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, June 18, 2021

Wise teamwork: Collective confidence calibration predicts the effectiveness of group discussion

Silver, I, Mellers, B.A., & Tetlock, P.E.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 96, September 2021.


‘Crowd wisdom’ refers to the surprising accuracy that can be attained by averaging judgments from independent individuals. However, independence is unusual; people often discuss and collaborate in groups. When does group interaction improve vs. degrade judgment accuracy relative to averaging the group's initial, independent answers? Two large laboratory studies explored the effects of 969 face-to-face discussions on the judgment accuracy of 211 teams facing a range of numeric estimation problems from geographic distances to historical dates to stock prices. Although participants nearly always expected discussions to make their answers more accurate, the actual effects of group interaction on judgment accuracy were decidedly mixed. Importantly, a novel, group-level measure of collective confidence calibration robustly predicted when discussion helped or hurt accuracy relative to the group's initial independent estimates. When groups were collectively calibrated prior to discussion, with more accurate members being more confident in their own judgment and less accurate members less confident, subsequent group interactions were likelier to yield increased accuracy. We argue that collective calibration predicts improvement because groups typically listen to their most confident members. When confidence and knowledge are positively associated across group members, the group's most knowledgeable members are more likely to influence the group's answers.


People often display exaggerated beliefs about their skills and knowledge. We misunderstand and over-estimate our ability to answer general knowledge questions (Arkes, Christensen, Lai, & Blumer, 1987), save for a rainy day (Berman, Tran, Lynch Jr, & Zauberman, 2016), and resist unhealthy foods (Loewenstein, 1996), to name just a few examples. Such failures of calibration can have serious consequences, hindering our ability to set goals (Kahneman & Lovallo, 1993), make plans (Janis, 1982), and enjoy experiences (Mellers & McGraw, 2004). Here, we show that collective calibration also predicts the effectiveness of group discussions. In the context of numeric estimation tasks, poorly calibrated groups were less likely to benefit from working together, and, ultimately, offered less accurate answers. Group interaction is the norm, not the exception. Knowing what we know (and what we don't know) can help predict whether interactions will strengthen or weaken crowd wisdom.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Biased Benevolence: The Perceived Morality of Effective Altruism Across Social Distance

Law, K. F., Campbell, D., & Gaesser, B. 
(2019, July 11). 


Is altruism always morally good, or is the morality of altruism fundamentally shaped by the social opportunity costs that often accompany helping decisions? Across five studies, we reveal that, although helping both socially closer and socially distant others is generally perceived favorably (Study 1), in cases of realistic tradeoffs in social distance for gains in welfare where helping socially distant others necessitates not helping socially closer others with the same resources, helping is deemed as less morally acceptable (Studies 2-5). Making helping decisions at a cost to socially closer others also negatively affects judgments of relationship quality (Study 3) and in turn, decreases cooperative behavior with the helper (Study 4). Ruling out an alternative explanation of physical distance accounting for the effects in Studies 1-4, social distance continued to impact moral acceptability when physical distance across social targets was matched (Study 5). These findings reveal that attempts to decrease biases in helping may have previously unconsidered consequences for moral judgments, relationships, and cooperation.

General Discussion

When judging the morality of altruistic tradeoffs in social distance for gains in welfare advocated by the philosophy and social movement of effective altruism, we find that the perceived morality of altruism is graded by social distance. People consistently view socially distant altruism as less morally acceptable as the person not receiving help becomes socially closer to the agent helping. This suggests that whereas altruism is generally evaluated as morally praiseworthy, the moral calculus of altruism flexibly shifts according to the social distance between the person offering aid and the people in need. Such findings highlight the empirical value and theoretical importance of investigating moral judgments situated in real-world social contexts.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Lazy, Not Biased: Susceptibility to Partisan Fake News Is Better Explained by Lack of Reasoning Than by Motivated Reasoning

Pennycook, G. & Rand, D. G.
Cognition. (2019)
Volume 188, July 2019, Pages 39-50


Why do people believe blatantly inaccurate news headlines (“fake news”)? Do we use our reasoning abilities to convince ourselves that statements that align with our ideology are true, or does reasoning allow us to effectively differentiate fake from real regardless of political ideology? Here we test these competing accounts in two studies (total N = 3,446 Mechanical Turk workers) by using the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) as a measure of the propensity to engage in analytical reasoning. We find that CRT performance is negatively correlated with the perceived accuracy of fake news, and positively correlated with the ability to discern fake news from real news – even for headlines that align with individuals’ political ideology. Moreover, overall discernment was actually better for ideologically aligned headlines than for misaligned headlines. Finally, a headline-level analysis finds that CRT is negatively correlated with perceived accuracy of relatively implausible (primarily fake) headlines, and positively correlated with perceived accuracy of relatively plausible (primarily real) headlines. In contrast, the correlation between CRT and perceived accuracy is unrelated to how closely the headline aligns with the participant’s ideology. Thus, we conclude that analytic thinking is used to assess the plausibility of headlines, regardless of whether the stories are consistent or inconsistent with one’s political ideology. Our findings therefore suggest that susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than it is by partisan bias per se – a finding that opens potential avenues for fighting fake news.


• Participants rated perceived accuracy of fake and real news headlines.

• Analytic thinking was associated with ability to discern between fake and real.

• We found no evidence that analytic thinking exacerbates motivated reasoning.

• Falling for fake news is more a result of a lack of thinking than partisanship.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Diagnostic Mistakes a Big Contributor to Malpractice Suits, Study Finds

Joyce Friedan
Originally posted 26 May 21

Here are two excerpts

One problem is that "healthcare is inherently risky," she continued. For example, "there's ever-changing industry knowledge, growing bodies of clinical options, new diseases, and new technology. There are variable work demands -- boy, didn't we experience that this past year! -- and production pressure has long been a struggle and a challenge for our providers and their teams." Not to mention variable individual competency, an aging population, complex health issues, and evolving workforces.


Cognitive biases can also trigger diagnostic errors, Siegal said. "Anchor bias" occurs when "a provider anchors on a diagnosis, early on, and then through the course of the journey looks for things to confirm that diagnosis. Once they've confirmed it enough that 'search satisfaction' is met, that leads to premature closure" of the patient's case. But that causes a problem because "it means that there's a failure to continue exploring other options. What else could it be? It's a failure to establish, perhaps, every differential diagnosis."

To avoid this problem, providers "always want to think about, 'Am I anchoring too soon? Am I looking to confirm, rather than challenge, my diagnosis?'" she said. According to the study, 25% of cases didn't have evidence of a differential diagnosis, and 36% fell into the category of "confirmation bias" -- "I was looking for things to confirm what I knew, but there were relevant signs and symptoms or positive tests that were still present that didn't quite fit the picture, but it was close. So they were somehow discounted, and the premature closure took over and a diagnosis was made," she said.

She suggested that clinicians take a "diagnostic timeout" -- similar to a surgical timeout -- when they're arriving at a diagnosis. "What else could this be? Have I truly explored all the other possibilities that seem relevant in this scenario and, more importantly, what doesn't fit? Be sure to dis-confirm as well."

Monday, June 14, 2021

Bias Is a Big Problem. But So Is ‘Noise.’

Daniel Kahneman, O. Sibony & C.R. Sunstein
The New York Times
Originally posted 15 May 21

Here is an excerpt:

There is much evidence that irrelevant circumstances can affect judgments. In the case of criminal sentencing, for instance, a judge’s mood, fatigue and even the weather can all have modest but detectable effects on judicial decisions.

Another source of noise is that people can have different general tendencies. Judges often vary in the severity of the sentences they mete out: There are “hanging” judges and lenient ones.

A third source of noise is less intuitive, although it is usually the largest: People can have not only different general tendencies (say, whether they are harsh or lenient) but also different patterns of assessment (say, which types of cases they believe merit being harsh or lenient about). 

Underwriters differ in their views of what is risky, and doctors in their views of which ailments require treatment. 

We celebrate the uniqueness of individuals, but we tend to forget that, when we expect consistency, uniqueness becomes a liability.

Once you become aware of noise, you can look for ways to reduce it. For instance, independent judgments from a number of people can be averaged (a frequent practice in forecasting). 

Guidelines, such as those often used in medicine, can help professionals reach better and more uniform decisions. 

As studies of hiring practices have consistently shown, imposing structure and discipline in interviews and other forms of assessment tends to improve judgments of job candidates.

No noise-reduction techniques will be deployed, however, if we do not first recognize the existence of noise. 

Noise is too often neglected. But it is a serious issue that results in frequent error and rampant injustice. 

Organizations and institutions, public and private, will make better decisions if they take noise seriously.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Philosophy in Science: Can philosophers of science permeate through science and produce scientific knowledge?

Pradeu, T., et al. (2021)
British Journal of the Philosophy of Science


Most philosophers of science do philosophy ‘on’ science. By contrast, others do philosophy ‘in’ science (‘PinS’), i.e., they use philosophical tools to address scientific problems and to provide scientifically useful proposals. Here, we consider the evidence in favour of a trend of this nature. We proceed in two stages. First, we identify relevant authors and articles empirically with bibliometric tools, given that PinS would be likely to infiltrate science and thus to be published in scientific journals (‘intervention’), cited in scientific journals (‘visibility’) and sometimes recognized as a scientific result by scientists (‘contribution’). We show that many central figures in philosophy of science have been involved in PinS, and that some philosophers have even ‘specialized’ in this practice. Second, we propose a conceptual definition of PinS as a process involving three conditions (raising a scientific problem, using philosophical tools to address it, and making a scientific proposal), and we ask whether the articles identified at the first stage fulfil all these conditions. We show that PinS is a distinctive, quantitatively substantial trend within philosophy of science, demonstrating the existence of a methodological continuity from science to philosophy of science.

From the Conclusion

A crucial and long-standing question for philosophers of science is how philosophy of science relates to science, including, in particular, its possible impact on science. Various important ways in which philosophy of science can have an impact on science have been documented in the past, from the influence of Mach, Poincaré and Schopenhauer on the development of the theory of relativity (Rovelli [2018]) to Popper’s long-recognized influence on scientists, such as Eccles and Medawar, and some recent reflections on how best to organize science institutionally (e.g. Leonelli [2017]). Here, we identify and describe an
approach that we propose to call ‘PinS’, which adds another, in our view essential, layer to this picture.

By combining quantitative and qualitative tools, we demonstrate the existence of a corpus of articles by philosophers of science, either published in philosophy of science journals or in scientific journals, raising scientific problems and aiming to contribute to their resolution via the use of philosophical tools. PinS constitutes a subdomain of philosophy of science, which has a long history, with canonical texts and authors, but, to our knowledge, this is the first time this domain is delineated and analysed.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Science Doesn't Work That Way

Gregory E. Kaebnick
Boston Review
Originally published 30 April 21

Here is an excerpt:

The way to square this circle is to acknowledge that what objectivity science is able to deliver derives not from individual scientists but from the social institutions and practices that structure their work. The philosopher of science Karl Popper expressed this idea clearly in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies. “There is no doubt that we are all suffering under our own system of prejudices,” he acknowledged—“and scientists are no exception to this rule.” But this is no threat to objectivity, he argued—not because scientists manage to liberate themselves from their prejudices, but rather because objectivity is “closely bound up with the social aspect of scientific method.” In particular, “science and scientific objectivity do not (and cannot) result from the attempts of an individual scientist to be ‘objective,’ but from the friendly-hostile co-operation of many scientists.” Thus Robinson Crusoe cannot be a scientist, “For there is nobody but himself to check his results.”

More recently, philosophers and historians of science such as Helen Longino, Miriam Solomon, and Naomi Oreskes have developed detailed arguments along similar lines, showing how the integrity and objectivity of scientific knowledge depend crucially on social practices. Science even sometimes advances not in spite but because of scientists’ filters and biases—whether a tendency to focus single-mindedly on a particular set of data, a desire to beat somebody else to an announcement, a contrarian streak, or an overweening self-confidence. Any vision of science that makes it depend on complete disinterestedness is doomed to make science impossible. Instead, we must develop a more widespread appreciation of the way science depends on protocols and norms that scientists have collectively developed for testing, refining, and disseminating scientific knowledge. A scientist must be able to show that research has met investigative standards, that it has been exposed to criticism, and that criticisms can be met with arguments.

The implication is that science works not so much because scientists have a special ability to filter out their biases or to access the world as it really is, but instead because they are adhering to a social process that structures their work—constraining and channeling their predispositions and predilections, their moments of eureka, their large yet inevitably limited understanding, their egos and their jealousies. These practices and protocols, these norms and standards, do not guarantee mistakes are never made. But nothing can make that guarantee. The rules of the game are themselves open to scrutiny and revision in light of argument, and that is the best we can hope for.

This way of understanding science fares better than the exalted view, which makes scientific knowledge impossible. Like all human endeavors, science is fallible, but still it warrants belief—according to how well it adheres to rules we have developed for it. What makes for objectivity and expertise is not, or not merely, the simple alignment between what one claims and how the world is, but a commitment to a process that is accepted as producing empirical adequacy.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Record-High 47% in U.S. Think Abortion Is Morally Acceptable

Megan Brenan
Originally posted 9 June 21

Americans are sharply divided in their abortion views, including on its morality, with an equal split between those who believe it is morally acceptable and those who say it is morally wrong. The 47% who say it is acceptable is, by two percentage points, the highest Gallup has recorded in two decades of measurement. Just one point separates them from the 46% who think abortion is wrong from a moral perspective.

Since 2001, the gap between these readings has varied from zero to 20 points. The latest gap, based on a May 3-18 Gallup poll, is slightly smaller than last year's, when 47% thought abortion was morally wrong and 44% said it was morally acceptable. Americans have been typically more inclined to say abortion is morally wrong than morally acceptable, though the gap has narrowed in recent years. The average gap has been five points since 2013 (43% morally acceptable and 48% morally wrong), compared with 11 points between 2001 and 2012 (39% and 50%, respectively).

Democrats and political independents have become more likely to say abortion is morally acceptable. Sixty-four percent of Democrats, 51% of independents and 26% of Republicans currently hold this view.

Causal judgments about atypical actions are influenced by agents' epistemic states

Kirfel, L. & Lagnado, D.
Cognition, Volume 212, July 2021.


A prominent finding in causal cognition research is people’s tendency to attribute increased causality to atypical actions. If two agents jointly cause an outcome (conjunctive causation), but differ in how frequently they have performed the causal action before, people judge the atypically acting agent to have caused the outcome to a greater extent. In this paper, we argue that it is the epistemic state of an abnormally acting agent, rather than the abnormality of their action, that is driving people's causal judgments. Given the predictability of the normally acting agent's behaviour, the abnormal agent is in a better position to foresee the consequences of their action. We put this hypothesis to test in four experiments. In Experiment 1, we show that people judge the atypical agent as more causal than the normally acting agent, but also judge the atypical agent to have an epistemic advantage. In Experiment 2, we find that people do not judge a causal difference if no epistemic advantage for the abnormal agent arises. In Experiment 3, we replicate these findings in a scenario in which the abnormal agent's epistemic advantage generalises to a novel context. In Experiment 4, we extend these findings to mental states more broadly construed and develop a Bayesian network model that predicts the degree of outcome-oriented mental states based on action normality and epistemic states. We find that people infer mental states like desire and intention to a greater extent from abnormal behaviour when this behaviour is accompanied by an epistemic advantage. We discuss these results in light of current theories and research on people's preference for abnormal causes.

From the Conclusion

In this paper, we have argued that the typicality of actions changes how much an agent can foresee the consequences of their action. We have shown that it is this very epistemic asymmetry between a normally and abnormally acting agent that influences people’s causal judgments. Both employee and party organiser acted abnormally, but when acting, they also could have foreseen the event of a dust explosion to a greater extent. While further research is needed on this topic, the connection between action typicality and epistemic states brings us one step closer to understanding the enigmatic role of normality in causal cognition.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Moral Extremism

Spencer Case
Wuhan University, Penultimate Draft for
Journal of Applied Philosophy


The word ‘extremist’ is often used pejoratively, but it’s not clear what, if anything, is wrong with extremism. My project is to give an account of moral extremism as a vice. It consists roughly in having moral convictions so intense that they cause a sort of moral tunnel vision, pushing salient competing considerations out of mind. We should be interested in moral extremism for several reasons: it’s consequential, it’s insidious – we don’t expect immorality to arise from excessive devotion to morality – and it’s yet to attract much philosophical attention. I give several examples of moral extremism from history and explore their social-political implications. I also consider how we should evaluate people who miss the mark, being either too extreme in the service of a good cause or inconsistent with their righteous convictions. I compare John Brown and John Quincy Adams, who fell on either side of this spectrum, as examples.


Accusations of extremism are often thrown around to discredit unpopular positions. It seems fair for the person accused of being an extremist to ask: “Who cares if I’m an extremist, or if the position I’m defending is extreme, if I’m right?” I began with quotes from three reformers who took this line of reply. I’ve argued, however, that we should worry about extremism in the service of good causes. Extremism on my account is a vice. What it consists in, roughly, is an intense moral conviction that prevents the agent from perceiving, or acting on, competing moral considerations when these are important. I’ve argued that this vice has had baleful consequences throughout history. The discussion of John Brown and John Adams introduced a wrinkle: perhaps in rare circumstances, extremists can also confer certain benefits on a society. A general lesson from this discussion is that we must occasionally look at our own moral convictions, especially the ones that generate the strongest emotions, with a degree of suspicion. Passion for some righteous cause doesn’t necessarily indicate that we are morally on the right track. Evil can be insidious, and even our strongest moral convictions can morally mislead.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Towards a computational theory of social groups: A finite set of cognitive primitives for representing any and all social groups in the context of conflict

Pietraszewski, D. (2021). 
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-62. 


We don't yet have adequate theories of what the human mind is representing when it represents a social group. Worse still, many people think we do. This mistaken belief is a consequence of the state of play: Until now, researchers have relied on their own intuitions to link up the concept social group on the one hand, and the results of particular studies or models on the other. While necessary, this reliance on intuition has been purchased at considerable cost. When looked at soberly, existing theories of social groups are either (i) literal, but not remotely adequate (such as models built atop economic games), or (ii) simply metaphorical (typically a subsumption or containment metaphor). Intuition is filling in the gaps of an explicit theory. This paper presents a computational theory of what, literally, a group representation is in the context of conflict: it is the assignment of agents to specific roles within a small number of triadic interaction types. This “mental definition” of a group paves the way for a computational theory of social groups—in that it provides a theory of what exactly the information-processing problem of representing and reasoning about a group is. For psychologists, this paper offers a different way to conceptualize and study groups, and suggests that a non-tautological definition of a social group is possible. For cognitive scientists, this paper provides a computational benchmark against which natural and artificial intelligences can be held.

Summary and Conclusion

Despite an enormous literature on groups and group dynamics, little attention has been paid to explicit computational theories of how the mind represents and reasons about groups. The goal of this paper has been, in a conceptual, non-technical manner, to propose a simple but non-trivial framework for starting to ask questions about the nature of the underlying representations that make the phenomenon of social groups possible—all described at the level of information processing. This computational theory, when combined with many more such theories—and followed by extensive task analyses and empirical investigations—will eventually contribute to a full accounting of the information-processing required to represent, reason about, and act in accordance with group representations.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Action and inaction in moral judgments and decisions: ‎Meta-analysis of Omission-Bias omission-commission asymmetries

Jamison, J., Yay, T., & Feldman, G.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 89, July 2020, 103977


Omission bias is the preference for harm caused through omissions over harm caused through commissions. In a pre-registered experiment (N = 313), we successfully replicated an experiment from Spranca, Minsk, and Baron (1991), considered a classic demonstration of the omission bias, examining generalizability to a between-subject design with extensions examining causality, intent, and regret. Participants in the harm through commission condition(s) rated harm as more immoral and attributed higher responsibility compared to participants in the harm through omission condition (d = 0.45 to 0.47 and d = 0.40 to 0.53). An omission-commission asymmetry was also found for perceptions of causality and intent, in that commissions were attributed stronger action-outcome links and higher intentionality (d = 0.21 to 0.58). The effect for regret was opposite from the classic findings on the action-effect, with higher regret for inaction over action (d = −0.26 to −0.19). Overall, higher perceived causality and intent were associated with higher attributed immorality and responsibility, and with lower perceived regret.

From the Discussion

Regret: Deviation from the action-effect 

The classic action-effect (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982) findings were that actions leading to a negative outcome are regretted more than inactions leading to the same negative outcomes. We added a regret measure to examine whether the action-effect findings would extend to situations of morality involving intended harmful behavior. Our findings were opposite to the expected action-effect omission-commission asymmetry with participants rating omissions as more regretted than commissions (d = 0.18 to 0.26).  

One explanation for this surprising finding may be an intermingling of the perception of an actors’ regret for their behavior with their regret for the outcome. In typical action-effect scenarios, actors behave in a way that is morally neutral but are faced with an outcome that deviates from expectations, such as losing money over an investment. In this study’s omission bias scenarios, the actors behaved immorally to harm others for personal or interpersonal gain, and then are faced with an outcome that deviates from expectation. We hypothesized that participants would perceive actors as being more regretful for taking action that would immorally harm another person rather than allowing that harm through inaction. Yet it is plausible that participants were focused on the regret that actors would feel for not taking more direct action towards their goal of personal or interpersonal gain.  

Another possible explanation for the regret finding is the side-taking hypothesis (DeScioli, 2016; Descoli & Kurzban, 2013). This states that group members side against a wrongdoer who has performed an action that is perceived morally wrong by also attributing lack of remorse or regret. The negative relationship observed between the positive characteristic of regret and the negative characteristics of immorality, causality, and intentionality is in support of this explanation. Future research may be able to explore the true mechanisms of regret in such scenarios. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Science Skepticism Across 24 Countries

Rutjens, B. T., et al., (2021). 
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 


Efforts to understand and remedy the rejection of science are impeded by lack of insight into how it varies in degree and in kind around the world. The current work investigates science skepticism in 24 countries (N = 5,973). Results show that while some countries stand out as generally high or low in skepticism, predictors of science skepticism are relatively similar across countries. One notable effect was consistent across countries though stronger in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) nations: General faith in science was predicted by spirituality, suggesting that it, more than religiosity, may be the ‘enemy’ of science acceptance. Climate change skepticism was mainly associated with political conservatism especially in North America. Other findings were observed across WEIRD and non-WEIRD nations: Vaccine skepticism was associated with spirituality and scientific literacy, genetic modification skepticism with scientific literacy, and evolution skepticism with religious orthodoxy. Levels of science skepticism are heterogeneous across countries, but predictors of science skepticism are heterogeneous across domains.

From the Discussion

Indeed, confirming previous results obtained in the Netherlands (Rutjens & van der Lee, 2020)—and providing strong support for Hypothesis 6—the current data speak to the crucial role of spirituality in fostering low faith in science, more generally, beyond its domain-specific effects on vaccine skepticism. This indicates that the negative impact of spirituality on faith in science represents a cross-national phenomenon that is more generalizable than might be expected based on the large variety (Muthukrishna et al., 2020) of countries included here. A possible explanation for the robustness of this effect may lie in the inherent irreconcilability of the intuitive epistemology of a spiritual belief system with science (Rutjens & van der Lee, 2020). (If so, then we might look at a potentially much larger problem that extends beyond spirituality and applies more generally to “post-truth” society, in which truth and perceptions of reality may be based on feelings rather than facts; Martel et al., 2020; Rutjens & Brandt, 2018.) However, these results do not mean that traditional religiosity as a predictor of science skepticism (McPhetres & Zuckermann, 2018; Rutjens, Heine, et al., 2018; Rutjens, Sutton, & van der Lee, 2018) has now become irrelevant: Not only did religious orthodoxy significantly contribute to low faith in science, it was also found to be a very consistent cross-national predictor of evolution skepticism (but not of other forms of science skepticism included in the study).

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Shared Reality: From Sharing-Is-Believing to Merging Minds

Higgins, E. T., Rossignac-Milon, M., & 
Echterhoff, G. (2021). 
Current Directions in Psychological 
Science, 30(2), 103–110. 


Humans are fundamentally motivated to create a sense of shared reality—the perceived commonality of inner states (feeling, beliefs, and concerns about the world) with other people. This shared reality establishes a sense of both social connection and understanding the world. Research on shared reality has burgeoned in recent decades. We first review evidence for a basic building block of shared-reality creation: sharing-is-believing, whereby communicators tune their descriptions to align with their communication partner’s attitude about something, which in turn shapes their recall. Next, we describe recent developments moving beyond this basic building block to explore generalized shared reality about the world at large, which promotes interpersonal closeness and epistemic certainty. Together, this body of work exemplifies the synergy between relational and epistemic motives. Finally, we discuss the potential for another form of shared reality—shared relevance—to bridge disparate realities.

From Concluding Remarks

The field of shared reality has made significant progress in advancing understanding of how humans share inner states as a way to connect with each other and make sense of the world. These advancements shed new light on current issues. For instance, exaggerated perceptions of consensus generated by filter bubbles and echo chambers may inflate the experience of shared reality on social media, especially given the intensifying effects of collective attention (Shteynberg et al., 2020) and transmission through social networks (Kashima et al., 2018). By shaping attitudes and ideological beliefs (see Jost et al., 2018; Stern & Ondish, 2018), shared reality can perpetuate insular views and exacerbate ideological divisions. But there is a different kind of shared reality that could be beneficial in this context: shared perceptions of what is worthy of attention. Wanting to establish shared relevance is so central to human motivation that even infants seek to establish it with their caregivers by pointing out objects deserving of co-attention (Higgins, 2016).

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Absolutely Right and Relatively Good: Consequentialists See Bioethical Disagreement in a Relativist Light

H. Viciana, I. R. Hannikainen & D. Rodríguez-Arias 
(2021) AJOB Empirical Bioethics
DOI: 10.1080/23294515.2021.1907476


Contemporary societies are rife with moral disagreement, resulting in recalcitrant disputes on matters of public policy. In the context of ongoing bioethical controversies, are uncompromising attitudes rooted in beliefs about the nature of moral truth?

To answer this question, we conducted both exploratory and confirmatory studies, with both a convenience and a nationally representative sample (total N = 1501), investigating the link between people’s beliefs about moral truth (their metaethics) and their beliefs about moral value (their normative ethics).

Across various bioethical issues (e.g., medically-assisted death, vaccine hesitancy, surrogacy, mandatory organ conscription, or genetically modified crops), consequentialist attitudes were associated with weaker beliefs in an objective moral truth. This association was not explained by domain-general reflectivity, theism, personality, normative uncertainty, or subjective knowledge.

We find a robust link between the way people characterize prescriptive disagreements and their sensibility to consequences. In addition, both societal consensus and personal conviction contribute to objectivist beliefs, but these effects appear to be asymmetric, i.e., stronger for opposition than for approval.

From the Discussion

The evidence is now strong that individuals tend to embrace rather diverse metaethical attitudes regarding moral disagreement, depending on the issues at stake (eg. Cova & Ravat 2008; Pölzler & Cole-Wright 2020). Thus, we believe that the time is ripe for empirical bioethics to update this assumption.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Vignette 38: Psychotherapy Without Medication

Beau Propion sought therapy from Dr. Pfizer.  At the initial session, Dr. Pfizer evaluated the patient as suffering with a moderate form of depression.  Mr. Propion indicated he did not want to take antidepressant medication, because he had read all the horrible adverse effects of antidepressant medication on the internet.  Given the moderate signs and symptoms, Dr. Pfizer understood the patient’s decision and agreed to engage in a psychotherapy relationship with the patient.  The main treatment goal was to decrease signs and symptoms of depression.

As treatment progressed, Mr. Propion became more significantly depressed.  He presented with more significant symptoms of depression.  Signs and symptoms included sleeping too much, weight gain, fatigue, passive suicidal ideation, procrastination, and poor concentration.  He recently started taking days off from work because of the severity of the depressive symptoms.

During a session, Dr. Pfizer broached the subject of antidepressants, because Dr. Pfizer knows that medication can be helpful, especially in more significant forms of depression.  As expected, Mr. Propion declines a referral for medication evaluation.  Dr. Pfizer is concerned about the patient and calls you for a consultation.

What are the ethical issues involved in this case?

What are the clinical issues involved in this situation?

What are the ramifications about the therapeutic relationship?

What course of action would you suggest to Dr. Pfizer?

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Scientific panel loosens ’14-day rule’ limiting how long human embryos can be grown in the lab

Andrew Joseph
Originally posted 26 May 2021

An influential scientific panel cracked open the door on Wednesday to growing human embryos in the lab for longer periods of time than currently allowed, a step that could enable the plumbing of developmental mysteries but that also raises thorny questions about whether research that can be pursued should be.

For decades, scientists around the world have followed the “14-day rule,” which stipulates that they should let human embryos develop in the lab for only up to two weeks after fertilization. The rule — which some countries (though not the United States) have codified into law — was meant to allow researchers to conduct inquiries into the early days of embryonic development, but not without limits. And for years, researchers didn’t push that boundary, not just for legal and ethical reasons, but for technical ones as well: They couldn’t keep the embryos growing in lab dishes that long.

More recently, however, scientists have refined their cell-culture techniques, finding ways to sustain embryos up to that deadline. Those advances — along with other leaps in the world of stem cell research, with scientists now transmogrifying cells into blobs that resemble early embryos or injecting human cells into animals — have complicated ethical debates about how far biomedical research should go in its quest for knowledge and potential treatments.

Now, in the latest updates to its guidelines, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has revised its view on studies that would take human embryos beyond 14 days, moving such experiments from the “absolutely not” category to a “maybe” — but only if lots of conditions are first met.

“We’ve relaxed the guidelines in that respect, we haven’t abandoned them,” developmental biologist Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute, who chaired the ISSCR’s guidelines task force, said at a press briefing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The clockwork universe: is free will an illusion?

Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian
Originally posted 27 APR 21

Here is an excerpt:

And Saul Smilansky, a professor of philosophy at the University of Haifa in Israel, who believes the popular notion of free will is a mistake, told me that if a graduate student who was prone to depression sought to study the subject with him, he would try to dissuade them. “Look, I’m naturally a buoyant person,” he said. “I have the mentality of a village idiot: it’s easy to make me happy. Nevertheless, the free will problem is really depressing if you take it seriously. It hasn’t made me happy, and in retrospect, if I were at graduate school again, maybe a different topic would have been preferable.”

Smilansky is an advocate of what he calls “illusionism”, the idea that although free will as conventionally defined is unreal, it’s crucial people go on believing otherwise – from which it follows that an article like this one might be actively dangerous. (Twenty years ago, he said, he might have refused to speak to me, but these days free will scepticism was so widely discussed that “the horse has left the barn”.) “On the deepest level, if people really understood what’s going on – and I don’t think I’ve fully internalised the implications myself, even after all these years – it’s just too frightening and difficult,” Smilansky said. “For anyone who’s morally and emotionally deep, it’s really depressing and destructive. It would really threaten our sense of self, our sense of personal value. The truth is just too awful here.”


By far the most unsettling implication of the case against free will, for most who encounter it, is what is seems to say about morality: that nobody, ever, truly deserves reward or punishment for what they do, because what they do is the result of blind deterministic forces (plus maybe a little quantum randomness).  "For the free will sceptic," writes Gregg Caruso in his new book Just Deserts, a collection of dialogues with fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett, "it is never fair to treat anyone as morally responsible." Were we to accept the full implications of that idea, the way we treat each other - and especially the way we treat criminals - might change beyond recognition.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

We Must Rethink the Role of Medical Expert Witnesses

Amitha Kalaichandran
Scientific American
Originally posted 5 May 21

Here are two excerpts:

The second issue is that the standard used by the courts to assess whether an expert witness’s scientific testimony can be included differs by state. Several states (including Minnesota) use the Frye Rule, established in 1923, which asks whether the expert’s assessment is generally accepted by the scientific community that specializes in this narrow field of expertise. Federally, and in several other states, the Daubert Standard of 1993 is used, which dictates the expert show their scientific reasoning (so the determination of validity is left to the courts), though acceptance within the scientific community is still a factor. Each standard has its drawbacks. For instance, in Frye, the expert’s community could be narrowly drawn by the legal team in a way that helps bolster the expert’s outdated or rare perspective, and the Daubert standard presumes that the judge and jury have an understanding of the science in order to independently assess scientific validity. Some states also strictly apply the standard, whereas others are more flexible. (The Canadian approach is derived from the case R v. Mohan, which states the expert be qualified and their testimony be relevant, but the test for “reliability” is left to the courts).

Third, when it comes to assessments of cause of death specifically, understanding the distinction between necessary and sufficient is important. Juries can have a hard time teasing out the difference. In the Chauvin trial, the medical expert witnesses testifying on behalf of the prosecution were aligned in their assessment of what killed Floyd: the sustained pressure of the officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck (note that asphyxia is a common cause of cardiac arrest). However, David Fowler, the medical expert witness for the defense, suggested the asphyxia was secondary to heart disease and drug intoxication as meaningful contributors to his death.


Another improvement could involve ensuring that courts institute a more stringent application and selection process, in which medical expert witnesses would be required to demonstrate their clinical and research competence related to the specific issues in a case, and where their abilities are recognized by their professional group. For example, the American College of Cardiology could endorse a cardiologist as a leader in a relevant subspecialty—a similar approach has been suggested as a way to reform medical expert witness testimony by emergency physicians. One drawback, according to Faigman, is that courts would be unlikely to fully abdicate their role in evaluating expertise.