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

Monday, January 31, 2022

The future of work: freedom, justice and capital in the age of artificial intelligence

F. S. de Sio, T. Almeida & J. van den Hoven
(2021) Critical Review of International Social
 and Political Philosophy
DOI: 10.1080/13698230.2021.2008204

Abstract

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is predicted to have a deep impact on the future of work and employment. The paper outlines a normative framework to understand and protect human freedom and justice in this transition. The proposed framework is based on four main ideas: going beyond the idea of a Basic Income to compensate the losers in the transition towards AI-driven work, towards a Responsible Innovation approach, in which the development of AI technologies is governed by an inclusive and deliberate societal judgment; going beyond a philosophical conceptualisation of social justice only focused on the distribution of ‘primary goods’, towards one focused on the different goals, values, and virtues of various social practices (Walzer’s ‘spheres of justice’) and the different individual capabilities of persons (Sen’s ‘capabilities’); going beyond a classical understanding of capital, towards one explicitly including mental capacities as a source of value for AI-driven activities. In an effort to promote an interdisciplinary approach, the paper combines political and economic theories of freedom, justice and capital with recent approaches in applied ethics of technology, and starts applying its normative framework to some concrete example of AI-based systems: healthcare robotics, ‘citizen science’, social media and platform economy.

From the Conclusion

Whether or not it will create a net job loss (aka technological unemployment), Artificial Intelligence and digital technologies will change the nature of work, and will have a deep impact on people’s work lives. New political action is needed to govern this transition. In this paper we have claimed that also new philosophical concepts are needed, if the transition has to be governed responsibly and in the interest of everybody. The paper has outlined a general normative framework to make sense of- and address the issue of human freedom and justice in the age of AI at work. The framework is based on four ideas. First, in general freedom and justice cannot be achieved by only protecting existing jobs as a goal in itself, inviting persons to find ways for to remain relevant in a new machine-driven word, or offering financial compensation to those who are (permanently) left unemployed, for instance, via a Universal Basic Income. We should rather prevent technological unemployment and the worsening of working condition to happen, as a result of a Responsible Innovation approach to technology, where freedom and justice are built into the technical and institutional structures of the work of the future. Second, more in particular, we have argued, freedom and justice may be best promoted by a politics and an economics of technology informed by the recognition of different virtues and values as constitutive of different activities, following a Walzerian (‘spheres of justice’) approach to technological and institutional design, possibly integrated by a virtue ethics component. 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Social proximity and the erosion of norm compliance

Bicchieri, C., Dimant, E., et al.
Games and Economic Behavior
Volume 132, March 2022, Pages 59-72

Abstract

We study how compliance with norms of pro-social behavior is influenced by peers' compliance in a dynamic and non-strategic experimental setting. We show that social proximity among peers is a crucial determinant of the effect. Without social proximity, norm compliance erodes swiftly because participants only conform to observed norm violations while ignoring norm compliance. With social proximity, participants conform to both types of observed behaviors, thus halting the erosion of compliance. Our findings stress the importance of the broader social context for norm compliance and show that, even in the absence of social sanctions, norm compliance can be sustained in repeated interactions, provided there is group identification, as is the case in many natural and online environments.

From the Discussion and conclusion

Social norms are a fundamental component of social and economic life. Therefore, it is important to study conditions under which norm compliance occurs. In this paper, we focused on how observing others' behavior influences individual norm compliance. To investigate this, we designed a non-strategic Take-or-Give (ToG) donation game where people could give to charity, take from it, or abstain from changing the initial allocation between the self and the charity. Using a series of norm-elicitation experiments, we established that most people think taking from the charity is socially inappropriate, whereas abstaining or giving to the charity is appropriate. We then examined the effect of letting individuals observe each other's behavior in a repeated version of the ToG game. Our behavioral results reveal a notable asymmetry in the effect of observing peer behavior: observing other anonymous individuals violating the norm (taking from charity) increased the likelihood that the observers transgress as well. Observing that others donate to charity, however, did not increase donations to the charity. In sum, observing socially inappropriate behavior by anonymous people eroded norm compliance in a way that was not compensated by observing socially appropriate behavior. Our additional experiments show that this partly occurs because observing inappropriate behavior erodes the social norm of giving.

While this asymmetry in reactions paints a bleak picture for norm compliance when other anonymous people can be observed, in most real-world interactions individuals can observe their social proximity to the people they interact with. Assessing similarities with others may bring forth a mechanism of group identification that may promote symmetrical behavioral conformity within the group. The reason for this phenomenon is that the individual may feel that deviations from group behavior, whether positive or negative, signal a lack of commitment to the group. Individuals fear that this may trigger disapproval by other group members. Thus, they will be more vigilant — and responsive — to both examples of socially inappropriate and socially appropriate behavior. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Are some cultures more mind-minded in their moral judgements than others?

Barrett H. Clark and Saxe Rebecca R.
2021. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B3762020028820200288

Abstract

Cross-cultural research on moral reasoning has brought to the fore the question of whether moral judgements always turn on inferences about the mental states of others. Formal legal systems for assigning blame and punishment typically make fine-grained distinctions about mental states, as illustrated by the concept of mens rea, and experimental studies in the USA and elsewhere suggest everyday moral judgements also make use of such distinctions. On the other hand, anthropologists have suggested that some societies have a morality that is disregarding of mental states, and have marshalled ethnographic and experimental evidence in support of this claim. Here, we argue against the claim that some societies are simply less ‘mind-minded’ than others about morality. In place of this cultural main effects hypothesis about the role of mindreading in morality, we propose a contextual variability view in which the role of mental states in moral judgement depends on the context and the reasons for judgement. On this view, which mental states are or are not relevant for a judgement is context-specific, and what appear to be cultural main effects are better explained by culture-by-context interactions.

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Summing up: Mind-mindedness in context

Our critique of cultural main effects theories, we think, is likely to apply to many domains, not just moral judgement. Dimensions of cultural difference such as the “collectivist / individualist” dimension [50]may capture some small main effects of cultural difference, but we suspect that collectivism / individualism is a parameter than can be flipped contextually within societies to a much greater degree than it varies as a main effect across societies. We may be collectivist within families, for example, but individualist at work. Similarly, we suggest that everywhere there are contexts in which one’s mental states may be deemed morally irrelevant, and others where they aren’t. Such judgements vary not just across contexts, but across individuals and time. What we argue against, then, is thinking of mindreading as a resource that is scarce in some places and plentiful in others. Instead, we should think about it as a resource that is available everywhere, and whose use in moral judgement depends on a multiplicity of factors, including social norms but also, importantly, the reasons for which people are making judgements. Cognitive resources such as theory of mind might best be seen as ingredients that can be combined in different ways across people, places, and situations. On this view, the space of moral judgements represents a mosaic of variously combined ingredients.

Friday, January 28, 2022

The AI ethicist’s dilemma: fighting Big Tech by supporting Big Tech

Sætra, H.S., Coeckelbergh, M. & Danaher, J. 
AI Ethics (2021). 
https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-021-00123-7

Abstract

Assume that a researcher uncovers a major problem with how social media are currently used. What sort of challenges arise when they must subsequently decide whether or not to use social media to create awareness about this problem? This situation routinely occurs as ethicists navigate choices regarding how to effect change and potentially remedy the problems they uncover. In this article, challenges related to new technologies and what is often referred to as ‘Big Tech’ are emphasized. We present what we refer to as the AI ethicist’s dilemma, which emerges when an AI ethicist has to consider how their own success in communicating an identified problem is associated with a high risk of decreasing the chances of successfully remedying the problem. We examine how the ethicist can resolve the dilemma and arrive at ethically sound paths of action through combining three ethical theories: virtue ethics, deontological ethics and consequentialist ethics. The article concludes that attempting to change the world of Big Tech only using the technologies and tools they provide will at times prove to be counter-productive, and that political and other more disruptive avenues of action should also be seriously considered by ethicists who want to effect long-term change. Both strategies have advantages and disadvantages, and a combination might be desirable to achieve these advantages and mitigate some of the disadvantages discussed.

From the Discussion

The ethicist’s dilemma arises as soon as the desire to effect change is seemingly most easily satisfied using the very systems that needs changing. In this article it is shown that the dilemma involves either strengthening the system by attempting to harness its powers, or potentially not achieving anything by relinquishing the means of using technology to spread one’s message. An environmental ethicist who is sincerely concerned about the effects of climate change could start working as an ethics officer for Big Oil, but there is a chance that doing so may ‘trap’ them in both a logic and an incentive structure that make real change hard to achieve. An AI ethicist contemplating the dangers of new technologies is faced with a similar problem, when they are, for example, offered a lucrative job at a Big Tech company with a quite uncertain future outside the mainstream as the only alternative.

Turning to the practicalities of change, some rightly argue that political power is dangerous [61]. Furthermore, they might argue that private initiative and innovation is the key to the good life and human welfare. However, the dangers of technology and unbridled innovation are also real. At least according to the ethicists. And if they are serious about these dangers, it may be necessary to emphasise the political domain and its power to disrupt the technological system. The dangers of private power must be bridled by the power of government, and this is in a sense a liberal argument in favour of more active use of government power [1]. Private companies generate a range of problems, and when these are understood as problems resulting from a too free market, government intervention for the sake of correcting market failure is normally acceptable to those of the left and right wings of politics alike. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Many heads are more utilitarian than one

Keshmirian, A., Deroy, O, & Bahrami, B.
Cognition
Volume 220, March 2022, 104965

Abstract

Moral judgments have a very prominent social nature, and in everyday life, they are continually shaped by discussions with others. Psychological investigations of these judgments, however, have rarely addressed the impact of social interactions. To examine the role of social interaction on moral judgments within small groups, we had groups of 4 to 5 participants judge moral dilemmas first individually and privately, then collectively and interactively, and finally individually a second time. We employed both real-life and sacrificial moral dilemmas in which the character's action or inaction violated a moral principle to benefit the greatest number of people. Participants decided if these utilitarian decisions were morally acceptable or not. In Experiment 1, we found that collective judgments in face-to-face interactions were more utilitarian than the statistical aggregate of their members compared to both first and second individual judgments. This observation supported the hypothesis that deliberation and consensus within a group transiently reduce the emotional burden of norm violation. In Experiment 2, we tested this hypothesis more directly: measuring participants' state anxiety in addition to their moral judgments before, during, and after online interactions, we found again that collectives were more utilitarian than those of individuals and that state anxiety level was reduced during and after social interaction. The utilitarian boost in collective moral judgments is probably due to the reduction of stress in the social setting.

Highlights

• Collective consensual judgments made via group interactions were more utilitarian than individual judgments.

• Group discussion did not change the individual judgments indicating a normative conformity effect.

• Individuals consented to a group judgment that they did not necessarily buy into personally.

• Collectives were less stressed than individuals after responding to moral dilemmas.

• Interactions reduced aversive emotions (e.g., stressed) associated with violation of moral norms.

From the Discussion

Our analysis revealed that groups, in comparison to individuals, are more utilitarian in their moral judgments. Thus, our findings are inconsistent with Virtue-Signaling (VS), which proposed the opposite
effect. Crucially, the collective utilitarian boost was short-lived: it was only seen at the collective level and not when participants rated the same questions individually again. Previous research shows that moral change at the individual level, as the result of social deliberation, is rather long-lived and not transient (e.g., see Ueshima et al., 2021). Thus, this collective utilitarian boost could not have resulted from deliberation and reasoning or due to conscious application of utilitarian principles with authentic reasons to maximize the total good. If this was the case, the effect would have persisted in the second individual judgment as well. That was not what we observed. Consequently, our findings are inconsistent with the Social Deliberation (SD) hypotheses.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Threat Rejection Fuels Political Dehumanization

Kubin, E., Kachanoff, F., & Gray, K. 
(2021, December 4).

Abstract

Americans disagree about many things, including what threats are most pressing. We suggest people morally condemn and dehumanize opponents when they are perceived as rejecting the existence or severity of important perceived threats. We explore perceived “threat rejection” across five studies (N=2,404) both in the real-world COVID-19 pandemic and in novel contexts. Americans morally condemned and dehumanized policy opponents when they seemed to reject realistic group threats (e.g., threat to the physical health or resources of the group). Believing opponents rejected symbolic group threats (e.g., to collective identity) was not reliably linked to condemnation and dehumanization. Importantly, the political dehumanization caused by perceived threat rejection can be soothed with a “threat acknowledgement” intervention.

General Discussion 

Does perceived threat rejection sow political divisions? Results suggest perceiving the “other side” as rejecting realistic (more than symbolic) threat increases moral condemnation and dehumanization, lending support to the asymmetry hypothesis. DuringCOVID-19, those who relatively favored social distancing saw opponents as rejecting realistic threats and morally judged and dehumanized them. In contrast, support for social distancing did not reliably relate to perceiving the other side as rejecting symbolic threat—and symbolic threat was not robustly associated with moral judgment or dehumanization.

Within a novel threat context, people who were more willing to sacrifice their group’s culture to prevent realistic threats to health or resources viewed opponents as rejecting realistic threats and in turn morally condemned and dehumanized them. Similarly, people who were more willing to endure realistic threat to protect their culture, viewed opponents as rejecting symbolic threats, in turn morally condemning and dehumanizing them, yet these effects were significantly weaker than for realistic threat rejection. Our findings are consistent with research suggesting people condemn behaviors which are perceived as causing concrete (realistic) harm rather than abstract (symbolic) harm (Schein & Gray 2018).

Using a threat-acknowledgement-intervention, we decreased the tendency of people who tended to prioritize protecting the group from realistic threat (i.e., those who tended to support social distancing)to morally judge and dehumanize opponents who prioritized protecting the group from symbolic threat (i.e., those who tended to resist social distancing). Our intervention did not require opponents to compromise their stance –this intervention worked by simply having opponents acknowledge both realistic and symbolic threats when providing a rationale for their position. 

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Note: Helpful research when working with politically intense patients who frequently bring in partisan information to discuss in psychotherapy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Sexbots as Synthetic Companions: Comparing Attitudes of Official Sex Offenders and Non-Offenders.

Zara, G., Veggi, S. & Farrington, D.P. 
Int J of Soc Robotics (2021). 

Abstract

This is the first Italian study to examine views on sexbots of adult male sex offenders and non-offenders, and their perceptions of sexbots as sexual partners, and sexbots as a means to prevent sexual violence. In order to explore these aspects 344 adult males were involved in the study. The study carried out two types of comparisons. 100 male sex offenders were compared with 244 male non-offenders. Also, sex offenders were divided into child molesters and rapists. Preliminary findings suggest that sex offenders were less open than non-offenders to sexbots, showed a lower acceptance of them, and were more likely to dismiss the possibility of having an intimate and sexual relationship with a sexbot. Sex offenders were also less likely than non-offenders to believe that the risk of sexual violence against people could be reduced if a sexbot was used in the treatment of sex offenders. No differences were found between child molesters and rapists. Though no definitive conclusion can be drawn about what role sexbots might play in the prevention and treatment of sex offending, this study emphasizes the importance of both exploring how sexbots are both perceived and understood. Sex offenders in this study showed a high dynamic sexual risk and, paradoxically, despite, or because of, their sexual deviance (e.g. deficits in sexual self-regulation), they were more inclined to see sexbots as just machines and were reluctant to imagine them as social agents, i.e. as intimate or sexual arousal partners. How sex offenders differ in their dynamic risk and criminal careers can inform experts about the mechanisms that take place and can challenge their engagement in treatment and intervention.

From the Discussion

Being in a Relationship with a Sexbot: a Comparison Between Sex Offenders and Non-Offenders
Notwithstanding that previous studies suggest that those who are quite open in admitting their interest in having a relationship with a sexbot were not necessarily problematic in terms of psycho-sexual functioning and life satisfaction, some anecdotal evidence seems to indicate otherwise. In this study, sex offenders were more reluctant to speak about their preferences towards sexbots. While male non-offenders appeared to be open to sexbots and quite eager to imagine themselves having a relationship with a sexbot or having sexual intercourse with one of them, sex offenders were reluctant to admit any interest towards sexbots. No clinical data are available to support the assumption about whether the interaction with sexbots is in any way egodystonic (inconsistent with one’s ideal self) or egosyntonic (consistent with one’s ideal self). Thus, no-one can discount the influence of being in detention upon the offenders’ willingness to feel at ease in expressing their views. It is not unusual that, when in detention, offenders may put up a front. This might explain why the sex offenders in this study kept a low profile on sex matters (e.g. declaring that “sexbots are not for me, I’m not a pervert”, to use their words). Sexuality is a dirty word for sex offenders in detention and their willingness to be seen as reformed and «sexually normal» is what perhaps motivated them to deny that they had any form of curiosity or attraction for any sexbot presented to them.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Children Prioritize Humans Over Animals Less Than Adults Do

Wilks M, Caviola L, Kahane G, Bloom P.
Psychological Science. 2021;32(1):27-38. 
doi:10.1177/0956797620960398

Abstract

Is the tendency to morally prioritize humans over animals weaker in children than adults? In two preregistered studies (total N = 622), 5- to 9-year-old children and adults were presented with moral dilemmas pitting varying numbers of humans against varying numbers of either dogs or pigs and were asked who should be saved. In both studies, children had a weaker tendency than adults to prioritize humans over animals. They often chose to save multiple dogs over one human, and many valued the life of a dog as much as the life of a human. Although they valued pigs less, the majority still prioritized 10 pigs over one human. By contrast, almost all adults chose to save one human over even 100 dogs or pigs. Our findings suggest that the common view that humans are far more morally important than animals appears late in development and is likely socially acquired.

From the Discussion section

What are the origins of this tendency? One possibility is that it is an unlearned preference. For much of human history, animals played a central role in human life—whether as a threat or as a resource. It therefore seems possible that humans would develop distinctive psychological mechanisms for thinking about animals. Even if there are no specific cognitive adaptations for thinking about animals, it is hardly surprising that humans prefer humans over animals—similar to their preference for tribe members over strangers. Similarly, given that in-group favoritism in human groups (e.g., racism, sexism, minimal groups) tends to emerge as early as preschool years (Buttelmann & Böhm, 2014), one would expect that a basic tendency to prioritize humans over animals also emerges early.

But we would suggest that the much stronger tendency to prioritize humans over animals in adults has a different source that, given the lack of correlation between age and speciesism in children, emerges late in development. Adolescents may learn and internalize the socially held speciesist notion—or ideology—that humans are morally special and deserve full moral status, whereas animals do not. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Free will beliefs are better predicted by dualism than determinism beliefs across different cultures

Wisniewski D, Deutschländer R, Haynes J-D 
(2019) PLoS ONE 14(9): e0221617. 
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0221617

Abstract

Most people believe in free will. Whether this belief is warranted or not, free will beliefs (FWB) are foundational for many legal systems and reducing FWB has effects on behavior from the motor to the social level. This raises the important question as to which specific FWB people hold. There are many different ways to conceptualize free will, and some might see physical determinism as a threat that might reduce FWB, while others might not. Here, we investigate lay FWB in a large, representative, replicated online survey study in the US and Singapore (n = 1800), assessing differences in FWB with unprecedented depth within and between cultures. Specifically, we assess the relation of FWB, as measured using the Free Will Inventory, to determinism, dualism and related concepts like libertarianism and compatibilism. We find that libertarian, compatibilist, and dualist, intuitions were related to FWB, but that these intuitions were often logically inconsistent. Importantly, direct comparisons suggest that dualism was more predictive of FWB than other intuitions. Thus, believing in free will goes hand-in-hand with a belief in a non-physical mind. Highlighting the importance of dualism for FWB impacts academic debates on free will, which currently largely focus on its relation to determinism. Our findings also shed light on how recent (neuro)scientific findings might impact FWB. Demonstrating physical determinism in the brain need not have a strong impact on FWB, due to a wide-spread belief in dualism.

Conclusion

We have shown that free will beliefs in the general public are most closely related to a strong belief in dualism. This was true in different cultures, age groups, and levels of education. As noted in the beginning, recent neuroscientific findings have been taken to suggest that our choices might originate from unconscious brain activity, but see, which has led some to predict an erosion of free will beliefs with potentially serious consequences for our sense of responsibility and even the criminal justice system. However, even if neuroscience were to fully describe and explain the causal chain of processes in the physical brain, this need not lead to an erosion of free will beliefs in the general public. Although some might indeed see this as a threat to free will (US citizens with low dualism beliefs), most will not likely because of a wide-spread belief in dualism (see also [21]). Our findings also highlight the need for cross-cultural examinations of free will beliefs and related constructs, as previous findings from (mostly undergraduate) US samples do not fully generalize to other cultures.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Social threat indirectly increases moral condemnation via thwarting fundamental social needs

Henderson, R.K., Schnall, S. 
Sci Rep 11, 21709 (2021).

Abstract

Individuals who experience threats to their social needs may attempt to avert further harm by condemning wrongdoers more severely. Three pre-registered studies tested whether threatened social esteem is associated with increased moral condemnation. In Study 1 (N = 381) participants played a game in which they were socially included or excluded and then evaluated the actions of moral wrongdoers. We observed an indirect effect: Exclusion increased social needs-threat, which in turn increased moral condemnation. Study 2 (N = 428) was a direct replication, and also showed this indirect effect. Both studies demonstrated the effect across five moral foundations, and was most pronounced for harm violations. Study 3 (N = 102) examined dispositional concerns about social needs threat, namely social anxiety, and showed a positive correlation between this trait and moral judgments. Overall, results suggest threatened social standing is linked to moral condemnation, presumably because moral wrongdoers pose a further threat when one’s ability to cope is already compromised.

From the General Discussion

These findings indicating that social threat is associated with harsher moral judgments suggest that various threats to survival can influence assessments of moral wrongdoing. Indeed, it has been proposed that the reason social exclusion reliably results in negative emotions is because social disconnectedness has been detrimental throughout human societies. As we found in Studies 1 and 2 and consistent with prior research even brief exclusion via a simulated computer game can thwart fundamental social needs. Taken together, these experimental and correlational findings suggest that an elevated sense of danger appears to fortify moral judgment, because when safety is compromised, wrongdoers represent yet another source of potential danger. As a consequence, vulnerable individuals may be motivated to condemn moral violations more harshly. Interestingly, the null finding for loneliness suggests that amplified moral condemnation is not associated with having no social connections in the first place, but rather, with the existence or prospect of social threat. Relatedly, prior research has shown that greater cortisol release is associated with social anxiety but not with loneliness indicating that the body’s stress response does not react to loneliness in the same way as it does to social threat.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Is a new kind of religion forming on the internet?

Rebecca Jennings
Vox.com
Originally posted 14 DEC 21

Here is an excerpt:

2020 was the first year on record that the majority of Americans said they did not belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque; from the 1930s to the turn of the 21st century, around 70 percent of Americans did belong to one. Americans, particularly younger ones, increasingly report that they have no religious preference, or as some have put it, it’s “the rise of the nones.” But perhaps “none” doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

The religion of the internet posits questions like, “what’s the harm in believing?” and “why shouldn’t I be prepared for the worst?” The deeper you go, the harder those questions are to answer.

Perhaps it’s all because of the Puritans. They were the ones, after all, who consecrated the American legacy of individualism, piety, and hard work at the expense of all else. Or maybe it came out of the recurrent phenomena of Protestant-led Great Awakenings that have peppered US history since before it was a country, social movements that preached the importance of one’s personal relationship with God outside of organized rituals and ceremonies.

“It was the idea that you could perfect yourself, your health, and your circumstances,” explains Mary Wrenn, an economics professor at the University of the West of England Bristol who studies neoliberalism and religion. This eventually culminated in the prosperity gospel, known best for its charismatic leaders preaching financial wealth and the widespread practice of manifesting, or the idea that in order to make positive things happen in your life, all you have to do is pretend as though they already are. “It’s during periods of economic crisis that we really see it start to flourish,” says Wrenn. Because many of the churches where it’s preached can be attended virtually, the message travels much further. “It’s a lot easier to have believers when you don’t have to physically be in a church. The portability of the message is what makes people believers in the prosperity gospel even when they’re not necessarily regular churchgoers.”

The same could be said for the internet, where spiritual trends proliferate much like cultural and political ones. In fact, the latest iteration of New Thought’s founding principles is inseparable from the internet: Russo, the anthropology professor, notes that as social media has become the dominant cultural force in our society, ideologies are spreading between people who may have vastly different beliefs and backgrounds, but who show up on each other’s feeds and relate in new ways.

“It’s a mishmash of different Christian and non-Western beliefs and aesthetics, but this stuff — good and evil, prosperity — are present in all religious systems worldwide, and always have been,” he says. “Even our most fervent atheists or agnostics are still interested in morality. It’s the same idea, different packaging.”

These binaries espoused by internet spirituality — good and evil, demonic and angelic, abundance and poverty — are reinforced everywhere in culture, and not only in the context of religion. “‘The demonic’ is one of those very superficial distinctions that really has a lot to do with, ‘who’s your customer? Who are you trying to frighten?’ It can stand in the kind of generalized force of evil in a very effective way, regardless of what the specifics are,” explains Russo. “It works on people not necessarily because they’ve read the Bible, but because they watch Harry Potter or read Tolkien or play Dungeons and Dragons.”

Thursday, January 20, 2022

An existential threat to humanity: Democracy’s decline

Kaushik Basu
Japan Times
Originally posted 24 DEC 21

Here are two excerpts:

Most people do not appreciate the extent to which civilizations depend on pillars of norms and conventions. Some of these have evolved organically over time, while others required deliberation and collective action. If one of the pillars buckles, a civilization could well collapse.

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When a vast majority of a country’s population is ready to rebel, as seemed to be the case in Belarus in the summer of 2020, and the leader has limited capacity to suppress the uprising, how can he or she prevail?

To address this question, I developed an allegory I call the “Incarceration Game.” Some 1 million citizens of a particular country want to join a rebellion to overthrow the tyrannical leader who can catch and jail at most 100 rebels. With such a low probability of being caught, each person is ready to take to the streets. The leader’s situation looks hopeless.

Suppose he nonetheless announces that he will incarcerate the 100 oldest people who join the uprising. At first sight, it appears that this will not stop the rebellion, because the vast number of young people will have no reason to abandon it. But, if people’s ages are common knowledge, the outcome will be different. After the leader’s announcement, the 100 oldest people will not join the revolt, because the pain of certain incarceration is too great even for a good cause. Knowing this, the next 100 oldest people also will not take part in the revolution, and nor will the 100 oldest people after them. By induction, no one will. The streets will be empty.

Authoritarian rulers’ intentional or unwitting use of such an approach may help to explain why earlier revolts crumbled when on the verge of success. To demonstrate this empirically in history or in recent cases, like that of Belarus or Myanmar, will require data that we do not have yet. The incarceration game is a purely logical conjecture. What it does, importantly, is to remind us that toppling a dictator requires a strategy to foil such a tactic. Good intentions alone are not sufficient; the upholding of democracy needs a strategy based on sound analysis.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

On the Harm of Imposing Risk of Harm.

Maheshwari, K. (2021)
Ethic Theory Moral Prac 24, 965–980

Abstract

What is wrong with imposing pure risks, that is, risks that don’t materialize into harm? According to a popular response, imposing pure risks is pro tanto wrong, when and because risk itself is harmful. Call this the Harm View. Defenders of this view make one of the following two claims. On the Constitutive Claim, pure risk imposition is pro tanto wrong when and because risk constitutes diminishing one’s well-being viz. preference-frustration or setting-back their legitimate interest in autonomy. On the Contingent Claim, pure risk imposition is pro tanto wrong when and because risk has harmful consequences for the risk-bearers, such as psychological distress. This paper argues that the Harm View is plausible only on the Contingent Claim, but fails on the Constitutive Claim. In discussing the latter, I argue that both the preference and autonomy account fail to show that risk itself is constitutively harmful and thereby wrong. In discussing the former, I argue that risk itself is contingently harmful and thereby wrong but only in a narrow range of cases. I conclude that while the Harm View can sometimes explain the wrong of imposing risk when (and because) risk itself is contingently harmful, it is unsuccessful as a general, exhaustive account of what makes pure imposition wrong.

Conclusions

In this paper, I have engaged in a detailed discussion of a prominent view in the ethics of risk imposition, namely the Harm View. I’ve argued that the Harm View is plausible only on the Contingent Claim, but fails on the Constitutive Claim. In discussing the Constitutive Claim, I’ve argued that the preference and autonomy accounts as construed by Finkelstein (2003) and Oberdiek (2017), respectively fail to show that risk itself is constitutively harmful, and thereby wrong. In vindicating the idea that risk itself is constitutively harmful, both accounts are found guilty of either trivializing or undermining the moral significance of risk, or admit to having counter-intuitive implications in cases where risks materialize. In discussing the Contingent Claim, I’ve argued that risk itself is contingently harmful and thereby wrong only in a narrow range of cases. This makes the Harm View explanatorily limited in scope, thereby undermining its plausibility as a general, exhaustive account of what makes pure imposition wrong.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

MIT Researchers Just Discovered an AI Mimicking the Brain on Its Own

Eric James Beyer
Interesting Engineering
Originally posted 18 DEC 21

Here is an excerpt:

In the wake of these successes, Martin began to wonder whether or not the same principle could be applied to higher-level cognitive functions like language processing. 

“I said, let’s just look at neural networks that are successful and see if they’re anything like the brain. My bet was that it would work, at least to some extent.”

To find out, Martin and colleagues compared data from 43 artificial neural network language models against fMRI and ECoG neural recordings taken while subjects listened to or read words as part of a text. The AI models the group surveyed covered all the major classes of available neural network approaches for language-based tasks. Some of them were more basic embedding models like GloVe, which clusters semantically similar words together in groups. Others, like the models known as GPT and BERT, were far more complex. These models are trained to predict the next word in a sequence or predict a missing word within a certain context, respectively. 

“The setup itself becomes quite simple,” Martin explains. “You just show the same stimuli to the models that you show to the subjects [...]. At the end of the day, you’re left with two matrices, and you test if those matrices are similar.”

And the results? 

“I think there are three-and-a-half major findings here,” Schrimpf says with a laugh. “I say ‘and a half’ because the last one we still don’t fully understand.”

Machine learning that mirrors the brain

The finding that sticks out to Martin most immediately is that some of the models predict neural data extremely well. In other words, regardless of how good a model was at performing a task, some of them appear to resemble the brain’s cognitive mechanics for language processing. Intriguingly, the team at MIT identified the GPT model variants as the most brain-like out of the group they looked at.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Social threat indirectly increases moral condemnation via thwarting fundamental social needs

Henderson, R.K., Schnall, S.
Sci Rep 11, 21709 (2021).

Abstract

Individuals who experience threats to their social needs may attempt to avert further harm by condemning wrongdoers more severely. Three pre-registered studies tested whether threatened social esteem is associated with increased moral condemnation. In Study 1 (N = 381) participants played a game in which they were socially included or excluded and then evaluated the actions of moral wrongdoers. We observed an indirect effect: Exclusion increased social needs-threat, which in turn increased moral condemnation. Study 2 (N = 428) was a direct replication, and also showed this indirect effect. Both studies demonstrated the effect across five moral foundations, and was most pronounced for harm violations. Study 3 (N = 102) examined dispositional concerns about social needs threat, namely social anxiety, and showed a positive correlation between this trait and moral judgments. Overall, results suggest threatened social standing is linked to moral condemnation, presumably because moral wrongdoers pose a further threat when one’s ability to cope is already compromised.

From the General Discussion

These findings indicating that social threat is associated with harsher moral judgments suggest that various threats to survival can influence assessments of moral wrongdoing. Indeed, it has been proposed that the reason social exclusion reliably results in negative emotions is because social disconnectedness has been detrimental throughout human societies. As we found in Studies 1 and 2 and consistent with prior research, even brief exclusion via a simulated computer game can thwart fundamental social needs. Taken together, these experimental and correlational findings suggest that an elevated sense of danger appears to fortify moral judgment, because when safety is compromised, wrongdoers represent yet another source of potential danger. As a consequence, vulnerable individuals may be motivated to condemn moral violations more harshly. Interestingly, the null finding for loneliness suggests that amplified moral condemnation is not associated with having no social connections in the first place, but rather, with the existence or prospect of social threat. Relatedly, prior research has shown that greater cortisol release is associated with social anxiety but not with loneliness indicating that the body’s stress response does not react to loneliness in the same way as it does to social threat.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The effect of gender and parenting daughters on judgments of morally controversial companies

Niszczota P, Białek M (2021)
PLoS ONE 16(12): e0260503.

Abstract

Earlier findings suggest that men with daughters make judgments and decisions somewhat in line with those made by women. In this paper, we attempt to extend those findings, by testing how gender and parenting daughters affect judgments of the appropriateness of investing in and working for morally controversial companies (“sin stocks”). To do so, in Study 1 (N = 634) we investigate whether women judge the prospect of investing in sin stocks more harshly than men do, and test the hypothesis that men with daughters judge such investments less favorably than other men. In Study 2 (N = 782), we investigate the willingness to work in morally controversial companies at a significant wage premium. Results show that—for men—parenting daughters yields harsher evaluations of sin stocks, but no evidence that it lowers the propensity to work in such companies. This contrasts to the effect of gender: women reliably judge both investment and employment in morally controversial companies more harshly than men do. We suggest that an aversion towards morally controversial companies might be a partial determinant of the gender gap in wages.

From the Discussion section

There are several insights from our work. Firstly, we investigate laypeople instead of people of high social status, such as CEOs, members of congress, or judges. This would be consequential if parental investment in sons and daughters might depend on the social status of the parent. Studying laypeople makes our findings more relevant to the general population, and to more common decisions (e.g., concerning what mutual funds to invest in). Secondly, our models are aimed at directly testing whether the effect of parenting daughters is different across men and women. This would be expected from the female socialization hypothesis: parenting daughters might make the preferences of men more similar to those exhibited by women, as it would help them adopt alternative perspectives on issues in which the opinions of men and women might differ. Yet, they would not cause a shift in the preferences of women, as they have the same gender as their daughters. Our findings show that parenting daughters leads to harsher evaluations of morally controversial investments, but only in men. In fact, women parenting a daughter judge morally controversial investments more favorably than women without daughters, a somewhat unexpected finding.

Our results showed a boundary condition of the daughter effect. In our case, a full conceptual replication of the findings of Cronqvist and Yu would translate into a more negative view of morally controversial companies as investment propositions, and a lower willingness to be employed in such companies (at a significant premium). We observed the daughter effect in the former, but not in the latter decision. This is noteworthy, considering that the gender effect was of similar strength in Study 1 (that concerned investment) and Study 2 (that concerned employment). In short, gender differences are robust to the factors that affect the daughter effect, but these are yet to be discovered. We need to point out that we are not the first to show no clear support for the daughter effect; however, see for a methodological comment on that particular finding). Moreover, in one study, Dahl and colleagues showed that the birth of a child (even daughters, if the first-born child was not female) makes male CEOs less generous to employees.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief

B. Lui, & P. Ditto
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2013;4(3):316-323. doi:10.1177/1948550612456045

Abstract

Moral dilemmas—like the “trolley problem” or real-world examples like capital punishment—result from a conflict between consequentialist and deontological intuitions (i.e., whether ends justify means). The authors contend that people often resolve such moral conflict by aligning factual beliefs about consequences of acts with evaluations of the act’s inherent morality (i.e., morality independent of its consequences). In both artificial (Study 1) and real-world (Study 2) dilemmas, the more an act was deemed inherently immoral, the more it was seen as unlikely to produce beneficial consequences and likely to involve harmful costs. Coherence between moral evaluations and factual beliefs increased with greater moral conviction, self-proclaimed topical knowledge, and political conservatism (Study 2). Reading essays about the inherent morality or immorality of capital punishment (Study 3) changed beliefs about its costs and benefits, even though no information about consequences was supplied. Implications for moral reasoning and political conflict are discussed.

From the General Discussion

While individuals can and do appeal to principle in some cases to support their moral positions, we argue that this is a difficult stance psychologically because it conflicts with well-rehearsed economic intuitions urging that the most rational course of action is the one that produces the most favorable cost–benefit ratio. Our research suggests that people resolve such dilemmas by bringing cost–benefit beliefs into line with moral evaluations, such that the right course of action morally becomes the right course of action practically as well.Study 3 provides experimental confirmation of a pattern implied by both our own and others’ correlational research(e.g., Kahan, 2010): People shape their descriptive understand-ing of the world to fit their prescriptive understanding of it.

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Little Good Goes an Unexpectedly Long Way: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Kindness on Recipients

Kumar, A., & Epley, N. 
(2021, November 15). 
https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/3yast

Abstract

Performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but we find that givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients. In both field and laboratory settings (Experiments 1a-2b), those performing a random act of kindness predicted how positive recipients would feel and recipients reported how they actually felt. From giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a park to giving away a gift in the lab, those performing a random act of kindness consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel, thinking their act was of less value than recipients perceived it to be. Givers’ miscalibrated expectations are driven partly by an egocentric bias in evaluations of the act itself (Experiment 3). Whereas recipients’ positive reactions are enhanced by the warmth conveyed in a kind act, givers’ expectations are relatively insensitive to the warmth conveyed in their action. Underestimating the positive impact of a random act of kindness also leads givers to underestimate the behavioral consequences their prosociality will produce in recipients through indirect reciprocity (Experiment 4). We suggest that givers’ miscalibrated expectations matter because they can create a barrier to engaging in prosocial actions more often in everyday life (Experiments 5a-5b), to the detriment of people’s own wellbeing, to others’ wellbeing, and to civil society.

General Discussion

Prosocial actions, such as performing random acts of kindness, tend to improve wellbeing for both those who perform prosocial acts as well as for those who receive them.  Indeed, those who performed a random act of kindness in our experiments reported feeling significantly more positive than they normally do, and two of the experiments confirmed that performers felt better than participants who were not given the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness. Another found that performers of acts of kindness felt more positive after being kind than they reported feeling at the beginning of the experiment.Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own wellbeing; it enhanced it.  Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in these sorts of prosocial activities that people do not seem to take.  We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients.  People’s choices are often guided by either an implicit or explicit calculation of expected value (Becker, 1993).  Underestimating how positive a recipient would feel after even a small act of kindness could lead people to engage in prosocial actions less often than might be optimal for both their own and others’ wellbeing.

Across many different actions, with many different participants, and in many different contexts, performers systematically perceived their random act of kindness to be a more minor action than recipients perceived it to be, and also systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel afterwards.Performers were not confused, of course, that recipients would feel good about their experience.  In all cases performers expected recipients to feel more positive than they normally do.  Nevertheless, performers were still systematically miscalibrated as recipients felt even better than expected.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Beyond Populism: The Psychology of Status-Seeking and Extreme Political Discontent

Petersen, M., Osmundsen, M., & Bor, A. 
(2020, July 8).
https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/puqzs

Abstract

Modern democracies are currently experiencing destabilizing events including the emergence of demagogic leaders, the onset of street riots, circulation of misinformation and extremely hostile political engagements on social media. Some of the forms of discontent are commonly argued to be related to populism. In this chapter, however, we argue that the evolved psychology of status-seeking lies at the core of this syndrome of extreme political discontent. Thus, social status constitutes one of the key adaptive resources for any human, as it induces deference from others in conflicts of interest. Prior research has identified two routes to status: Privilege acquired through service and dominance acquired through coercion. We argue that extreme political discontent involves behaviors aimed at dominance through engagement in either individual aggression or in mobilization processes that facilitate coalitional aggression. Consistent with this, we empirically demonstrate that measures of status-seeking via dominance correlate with indices of a large number of extreme forms of political discontent and do so more strongly than a measure of populism. Finally, we argue that the reason why dominance strategies become activated in the context of modern democratic politics is that increased inequality activates heightened needs for status and, under such conditions, dominance for some groups constitutes a more attainable route to status than prestige.

Towards depolarized societies 

Understanding the psychological and structural roots of extreme discontent is key if we are to move  towards more peaceful societies.  An exclusive focus on populism might lead to the expectation that the  roots of discontent are value-based. For example, the rise of right-wing populism may suggest that  frustrations are rooted in a decreasing respect for authorities and traditional forms of life. If that was indeed the case, a depolarized society might be reached only if non-populists were willing to compromise on important political values and to a larger extent embrace tradition and authority.

In contrast, the present arguments and results suggest that the true roots of the most extreme forms of discontent are less based on a conflict of abstract political values and more on a lack of social status and recognition. If so, the path towards depolarization lies in more inclusion and more equality, for example, based on an affirmation of the classical liberal doctrine of the importance of  open,  non-dominant  exchange  of  arguments  (Popper,  1945).  Unfortunately,  this  is  not something  that can be fixed quickly, as would be  the case  if discontent was rooted  in transient factors such as the behavior of social media algorithms.  Rather, depolarization requires difficult structural changes that alleviates the onset of dominance motivations.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Hidden wisdom or pseudo-profound bullshit? The effect of speaker admirability

Kara-Yakoubian, et al.
(2021, October 28).
https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/tpnkw

Abstract

How do people reason in response to ambiguous messages shared by admirable individuals? Using behavioral markers and self-report questionnaires, in two experiments (N = 571) we examined the influence of speakers’ admirability on meaning-seeking and wise reasoning in response to pseudo-profound bullshit. In both studies, statements that sounded superficially impressive but lacked intent to communicate meaning generated meaning-seeking, but only when delivered by high admirability speakers (e.g., the Dalai Lama) as compared to low admirability speakers (e.g., Kim Kardashian). The effect of speakers’ admirability on meaning-seeking was unique to pseudo-profound bullshit statements and was absent for mundane (Study 1) and motivational (Study 2) statements. In Study 2, participants also engaged in wiser reasoning for pseudo-profound bullshit (vs. motivational) statements and did more so when speakers were high in admirability. These effects occurred independently of the amount of time spent on statements or the complexity of participants’ reflections. It appears that pseudo-profound bullshit can promote epistemic reflection and certain aspects of wisdom, when associated with an admirable speaker.

From the General Discussion

Pseudo-profound language represents a type of misinformation (Čavojová et al., 2019b; Littrell et al., 2021; Pennycook & Rand, 2019a) where ambiguity reigns. Our findings suggest that source admirability could play an important role in the cognitive processing of ambiguous misinformation, including fake news (Pennycook & Rand, 2020) and euphemistic language (Walker et al., 2021). For instance, in the case of fake news, people may be more inclined to engage in epistemic reflection if the source of an article is highly admirable. However, we also observed that statements from high (vs. low) admirability sources were judged as more profound and were better liked. Extended to misinformation, a combination of greater perceived profundity, liking, and acquired meaning could potentially facilitate the sharing of ambiguous fake news content throughout social networks. Increased reflective thinking (as measured by the CRT) has also been linked to greater discernment on social media, with individuals who score higher on the CRT being less likely to believe fake news stories and share this type of content (Mosleh et al., 2021; Pennycook & Rand, 2019a). Perhaps, people might engage in more epistemic reflection if the source of an article is highly admirable, which may in turn predict a decrease in the sharing behaviour of fake news. Similarly, people may be more inclined to engage in epistemic reflection for euphemistic language, such as the term “enhanced interrogation” used in replacement of “torture,” and conclude that this type of language means something other than what it refers to, if used by a more admirable (compared to a less admirable) individual.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Are some cultures more mind-minded in their moral judgements than others?

Barrett HC, Saxe RR. (2021)
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 376: 20200288.

Abstract

Cross-cultural research on moral reasoning has brought to the fore the question of whether moral judgements always turn on inferences about the mental states of others. Formal legal systems for assigning blame and punishment typically make fine-grained distinctions about mental states, as illustrated by the concept of mens rea, and experimental studies in the USA and elsewhere suggest everyday moral judgements also make use of such distinctions. On the other hand, anthropologists have suggested that some societies have a morality that is disregarding of mental states, and have marshalled ethnographic and experimental evidence in support of this claim. Here, we argue against the claim that some societies are simply less ‘mind-minded’ than others about morality. In place of this cultural main effects hypothesis about the role of mindreading in morality, we propose a contextual variability view in which the role of mental states in moral judgement depends on the context and the reasons for judgement. On this view, which mental states are or are not relevant for a judgement is context-specific, and what appear to be cultural main effects are better explained by culture-by-context interactions.

From the Summing Up section

Our critique of CME theories, we think, is likely to apply to many domains, not just moral judgement. Dimensions of cultural difference such as the ‘collectivist/individualist’ dimension may capture some small main effects of cultural difference, but we suspect that collectivism/individualism is a parameter that can be flipped contextually within societies to a much greater degree than it varies as a main effect across societies. We may be collectivists within families, for example, but individualists at work. Similarly, we suggest that everywhere there are contexts in which one’s mental states may be deemed morally irrelevant and others where they are not. Such judgements vary not just across contexts, but across individuals and time.

What we argue against, then, is thinking of mindreading as a resource that is scarce in some places and plentiful in others. Instead, we should think about it as a resource that is available everywhere, and whose use in moral judgement depends on a multiplicity of factors, including social norms but also, importantly, the reasons for which people are making judgements.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Sequential decision-making impacts moral judgment: How iterative dilemmas can expand our perspective on sacrificial harm

D.H. Bostyn and A.Roets
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 98, January 2022, 104244

Abstract

When are sacrificial harms morally appropriate? Traditionally, research within moral psychology has investigated this issue by asking participants to render moral judgments on batteries of single-shot, sacrificial dilemmas. Each of these dilemmas has its own set of targets and describes a situation independent from those described in the other dilemmas. Every decision that participants are asked to make thus takes place within its own, separate moral universe. As a result, people's moral judgments can only be influenced by what happens within that specific dilemma situation. This research methodology ignores that moral judgments are interdependent and that people might try to balance multiple moral concerns across multiple decisions. In the present series of studies we present participants with iterative versions of sacrificial dilemmas that involve the same set of targets across multiple iterations. Using this novel approach, and across five preregistered studies (total n = 1890), we provide clear evidence that a) responding to dilemmas in a sequential, iterative manner impacts the type of moral judgments that participants favor and b) that participants' moral judgments are not only motivated by the desire to refrain from harming others (usually labelled as deontological judgment), or a desire to minimize harms (utilitarian judgment), but also by a desire to spread out harm across all possible targets.

Highlights

• Research on sacrificial harm usually asks participants to judge single-shot dilemmas.

• We investigate sacrificial moral dilemma judgment in an iterative context.

• Sequential decision making impacts moral preferences.

• Many participants express a non-utilitarian concern for the overall spread of harm.


Moral deliberation in iterative contexts

The iterative lens we have adopted prompts some intriguing questions about the nature of moral deliberation in the context of sacrificial harm. Existing theoretical models on sacrificial harm can be described as ‘competition models’ (for instance, Conway & Gawronski, 2013; Gawronski et al., 2017; Greene et al., 2001, 2004; Hennig & Hütter, 2020). These models argue that opposing psychological processes compete to deliver a specific moral judgment and that the process that wins out, will determine the nature of that moral judgment. As such, these models presume that the goal of moral deliberation is about deciding whether to refrain from harm or minimize harm in a mutually exclusive manner. Even if participants are tempted by both options, eventually, their judgment settles wholly on one or the other. This is sensible in the context of non-iterative dilemmas in which outcomes hinge on a single decision but is it equally sensible in iterative contexts?

Consider the results of Study 4. In this study, we asked (a subset of) participants how many shocks they would divert out of a total six shocks. Interestingly, 32% of these participants decided to divert a single shock out of the six (See Fig. 6), thus shocking the individual once, and the group five times. How should such a decision be interpreted? These participants did not fully refrain from harming others, nor did they fully minimize harm, nor did they spread harm in the most balanced of ways.  Responses like this seem to straddle different moral concerns. While future research will need to corroborate these findings, we suggest that responses like this, i.e. responses that seem to straddle multiple moral concerns, cannot be explained by competition models but necessitate theoretical models that explicitly take into account that participants might strive to strike a (idiosyncratic) pluralistic balance between multiple moral concerns. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Through the Looking Glass: A Lens-Based Account of Intersectional Stereotyping

Petsko, C.D., Rosette, A.S. &
Bodenhausen, C.V. (2022)
Preprint
Journal of Personality & Social Psychology

Abstract

A growing body of scholarship documents the intersectional nature of social stereotyping, with stereotype content being shaped by a target person’s multiple social identities. However, conflicting findings in this literature highlight the need for a broader theoretical integration. For example, although there are contexts in which perceivers stereotype gay Black men and heterosexual Black men in very different ways, so too are there contexts in which perceivers stereotype these men in very similar ways. We develop and test an explanation for contradictory findings of this sort. In particular, we argue that perceivers have a repertoire of lenses in their minds—identity-specific schemas for categorizing others—and that characteristics of the perceiver and the social context determine which one of these lenses will be used to organize social perception. Perceivers who are using the lens of race, for example, are expected to attend to targets’ racial identities so strongly that they barely attend, in these moments, to targets’ other identities (e.g., their sexual orientations). Across six experiments, we show (1) that perceivers tend to use just one lens at a time when thinking about others, (2) that the lenses perceivers use can be singular and simplistic (e.g., the lens of gender by itself) or intersectional and complex (e.g., a race-by-gender lens, specifically), and (3) that different lenses can prescribe categorically distinct sets of stereotypes that perceivers use as frameworks for thinking about others. This lens-based account can resolve apparent contradictions in the literature on intersectional stereotyping, and it can likewise be used to generate novel hypotheses.

Lens Socialization and Acquisition

We have argued that perceivers use lenses primarily for epistemic purposes. Without lenses, the social world is perceptually ambiguous. With lenses, the social world is made perceptually clear. But how do people acquire lenses in the first place? And why are some lenses more frequently employed within a given culture than others? Reasonable answers to these questions come from developmental intergroup theory (Bigler & Liben, 2006, 2007). According to this perspective, children are motivated to understand their social worlds, and as a result, they actively seek to determine which bases for classifying people are important. One way in which children learn which bases of classification—or in our parlance, which lenses—are important is through their socialization experiences (Bigler et al., 2001; Gelman & Heyman, 1999). For example, educators in the U.S. often use language that explicitly references students’ gender groups (e.g., as when teachers say “good morning, boys and girls”), which reinforces children’s belief that the lens of gender is relevant toward the end of understanding who’s who (Bem, 1983). Another way in which people acquire lenses is through interaction with norms, laws, and institutions that, even if not explicitly referencing group divisions, nevertheless suggest that certain group divisions matter more than others (Allport, 1954; Bigler & Liben, 2007). For example, most neighborhoods in the United States are heavily segregated according to race and social class (e.g., Lichter et al., 2015; 2017). Such de facto segregation sends the message to children (and adults) that race and social class—and perhaps even their intersection—are relevant lenses for the purposes of understanding and making predictions about other people (e.g., Bonam et al., 2017). These processes, a broad mixture of socialization experiences and inductive reasoning about which group distinctions matter, are thought to give rise to lens acquisition.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Conflict Between People’s Urge to Punish AI and Legal Systems

Lima G, Cha M, Jeon C and Park KS
(2021) Front. Robot. AI 8:756242. 
doi: 10.3389/frobt.2021.756242

Abstract

Regulating artificial intelligence (AI) has become necessary in light of its deployment in high-risk scenarios. This paper explores the proposal to extend legal personhood to AI and robots, which had not yet been examined through the lens of the general public. We present two studies (N = 3,559) to obtain people’s views of electronic legal personhood vis-à-vis existing liability models. Our study reveals people’s desire to punish automated agents even though these entities are not recognized any mental state. Furthermore, people did not believe automated agents’ punishment would fulfill deterrence nor retribution and were unwilling to grant them legal punishment preconditions, namely physical independence and assets. Collectively, these findings suggest a conflict between the desire to punish automated agents and its perceived impracticability. We conclude by discussing how future design and legal decisions may influence how the public reacts to automated agents’ wrongdoings.

From Concluding Remarks

By no means this research proposes that robots and AI should be the sole entities to hold liability for their actions. In contrast, responsibility, awareness, and punishment were assigned to all associates. We thus posit that distributing liability among all entities involved in deploying these systems would follow the public perception of the issue. Such a model could take joint and several liability models as a starting point by enforcing the proposal that various entities should be held jointly liable for damages.

Our work also raises the question of whether people wish to punish AI and robots for reasons other than retribution, deterrence, and reform. For instance, the public may punish electronic agents for general or indirect deterrence (Twardawski et al., 2020). Punishing an AI could educate humans that a specific action is wrong without the negative consequences of human punishment. Recent literature in moral psychology also proposes that humans might strive for a morally coherent world, where seemingly contradictory judgments arise so that the public perception of agents’ moral qualities match the moral qualities of their actions’ outcomes (Clark et al., 2015). We highlight that legal punishment is not only directed at the wrongdoer but also fulfills other functions in society that future work should inquire about when dealing with automated agents. Finally, our work poses the question of whether proactive actions towards holding existing legal persons liable for harms caused by automated agents would compensate for people’s desire to punish them. For instance, future work might examine whether punishing a system’s manufacturer may decrease the extent to which people punish AI and robots. Even if the responsibility gap can be easily solved, conflicts between the public and legal institutions might continue to pose challenges to the successful governance of these new technologies.

We selected scenarios from active areas of AI and robotics (i.e., medicine and war; see SI). People’s moral judgments might change depending on the scenario or background. The proposed scenarios did not introduce, for the sake of feasibility and brevity, much of the background usually considered when judging someone’s actions legally. We did not control for any previous attitudes towards AI and robots or knowledge of related areas, such as law and computer science, which could result in different judgments among the participants.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Moral Appraisals Guide Intuitive Legal Determinations

B. Flanagan, G.F.C.F. de Almeida, et al.
researchgate.net

Abstract 

Socialization demands the capacity to observe a plethora of private, legal, and institutional rules.  To accomplish this,  individuals must grasp rules’ meaning and infer the class of conduct each proscribes.  Yet this basic account neglects important nuance in the way we reason about complex cases in which a rule’s literal or textualist interpretation conflicts with deeper values.  In six studies (total N = 2541), we examined legal determinations through the lens of these cases.  We found that moral appraisals—of the  rule’s value (Study  1) and the agent’s character (Studies 2-3)—shaped people’s application of rules, driving counter-literal legal determinations. These effects were stronger under time pressure and were weakened by the opportunity to reflect (Study  4). Our final studies explored the role of theory of mind: Textualist judgments arose when agents were described as cognizant of the rule’s text yet ignorant of its deeper purpose (Study 5). Meanwhile, the intuitive tendency toward counter-literal determinations was strongest when the rule’s purpose could be inferred from its text—pointing  toward an influence  of  spontaneous mental state ascriptions (Studies  6a-6b). Together, our results elucidate the cognitive basis  of  legal reasoning: Intuitive legal determinations build on core competencies in moral cognition, including mental state and character inferences.  In turn, cognitive control dampens these effects, promoting a broadly textualist response pattern.

General Discussion 

Our present studies suggest that moral appraisals shape people’s determinations of whether various rules  have  been  violated.  Counter-literal  judgments emerge when agents violate a rule’s morally laudable purpose, but not when they violate a rule’s evil purpose (Study 1). An impact of moral appraisals  is observed even  when manipulating the transgressor’s broader moral character—such that blameworthy  agents are deemed to violate rules to a greater extent than praiseworthy agents, even when both behaviors fall within the literal scope of the rule (Study 2).  These effects persist when applying two further  robustness checks: (i) when encouraging participants to concurrently and independently  evaluate the  morality as well as the legality of the  target behaviors,  and  (ii)  when  explicitly  denying  any  constitutional constraints on the moral propriety of legal or private rules (Study 3). Turning our attention to the  underlying cognitive mechanisms,  we found that applying time pressure promoted counter-literal judgments (Study 4), suggesting that such decisions are  driven by automatic cognitive  processes.  We  then examined how representations of the agent’s knowledge impacted rule application: Stipulating the agent’s ignorance of the rule’s underlying purpose helped to explain the default tendency toward textualist determinations (Study 5). Finally, we uncovered an effect of spontaneous mental state inferences on  judgments of whether rules had been violated: Participants appeared to automatically represent the likelihood of inferring the rule’s true purpose from its text, and the inferability of a rule’s purpose yielded  greater counter-literal tendencies (Studies 6a-6b)—regardless of the agent’s actual knowledge status. 


In essence, an individual's moral judgments affect their interpretation of laws, and biases the decision-making process.