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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Why business cannot afford to ignore tech ethics

Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan
Originally posted 6 DEC 20

From one angle, the pandemic looks like a vindication of “techno-solutionism”. From the more everyday developments of teleconferencing to systems exploiting advanced artificial intelligence, platitudes to the power of innovation abound.

Such optimism smacks of short-termism. Desperate times often call for swift and sweeping solutions, but implementing technologies without regard for their impact is risky and increasingly unacceptable to wider society. The business leaders of the future who purchase and deploy such systems face costly repercussions, both financial and reputational.

Tech ethics, while a relatively new field, has suffered from perceptions that it is either the domain of philosophers or PR people. This could not be further from the truth — as the pandemic continues, so the importance grows of mapping out potential harms from technologies.

Take, for example, biometrics such as facial-recognition systems. These have a clear appeal for companies looking to check who is entering their buildings, how many people are wearing masks or whether social distancing is being observed. Recent advances in the field have combined technologies such as thermal scanning and “periocular recognition” (the ability to identify people wearing masks).

But the systems pose serious questions for those responsible for purchasing and deploying them. At a practical level, facial recognition has long been plagued by accusations of racial bias.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Google AI researcher's exit sparks ethics, bias concerns

Timnit Gebru
Matt Obrien
AP Tech Writer
Originally published 4 DEC 20

Here is an excerpt:

Gebru on Tuesday vented her frustrations about the process to an internal diversity-and-inclusion email group at Google, with the subject line: “Silencing Marginalized Voices in Every Way Possible." Gebru said on Twitter that's the email that got her fired.

Dean, in an email to employees, said the company accepted “her decision to resign from Google” because she told managers she'd leave if her demands about the study were not met.

"Ousting Timnit for having the audacity to demand research integrity severely undermines Google’s credibility for supporting rigorous research on AI ethics and algorithmic auditing," said Joy Buolamwini, a graduate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-authored the 2018 facial recognition study with Gebru.

“She deserves more than Google knew how to give, and now she is an all-star free agent who will continue to transform the tech industry,” Buolamwini said in an email Friday.

How Google will handle its AI ethics initiative and the internal dissent sparked by Gebru's exit is one of a number of problems facing the company heading into the new year.

At the same time she was on her way out, the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday cast another spotlight on Google's workplace. In a complaint, the NRLB accused the company of spying on employees during a 2019 effort to organize a union before the company fired two activist workers for engaging in activities allowed under U.S. law. Google has denied the allegations in the case, which is scheduled for an April hearing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Internal Google document reveals campaign against EU lawmakers

Javie Espinoza
Originally published 28 OCT 20

Here is an excerpt:

The leak of the internal document lays bare the tactics that big tech companies employ behind the scenes to manipulate public discourse and influence lawmakers. The presentation is watermarked as “privileged and need-to-know” and “confidential and proprietary”.

The revelations are set to create new tensions between the EU and Google, which are already engaged in tough discussions about how the internet should be regulated. They are also likely to trigger further debate within Brussels, where regulators hold divergent positions on the possibility of breaking up big tech companies.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s executive vice-president in charge of competition and digital policy, on Tuesday argued to MEPs that structural separation of big tech is not “the right thing to do”. However, in a recent interview with the FT, Mr Breton accused such companies of being “too big to care”, and suggested that they should be broken up in extreme circumstances.

Among the other tactics outlined in the report were objectives to “undermine the idea DSA has no cost to Europeans” and “show how the DSA limits the potential of the internet . . . just as people need it the most”.

The campaign document also shows that Google will seek out “more allies” in its fight to influence the regulation debate in Brussels, including enlisting the help of Europe-based platforms such as Booking.com.

Booking.com told the FT: “We have no intention of co-operating with Google on upcoming EU platform regulation. Our interests are diametrically opposed.”

Effects of Language on Visual Perception

Lupyan, G., et al. (2020, April 28). 


Does language change what we perceive? Does speaking different languages cause us to perceive things differently? We review the behavioral and electrophysiological evidence for the influence of language on perception, with an emphasis on the visual modality. Effects of language on perception can be observed both in higher-level processes such as recognition, and in lower-level processes such as discrimination and detection. A consistent finding is that language causes us to perceive in a more categorical way. Rather than being fringe or exotic, as they are sometimes portrayed, we discuss how effects of language on perception naturally arise from the interactive and predictive nature of perception.

  • Our ability to detect, discriminate, and recognize perceptual stimuli is influenced both by their physical features and our prior experiences.
  • One potent prior experience is language. How might learning a language affect perception?
  • We review evidence of linguistic effects on perception, focusing on the effects of language on visual recognition, discrimination, and detection.
  • Language exerts both off-line and on-line effects on visual processing; these effects naturally emerge from taking a predictive processing approach to perception.
In sum, language shapes perception in terms of higher-level processes (recognition) and lower-level processes (discrimination and detection).

Very important research in terms of psychotherapy and the language we use.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Bias in bias recognition: People view others but not themselves as biased by preexisting beliefs and social stigmas

Wang Q, Jeon HJ (2020) 
PLoS ONE 15(10): e0240232. 


Biases perpetuate when people think that they are innocent whereas others are guilty of biases. We examined whether people would detect biased thinking and behavior in others but not themselves as influenced by preexisting beliefs (myside bias) and social stigmas (social biases). The results of three large studies showed that, across demographic groups, participants attributed more biases to others than to themselves, and that this self-other asymmetry was particularly salient among those who hold strong beliefs about the existence of biases (Study 1 and Study 2). The self-other asymmetry in bias recognition dissipated when participants made simultaneous predictions about others’ and their own thoughts and behaviors (Study 3). People thus exhibit bias in bias recognition, and this metacognitive bias may be remedied when it is highlighted to people that we are all susceptible to biasing influences.

From the Discussion

Indeed, the current studies reveal the critical role of explicit beliefs about biases in underlying the biased reasoning concerning one’s own and others’ thoughts and behaviors: The more strongly people believed that biases widely existed, the more inclined they were to ascribe biases to others but not themselves. These findings suggest that the conviction that the world is generally biased and yet the self is the exception contributes to the self-other asymmetry in bias recognition. They further suggest important individual differences whereby some individuals more strongly believe that myside bias and social biases widely exist and yet convince themselves that “I’m not one of them” when making judgements about these biases in everyday situations. In comparison, individuals who held weaker beliefs about the biases attributed less bias overall and exhibited less self-other asymmetry in recognizing the biases. These findings thus provide valuable information for future focus-group interventions. They further suggest that when learning about bias, as occurs in most introductory psychology classes, students should be reminded that they are equally susceptible as others to biasing influences.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Do criminals freely decide to commit offences? How the courts decide?

J. Kennett & A. McCay
The Conversation
Originally published 15 OCT 20

Here is an excerpt:

Expert witnesses were reportedly divided on whether Gargasoulas had the capacity to properly participate in his trial, despite suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and delusions.

A psychiatrist for the defence said Gargasoulas’ delusional belief system “overwhelms him”; the psychiatrist expressed concern Gargasoulas was using the court process as a platform to voice his belief he is the messiah.

A second forensic psychiatrist agreed Gargasoulas was “not able to rationally enter a plea”.

However, a psychologist for the prosecution assessed him as fit and the prosecution argued there was evidence from recorded phone calls that he was capable of rational thought.

Notwithstanding the opinion of the majority of expert witnesses, the jury found Gargasoulas was fit to stand trial, and later he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Working from media reports, it is difficult to be sure precisely what happened in court, and we cannot know why the jury favoured the evidence suggesting he was fit to stand trial. However, it is interesting to consider whether research into the psychology of blame and punishment can shed any light on their decision.

Questions of consequence

Some psychologists argue judgements of blame are not always based on a balanced assessment of free will or rational control, as the law presumes. Sometimes we decide how much control or freedom a person possessed based upon our automatic negative responses to harmful consequences.

As the psychologist Mark Alicke says:
we simply don’t want to excuse people who do horrible things, regardless of how disordered their cognitive states may be.
When a person has done something very bad, we are motivated to look for evidence that supports blaming them and to downplay evidence that might excuse them by showing that they lacked free will.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Baby God: how DNA testing uncovered a shocking web of fertility fraud

Arian Horton
The Guardian
Originally published 2 Dec 20

Here ate two excerpts:

The database unmasked, with detached clarity, a dark secret hidden in plain sight for decades: the physician once named Nevada’s doctor of the year, who died in 2006 at age 94, had impregnated numerous patients with his own sperm, unbeknownst to the women or their families. The decades-long fertility fraud scheme, unspooled in the HBO documentary Baby God, left a swath of families – 26 children as of this writing, spanning 40 years of the doctor’s treatments – shocked at long-obscured medical betrayal, unmoored from assumptions of family history and stumbling over the most essential questions of identity. Who are you, when half your DNA is not what you thought?


That reality – a once unknowable crime now made plainly knowable – has now come to pass, and the film features interviews with several of Fortier’s previously unknown children, each grappling with and tracing their way into a new web of half-siblings, questions of lineage and inheritance, and reframing of family history. Babst, who started as a cop at 19, dove into her own investigation, sourcing records on Dr Fortier that eventually revealed allegations of sexual abuse and molestation against his own stepchildren.

Brad Gulko, a human genomics scientist in San Francisco who bears a striking resemblance to the young Fortier, initially approached the revelation from the clinical perspective of biological motivations for procreation. “I feel like Dr Fortier found a way to justify in his own mind doing what he wanted to do that didn’t violate his ethical norms too much, even if he pushed them really hard,” he says in the film. “I’m still struggling with that. I don’t know where I’ll end up.”

The film quickly morphed, according to Olson, from an investigation of the Fortier case and his potential motivations to the larger, unresolvable questions of identity, nature versus nurture. “At first it was like ‘let’s get all the facts, we’re going to figure it out, what are his motivations, it will be super clear,’” said Olson. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Catholics' involvement in death penalty killing spree is scandalous

James Keenan & William Montross, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
Originally published 11 DEC 20

Here is an excerpt:

Study after study demonstrates that the death penalty is infected with racial bias; the federal death penalty is no different. Indeed, in 1994, a mere six years after the implementation of the "modern" federal death penalty, the racial disparities compelled a congressional committee to conclude, "On the federal level, cases selected have almost exclusively involved minority defendants."

We are witnessing this Advent a modern-day lynching.

Each of the defendants in these cases was involved in crimes that resulted in the deaths of others. Some of the crimes were gruesome. But who these people are warrant a closer look.

Bernard was a teenager when he was an accomplice to the murder of a young couple, both youth ministers, on the Fort Hood military reservation in Texas. He did not fire the killing shots — a co-defendant, also sentenced to death and subsequently executed — did.

Bernard, a young black man, was tried in Texas before a jury in which all but one juror was white. His attorneys did not even make an opening statement at his trial and during the penalty phase — where the jury chooses between life and death — the same attorneys offered no witnesses on his behalf.

One of the federal prosecutors who earlier secured Bernard's death sentence later sought to have his life spared. Angela Moore writes that her subsequent "experience with teenagers who have committed violent crimes, especially boys of color, has taught me much about the recklessness and fragility of adolescents, as well as their ability to mature and change."

She also finds "another troubling fact revealed by recent research is that people tend to view Black boys — like Brandon — as more blameworthy than their white counterparts" and that "Black teens like Brandon are systematically denied the 'benefit' of their youth, which is outweighed by their race in the eyes of police, prosecutors, judges and jurors."

Want to be Happy, Be Grateful

David Steindl-Rast
Ted Talk
Originally presented June 2013

The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you're going, and above all, being grateful.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Google Employees Call Black Scientist's Ouster 'Unprecedented Research Censorship'

Bobby Allyn
Originally published 3 Dec 20

Hundreds of Google employees have published an open letter following the firing of an accomplished scientist known for her research into the ethics of artificial intelligence and her work showing racial bias in facial recognition technology.

That scientist, Timnit Gebru, helped lead Google's Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team until Tuesday.

Gebru, who is Black, says she was forced out of the company after a dispute over a research paper and an email she subsequently sent to peers expressing frustration over how the tech giant treats employees of color and women.

"Instead of being embraced by Google as an exceptionally talented and prolific contributor, Dr. Gebru has faced defensiveness, racism, gaslighting, research censorship, and now a retaliatory firing," the open letter said. By Thursday evening, more than 400 Google employees and hundreds of outsiders — many of them academics — had signed it.

The research paper in question was co-authored by Gebru along with four others at Google and two other researchers. It examined the environmental and ethical implications of an AI tool used by Google and other technology companies, according to NPR's review of the draft paper.

The 12-page draft explored the possible pitfalls of relying on the tool, which scans massive amounts of information on the Internet and produces text as if written by a human. The paper argued it could end up mimicking hate speech and other types of derogatory and biased language found online. The paper also cautioned against the energy cost of using such large-scale AI models.

According to Gebru, she was planning to present the paper at a research conference next year, but then her bosses at Google stepped in and demanded she retract the paper or remove all the Google employees as authors.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Beyond burnout: For health care workers, this surge of Covid-19 is bringing burnover

Wendy Dean & Simon G. Talbot
Originally posted 25 Nov 20

Covid-19 is roaring back for a third wave. The first two substantially increased feelings of moral injury and burnout among health care workers. This one is bringing burnover.

Health care systems are scrambling anew. The crises of ICU beds at capacity, shortages of personal protective equipment, emergency rooms turning away ambulances, and staff shortages are happening this time not in isolated hot spots but in almost every state. Clinicians again face work that is risky, heart-rending, physically exhausting, and demoralizing, all the elements of burnout. They have seen this before and are intensely frustrated it is happening again.

Too many of them are leaving health care long before retirement. The disconnect between what health care workers know and how the public is behaving, driven by relentless disinformation, is unbearable. Paraphrasing a colleague, “How can they call us essential and then treat us like we are disposable?”

It is time for leaders of hospitals and health care systems to add another, deeper layer of support for their staff by speaking out publicly and collectively in defense of science, safety, and public health, even if it risks estranging patients and politicians.

Long before the pandemic emerged, the relationships between health care organizations and their staffs were already strained by years of cost-cutting that trimmed staffing levels, supplies, and space to the bone. Driven by changes in health care reimbursement structures, systems were “optimized” to the point that they were continually running at what felt like full capacity, with precious little slack to accommodate minor surges, much less one the magnitude of a global pandemic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Examining the asymmetry in judgments of racism in self and others

Angela C. Bell, Melissa Burkley, & 
Jarrod Bock (2019)
The Journal of Social Psychology, 159:5, 611-627.
DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2018.1538930


Across three experiments, participants were provided with a list of racist behaviors that purportedly were enacted from a fellow student but in fact were based on the participants’ own behaviors. People consistently evaluated themselves as less racist than this comparison other, even though this other’s racist behaviors were identical to their own. Studies 2a and 2b demonstrate this effect is quite robust and even occurs under social pressure and social consensus conditions in which participants were free to express their racial biases. Thus, it appears that people are less likely to base their racist trait ratings on behavioral evidence when evaluating themselves compared to when they are evaluating another. Taken together, this work provides evidence for the consistency and robustness of self-enhanced social comparisons as applied to the trait domain of racism. Further, this work sheds insight into why people deny they are racist when they act racist.

General discussion

The present work provides evidence for the consistency and robustness of the biased self-enhanced evaluations of racism. Across three experiments, participants received a list of racist behaviors that purportedly were enacted from a fellow student but in fact were based on the participants’ own behaviors. People consistently evaluated themselves as less racist than this comparison other, even though this other’s racist behaviors were identical to their own. Studies2a and 2b demonstrate this effect is quite robust and even occurs under conditions in which participants feel free to express their racial biases. Taken together, this work suggests that people are less likely to base their racist trait ratings on behavioral evidence when evaluating themselves compared to when they are evaluating another. By doing so, people are able to maintain the self-perception that they are not racist even in the face of contradictory behavioral evidence (i.e., people are less racist than themselves).

(I emphasized this last sentence.)

Monday, December 21, 2020

Physicians' Ethics Change With Societal Trends

Batya S. Yasgur
Originally posted 23 Nov 20

Here is an excerpt:

Are Romantic Relationships With Patients Always Off Limits?

Medscape asked physicians whether it was acceptable to become romantically or sexually involved with a patient. Compared to 2010, in 2020, many more respondents were comfortable with having a relationship with a former patient after 6 months had elapsed. In 2020, 2% said they were comfortable having a romance with a current patient; 26% were comfortable being romantic with a person who had stopped being a patient 6 months earlier, but 62% said flat-out 'no' to the concept. In 2010, 83% said "no" to the idea of dating a patient; fewer than 1% agreed that dating a current patient was acceptable, and 12% said it was okay after 6 months.

Some respondents felt strongly that romantic or sexual involvement is always off limits, even months or years after the physician is no longer treating the patient. "Once a patient, always a patient," wrote a psychiatrist.

On the other hand, many respondents thought being a "patient" was not a lifelong status. An orthopedic surgeon wrote, "After 6 months, they are no longer your patient." Several respondents said involvement was okay if the physician stopped treating the patient and referred the patient to another provider. Others recommended a longer wait time.

"Although most doctors have traditionally kept their personal and professional lives separate, they are no longer as bothered by bending of boundaries and have found a zone of acceptability in the 6-month waiting period," Goodman said.

Packer added that the "greater relaxation of sexual standards and boundaries in general" might have had a bearing on survey responses because "doctors are part of those changing societal norms."

Evans suggested that the rise of individualism and autonomy partially accounts for the changing attitudes toward physician-patient (or former patient) relationships. "Being prohibited from having a relationship with a patient or former patient is increasingly being seen as an infringement on civil liberties and autonomy, which is a major theme these days."

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Choice blindness: Do you know yourself as well as you think?

David Edmonds
Originally published 3 Oct 20

Here is an excerpt:

Clearly we lack self-knowledge about our motives and choices. But so what? What are the implications of this research?

Well, perhaps one general point is that we should learn to be more tolerant of people who change their minds. We tend to have very sensitive antennae for inconsistency - be this inconsistency in a partner, who's changed their mind on whether they fancy an Italian or an Indian meal, or a politician who's backed one policy in the past and now supports an opposing position. But as we often don't have a clear insight into why we choose what we choose, we should surely be given some latitude to switch our choices.

There may also be more specific implications for how we navigate through our current era - a period in which there is growing cultural and political polarisation. It would be natural to believe that those who support a left-wing or right-wing party do so because they're committed to that party's ideology: they believe in free markets or, the opposite, in a larger role for the state. But Petter Johansson's work suggests that our deeper commitment is not to particular policies, since, using his switching technique, we can be persuaded to endorse all sorts of policies. Rather, "we support a label or a team".

That is to say, we're liable to overestimate the extent to which a Trump supporter - or a Biden supporter - backs his or her candidate because of the policies the politician promotes. Instead, someone will be Team Trump, or Team Biden. A striking example of this was in the last US election. Republicans have traditionally been pro-free trade - but when Trump began to advocate protectionist policies, most Republicans carried on backing him, without even seeming to notice the shift.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Robots at work: People prefer—and forgive—service robots with perceived feelings

Yam, K. C, Bingman, Y. E. et. al.
Journal of Applied Psychology. 
Advance online publication. 


Organizations are increasingly relying on service robots to improve efficiency, but these robots often make mistakes, which can aggravate customers and negatively affect organizations. How can organizations mitigate the frontline impact of these robotic blunders? Drawing from theories of anthropomorphism and mind perception, we propose that people evaluate service robots more positively when they are anthropomorphized and seem more humanlike—capable of both agency (the ability to think) and experience (the ability to feel). We further propose that in the face of robot service failures, increased perceptions of experience should attenuate the negative effects of service failures, whereas increased perceptions of agency should amplify the negative effects of service failures on customer satisfaction. In a field study conducted in the world’s first robot-staffed hotel (Study 1), we find that anthropomorphism generally leads to higher customer satisfaction and that perceived experience, but not agency, mediates this effect. Perceived experience (but not agency) also interacts with robot service failures to predict customer satisfaction such that high levels of perceived experience attenuate the negative impacts of service failures on customer satisfaction. We replicate these results in a lab experiment with a service robot (Study 2). Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

From Practical Contributions

Second, our findings also suggest that organizations should focus on encouraging perceptions of service robots’ experience rather than agency. For example, when assigning names to robots or programming robots’ voices, a female name and voice could potentially lead to enhanced perceptions of experience more so than a male name and voice (Gray et al., 2007). Likewise, service robots’ programmed scripts should include content that conveys the capacity of experience, such as displaying emotions. Although
the emerging service robotic technologies are not perfect and failures are inevitable, encouraging anthropomorphism and, more specifically, perceptions of experience can likely offset the negative effects of robot service failures.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Are Free Will Believers Nicer People? (Four Studies Suggest Not)

Crone DL, & Levy NL. 
Social Psychological and 
Personality Science. 2019;10(5):612-619. 


Free will is widely considered a foundational component of Western moral and legal codes, and yet current conceptions of free will are widely thought to fit uncomfortably with much research in psychology and neuroscience. Recent research investigating the consequences of laypeople’s free will beliefs (FWBs) for everyday moral behavior suggests that stronger FWBs are associated with various desirable moral characteristics (e.g., greater helpfulness, less dishonesty). These findings have sparked concern regarding the potential for moral degeneration throughout society as science promotes a view of human behavior that is widely perceived to undermine the notion of free will. We report four studies (combined N = 921) originally concerned with possible mediators and/or moderators of the abovementioned associations. Unexpectedly, we found no association between FWBs and moral behavior. Our findings suggest that the FWB–moral behavior association (and accompanying concerns regarding decreases in FWBs causing moral degeneration) may be overstated.

(Bold added by me.)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

AI and the Ethical Conundrum: How organizations can build ethically robust AI systems and gain trust

Capgemini Research Institute

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, our reliance on AI has skyrocketed. Today more than ever before, we look to AI to help us limit physical interactions, predict the next wave of the pandemic, disinfect our healthcare facilities and even deliver our food. But can we trust it?

In the latest report from the Capgemini Research Institute – AI and the Ethical Conundrum: How organizations can build ethically robust AI systems and gain trust – we surveyed over 800 organizations and 2,900 consumers to get a picture of the state of ethics in AI today. We wanted to understand what organizations can do to move to AI systems that are ethical by design, how they can benefit from doing so, and the consequences if they don’t. We found that while customers are becoming more trusting of AI-enabled interactions, organizations’ progress in ethical dimensions is underwhelming. And this is dangerous because once violated, trust can be difficult to rebuild.

Ethically sound AI requires a strong foundation of leadership, governance, and internal practices around audits, training, and operationalization of ethics. Building on this foundation, organizations have to:
  1. Clearly outline the intended purpose of AI systems and assess their overall potential impact
  2. Proactively deploy AI to achieve sustainability goals
  3. Embed diversity and inclusion principles proactively throughout the lifecycle of AI systems for advancing fairness
  4. Enhance transparency with the help of technology tools, humanize the AI experience and ensure human oversight of AI systems
  5. Ensure technological robustness of AI systems
  6. Empower customers with privacy controls to put them in charge of AI interactions.
For more information on ethics in AI, download the report.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

If a robot is conscious, is it OK to turn it off? The moral implications of building true AIs

Anand Vaidya
The Conversation
Originally posted 27 Oct 20

Here is an excerpt:

There are two parts to consciousness. First, there’s the what-it’s-like-for-me aspect of an experience, the sensory part of consciousness. Philosophers call this phenomenal consciousness. It’s about how you experience a phenomenon, like smelling a rose or feeling pain.

In contrast, there’s also access consciousness. That’s the ability to report, reason, behave and act in a coordinated and responsive manner to stimuli based on goals. For example, when I pass the soccer ball to my friend making a play on the goal, I am responding to visual stimuli, acting from prior training, and pursuing a goal determined by the rules of the game. I make the pass automatically, without conscious deliberation, in the flow of the game.

Blindsight nicely illustrates the difference between the two types of consciousness. Someone with this neurological condition might report, for example, that they cannot see anything in the left side of their visual field. But if asked to pick up a pen from an array of objects in the left side of their visual field, they can reliably do so. They cannot see the pen, yet they can pick it up when prompted – an example of access consciousness without phenomenal consciousness.

Data is an android. How do these distinctions play out with respect to him?

The Data dilemma

The android Data demonstrates that he is self-aware in that he can monitor whether or not, for example, he is optimally charged or there is internal damage to his robotic arm.

Data is also intelligent in the general sense. He does a lot of distinct things at a high level of mastery. He can fly the Enterprise, take orders from Captain Picard and reason with him about the best path to take.

He can also play poker with his shipmates, cook, discuss topical issues with close friends, fight with enemies on alien planets and engage in various forms of physical labor. Data has access consciousness. He would clearly pass the Turing test.

However, Data most likely lacks phenomenal consciousness - he does not, for example, delight in the scent of roses or experience pain. He embodies a supersized version of blindsight. He’s self-aware and has access consciousness – can grab the pen – but across all his senses he lacks phenomenal consciousness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

(How) Do You Regret Killing One to Save Five? Affective and Cognitive Regret Differ After Utilitarian and Deontological Decisions

Goldstein-Greenwood J, et al.
Personality and Social Psychology 
Bulletin. 2020;46(9):1303-1317. 


Sacrificial moral dilemmas, in which opting to kill one person will save multiple others, are definitionally suboptimal: Someone dies either way. Decision-makers, then, may experience regret about these decisions. Past research distinguishes affective regret, negative feelings about a decision, from cognitive regret, thoughts about how a decision might have gone differently. Classic dual-process models of moral judgment suggest that affective processing drives characteristically deontological decisions to reject outcome-maximizing harm, whereas cognitive deliberation drives characteristically utilitarian decisions to endorse outcome-maximizing harm. Consistent with this model, we found that people who made or imagined making sacrificial utilitarian judgments reliably expressed relatively more affective regret and sometimes expressed relatively less cognitive regret than those who made or imagined making deontological dilemma judgments. In other words, people who endorsed causing harm to save lives generally felt more distressed about their decision, yet less inclined to change it, than people who rejected outcome-maximizing harm.

General Discussion

Across four studies, we found that different sacrificial moral dilemma decisions elicit different degrees of affective and cognitive regret. We found robust evidence that utilitarian decision-makers who accept outcome-maximizing harm experience far more affective regret than their deontological decision-making counterparts who reject outcome-maximizing harm, and we found somewhat weaker evidence that utilitarian decision-makers experience less cognitive regret than deontological decision-makers.The significant interaction between dilemma decision and regret type predicted in H1 emerged both when participants freely endorsed dilemma decisions (Studies 1, 3, and 4) and were randomly assigned to imagine making a decision (Study 2). Hence, the present findings cannot simply be attributed to chronic differences in the types of regret that people who prioritize each decision experience. Moreover, we found tentative evidence for H2: Focusing on the counterfactual world in which they made the alternative decision attenuated utilitarian decision-makers’ heightened affective regret compared with factual reflection, and reduced differences in affective regret between utilitarian and deontological decision-makers (Study 4). Furthermore, our findings do not appear attributable to impression management concerns, as there were no differences between public and private reports of regret.

Conspiracy Theorists May Really Just Be Lonely

Matthew Hutson
Scientific American
Originally posted 1 May 17

Conspiracy theorists are often portrayed as nutjobs, but some may just be lonely, recent studies suggest. Separate research has shown that social exclusion creates a feeling of meaninglessness and that the search for meaning leads people to perceive patterns in randomness. A new study in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology connects the dots, reporting that ostracism enhances superstition and belief in conspiracies.

In one experiment, people wrote about a recent unpleasant interaction with friends, then rated their feelings of exclusion, their search for purpose in life, their belief in two conspiracies (that the government uses subliminal messages and that drug companies withhold cures), and their faith in paranormal activity in the Bermuda Triangle. The more excluded people felt, the greater their desire for meaning and the more likely they were to harbor suspicions.

In a second experiment, college students were made to feel excluded or included by their peers, then read two scenarios suggestive of conspiracies (price-fixing, office sabotage) and one about a made-up good-luck ritual (stomping one's feet before a meeting). Those who were excluded reported greater connection between behaviors and outcomes in the stories compared with those who were included.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The COVID-19 era: How therapists can diminish burnout symptoms through self-care

Rokach, A., & Boulazreg, S. (2020). 
Current psychology,1–18. 
Advance online publication. 


COVID-19 is a frightening, stress-inducing, and unchartered territory for all. It is suggested that stress, loneliness, and the emotional toll of the pandemic will result in increased numbers of those who will seek psychological intervention, need support, and guidance on how to cope with a time period that none of us were prepared for. Psychologists, in general, are trained in and know how to help others. They are less effective in taking care of themselves, so that they can be their best in helping others. The article, which aims to heighten clinicians’ awareness of the need for self-care, especially now in the post-pandemic era, describes the demanding nature of psychotherapy and the initial resistance by therapists to engage in self-care, and outlines the consequences of neglecting to care for themselves. We covered the demanding nature of psychotherapy and its grinding trajectory, the loneliness and isolation felt by clinicians in private practice, the professional hazards faced by those caring for others, and the creative and insightful ways that mental health practitioners can care for themselves for the good of their clients, their families, and obviously, themselves.

Here is an excerpt:

Navigating Ethical Dilemmas

An important impact of competence constellations is its aid to clinicians facing challenging dilemmas in the therapy room. While numerous guidelines and recommendations based on a code of ethics exist, real-life situations often blur the line between what the professional wishes to do, rather than what the recommended ethical action is most optimal to the sovereignty of the client. Simply put, “no code of ethics provides a blueprint for resolving all ethical issues, nor does the avoidance of violations always equate with ideal ethical practice, but codes represent the best judgment of one’s peers about common problems and shared professional values.” (Welfel, 2015, p. 10).

As the literature asserts—even in the face of colleagues acting unethically, or below thresholds of competence, psychologists don’t feel comfortable directly approaching their coworkers as they feel concerned about harming their colleagues’ reputation, concerned that the regulatory board may punish their colleague too harshly, or concerned that by reporting a colleague to the regulatory board they will be ostracized by their colleagues (Barnett, 2008; Bernard, Murphy, & Little, 1987; Johnson et al., 2012; Smith & Moss, 2009).

Thus, a constellation network allows a mental health professional to provide feedback without fear of these potential repercussions. Whether it is guised under friendly advice or outright anonymous, these peer networks would allow therapists to exchange information knowingly and allow for constructive criticism to be taken non-judgmentally.

Should you save the more useful? The effect of generality on moral judgments about rescue and indirect effects

Caviola, L., Schubert, S., & Mogensen, A. 
(2020, October 23). 


Across eight experiments (N = 2,310), we studied whether people would prioritize rescuing individuals who may be thought to contribute more to society. We found that participants were generally dismissive of general rules that prioritize more socially beneficial individuals, such as doctors instead of unemployed people. By contrast, participants were more supportive of one-off decisions to save the life of a more socially beneficial individual, even when such cases were the same as those covered by the rule. This generality effect occurred robustly even when controlling for various factors. It occurred when the decision-maker was the same in both cases, when the pairs of people differing in the extent of their indirect social utility was varied, when the scenarios were varied, when the participant samples came from different countries, and when the general rule only covered cases that are exactly the same as the situation described in the one-off condition. The effect occurred even when the general rule was introduced via a concrete precedent case. Participants’ tendency to be more supportive of the one-off proposal than the general rule was significantly reduced when they evaluated the two proposals jointly as opposed to separately. Finally, the effect also occurred in sacrificial moral dilemmas, suggesting it is a more general phenomenon in certain moral contexts. We discuss possible explanations of the effect, including concerns about negative consequences of the rule and a deontological aversion against making difficult trade-off decisions unless they are absolutely necessary.

General Discussion

Across our studies we found evidence for a generality effect: participants were more supportive of a proposal to prioritize people who are more beneficial to society than others if this applies to a concrete one-off situation than if it describes a general rule. The effect showed robustly even when controlling for various factors. It occurred even when the decision-maker was the same in both cases (Study 2), when the pairs of people differing in the extent of their indirect social utility was varied (Study 3), when the scenarios were varied (Study 3, Study 6), when the participant samples came from different countries (Study 3), and when the rule only entails cases that are exactly the same as the one-off case (Study 6). The effect also occurred when the general rule was introduced via a concrete precedent case (Study 4 and 6). The tendency to be more supportive of the one-off proposal than the general rule was significantly reduced when participants evaluated the two proposals jointly as opposed to separately (Study 7). Finally, we found that the effect also occurs in sacrificial moral dilemmas (Study 8), suggesting that it is a more general phenomenon in moral contexts.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Polarization and extremism emerge from rational choice

Kvam, P. D., & Baldwin, M. 
(2020, October 21).


Polarization is often thought to be the product of biased information search, motivated reasoning, or other psychological biases. However, polarization and extremism can still occur in the absence of any bias or irrational thinking. In this paper, we show that polarization occurs among groups of decision makers who are implementing rational choice strategies that maximize decision efficiency. This occurs because extreme information enables decision makers to make up their minds and stop considering new information, whereas moderate information is unlikely to trigger a decision. Furthermore, groups of decision makers will generate extremists -- individuals who hold strong views despite being uninformed and impulsive. In re-analyses of seven previous empirical studies on both perceptual and preferential choice, we show that both polarization and extremism manifest across a wide variety of choice paradigms. We conclude by offering theoretically-motivated interventions that could reduce polarization and extremism by altering the incentives people have when gathering information.


In a decision scenario that incentivizes a trade-off between time and decision quality, a population of rational decision makers will become polarized. In this paper, we have shown this through simulations, a mathematical proof (supplementary materials) and demonstrated it empirically in seven studies.   This  leads  us  to  an  unfortunate  but  unavoidable  conclusion that decision making is a bias-inducing process by which  participants  gather  representative  information  from their environment and, through the decision rules they implement, distort it toward the extremes. Such a process also generates extremists, who hold extreme views and carry undue influence over cultural discourse (Navarro et al.,2018) despite being relatively uninformed and impulsive (low thresh-olds;Kim & Lee,2011). We have suggested several avenues for interventions, foremost among them providing incentives favoring estimation or judgments as opposed to incentives for timely decision making. Our hope is that future work testing and implementing these interventions will reduce the prevalence of polarization and extremism across social domains currently occupied by decision makers.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

‘All You Want Is to Be Believed’: The Impacts of Unconscious Bias in Health Care

April Dembosky
Originally published 21 Oct 20

Here is an excerpt:

Research shows how doctors’ unconscious bias affects the care people receive, with Latino and Black patients being less likely to receive pain medications or get referred for advanced care than white patients with the same complaints or symptoms, and more likely to die in childbirth from preventable complications.

In the hospital that day in May, Monterroso was feeling woozy and having trouble communicating, so she had a friend and her friend’s cousin, a cardiac nurse, on the phone to help. They started asking questions: What about Karla’s accelerated heart rate? Her low oxygen levels? Why are her lips blue?

The doctor walked out of the room. He refused to care for Monterroso while her friends were on the phone, she said, and when he came back, the only thing he wanted to talk about was Monterroso’s tone and her friends’ tone.

“The implication was that we were insubordinate,” Monterroso said.

She told the doctor she didn’t want to talk about her tone. She wanted to talk about her health care. She was worried about possible blood clots in her leg and she asked for a CT scan.

“Well, you know, the CT scan is radiation right next to your breast tissue. Do you want to get breast cancer?” Monterroso recalled the doctor saying to her. “I only feel comfortable giving you that test if you say that you’re fine getting breast cancer.”

Monterroso thought to herself, “Swallow it up, Karla. You need to be well.” And so she said to the doctor: “I’m fine getting breast cancer.”

He never ordered the test.

Monterroso asked for a different doctor, for a hospital advocate. No and no, she was told. She began to worry about her safety. She wanted to get out of there. Her friends, all calling every medical professional they knew to confirm that this treatment was not right, came to pick her up and drove her to the University of California-San Francisco. The team there gave her an EKG, a chest X-ray and a CT scan.

Friday, December 11, 2020

11th Circuit blocks South FL prohibitions on 'conversion therapy' for minors as unconstitutional

Michael Moline
Florida Pheonix
Originally posted 20 Nov 20

Here is an excerpt:

“We understand and appreciate that the therapy is highly controversial. But the First Amendment has no carve-out for controversial speech. We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny,” Grant wrote.

Judge Beverly Martin dissented, pointing to condemnations of the practice by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American School Counselor Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the World Health Organization.

“Today’s majority opinion puts a stop to municipal efforts to regulate ‘sexual orientation change efforts’ (commonly known as ‘conversion therapy’), which is known to be a harmful therapeutic practice,” Martin wrote.

“The majority invalidates laws enacted to curb these therapeutic practices, despite strong evidence of the harm they cause, as well as the laws’ narrow focus on licensed therapists practicing on patients who are minors. Although I am mindful of the free-speech concerns the majority expresses, I respectfully dissent from the decision to enjoin these laws.”

Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, the conservative legal organization that represented two counselors who challenged the ordinance, welcomed the ruling.

“This is a huge victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice free of political censorship from government ideologues. This case is the beginning of the end of similar unconstitutional counseling bans around the country,” he said in a written statement.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Psychologist’s paper retracted after Dutch national body affirms misconduct findings

Adam Marcus
Retraction Watch
Originally posted 23 Nov 20

A cognitive psychologist in Germany has lost one of two papers slated for retraction after her former institution found her guilty of misconduct. 

In a 2019 report, Leiden University found that Lorenza Colzato, now of TU Dresden, had failed to obtain ethics ethics approval for some of her studies, manipulated her data and fabricated results in grant applications. Although the institution did not identify Colzato by name, Retraction Watch confirmed her identity. 

The Leiden report — the conclusions of which were affirmed by the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity last month — called for the retraction of two papers by Colzato and her co-authors, three of whom acted as whistleblowers in the case. As the trio told us in an interview last December: 
We worked with the accused for many years, during which we observed and felt forced to get involved in several bad research practices. These practices would range from small to large violations. Since early on we were aware that this was not OK or normal, and so we tried to stand up to this person early on.

However, we very quickly learned that complaining could only lead to nasty situations such as long and prolonged criticism at a professional and personal level. … But seeing this behavior recurring and steadily escalating, and seeing other people in the situations we had been in, led us to feel like we could no longer stay silent. We had become more independent (despite still working in the same department), and felt like we had to ‘break’ that system. About one year ago, we brought the issues to the attention of the scientific Director of our Institute, who took our story seriously from the beginning. Upon evaluating the evidence, together we decided the Director would file a complaint. Out of fear for retaliation, we initially did not join as formal complainants but eventually gathered the courage to join the complaint and disclose our role.
The now-retracted paper, which Colzato wrote with Laura Steenbergen — a former colleague at Leiden and one of the eventual whistleblowers — was titled “Overweight and cognitive performance: High body mass index is associated with impairment in reactive control during task switching.” It appeared in 2017 in Frontiers in Nutrition

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

An evolutionary explanation for ineffective altruism

Burum, B., Nowak, M.A. & Hoffman, M. 
Nat Hum Behav (2020). 


We donate billions to charities each year, yet much of our giving is ineffective. Why are we motivated to give but not to give effectively? Building on evolutionary game theory, we argue that donors evolved (genetically or culturally) to be insensitive to efficacy because people tend not to reward efficacy, as social rewards tend to depend on well-defined and highly observable behaviours. We present five experiments testing key predictions of this account that are difficult to reconcile with alternative accounts based on cognitive or emotional limitations. Namely, we show that donors are more sensitive to efficacy when helping themselves or their families. Moreover, social rewarders don’t condition on efficacy or other difficult-to-observe behaviours, such as the amount donated.

From the Conclusion

This paper has argued that altruism in a behavioural sense is an act that benefits another person, while it is altruistically motivated when the ultimate goal of such act is the welfare of that other. In evolutionary sense, altruism means the sacrifice of fitness for the benefit of other organisms. 

According to the evolutionary theories of altruism, behaviour which promotes the reproductive success of the receiver at the cost of the altruist is favoured by natural selection, because it is either beneficial for the altruist in the long run, or for his genes, or for the group he belongs to. Thus, in line with Trivers, it can be argued that “models that attempt to explain altruistic behaviour in terms of natural selection are models designed to take the altruism out of altruism” (Trivers 1971: 35).

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Strategic Regulation of Empathy.

Weisz, E., & Cikara, M. (2020, October 9).


Empathy is an integral part of socio-emotional well-being, yet recent research has highlighted some of its downsides. Here we examine literature that establishes when, how much, and what aspects of empathy promote specific outcomes. After reviewing a theoretical framework which characterizes empathy as a suite of separable components, we examine evidence showing how dissociations of these components affect important socio-emotional outcomes and describe emerging evidence suggesting that these components can be independently and deliberately modulated. Finally, we advocate for a new approach to a multi-component view of empathy which accounts for the interrelations among components. This perspective advances scientific conceptualization of empathy and offers suggestions for tailoring empathy to help people realize their social, emotional, and occupational goals.

From the Conclusion

The goal of this review has been to evaluate the burgeoning literature on how components of empathy—in isolation or in concert—differentially affect key outcomes including prosocial behavior, relationship quality, occupational burnout, and negotiation. As such, an important takeaway from this review is that components of empathy can be leveraged to facilitate attainment of important goals. A second takeaway is that in order to effectively intervene on empathy in service of promoting specific outcomes, it is important to understand how these components track together (or not) in people’s everyday experiences. Relatedly, the field of empathy would benefit from thoroughly characterizing the structural and temporal relationships among these components to better understand how they work together (or in isolation) to drive key outcomes. 

Thus it seems that the time is right for the field of empathy research to enter anew wave, which explicitly examines the spontaneous separation or co-occurrence of dissociable empathy-related components, especially in behavioral—both laboratory and field—experiments. Several social neuroscience studies have indicated that this is an important aspect of empathy-related inquiry; as such, it is a promising next step for empathy-related research in more naturalistic contexts. The next wave of empathy research is in position to make incredibly important discoveries about when and for whom specific empathic components reliably predict behavioral outcomes, and to understand how empathy can be regulated to help people realize critical social, emotional and occupational goals.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Artificial Intelligence and Legal Disruption: A New Model for Analysis

Hin-Yan Liu,  et .al (2020) 
Law, Innovation and Technology, 
12:2, 205-258
DOI: 10.1080/17579961.2020.1815402


Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly expected to disrupt the ordinary functioning of society. From how we fight wars or govern society, to how we work and play, and from how we create to how we teach and learn, there is almost no field of human activity which is believed to be entirely immune from the impact of this emerging technology. This poses a multifaceted problem when it comes to designing and understanding regulatory responses to AI. This article aims to: (i) defend the need for a novel conceptual model for understanding the systemic legal disruption caused by new technologies such as AI; (ii) to situate this model in relation to preceding debates about the interaction of regulation with new technologies (particularly the ‘cyberlaw’ and ‘robolaw’ debates); and (iii) to set out a detailed model for understanding the legal disruption precipitated by AI, examining both pathways stemming from new affordances that can give rise to a regulatory ‘disruptive moment’, as well as the Legal Development, Displacement or Destruction that can ensue. The article proposes that this model of legal disruption can be broadly generalisable to understanding the legal effects and challenges of other emerging technologies.

From Concluding Thoughts

As artificial intelligence is often claimed to be an exponential technology, and law progresses incrementally in a linear fashion, there is bound to be a point at which the exponential take off crosses the straight line if these assumptions hold. Everything to the left of this intersection, where AI is below the line, is where hype about the technology does not quite live up to expectations and is generally disappointing in terms of functioning and capability. To the right of this intersection, however, the previously dull technology takes on a surprising and startling tone as it rapidly outpaces both predictions about its capacities and collective abilities to contextualise, accommodate or situate it. It is widely claimed that we are now nearing this intersection. If these claims hold up, the law is one of the institutions that stands to be shocked by the rapid progression and incorporation of AI into society. If this is right, then it is important to start projecting forward in an attempt to minimise the gap between exponential technologies and linear expectations. The legal disruption framework we have presented does exactly this. Furthermore, even if these claims turn out to be misguided, thinking though such transformations sheds different light upon the legal enterprise which hopes to illuminate the entire law.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Value of Not Knowing: Partisan Cue-Taking and Belief Updating of the Uninformed, the Ambiguous, and the Misinformed

Jianing Li & Michael W Wagner
Journal of Communication, Volume 70,
Issue 5, October 2020, Pages 646–669.


The problem of a misinformed citizenry is often used to motivate research on misinformation and its corrections. However, researchers know little about how differences in informedness affect how well corrective information helps individuals develop knowledge about current events. We introduce a Differential Informedness Model that distinguishes between three types of individuals, that is, the uninformed, the ambiguous, and the misinformed, and establish their differences with two experiments incorporating multiple partisan cues and issues. Contrary to the common impression, the U.S. public is largely uninformed rather than misinformed of a wide range of factual claims verified by journalists. Importantly, we find that the success of belief updating after exposure to corrective information (via a fact-checking article) is dependent on the presence, the certainty, and the accuracy of one’s prior belief. Uninformed individuals are more likely to update their beliefs than misinformed individuals after exposure to corrective information. Interestingly, the ambiguous individuals, regardless of whether their uncertain guesses were correct, do not differ from uninformed individuals with respect to belief updating.

From the Discussion Section

First, and contrary to the impression that many citizens are misinformed, the majority of our respondents are uninformed of a wide range of claims important enough to be verified by journalists. Only a small group of respondents hold confident, inaccurate beliefs.  This builds on the work of Pasek et al. (2015) by distinguishing between the uninformed, who admit that they “don’t know,” the ambiguous, who take a guess with varying degrees of accuracy, and the misinformed, who hold steadfast false beliefs. In the current environment where concerns over misinformation often lead to heightened attention to belief accuracy, our findings highlight the necessity to bridge between work on political ignorance and misperception and the benefit of leveraging belief accuracy, belief presence and belief certainty to better assess public informedness.

(emphasis added)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The epidemiology of moral bioenhancement

R. B. Gibson
Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 


In their 2008 paper, Persson and Savulescu suggest that for moral bioenhancement (MBE) to be effective at eliminating the danger of ‘ultimate harm’ the intervention would need to be compulsory. This is because those most in need of MBE would be least likely to undergo the intervention voluntarily. By drawing on concepts and theories from epidemiology, this paper will suggest that MBE may not need to be universal and compulsory to be effective at significantly improving the collective moral standing of a human populace and reducing the threat of ultimate harm. It will identify similarities between the mechanisms that allow biological contagions (such as a virus) and behaviours (such as those concerned with ethical and unethical actions) to develop, spread, and be reinforced within a population. It will then go onto suggest that, just as with the epidemiological principle of herd immunity, if enough people underwent MBE to reach a minimum threshold then the incidence and spread of immoral behaviours could be significantly reduced, even in those who have not received MBE.


The phenomenon of herd immunity is one that is critical in the field of vaccine epidemiology and public health. Once it takes effect, even those individuals who are unable to undergo vaccination are still able to benefit from a functional immunity from a biological agent. As such, a compulsory and universal programme of vaccination is not always necessary to achieve a sufficient protection rate against a contagious biological agent. It is this same line of reasoning which this paper has sought to employ, envisioning MBE as a form of vaccination against those types of behaviour that would lead to the realisation of UH (Ultimate Harm). Consequentially, this allows for the possibility of sufficient protection against the undesirable behaviours that would lead to UH without a need for a universal and compulsory enhancement programme.