (17) 4688-4693
Published ahead of print March 28, 2016


Intent and mitigating circumstances play a central role in moral and legal assessments in large-scale industrialized societies. Although these features of moral assessment are widely assumed to be universal, to date, they have only been studied in a narrow range of societies. We show that there is substantial cross-cultural variation among eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural) in the extent to which intent and mitigating circumstances influence moral judgments. Although participants in all societies took such factors into account to some degree, they did so to very different extents, varying in both the types of considerations taken into account and the types of violations to which such considerations were applied. The particular patterns of assessment characteristic of large-scale industrialized societies may thus reflect relatively recently culturally evolved norms rather than inherent features of human moral judgment.


It is widely considered a universal feature of human moral psychology that reasons for actions are taken into account in most moral judgments. However, most evidence for this moral intent hypothesis comes from large-scale industrialized societies. We used a standardized methodology to test the moral intent hypothesis across eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural). The results show substantial variation in the degree to which an individual’s intentions influence moral judgments of his or her actions, with intentions in some cases playing no role at all. This dimension of cross-cultural variation in moral judgment may have important implications for understanding cultural disagreements over wrongdoing.

The article is here.

But Did They Do It on Purpose?

By Dan Falk
Scientific American
Originally published July 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In all societies, the most severe transgressions draw the harshest judgments, but cultures differ on whether or not intent is weighed heavily in such crimes. One scenario, for example, asked respondents to imagine that someone had poisoned a communal well, harming dozens of villagers. In many nonindustrial societies, this was seen as the most severe wrongdoing—and yet intent seemed to matter very little. The very act of poisoning the well “was judged to be so bad that, whether it was on purpose or accidental, it ‘maxed out’ the badness judgments,” explains lead author H. Clark Barrett of the University of California, Los Angeles. “They accepted that it was accidental but said it's your responsibility to be vigilant in cases that cause that degree of harm.”

The findings also suggest that people in industrial societies are more likely in general than those in traditional societies to consider intent. This, Barrett says, may reflect the fact that people raised in the West are immersed in complex sets of rules; judges, juries and law books are just the tip of the moral iceberg. “In small-scale societies, judgment may be equally sophisticated, but it isn't codified in these elaborate systems,” he notes. “In some of these societies, people argue about moral matters for just as long as they do in any court in the U.S.”

The article is here.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The science of getting angry: Do moral outrage and mob mentality help or harm us?

Apoorva Sripathi
Originally published August 15, 2016

As often as these things go, it's imperative to turn to science for answers. Such as, why do we get wound up about incidents that happen around the world; incidents over which we have no control? Common sense notwithstanding, we go ahead and log on to social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the ilk) to let the immediate world know what's bothering us. Soon, someone else posts an opposing view, which gets us hopping mad — rinse, lather and repeat.

Why do we give in to outrage and what does science have to say about it? Well for one, there are countless platforms to express our frustrations on. Two, some of the platforms give us the freedom to be anonymous — such as newspapers online — which, in turn, encourages participation and risk-taking. Three, getting angry is rather easy when there's always something to be angry about; a judiciously-available trigger.


If not the complete answer, science gives us significant clues as to why we like to shame people online. New York Magazine's Science of Us talks about how stories that were widely shared online were happy in nature, while those that invited nasty comments belonged to the data set termed arousal, or in other words, stories that evoked feelings of anger and distress. Furthermore, shaming (whether online or offline) gives us a clue about the evolution of human behaviour: that we like to indulge in a little something called third-party punishment where we derive joy from punishing strangers.

The article is here.

A General Benevolence Dimension That Links Neural, Psychological, Economic, and Life-Span Data on Altruistic Tendencies

J. Hubbard; W.T. Harbaugh; S. Srivastava; D. Degras; and U. Mayr
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Aug 11 , 2016


Individual and life span differences in charitable giving are an important economic force, yet the underlying motives are not well understood. In an adult, life span sample, we assessed manifestations of prosocial tendencies across 3 different measurement domains: (a) psychological self-report measures, (b) actual giving choices, and (c) fMRI-derived, neural indicators of "pure altruism." The latter expressed individuals' activity in neural valuation areas when charities received money compared to when oneself received money and thus reflected an altruistic concern for others. Results based both on structural equation modeling and unit-weighted aggregate scores revealed a strong higher-order General Benevolence dimension that accounted for variability across all measurement domains. The fact that the neural measures likely reflect pure altruistic tendencies indicates that General Benevolence is based on a genuine concern for others. Furthermore, General Benevolence exhibited a robust increase across the adult life span, potentially providing an explanation for why older adults typically contribute more to the public good than young adults.

The article is here.