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, December 31, 2021

Dear White People: Here Are 5 Uncomfortable Truths Black Colleagues Need You To Know

Dana Brownlee
Originally posted 16 June 2020

While no one has a precise prescription for how to eradicate racial injustice in the workplace, I firmly believe that a critical first step is embracing the difficult conversations and uncomfortable truths that we’ve become too accustomed to avoiding. The baseline uncomfortable truth is that blacks and whites in corporate America often maintain their own subcultures – including very different informal conversations in the workplace - with surprisingly little overlap at times. To be perfectly honest, as a black woman who has worked in and around corporate America for nearly 30 years, I’ve typically only been privy to the black side of the conversation, but I think in this moment where everyone is looking for opportunities to either teach, learn or grow, it’s instructive if not necessary to break down the traditional siloes and speak the unspeakable. So in this vein I’m sharing five critical “truths” that I feel many black people in corporate settings would vehemently discuss in “private” but not necessarily assert in “public.”

Here are the 5, plus a bonus.

Truth #1 - Racism doesn’t just show up in its most extreme form. There is indeed a continuum (of racist thoughts and behaviors), and you may be on it.

Truth #2 – Even if you personally haven’t offended anyone (that you know of), you may indeed be part of the problem.

Truth #3 – Every black person on your team is not your “friend.”

Truth #4 – Gender and race discrimination are not “essentially the same.”

Truth #5 – Even though there may be one or two black faces in leadership, your organization may indeed have a rampant racial injustice problem.

Bonus Truth #6: You can absolutely be part of the solution.

As workplaces tackle racism with a renewed sense of urgency amidst the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, it’s imperative that they approach the problem of racism as they would any other serious business problem – methodically, intensely and with a sense of urgency and conviction.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

When Helping Is Risky: The Behavioral and Neurobiological Trade-off of Social and Risk Preferences

Gross, J., Faber, N. S., et al.  (2021).
Psychological Science, 32(11), 1842–1855.


Helping other people can entail risks for the helper. For example, when treating infectious patients, medical volunteers risk their own health. In such situations, decisions to help should depend on the individual’s valuation of others’ well-being (social preferences) and the degree of personal risk the individual finds acceptable (risk preferences). We investigated how these distinct preferences are psychologically and neurobiologically integrated when helping is risky. We used incentivized decision-making tasks (Study 1; N = 292 adults) and manipulated dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain by administering methylphenidate, atomoxetine, or a placebo (Study 2; N = 154 adults). We found that social and risk preferences are independent drivers of risky helping. Methylphenidate increased risky helping by selectively altering risk preferences rather than social preferences. Atomoxetine influenced neither risk preferences nor social preferences and did not affect risky helping. This suggests that methylphenidate-altered dopamine concentrations affect helping decisions that entail a risk to the helper.

From the Discussion

From a practical perspective, both methylphenidate (sold under the trade name Ritalin) and atomoxetine (sold under the trade name Strattera) are prescription drugs used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and are regularly used off-label by people who aim to enhance their cognitive performance (Maier et al., 2018). Thus, our results have implications for the ethics of and policy for the use of psychostimulants. Indeed, the Global Drug Survey taken in 2015 and 2017 revealed that 3.2% and 6.6% of respondents, respectively, reported using psychostimulants such as methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement (Maier et al., 2018). Both in the professional ethical debate as well as in the general public, concerns about the medical safety and the fairness of such cognitive enhancements are discussed (Faber et al., 2016). However, our finding that methylphenidate alters helping behavior through increased risk seeking demonstrates that substances aimed at changing cognitive functioning can also influence social behavior. Such “social” side effects of cognitive enhancement (whether deemed positive or negative) are currently unknown to both users and administrators and thus do not receive much attention in the societal debate about psychostimulant use (Faulmüller et al., 2013).

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Delphi: Towards Machine Ethics and Norms

Jiang, L., et al. (2021). 
ArXiv, abs/2110.07574.

What would it take to teach a machine to behave ethically? While broad ethical rules may seem straightforward to state ("thou shalt not kill"), applying such rules to real-world situations is far more complex. For example, while "helping a friend" is generally a good thing to do, "helping a friend spread fake news" is not. We identify four underlying challenges towards machine ethics and norms: (1) an understanding of moral precepts and social norms; (2) the ability to perceive real-world situations visually or by reading natural language descriptions; (3) commonsense reasoning to anticipate the outcome of alternative actions in different contexts; (4) most importantly, the ability to make ethical judgments given the interplay between competing values and their grounding in different contexts (e.g., the right to freedom of expression vs. preventing the spread of fake news).

Our paper begins to address these questions within the deep learning paradigm. Our prototype model, Delphi, demonstrates strong promise of language-based commonsense moral reasoning, with up to 92.1% accuracy vetted by humans. This is in stark contrast to the zero-shot performance of GPT-3 of 52.3%, which suggests that massive scale alone does not endow pre-trained neural language models with human values. Thus, we present Commonsense Norm Bank, a moral textbook customized for machines, which compiles 1.7M examples of people's ethical judgments on a broad spectrum of everyday situations. In addition to the new resources and baseline performances for future research, our study provides new insights that lead to several important open research questions: differentiating between universal human values and personal values, modeling different moral frameworks, and explainable, consistent approaches to machine ethics.

From the Conclusion

Delphi’s impressive performance on machine moral reasoning under diverse compositional real-life situations, highlights the importance of developing high-quality human-annotated datasets for people’s moral judgments. Finally, we demonstrate through systematic probing that Delphi still struggles with situations dependent on time or diverse cultures, and situations with social and demographic bias implications. We discuss the capabilities and limitations of Delphi throughout this paper and identify key directions in machine ethics for future work. We hope that our work opens up important avenues for future research in the emerging field of machine ethics, and we encourage collective efforts from our research community to tackle these research challenges.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Opt-out choice framing attenuates gender differences in the decision to compete in the laboratory and in the field

J. C. He, S. K. Kang, N. Lacetera
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 
Oct 2021, 118 (42) e2108337118


Research shows that women are less likely to enter competitions than men. This disparity may translate into a gender imbalance in holding leadership positions or ascending in organizations. We provide both laboratory and field experimental evidence that this difference can be attenuated with a default nudge—changing the choice to enter a competitive task from a default in which applicants must actively choose to compete to a default in which applicants are automatically enrolled in competition but can choose to opt out. Changing the default affects the perception of prevailing social norms about gender and competition as well as perceptions of the performance or ability threshold at which to apply. We do not find associated negative effects for performance or wellbeing. These results suggest that organizations could make use of opt-out promotion schemes to reduce the gender gap in competition and support the ascension of women to leadership positions.


How can we close the gender gap in high-level positions in organizations? Interventions such as unconscious bias training or the “lean in” approach have been largely ineffective. This article suggests, and experimentally tests, a “nudge” intervention, altering the choice architecture around the decision to apply for top positions from an “opt in” to an “opt out” default. Evidence from the laboratory and the field shows that a choice architecture in which applicants must opt out from competition reduces gender differences in competition. Opt-out framing thus seems to remove some of the bias inherent in current promotion systems, which favor those who are overconfident or like to compete. Importantly, we show that such an intervention is feasible and effective in the field.

From the Discussion

A practical implication of our studies is that organizations could attenuate the gender gap in competitions by moving from a default, in which applicants must opt in to apply, to a default whereby those who pass a performance and qualification threshold are automatically considered but can choose to opt out. Examples include promotions in organizations, participation into start-up pitch competitions, and innovation or creativity contests. Future work could examine similar interventions that circumvent the self-nomination aspect of opt-in schemes for competitive selection processes. For instance, rather than self-nomination, peer-nomination could attenuate the gender gap. The results of Study 2 also suggest that manipulating or nudging social norms could result in a similar effect.

Monday, December 27, 2021

An interaction effect of norm violations on causal judgment

Gill, M., Kominsky, J. F., 
Icard, T., & Knobe, J. (2021, October 19).


Existing research has shown that norm violations influence causal judgments, and a number of different models have been developed to explain these effects. One such model, the necessity/sufficiency model, predicts an interaction pattern in people's judgments. Specifically, it predicts that when people are judging the degree to which a particular factor is a cause, there should be an interaction between (a) the degree to which that factor violates a norm and (b) the degree to which another factor in the situation violates norms. A study of moral norms (N = 1000) and norms of proper functioning (N = 3000) revealed robust evidence for the predicted interaction effect. The implications of these patterns for existing theories of causal judgments is discussed.

General discussion

Two experiments revealed a novel interaction effect of norm violations on causal judgment. First, the experiments replicated two basic phenomena: a focal event is rated as more causal when it is bad (“inflation”) and a focal event is rated less causal when the alternative event is bad (“supersession”). Critically, the experiments showed that (1) the difference in causal ratings of the focal event when it is good vs. bad increases when the alternative event is bad (“inflation increase”) and (2) the difference in causal ratings of the focal event when the alternative event is bad vs.good decreases when the focal event is bad (“supersession decrease”).  

Experiment 1 yielded this novel interaction effect in the context of moral norm violations (e.g., stealing a book from the library). Experiment 2 showed that the effect generalized to violations of norms of proper functioning (e.g., a part of a machine working incorrectly).

This interaction pattern is predicted by the necessity/sufficiency model (Icard et al.,2017). The success of this prediction is especially striking, in that the necessity/sufficiency model was not created with this interaction in mind. Rather, the model was originally created to explain inflation and supersession, and it was only noticed later that this model predicts an interaction in cases of this type.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Impact of Leader Dominance on Employees’ Zero-Sum Mindset and Helping Behavior

Kakkar, H and Sivanathan, N (2021) 
Journal of Applied Psychology


Leaders strive to encourage helping behaviors among employees, as it positively affects both organizational and team effectiveness. However, the manner in which a leader influences others can unintentionally limit this desired behavior. Drawing on social learning theory, we contend that a leader’s tendency to influence others via dominance could decrease employees’ interpersonal helping. Dominant leaders, who influence others by being assertive and competitive, shape their subordinates’ cognitive schema of success based on zero-sum thinking. Employees with a zero-sum mindset are more likely to believe that they can only make progress at the expense of others. We further propose that this zero-sum mindset results in less interpersonal helping among subordinates. We test our hypotheses by employing different operationalizations of our key variables in eight studies of which four are reported in the manuscript and another four in supplementary information (SI) across a combined sample of 147,780 observations. These studies include a large archival study, experiments with both laboratory and online samples, and a time-lagged field study with employees from 50 different teams. Overall, this research highlights the unintended consequences that dominant leaders have on their followers’ helping behavior by increasing their zero-sum mindset.

From the Discussion

Second, and relatedly, our results uncover the unintentional effects that leaders can have on employees’ cognitions and behaviors. These findings reflect broader observations made by social learning theorists that “job descriptions, rules, and policies are more likely to be interpreted from watching what others do than following written directives” (Davis & Luthans, 1980, p. 284). In this way, our research reveals a more subtle way in which dominant leaders by altering employees’ cognitions of success may reduce helping behavior among team members, which could eventually affect team performance. Given the beneficial effects of employee prosocial behavior on a team’s bottom line, it is entirely possible that dominant leaders may actually want their subordinates to participate in discretionary helping behaviors—in which case, they are inadvertently undermining their own aims by fostering a zero-sum mindset.

Third, the literature on dominance and prestige has typically argued that followers copy, emulate, and look up to leaders associated with prestige rather than dominance. In contrast to this, our findings offer a more nuanced understanding of this point by revealing how dominant leaders can influence employees’ cognitions and how this can trickle down to critical employee behaviors. Thus, subordinates of dominant leaders do engage in emulating their leaders but the process underlying this emulation is cognitive and less intentional.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated

Gregory Smith
Pew Research
Originally posted 14 DEC 21

The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing. The latest Pew Research Center survey of the religious composition of the United States finds the religiously unaffiliated share of the public is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago.

Christians continue to make up a majority of the U.S. populace, but their share of the adult population is 12 points lower in 2021 than it was in 2011. In addition, the share of U.S. adults who say they pray on a daily basis has been trending downward, as has the share who say religion is “very important” in their lives.

Currently, about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. Self-identified Christians of all varieties (including Protestants, Catholics, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox Christians) make up 63% of the adult population. Christians now outnumber religious “nones” by a ratio of a little more than two-to-one. In 2007, when the Center began asking its current question about religious identity, Christians outnumbered “nones” by almost five-to-one (78% vs. 16%).

The recent declines within Christianity are concentrated among Protestants. Today, 40% of U.S. adults are Protestants, a group that is broadly defined to include nondenominational Christians and people who describe themselves as “just Christian” along with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and members of many other denominational families. The Protestant share of the population is down 4 percentage points over the last five years and has dropped 10 points in 10 years.

By comparison, the Catholic share of the population, which had ticked downward between 2007 and 2014, has held relatively steady in recent years. As of 2021, 21% of U.S. adults describe themselves as Catholic, identical to the Catholic share of the population in 2014.

Within Protestantism, evangelicals continue to outnumber those who are not evangelical. Currently, 60% of Protestants say “yes” when asked whether they think of themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian,” while 40% say “no” or decline to answer the question.

Friday, December 24, 2021

It's not what you did, it's what you could have done

Bernhard, R. M., LeBaron, H., & Phillips, J. S. 
(2021, November 8).


We are more likely to judge agents as morally culpable after we learn they acted freely rather than under duress or coercion. Interestingly, the reverse is also true: Individuals are more likely to be judged to have acted freely after we learn that they committed a moral violation. Researchers have argued that morality affects judgments of force by making the alternative actions the agent could have done instead appear comparatively normal, which then increases the perceived availability of relevant alternative actions. Across four studies, we test the novel predictions of this account. We find that the degree to which participants view possible alternative actions as normal strongly predicts their perceptions that an agent acted freely. This pattern holds both for perceptions of descriptive normality (whether the actions are unusual) and prescriptive normality (whether the actions are good) and persists even when what is actually done is held constant. We also find that manipulating the prudential value of alternative actions or the degree to which alternatives adhere to social norms, has a similar effect to manipulating whether the actions or their alternatives violate moral norms, and that both effects are explained by changes in the perceived normality of the alternatives. Finally, we even find that evaluations of both the prescriptive and descriptive normality of alternative actions explains force judgments in response to moral violations. Together, these results suggest that across contexts, participants’ force judgments depend not on the morality of the actual action taken, but on the normality of possible alternatives. More broadly, our results build on prior work that suggests a unifying role of normality and counterfactuals across many areas of high-level human cognition.


Why does descriptive normality matter for force judgments?

Our results also suggest that the descriptive normality of alternatives may be at least as important as the prescriptive normality. Why would this be the case? One possibility is that evaluations of the descriptive normality of alternatives may be influencing participants’ perceptions of the alternatives’ value. After all, actions that are taken by most people are often done so because they are the best choice. Likewise, morally wrong actions are much less commonplace than morally neutral or good ones. Therefore, participants may be inferring some kind of lower prescriptive value inherent in unusual actions, even in cases where we took great lengths to eliminate differences in prescriptive value.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

New York’s Met museum to remove Sackler name from exhibits

Sarah Cascone
Originally posted 9 DEC 21

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has dropped the Sackler name from its building. The move is perhaps the museum world’s most prominent cutting of ties with the disgraced family since their company Purdue Pharma’s guilty plea to criminal charges connected to marketing of addictive painkiller OxyContin in 2020.

The decision, which came after more than a yearlong review by the museum, was reportedly mutual and made “in order to allow the Met to further its core mission,” according to a joint statement issued by the Sackler family and the institution.

“Our families have always strongly supported the Met, and we believe this to be in the best interest of the museum and the important mission that it serves,” the descendants of Mortimer Sackler and Raymond Sackler said in a statement. “The earliest of these gifts were made almost 50 years ago, and now we are passing the torch to others who might wish to step forward to support the museum.”

Institutions have faced increasing pressure to sever relations with the Sacklers in recent years as part of a growing push to hold institutions and other cultural groups accountable over where their money is coming from. (Other donors that have come under fire include arms dealers and oil companies.)

Seven spaces at the Fifth Avenue flagship bore the Sackler name. The biggest was the Sackler Wing, which opened in 1978, and includes the Sackler Gallery for Egyptian Art, the Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing, and the 1987 addition of the Sackler Wing Galleries.

The day of the announcement, Patrick Radden Keefe, the author of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, visited the museum to find that the family’s name had already been removed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Dominant groups support digressive victimhood claims to counter accusations of discrimination

F. Danbold, et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 98, January 2022, 104233


When dominant groups are accused of discrimination against non-dominant groups, they often seek to portray themselves as the victims of discrimination instead. Sometimes, however, members of dominant groups counter accusations of discrimination by invoking victimhood on a new dimension of harm, changing the topic being discussed. Across three studies (N = 3081), we examine two examples of this digressive victimhood – Christian Americans responding to accusations of homophobia by claiming threatened religious liberty, and White Americans responding to accusations of racism by claiming threatened free speech. We show that members of dominant groups endorse digressive victimhood claims more strongly than conventional competitive victimhood claims (i.e., ones that claim “reverse discrimination”). Additionally, accounting for the fact that these claims may also stand to benefit a wider range of people and appeal to more abstract principles, we show that this preference is driven by the perception that digressive victimhood claims are more effective at silencing further criticism from the non-dominant group. Underscoring that these claims may be used strategically, we observed that individuals high in outgroup prejudice were willing to express a positive endorsement of the digressive victimhood claims even when they did not fully support the principle they claimed to be defending (e.g., freedom of religion or speech). We discuss implications for real-world intergroup conflicts and the psychology of dominant groups.


• Charged with discrimination, dominant groups often claim victimhood.

• These claims can be digressive, shifting the topic of conversation.

• Members of dominant groups prefer digressive claims over competitive claims.

• They see digressive claims as effective in silencing further criticism.

• Digressive victimhood claims are endorsed strategically and sometimes insincerely.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Most Common Pain Relief Drug in The World Induces Risky Behavior, Study Finds

Peter Dockrill
Originally published 18 NOV 21

Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol and sold widely under the brand names Tylenol and Panadol, also increases risk-taking, according to a study published in 2020 that measured changes in people's behavior when under the influence of the common over-the-counter medication.

"Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don't feel as scared," neuroscientist Baldwin Way from The Ohio State University explained last year.

"With nearly 25 percent of the population in the US taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society."

The findings add to a recent body of research suggesting that acetaminophen's effects on pain reduction also extend to various psychological processes, lowering people's receptivity to hurt feelings, experiencing reduced empathy, and even blunting cognitive functions.

Similarly, Way's study suggests people's affective ability to perceive and evaluate risks can be impaired when they take acetaminophen. While the effects might be slight, they're definitely worth noting, given acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America, found in over 600 different kinds of over-the-counter and prescription medicines.


Overall, however, based on an average of results across the various tests, the team concludes that there is a significant relationship between taking acetaminophen and choosing more risk, even if the observed effect can be slight.

That said, they acknowledge the drug's apparent effects on risk-taking behavior could also be interpreted via other kinds of psychological processes, such as reduced anxiety, perhaps.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Parents protesting 'critical race theory' identify another target: Mental health programs

Tyler Kingkade and Mike Hixenbaugh
NBC News
Originally posted 15 NOV 21

At a September school board meeting in Southlake, Texas, a parent named Tara Eddins strode to the lectern during the public comment period and demanded to know why the Carroll Independent School District was paying counselors “at $90K a pop” to give students lessons on suicide prevention.

“At Carroll ISD, you are actually advertising suicide,” Eddins said, arguing that many parents in the affluent suburban school system have hired tutors because the district’s counselors are too focused on mental health instead of helping students prepare for college.


In Carmel, Indiana, activists swarmed school board meetings this fall to demand that a district fire its mental health coordinator from what they said was a “dangerous, worthless” job. And in Fairfax County, Virginia, a national activist group condemned school officials for sending a survey to students that included questions like “During the past week, how often did you feel sad?”

Many of the school programs under attack fall under the umbrella of social emotional learning, or SEL, a teaching philosophy popularized in recent years that aims to help children manage their feelings and show empathy for others. Conservative groups argue that social emotional learning has become a “Trojan horse” for critical race theory, a separate academic concept that examines how systemic racism is embedded in society. They point to SEL lessons that encourage children to celebrate diversity, sometimes introducing students to conversations about race, gender and sexuality.

Activists have accused school districts of using the programs to ask children invasive questions — about their feelings, sexuality and the way race shapes their lives — as part of a ploy to “brainwash” them with liberal values and to trample parents’ rights. Groups across the country recently started circulating forms to get parents to opt their children out of surveys designed to measure whether students are struggling with their emotions or being bullied, describing the efforts as “data mining” and an invasion of privacy.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

On and beyond artifacts in moral relations: accounting for power and violence in Coeckelbergh’s social relationism

Tollon, F., Naidoo, K. 
AI & Soc (2021). 


The ubiquity of technology in our lives and its culmination in artificial intelligence raises questions about its role in our moral considerations. In this paper, we address a moral concern in relation to technological systems given their deep integration in our lives. Coeckelbergh develops a social-relational account, suggesting that it can point us toward a dynamic, historicised evaluation of moral concern. While agreeing with Coeckelbergh’s move away from grounding moral concern in the ontological properties of entities, we suggest that it problematically upholds moral relativism. We suggest that the role of power, as described by Arendt and Foucault, is significant in social relations and as curating moral possibilities. This produces a clearer picture of the relations at hand and opens up the possibility that relations may be deemed violent. Violence as such gives us some way of evaluating the morality of a social relation, moving away from Coeckelbergh’s seeming relativism while retaining his emphasis on social–historical moral precedent.

From Conclusion and implications

The role of artificial intelligence or technology more broadly in our moral landscape depends upon how this landscape is conceived. The realist theory posited by Torrance which seeks to defend the view that moral concern is grounded objectively comes up short in its capacity to function as an explanatory framework which sufficiently accounts for changing moral sensibilities. On the other hand, Coeckelbergh offers a social-relational theory which, in contrast, argues that moral concern should not rest on the properties of individual entities but on the relations between them. While this view better allows for the consideration of social–historical information about relations, it seems to imply a sort of moral relativism and its focus on how things appear makes it blind to the reality of relations. Crucially, Coeckelbergh’s account cannot make sense of the role of power to the extent that it plays out in social relations and curates moral possibilities.

By drawing on an Arendtian and Foucauldian notion power as an attempt to control a situation and assessing the ways it may function in relation to moral situations, we understand how its presence makes relations morally interesting. Not only this, but a view of power also allows us to identify certain social-relational dynamics as violent. We have described violence as a restriction of potentiality, marking the end of a power relation. As we have discussed in relation to technology, this characterisation of social-relational dynamics gives us some basis to say of certain actions or relations that they are morally permissible or impermissible. This assessment retains Coeckelbergh’s emphasis on analysing social–historical relations, while allowing for some degree of moral judgement to be made.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

U.S. judge tosses $4.5 B deal shielding Sacklers from opioid lawsuits

Brendan Pierson & Mike Spector, Maria Chutchian
Originally posted 16 DEC 21

A federal judge overturned a roughly $4.5 billion settlement that legally shielded members of the Sackler family who stand accused of helping fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic, a decision that threatened to upend the bankruptcy reorganization of their company, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said in a written opinion on Thursday the New York bankruptcy court that approved the settlement did not have authority to grant the Sacklers the legal protection from future opioid litigation that formed the linchpin of Purdue’s reorganization.

Purdue said it would appeal the decision.

"While the district court decision does not affect Purdue’s rock-solid operational stability or its ability to produce its many medications safely and effectively, it will delay, and perhaps end, the ability of creditors, communities, and individuals to receive billions in value to abate the opioid crisis," Purdue Chairman Steve Miller said in a statement.

The Sacklers had insisted on the legal shields, known as nondebtor releases because they protect parties that have not filed for bankruptcy themselves, in exchange for contributing $4.5 billion toward resolving widespread opioid litigation.

The Sacklers threatened to walk away from the settlement absent the guaranteed legal protections.

Representatives for the Sacklers did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Thursday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement he was pleased with the ruling.

"The bankruptcy court did not have the authority to deprive victims of the opioid crisis of their right to sue the Sackler family," Garland said.

Note: If you have not watched Dopesick on Hulu, please do.  Excellent portrayal of the level of harm and psychopathology with members of this family.

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Conversational Circumplex: Identifying, Prioritizing, and Pursuing Informational and Relational Motives in Conversation

M. Yeomans, M. Schweitzer, & A. WoodBrooks
Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 11 October 2021


The meaning of success in conversation depends on people’s goals. Often, individuals pursue multiple goals simultaneously, such as establishing shared understanding, making a favorable impression, and persuading a conversation partner. In this article, we introduce a novel theoretical framework, the Conversational Circumplex, to classify conversational motives along two key dimensions: 1) Informational: the extent to which a speaker’s motive focuses on giving and/or receiving accurate information and 2) Relational: the extent to which a speaker’s motive focuses on building the relationship. We use the conversational circumplex to underscore the multiplicity of conversational goals that people hold, and highlight the potential for individuals to have conflicting conversational goals (both intrapersonally and interpersonally) that make successful conversation a difficult challenge.


In this article, we introduce a novel framework, the Conversational Circumplex, to build our understanding of conversational motives. By introducing this framework, we provide a generative foundation for future scholarship and a useful tool for conversationalists to identify their own motives, discern others’ motives, and advance their goals more effectively in conversation. The meaning of success in a conversation requires that we start by understanding what conversationalists are hoping to achieve.

Note: This has implications for psychotherapy and other helping relationships.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The hidden ‘replication crisis’ of finance

Robin Wigglesworth 
Financial Times
Originally published 15 NOV 2021

Here is an excerpt:

Is investing suffering from something similar?

That is the incendiary argument of Campbell Harvey, professor of finance at Duke university. He reckons that at least half of the 400 supposedly market-beating strategies identified in top financial journals over the years are bogus. Worse, he worries that many fellow academics are in denial about this.

“It’s a huge issue,” he says. “Step one in dealing with the replication crisis in finance is to accept that there is a crisis. And right now, many of my colleagues are not there yet.”

Harvey is not some obscure outsider or performative contrarian attempting to gain attention through needless controversy. He is the former editor of the Journal of Finance, a former president of the American Finance Association, and an adviser to investment firms like Research Affiliates and Man Group.


Obviously, the stakes of the replication crisis are much higher in medicine, where lives can be in play. But it is not something that remains confined to the ivory towers of business schools, as investment groups often smell an opportunity to sell products based on apparently market-beating factors, Harvey argues. “It filters into the real world,” he says. “It definitely makes it into people’s portfolios.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Voice-hearing across the continuum: a phenomenology of spiritual voices

Moseley, P., et al. (2021, November 16).


Voice-hearing in clinical and non-clinical groups has previously been compared using standardized assessments of psychotic experiences. Findings from several studies suggest that non-clinical voice-hearing (NCVH) is distinguished by reduced distress and increased control. However, symptom-rating scales developed for clinical populations may be limited in their ability to elucidate subtle and unique aspects of non-clinical voices. Moreover, such experiences often occur within specific contexts and systems of belief, such as spiritualism. This makes direct comparisons difficult to interpret. Here we present findings from a comparative interdisciplinary study which administered a semi-structured interview to NCVH individuals and psychosis patients. The non-clinical group were specifically recruited from spiritualist communities. The findings were consistent with previous results regarding distress and control, but also documented multiple modalities that were often integrated into a single entity, high levels of associated visual imagery, and subtle differences in the location of voices relating to perceptual boundaries. Most spiritual voice-hearers reported voices before encountering spiritualism, suggesting that their onset was not solely due to deliberate practice. Future research should aim to understand how spiritual voice-hearers cultivate and control voice-hearing after its onset, which may inform interventions for people with distressing voices.

From the Discussion

As has been reported in previous studies, the ability to exhibit control over or influence voices seems to be an important difference between experiences reported by clinical and non-clinical groups.  A key distinction here is between volitional control (ability to bring on or stop voices intentionally), and the ability to influence voices (through other strategies such as engagement or distraction from voices), referred to elsewhere as direct and in direct control.  In the present study, the spiritual group reported substantially higher levels of control and influence over voices, compared to patients. Importantly, nearly three-quarters of the group reported a change in their ability to influence the voices over time –compared to 12.5% of psychosis patients–suggesting that this ability is not always present from the onset of voice-hearing in non-clinical populations, and instead can be actively developed. Indeed, our analysis indicated that 88.5% of the spiritual group described their voices starting spontaneously, with 69.2% reporting that this was before they had contact with spiritualism itself. Thus, while most of the group (96.2%) reported ongoing cultivation of the voices, and often reported developing influence over time, it seems that spiritual practices mostly do not elicit the actual initial onset of the voices, instead playing a role in honing the experience. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Not so much rational but rationalizing: Humans evolved as coherence-seeking, fiction-making animals

Yong, J. C., Li, N. P., & Kanazawa, S. 
(2021). American Psychologist, 76(5), 781–793. 


The evidence for biased perceptions and judgments in humans coupled with evidence for ecological rationality in nonhuman animals suggest that the claim that humans are the rational animal may be overstated. We instead propose that discussions of human psychology may benefit from viewing ourselves not so much as rational animals but rather as the rationalizing animal. The current article provides evidence that rationalization is unique to humans and argues that rationalization processes (e.g., cognitive dissonance reduction, post hoc justification of choices, confabulation of reasons for moral positions) are aimed at creating the fictions we prefer to believe and maintaining the impression that we are psychologically coherent and rational. Coherence appears to be prioritized at the expense of veridicality, suggesting that distorted perceptions and appraisals can be adaptive for humans—under certain circumstances, we are better off understanding ourselves and reality not so accurately. Rationalization also underlies the various shared beliefs, religions, norms, and ideologies that have enabled humans to organize and coordinate their actions on a grand scale, for better or worse. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this unique human psychological trait.


Adaptive Benefit 6: Deceiving Others

While the act of rationalization can be fundamentally regarded as a self-deception perpetuated by humans to maintain a rational or positive self-view, rationalization processes can also be utilized to distort perceptions of reality to strategically misinform others. Other-deception is a strategy that has evolved in our ancestors’ struggle to accrue resources, and people frequently lie to those on whom they are dependent to receive resources that might otherwise not be provided (Steinel & De Dreu, 2004). Rationalization facilitates deception by making a lie the focal, preferred belief, after which reality is reinterpreted to make the lie appear more plausible. For instance, a person may steal from his friend and then lie about how he was out of town during the theft. Thereafter, beliefs about the self and information pertaining to the theft, such as details about his travels or other potential suspects, may be reconstructed in his own mind to maintain the ruse. Individuals who cheat on their partners can rationalize their actions to such an extent that they become convinced of their lack of responsibility in the affair (Foster & Misra, 2013).

As being caught as a deceiver is costly through either immediate retaliation (e.g., withdrawal of cooperation) or incurring an untrustworthy reputation (Brosnan & Bshary, 2010), people who desire to misinform can increase their effectiveness by being unaware of the misinformation themselves. Cues that give away deceptive intent include signs of nervousness, suppression, and cognitive load (von Hippel & Trivers, 2011). By believing their lies or excuses to be actually true, deceivers can sell their fictions while obscuring the cues associated with consciously mediated deception. Furthermore, attribution of intent is critical in determining whether the deceived seeks retribution or forgives (Schweitzer et al., 2006). By maintaining that there was no intent to deceive, unaware deceivers are more likely than conscious deceivers to avoid retribution.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Toward an understanding of structural racism: Implications for criminal justice

Julian M. Rucker and Jennifer A. Richeson
Science, 374 (6565)
DOI: 10.1126/science.abj7779


Racial inequality is a foundational feature of the criminal justice system in the United States. Here we offer a psychological account for how Americans have come to tolerate a system that is so at odds with their professed egalitarian values. We argue that beliefs about the nature of racism—as being solely due to prejudiced individuals rather than structural factors that disadvantage marginalized racial groups—work to uphold racial stratification in the criminal justice system. Although acknowledging structural racism facilitates the perception of and willingness to reduce racial inequality in criminal justice outcomes, many Americans appear willfully ignorant of structural racism in society. We reflect on the role of psychological science in shaping popular understandings of racism and discuss how to contribute more meaningfully to its reduction.

From the Summary and self-reflection

In this Review, we sought to illustrate key social-psychological factors that shape the maintenance and justification of a racially unjust criminal justice system, despite large scale support for racially egalitarian values.  Psychological motives to substantiate the racial hierarchy and protect one’s self-image work against opportunities to increase exposure to critical education on the structural underpinnings of contemporary racial inequality.  In essence, ignorance and denial of structural racism protect against an indictment of the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. By contrast, acknowledgment of structural racism in society motivates efforts to reduce racially disparate outcomes. With this framework, it becomes clear that merely holding egalitarian attitudes is insufficient to reform and dismantle systems that reproduce racial inequality—a structural understanding of racism is integral to these objectives.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Moral Psychopharmacology Needs Moral Inquiry: The Case of Psychedelics

Langlitz N, et al. (2021) 
Front. Psychiatry, August, 12:680064


The revival of psychedelic research coincided and more recently conjoined with psychopharmacological research on how drugs affect moral judgments and behaviors. This article makes the case for a moral psychopharmacology of psychedelics that examines whether psychedelics serve as non-specific amplifiers that enable subjects to (re-)connect with their values, or whether they promote specific moral-political orientations such as liberal and anti-authoritarian views, as recent psychopharmacological studies suggest. This question gains urgency from the fact that the return of psychedelics from counterculture and underground laboratories to mainstream science and society has been accompanied by a diversification of their users and uses. We propose bringing the pharmacological and neuroscientific literature into a conversation with historical and anthropological scholarship documenting the full spectrum of moral and political views associated with the uses of psychedelics. This paper sheds new light on the cultural plasticity of drug action and has implications for the design of psychedelic pharmacopsychotherapies. It also raises the question of whether other classes of psychoactive drugs have an equally rich moral and political life.

From the Conclusion

If moral psychopharmacology took it upon itself to develop forms of psychedelic apprenticeship for the currently sprawling medical and non-medical applications of psychedelics, it would extend pharmaceutical research and development into the extra-pharmacological realm. Such a design process needs to be informed by best practices in clinical psychology and cognate fields, but, intellectually, it cannot hide behind professional prescriptions because what counts as good and bad is precisely what is at stake here. It is an open philosophical question that has to be answered in a recursive process of psychopharmacological experimentation, clinical and ethnographic observation, historical research, and ethical reflection.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Older adults across the globe exhibit increased prosocial behavior but also greater in-group preferences

Cutler, J., Nitschke, J.P., Lamm, C. et al. 
Nat Aging 1, 880–888 (2021).


Population aging is a global phenomenon with substantial implications across society. Prosocial behaviors—actions that benefit others—promote mental and physical health across the lifespan and can save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. We examined whether age predicts prosociality in a preregistered global study (46,576 people aged 18–99 across 67 countries) using two acutely relevant measures: distancing during COVID-19 and willingness to donate to hypothetical charities. Age positively predicted prosociality on both measures, with increased distancing and donations among older adults. However, older adults were more in-group focused than younger adults in choosing who to help, making larger donations to national over international charities and reporting increased in-group preferences. In-group preferences helped explain greater national over international donations. Results were robust to several control analyses and internal replication. Our findings have vital implications for predicting the social and economic impacts of aging populations, increasing compliance with public health measures and encouraging charitable donations.


Prosocial behaviors have critical individual and societal impacts. Emerging evidence suggests that older adults might be more prosocial than younger adults on measures including economic games learning about rewards for others, effortful actions and charitable donations. In line with this, theoretical accounts of lifespan development, such as socioemotional selectivity theory, propose that motivation for socially and emotionally meaningful behaviors increases as a result of age-related differences in goals and priorities. However, most research has tested participants from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic populations. It is unknown whether increased prosociality is shown by older adults across the world. Moreover, although some studies point to increased prosocial behavior, others find no association or even heightened negative behaviors, including greater bias toward one’s own emotions, increased stereotyping of outgroups and less support for foreign aid. Together these findings suggest that age might be associated with both increased positive helping behaviors but also heightened self-serving and in-group preferences.

Friday, December 10, 2021

How social relationships shape moral wrongness judgments

Earp, B.D., McLoughlin, K.L., Monrad, J.T. et al. 
Nat Commun 12, 5776 (2021).


Judgments of whether an action is morally wrong depend on who is involved and the nature of their relationship. But how, when, and why social relationships shape moral judgments is not well understood. We provide evidence to address these questions, measuring cooperative expectations and moral wrongness judgments in the context of common social relationships such as romantic partners, housemates, and siblings. In a pre-registered study of 423 U.S. participants nationally representative for age, race, and gender, we show that people normatively expect different relationships to serve cooperative functions of care, hierarchy, reciprocity, and mating to varying degrees. In a second pre-registered study of 1,320 U.S. participants, these relationship-specific cooperative expectations (i.e., relational norms) enable highly precise out-of-sample predictions about the perceived moral wrongness of actions in the context of particular relationships. In this work, we show that this ‘relational norms’ model better predicts patterns of moral wrongness judgments across relationships than alternative models based on genetic relatedness, social closeness, or interdependence, demonstrating how the perceived morality of actions depends not only on the actions themselves, but also on the relational context in which those actions occur.

From the General Discussion

From a theoretical perspective, one aspect of our current account that requires further attention is the reciprocity function. In contrast with the other three functions considered, relationship-specific prescriptions for reciprocity did not significantly predict moral judgments for reciprocity violations. Why might this be so? One possibility is that the model we tested did not distinguish between two different types of reciprocity. In some relationships, such as those between strangers, acquaintances, or individuals doing business with one another, each party tracks the specific benefits contributed to, and received from, the other. In these relationships, reciprocity thus takes a tit-for-tat form in which benefits are offered and accepted on a highly contingent basis. This type of reciprocity is transactional, in that resources are provided, not in response to a real or perceived need on the part of the other, but rather, in response to the past or expected future provision of a similarly valued resource from the cooperation partner. In this, it relies on an explicit accounting of who owes what to whom, and is thus characteristic of so-called “exchange” relationships.

In other relationships, by contrast, such as those between friends, family members, or romantic partners – so-called “communal” relationships – reciprocity takes a different form: that of mutually expected responsiveness to one another’s needs. In this form of reciprocity, each party tracks the other’s needs (rather than specific benefits provided) and strives to meet these needs to the best of their respective abilities, in proportion to the degree of responsibility each has assumed for the other’s welfare. Future work on moral judgments in relational context should distinguish between these two types of reciprocity: that is, mutual care-based reciprocity in communal relationships (when both partners have similar needs and abilities) and tit-for-tat reciprocity between “transactional” cooperation partners who have equal standing or claim on a resource.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

'Moral molecules’ – a new theory of what goodness is made of

Oliver Scott Curry and others
Originally posted 1 NOV 21

Here are two excerpts:

Research is converging on the idea that morality is a collection of rules for promoting cooperation – rules that help us work together, get along, keep the peace and promote the common good. The basic idea is that humans are social animals who have lived together in groups for millions of years. During this time, we have been surrounded by opportunities for cooperation – for mutually beneficial social interaction – and we have evolved and invented a range of ways of unlocking these benefits. These cooperative strategies come in different shapes and sizes: instincts, intuitions, inventions, institutions. Together, they motivate our cooperative behaviour and provide the criteria by which we evaluate the behaviour of others. And it is these cooperative strategies that philosophers and others have called ‘morality’.

This theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ relies on the mathematical analysis of cooperation provided by game theory – the branch of maths that is used to describe situations in which the outcome of one’s decisions depends on the decisions made by others. Game theory distinguishes between competitive ‘zero-sum’ interactions or ‘games’, where one player’s gain is another’s loss, and cooperative ‘nonzero-sum’ games, win-win situations in which both players benefit. What’s more, game theory tells us that there is not just one type of nonzero-sum game; there are many, with many different cooperative strategies for playing them. At least seven different types of cooperation have been identified so far, and each one explains a different type of morality.


Hence, seven types of cooperation explain seven types of morality: love, loyalty, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness and property rights. And so, according to this theory, it is morally good to: 1) love your family; 2) be loyal to your group; 3) return favours; 4) be heroic; 5) defer to superiors; 6) be fair; and 7) respect property. (And it is morally bad to: 1) neglect your family; 2) betray your group; 3) cheat; 4) be a coward; 5) disrespect authority; 6) be unfair; or 7) steal.) These morals are evolutionarily ancient, genetically distinct, psychologically discrete and cross-culturally universal.

The theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ explains, from first principles, many of the morals on those old lists. Some of the morals correspond to one of the basic types of cooperation (as in the case of courage), while others correspond to component parts of a basic type (as in the case of gratitude, which is a component of reciprocity).

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Robot Evolution: Ethical Concerns

Eiban, A.E., Ellers, J, et al.
Front. Robot. AI, 03 November 2021


Rapid developments in evolutionary computation, robotics, 3D-printing, and material science are enabling advanced systems of robots that can autonomously reproduce and evolve. The emerging technology of robot evolution challenges existing AI ethics because the inherent adaptivity, stochasticity, and complexity of evolutionary systems severely weaken human control and induce new types of hazards. In this paper we address the question how robot evolution can be responsibly controlled to avoid safety risks. We discuss risks related to robot multiplication, maladaptation, and domination and suggest solutions for meaningful human control. Such concerns may seem far-fetched now, however, we posit that awareness must be created before the technology becomes mature.


Robot evolution is not science fiction anymore. The theory and the algorithms are available and robots are already evolving in computer simulations, safely limited to virtual worlds. In the meanwhile, the technology for real-world implementations is developing rapidly and the first (semi-) autonomously reproducing and evolving robots are likely to arrive within a decade (Hale et al., 2019; Buchanan et al., 2020). Current research in this area is typically curiosity-driven, but will increasingly become more application-oriented as evolving robot systems can be employed in hostile or inaccessible environments, like seafloors, rain-forests, ultra-deep mines or other planets, where they develop themselves “on the job” without the need for direct human oversight.

A key insight of this paper is that the practice of second order engineering, as induced by robot evolution, raises new issues outside the current discourse on AI and robot ethics. Our main message is that awareness must be created before the technology becomes mature and researchers and potential users should discuss how robot evolution can be responsibly controlled. Specifically, robot evolution needs careful ethical and methodological guidelines in order to minimize potential harms and maximize the benefits. Even though the evolutionary process is functionally autonomous without a “steering wheel” it still entails a necessity to assign responsibilities. This is crucial not only with respect to holding someone responsible if things go wrong, but also to make sure that people take responsibility for certain aspects of the process–without people taking responsibility, the process cannot be effectively controlled. Given the potential benefits and harms and the complicated control issues, there is an urgent need to follow up our ideas and further think about responsible robot evolution.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Memory and decision making interact to shape the value of unchosen options

Biderman, N., Shohamy, D.
Nat Commun 12, 4648 (2021). 


The goal of deliberation is to separate between options so that we can commit to one and leave the other behind. However, deliberation can, paradoxically, also form an association in memory between the chosen and unchosen options. Here, we consider this possibility and examine its consequences for how outcomes affect not only the value of the options we chose, but also, by association, the value of options we did not choose. In five experiments (total n = 612), including a preregistered experiment (n = 235), we found that the value assigned to unchosen options is inversely related to their chosen counterparts. Moreover, this inverse relationship was associated with participants’ memory of the pairs they chose between. Our findings suggest that deciding between options does not end the competition between them. Deliberation binds choice options together in memory such that the learned value of one can affect the inferred value of the other.

From the Discussion

We found that stronger memory for the deliberated options is related to a stronger discrepancy between the value assigned to the chosen and unchosen options. This result suggests that choosing between options leaves a memory trace. By definition, deliberation is meant to tease apart the value of competing options in the service of making the decision; our findings suggest that deliberation and choice also bind pairs of choice options in memory. Consequently, unchosen options do not vanish from memory after a decision is made, but rather they continue to linger through their link to the chosen options.

We show that participants use the association between choice options to infer the value of unchosen options. This finding complements and extends previous studies reporting transfer of value between associated items in the same direction, which allows agents to generalize reward value across associated exemplars. For example, in the sensory preconditioning task, pairs of neutral items are associated by virtue of appearing in temporal proximity. Subsequently, just one item gains feedback—it is either rewarded or not. When probed to choose between items that did not receive feedback, participants tend to select those previously paired with rewarded items. In contrast, our participants tended to avoid the items whose counterpart was previously rewarded. Put in learning terms, when the chosen option proved to be successful, participants’ choices in our task reflected avoidance of, rather than approach to, the unchosen option. One important difference between our task and the sensory preconditioning task is the manner in which the association is formed. In both tasks a pair of items appears in close temporal proximity, yet in our task participants are also asked to decide between these items and the act of deliberation seems to result in an inverse association between the deliberated options.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Overtrusting robots: Setting a research agenda to mitigate overtrust in automation

Aroyo, A.M.,  et al. (2021).
Journal of Behavioral Robotics,
Vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 423-436. 


There is increasing attention given to the concept of trustworthiness for artificial intelligence and robotics. However, trust is highly context-dependent, varies among cultures, and requires reflection on others’ trustworthiness, appraising whether there is enough evidence to conclude that these agents deserve to be trusted. Moreover, little research exists on what happens when too much trust is placed in robots and autonomous systems. Conceptual clarity and a shared framework for approaching overtrust are missing. In this contribution, we offer an overview of pressing topics in the context of overtrust and robots and autonomous systems. Our review mobilizes insights solicited from in-depth conversations from a multidisciplinary workshop on the subject of trust in human–robot interaction (HRI), held at a leading robotics conference in 2020. A broad range of participants brought in their expertise, allowing the formulation of a forward-looking research agenda on overtrust and automation biases in robotics and autonomous systems. Key points include the need for multidisciplinary understandings that are situated in an eco-system perspective, the consideration of adjacent concepts such as deception and anthropomorphization, a connection to ongoing legal discussions through the topic of liability, and a socially embedded understanding of overtrust in education and literacy matters. The article integrates diverse literature and provides a ground for common understanding for overtrust in the context of HRI.

From the Conclusion

In light of the increasing use of automated systems, both embodied and disembodied, overtrust is becoming an ever more important topic. However, our overview shows how the overtrust literature has so far been mostly confined to HRI research and psychological approaches. While philosophers, ethicists, engineers, lawyers, and social scientists more generally have a lot to say about trust and technology, conceptual clarity and a shared framework for approaching overtrust are missing. In this article, our goal was not to provide an overarching framework but rather to encourage further dialogue from an interdisciplinary perspective, integrating diverse literature and providing a ground for common understanding. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The psychological foundations of reputation-based cooperation

Manrique, H., et al. (2021, June 2).


Humans care about having a positive reputation, which may prompt them to help in scenarios where the return benefits are not obvious. Various game-theoretical models support the hypothesis that concern for reputation may stabilize cooperation beyond kin, pairs or small groups. However, such models are not explicit about the underlying psychological mechanisms that support reputation-based cooperation. These models therefore cannot account for the apparent rarity of reputation-based cooperation in other species. Here we identify the cognitive mechanisms that may support reputation-based cooperation in the absence of language. We argue that a large working memory enhances the ability to delay gratification, to understand others' mental states (which allows for perspective-taking and attribution of intentions), and to create and follow norms, which are key building blocks for increasingly complex reputation-based cooperation. We review the existing evidence for the appearance of these processes during human ontogeny as well as their presence in non-human apes and other vertebrates. Based on this review, we predict that most non-human species are cognitively constrained to show only simple forms of reputation-based cooperation.


We have presented  four basic psychological building blocks that we consider important facilitators for complex reputation-based cooperation: working memory, delay of gratification, theory of mind, and social norms. Working memory allows for parallel processing of diverse information, to  properly  assess  others’ actions and update their  reputation  scores. Delay of gratification is useful for many types of cooperation,  but may  be particularly relevant for reputation-based cooperation where the returns come from a future interaction with an observer rather than an immediate reciprocation by one’s current partner. Theory of mind makes it easier to  properly  assess others’ actions, and  reduces the  risk that spreading  errors will undermine cooperation. Finally, norms support theory of mind by giving individuals a benchmark of what is right or wrong.  The more developed that each of these building blocks is, the more complex the interaction structure can become. We are aware that by picking these four socio-cognitive mechanisms we leave out other processes that might be involved, e.g. long-term memory, yet we think the ones we picked are more critical and better allow for comparison across species.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Virtuous Victims

Jordan, Jillian J., and Maryam Kouchaki
Science Advances 7, no. 42 (October 15, 2021).


How do people perceive the moral character of victims? We find, across a range of transgressions, that people frequently see victims of wrongdoing as more moral than nonvictims who have behaved identically. Across 17 experiments (total n = 9676), we document this Virtuous Victim effect and explore the mechanisms underlying it. We also find support for the Justice Restoration Hypothesis, which proposes that people see victims as moral because this perception serves to motivate punishment of perpetrators and helping of victims, and people frequently face incentives to enact or encourage these “justice-restorative” actions. Our results validate predictions of this hypothesis and suggest that the Virtuous Victim effect does not merely reflect (i) that victims look good in contrast to perpetrators, (ii) that people are generally inclined to positively evaluate those who have suffered, or (iii) that people hold a genuine belief that victims tend to be people who behave morally.


Across 17 experiments (total n = 9676), we have documented and explored the Virtuous Victim effect. We find that victims are frequently seen as more virtuous than nonvictims—not because of their own behavior, but because others have mistreated them. We observe this effect across a range of moral transgressions and find evidence that it is not moderated by the victim’s (white versus black) race or gender. Humans ubiquitously—and perhaps increasingly (1, 2)—encounter narratives about immoral acts and their victims. By demonstrating that these narratives have the power to confer moral status, our results shed new light on the ways that victims are perceived by society.

We have also explored the boundaries of the Virtuous Victim effect and illuminated the mechanisms that underlie it. For example, we find that the Virtuous Victim effect may be especially likely to flow from victim narratives that describe a transgression’s perpetrator and are presented by a third-person narrator (or perhaps, more generally, a narrator who is unlikely to be doubted). We also find that the effect is specific to victims of immorality (i.e., it does not extend to accident victims) and to moral virtue (i.e., it does not extend equally to positive but nonmoral traits). Furthermore, the effect shapes perceptions of moral character but not predictions about moral behavior.

We have also evaluated several potential explanations for the Virtuous Victim effect. Ultimately, our results provide evidence for the Justice Restoration Hypothesis, which proposes that people see victims as virtuous because this perception serves to motivate punishment of perpetrators and helping of victims, and people frequently face incentives to enact or encourage these justice-restorative actions.

Friday, December 3, 2021

A rational reinterpretation of dual-process theories

S. Milli, F. Lieder, & T. L. Griffiths
Volume 217, December 2021, 104881


Highly influential “dual-process” accounts of human cognition postulate the coexistence of a slow accurate system with a fast error-prone system. But why would there be just two systems rather than, say, one or 93? Here, we argue that a dual-process architecture might reflect a rational tradeoff between the cognitive flexibility afforded by multiple systems and the time and effort required to choose between them. We investigate what the optimal set and number of cognitive systems would be depending on the structure of the environment. We find that the optimal number of systems depends on the variability of the environment and the difficulty of deciding when which system should be used. Furthermore, we find that there is a plausible range of conditions under which it is optimal to be equipped with a fast system that performs no deliberation (“System 1”) and a slow system that achieves a higher expected accuracy through deliberation (“System 2”). Our findings thereby suggest a rational reinterpretation of dual-process theories.

From the General Discussion

While we have formulated the function of selecting between multiple cognitive systems as metareasoning, this does not mean that the mechanisms through which this function is realized have to involve any form
of reasoning. Rather, our analysis holds for all selection and arbitration mechanisms as having more cognitive systems incurs a higher cognitive cost. This also applies to model-free mechanisms that choose decision systems based on learned associations. This is because the more actions there are, the longer it takes for model-free reinforcement learning to converge to a good solution and the suboptimal choices during the learning phase can be costly.

The emerging connection between normative modeling and dual-process theories is remarkable because the findings from these approaches are often invoked to support opposite views on human (ir)rationality (Stanovich, 2011). In this debate, some authors (Ariely, 2009; Marcus, 2009) have interpreted the existence of a fast, error-prone cognitive system whose heuristics violate the rules of logic, probability theory, and expected utility theory as a sign of human irrationality.  By contrast, our analysis suggests that having a fast but fallible cognitive system in addition to a slow but accurate system might be the best
possible solution. This implies that the variability, fallibility, and inconsistency of human judgment that result from people’s switching between System 1 and System 2 should not be interpreted as evidence
for human irrationality, because it might reflect the rational use of limited cognitive resources.