Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Ernst & Young to Pay $100 Million Penalty for Employees Cheating on CPA Ethics Exams and Misleading Investigation

Largest Penalty Ever Imposed by SEC Against an Audit Firm


Washington D.C., June 28, 2022 —

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Ernst & Young LLP (EY) for cheating by its audit professionals on exams required to obtain and maintain Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licenses, and for withholding evidence of this misconduct from the SEC’s Enforcement Division during the Division’s investigation of the matter. EY admits the facts underlying the SEC’s charges and agrees to pay a $100 million penalty and undertake extensive remedial measures to fix the firm’s ethical issues.

“This action involves breaches of trust by gatekeepers within the gatekeeper entrusted to audit many of our Nation’s public companies. It’s simply outrageous that the very professionals responsible for catching cheating by clients cheated on ethics exams of all things,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “And it’s equally shocking that Ernst & Young hindered our investigation of this misconduct. This action should serve as a clear message that the SEC will not tolerate integrity failures by independent auditors who choose the easier wrong over the harder right.”

EY admits that, over multiple years, a significant number of EY audit professionals cheated on the ethics component of CPA exams and various continuing professional education courses required to maintain CPA licenses, including ones designed to ensure that accountants can properly evaluate whether clients’ financial statements comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

EY further admits that during the Enforcement Division’s investigation of potential cheating at the firm, EY made a submission conveying to the Division that EY did not have current issues with cheating when, in fact, the firm had been informed of potential cheating on a CPA ethics exam. EY also admits that it did not correct its submission even after it launched an internal investigation into cheating on CPA ethics and other exams and confirmed there had been cheating, and even after its senior lawyers discussed the matter with members of the firm’s senior management. And as the Order finds, EY did not cooperate in the SEC’s investigation regarding its materially misleading submission.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Abuse case reveals therapist’s dark past, raises ethical concerns

Associated Press
Originally posted 11 JUN 22

Here is an excerpt:

Dushame held a valid driver’s license despite five previous drunken driving convictions, and it was his third fatal crash — though the others didn’t involve alcohol. The Boston Globe called him “the most notorious drunk driver in New England history.”

But over time, he dedicated himself to helping people recovering from addiction, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology and leading treatment programs from behind bars.

Two years later, he legally changed his name to Peter Stone. He was released from prison in 2002 and eventually set up shop as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor.

Last July, he was charged with five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault under a law that criminalizes any sexual contact between patients and their therapists or health care providers. Such behavior also is prohibited by the American Psychological Association’s ethical code of conduct.

In a recent interview, the 61-year-old woman said she developed romantic feelings for Stone about six months after he began treating her for anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse in June 2013. Though he told her a relationship would be unethical, he initiated sexual contact in February 2016, she said.

“‘That crossed the line,’” the woman remembers him saying after he pulled up his pants. “‘When am I seeing you again?’”

While about half the states have no restrictions on name changes after felony convictions, 15 have bans or temporary waiting periods for those convicted of certain crimes, according to the ACLU in Illinois, which has one of the most restrictive laws.

Stone appropriately disclosed his criminal record on licensing applications and other documents, according to a review of records obtained by the AP. Disclosure to clients isn’t mandatory, said Gary Goodnough, who teaches counseling ethics at Plymouth State University. But he believes clients have a right to know about some convictions, including vehicular homicide.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

You Think Failure Is Hard? So Is Learning From It

Eskreis-Winkler, L., & Fishbach, A. (2022).
Perspectives on Psychological Science. 


Society celebrates failure as a teachable moment. But do people actually learn from failure? Although lay wisdom suggests people should, a review of the research suggests that this is hard. We present a unifying framework that points to emotional and cognitive barriers that make learning from failure difficult. Emotions undermine learning because people find failure ego-threatening. People tend to look away from failure and not pay attention to it to protect their egos. Cognitively, people also struggle because the information in failure is less direct than the information in success and thus harder to extract. Beyond identifying barriers, this framework suggests inroads by which barriers might be addressed. Finally, we explore implications. We outline what, exactly, people miss out on when they overlook the information in failure. We find that the information in failure is often high-quality information that can be used to predict success.


From a young age, we are told that there is information in failure, and we ought to learn from it. Yet, people struggle to see the information in failure. As a result, they struggle to learn.  We present a unifying framework that identifies the emotional and cognitive barriers that make it difficult for people to learn from failure.

Understanding these barriers is especially important when one considers the information in failure. The information in failure is both rich and unique—indeed it is often richer, more informative, and more useful than the information in success.

What to do in a world where the information in failure is rich, yet people struggle to see it? One recommendation is to explore the solutions that we propose here. Remove the ego from failure, shore up the ego so it can tolerate failure, and ease the cognitive burdens of learning from failure to promote it in practice and through culture. We believe such techniques are well worth understanding and investing in, since there is so much to learn from the information in failure when we see it.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Confidence in U.S. Supreme Court Sinks to Historic Low

Jeffrey Jones
Originally posted 23 JUN 22

Story Highlights
  • 25% of Americans have confidence in Supreme Court, down from 36% in 2021
  • Current reading is five percentage points lower than prior record low
  • Confidence is down among Democrats and independents this year
With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision before the end of its 2021-2022 term, Americans' confidence in the court has dropped sharply over the past year and reached a new low in Gallup's nearly 50-year trend. Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, down from 36% a year ago and five percentage points lower than the previous low recorded in 2014.

These results are based on a June 1-20 Gallup poll that included Gallup's annual update on confidence in U.S. institutions. The survey was completed before the end of the court's term and before it issued its major rulings for that term. Many institutions have suffered a decline in confidence this year, but the 11-point drop in confidence in the Supreme Court is roughly double what it is for most institutions that experienced a decline. Gallup will release the remainder of the confidence in institutions results in early July.

The Supreme Court is likely to issue a ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case before its summer recess. The decision will determine the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A leaked draft majority opinion in the case suggests that the high court will not only allow the Mississippi law to stand, but also overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling that prohibits restrictions on abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. Americans oppose overturning Roe by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

In September, Gallup found the Supreme Court's job approval rating at a new low and public trust in the judicial branch of the federal government down sharply. These changes occurred after the Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, among other controversial decisions at that time. Given these prior results, it is unclear if the drop in confidence in the Supreme Court measured in the current poll is related to the anticipated Dobbs decision or had occurred several months before the leak.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

What drives mass shooters? Grievance, despair, and anger are more likely triggers than mental illness, experts say

Deanna Pan
Boston Globe
Originally posted 3 JUN 22

Here is an excerpt:

A 2018 study by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit evaluating 63 active shooters between 2000 and 2013 found that a quarter were known to have been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness, and just 3 of the 63 had a verified psychotic disorder.

Although 62 percent of shooters showed signs that they were struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, or paranoia, their symptoms, the study notes, may ultimately have been “transient manifestations of behaviors and moods” that would not qualify them for a formal diagnosis.

Formally diagnosed mental illness, the study concludes, “is not a very specific predictor of violence of any type, let alone targeted violence,” given that roughly half of the US population experiences symptoms of mental illness over the course of their lifetimes.

Forensic psychologist Jillian Peterson, cofounder of The Violence Project, a think tank dedicated to reducing violence, said mass shooters are typically younger men, channeling their pain and anger through acts of violence and aggression. For many mass shooters, Peterson said, their path to violence begins with early childhood trauma. They often share a sense of “entitlement,” she said — to wealth, power, romance, and success. When they don’t achieve those goals, they become enraged and search for a scapegoat.

”As they get older, you see a lot of despair, hopelessness, self-hate — many of them attempt suicide — isolation. And then that kind of despair, isolation, that self-hatred turns outward,” Peterson said. “School shooters blame their schools. Some people blame a racial group or women or a religious group or the workplace.”

But mental illness, she said, is rarely an exclusive motive for mass shooters. In a study published last year, Peterson and her colleagues analyzed a dataset of 172 mass shooters for signs of psychosis — features of schizophrenia and other mood disorders. Although mental illness and psychotic disorders were overrepresented among the mass shooters they studied, Peterson’s study found most mass shooters were motivated by other factors, such as interpersonal conflicts, relationship problems, or a desire for fame.

Peterson’s study found psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, played no role in almost 70 percent of cases, and only a minor role in 11 percent of cases, where the shooters had other motives. In just 10 percent of cases, perpetrators were directly responding to their delusions or hallucinations when they were planning and committing their attacks.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Work group rituals enhance the meaning of work

T. Kima, O. Sezer, et al.
Organizational Behavior and 
Human Decision Processes
Volume 165, July 2021, Pages 197-212


The many benefits of finding meaning in work suggest the importance of identifying activities that increase job meaningfulness. The current paper identifies one such activity: engaging in rituals with workgroups. Five studies (N = 1,099) provide evidence that performing group rituals can enhance the meaningfulness of work, and that in turn this meaning can enhance organizational citizenship behaviors (to the benefit of those groups). We first define group rituals both conceptually and empirically, identifying three types of features associated with group rituals—physical actions, psychological import, and communality—and differentiating group rituals from the related concept of group norms (Pilot Studies A and B). We then examine—correlationally in a survey of employed individuals (Study 1a) and experimentally in a study that manipulates the presence or absence of the three types of ritualistic features (Study 1b)—whether performing an activity at work with ritualistic physical, psychological, and communal features (versus an activity with none or just one of these features) is associated with more meaningful work experiences. We test whether this enhanced meaning predicts the extent to which individuals are willing to engage in behaviors enacted on behalf of that group, even without the promise of reward, using organizational citizenship behaviors in Studies 1a–1b and performance on a brainstorming task in Study 2. Taken together, these studies offer a framework for understanding group ritual and offer novel insight into the downstream consequences of employing group rituals in organizational contexts.


• Physical, psychological, and communal elements capture group ritual’s core meaning.

• Organizations can employ group rituals to imbue tasks with meaning.

• This meaning can, in turn, enhance organizational citizenship behaviors.


Group rituals are prevalent in countless contexts, from sporting events to religious services to workplaces. Our findings not only suggest that there may be wisdom behind their ubiquity, but also that groups can engineer group activities to increase the success of meaning transfer. A series of ritualistic movements can become a simple—yet effective—tool for enhancing meaning at work. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Leaders with Multicultural Experiences Communicate and Lead More Effectively, Especially in Multinational Teams

J. G. Lu, R. I. Swaab, A. D. Galinsky
Organization Science
Published Online: 22 Jul 2021


In an era of globalization, it is commonly assumed that multicultural experiences foster leadership effectiveness. However, little research has systematically tested this assumption. We develop a theoretical perspective that articulates how and when multicultural experiences increase leadership effectiveness. We hypothesize that broad multicultural experiences increase individuals’ leadership effectiveness by developing their communication competence. Because communication competence is particularly important for leading teams that are more multinational, we further hypothesize that individuals with broader multicultural experiences are particularly effective when leading more versus less multinational teams. Four studies test our theory using mixed methods (field survey, archival panel, field experiments) and diverse populations (corporate managers, soccer managers, hackathon leaders) in different countries (Australia, Britain, China, America). In Study 1, corporate managers with broader multicultural experiences were rated as more effective leaders, an effect mediated by communication competence. Analyzing a 25-year archival panel of English Premier League soccer managers, Study 2 replicates the positive effect of broad multicultural experiences using a team performance measure of leadership effectiveness. Importantly, this effect was moderated by team national diversity: soccer managers with broader multicultural experiences were particularly effective when leading teams with greater national diversity. Study 3 (digital health hackathon) and Study 4 (COVID-19 policy hackathon) replicate these effects in two field experiments, in which individuals with varying levels of multicultural experiences were randomly assigned to lead hackathon teams that naturally varied in national diversity. Overall, our research suggests that broad multicultural experiences help leaders communicate more competently and lead more effectively, especially when leading multinational teams.

From the Discussion

Practical Implications

Because of the rise of globalization, individuals and organizations increasingly value and invest in multicultural experiences. However, multicultural experiences are expensive. The present research lends support to the common belief that multicultural experiences foster leadership effectiveness (Karabell 2016, Pelos 2017). Notably, our studies consistently found that the breadth (but not the depth) of multicultural experiences predicted leadership effectiveness via communication competence. This finding suggests that organizations should ensure that expatriates are exposed to a broad set of experiences. For example, when structuring international assignments, organizations should consider exposing their employees to a range of foreign postings (e.g., global rotation programs) rather than one lengthy foreign posting (Suutari and Makel ¨ a¨ 2007). Similarly, individuals may consider pursuing multinational educational programs (e.g., global MBA) that allow them to engage with different cultures.

Just as individuals’ multicultural experiences are increasingly prevalent, so are multinational teams. The
present research examined three multinational team contexts with high ecological validity and real-world
consequences. Across these contexts, we provide evidence that multinational teams perform better when
led by leaders with broad multicultural experiences.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Thousands of Medical Professionals Urge Supreme Court To Uphold Roe: ‘Provide Patients With the Treatment They Need’

Phoebe Kolbert
Ms. Magazine
Originally posted 21 JUN 22

Any day now, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which many predict will overturn or severely gut Roe v. Wade. Since the start of the Dobbs v. Jackson hearings in December, medical professionals have warned of the drastic health impacts brought on by abortion bans. Now, over 2,500 healthcare professionals from all 50 states have signed a letter urging the Supreme Court to scrap their leaked Dobbs draft opinion and uphold Roe.  

Within 30 days of a decision to overturn Roe, at least 26 states will ban abortion. Clinics in remaining pro-abortion states are preparing for increased violence from anti-abortion extremists and an influx of out-of-state patients. The number of legal abortions performed nationwide is projected to fall by about 13 percent. Many abortion clinics in states with bans will be forced to close their doors, if they haven’t already. The loss of these clinics also comes with the loss of the other essential reproductive healthcare they provide, including STI screenings and treatment, birth control and cervical cancer screenings.

The letter, titled “Medical Professionals Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Roe v. Wade, Protect Abortion Access,” argues that decisions around pregnancy and abortion should be made by patients and their doctors, not the courts.

Here is how the letter begins:

Medical Professionals Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Roe v. Wade, Protect Abortion Access

As physicians and health care professionals, we are gravely concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court appears prepared to end the constitutional right to an abortion. We urge the Supreme Court to to scrap their draft opinion, uphold the constitutional right to an abortion, and ensure that abortions remain legal nationwide, as allowed for in Roe v. Wade. In this moment of crisis, we want to make crystal clear the consequences to our patients’ health if they can no longer access abortions.

Abortions are safe, common and a critical part of health care and reproductive medicine. Medical professionals and medical associations agree, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Nurse Midwives and many others.

Prohibiting access to safe and legal abortion has devastating implications for health care. Striking down Roe v. Wade would affect not just abortion access, but also maternal care as well as fertility treatments. Pregnancy changes a person’s physiology. These changes can potentially worsen existing diseases and medical conditions.

As physicians and medical professionals, we see the real-life consequences when an individual does not get the care that they know they need, including abortions. The woman who has suffered the violation and trauma of rape would be forced to carry a pregnancy.

Denying access to abortion from people who want one can adversely affect their health, safety and economic well-being, including delayed separation from a violent partner and increased likelihood of falling into poverty by four times. These outcomes can also have drastic impacts on their health.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

South Carolina bill permits health care providers refuse non-emergency care based on beliefs

Brooke Migdon
The Hill
Originally posted 1 APR 22

Story at a glance
  • Legislators in South Carolina on Friday passed a bill which would allow healthcare providers to deny care based on their personal beliefs. It would also apply to insurance companies, which may be entitled to refuse to pay for care.
  • The bill would also protect those who decline to provide medical services from civil, criminal or administrative liability.
  • Some say the bill, known as the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” would disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community, as well as women and people of color.
South Carolina lawmakers on Friday passed a bill allowing medical professionals and insurance companies to deny care based on personal belief. Some say the legislation, which now heads to the state Senate for consideration, would disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color.

Under the bill, titled the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” South Carolina law would be altered to excuse medical practitioners, health care institutions and health care payers from providing care that violates their “conscience.” It would also shield those who decline to provide medical services to patients from civil, criminal or administrative liability.

Dozens of state residents in February testified against the bill, calling it vague and overbroad. They also shared concerns that the legislation would disproportionately impact marginalized communities.

In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said she finds it “disturbing” that politicians in South Carolina are prioritizing individual providers’ beliefs over the wellbeing of patients.

“This legislation is dangerously silent in regards to the needs of patients and fails to consider the impact that expanding refusals can have on their health,” she said. “Religious freedom is a fundamental American value that is entirely compatible with providing quality, non-discriminatory healthcare. It is not a license to deprive others of their rights simply because of personal beliefs.”

Warbelow said the bill sends a message to patients with non-medical views inconsistent with that of their doctors that they are “not equal members of society entitled to dignity and respect.”

Editor's Note: Those politicians who pass laws based on culture wars are clearly violating the principle-based ethics on which all medical ethics rely.  If they pass harmful laws that conflict with health care ethics, then they are not fit to serve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Gina Haspel Observed Waterboarding at CIA Black Site, Psychologist Testifies

Carol Rosenberg and J. E. Barnes
The New York Times
Originally posted 4 JUN 22

During Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become director of the CIA in 2018, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked her if she had overseen the interrogations of a Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which included the use of a waterboard.

Haspel declined to answer, saying it was part of her classified career.

While there has been reporting about her oversight of a CIA black site in Thailand where al-Nashiri was waterboarded, and where Haspel wrote or authorized memos about his torture, the precise details of her work as the chief of base, the CIA officer who oversaw the prison, have been shrouded in official secrecy.

But testimony at a hearing last month in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, included a revelation about the former CIA director’s long and secretive career. James E. Mitchell, a psychologist who helped develop the agency’s interrogation program, testified that the chief of base at the time, whom he referred to as Z9A in accordance with court rules, watched while he and a teammate subjected al-Nashiri to “enhanced interrogation” that included waterboarding at the black site.

Z9A is the code name used in court for Haspel.

The CIA has never acknowledged Haspel’s work at the black site, and the use of the code name represented the court’s acceptance of an agency policy of not acknowledging state secrets — even those that have already been spilled. Former officials long ago revealed that she ran the black site in Thailand from October 2002 until December 2002, during the time al-Nashiri was being tortured, which Mitchell described in his testimony.

Guantánamo Bay is one of the few places where America is still wrestling with the legacy of torture in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Torture has loomed over the pretrial phase of the death penalty cases for years and is likely to continue to do so as hearings resume over the summer.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Christian Right is violating the First Amendment by banning abortion

Noah Berlatsky
NBC News Cultural Critic
Originally published 18 JUN 22

The anti-abortion rights movement is largely faith based. Catholics and evangelical Christians argue that life begins at conception, and that fetuses have souls. On those grounds, they want to prevent anyone from obtaining abortion services.

They’ve had a good deal of success with that recently. A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggests the high court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade, effectively gutting the constitutional right to abortion. In anticipation, many conservative states have passed sweeping anti-abortion legislation.

But not everyone is Christian. And imposing Christian morality and Christian dogma on non-Christians is a good working definition of religious tyranny — which the First Amendment of the Constitution explicitly rejects. 

That principle of religious freedom is the basis of a lawsuit brought by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a synagogue in Boynton Beach, Florida, against a sweeping state abortion ban set to take effect on July 1. Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor is challenging a single law on behalf of a single religion. But the case is also a broader challenge to the anti-abortion rights movement, which conflates a right-wing Christian demand for forced birth with universal morality, and insists on subjugating the country to a sectarian code.

The new Florida law bans most abortions after 15 weeks. There are no exceptions for cases of incest, rape or human trafficking. It does allow an abortion to save a pregnant person’s life or to prevent serious physical injury. But these exceptions aren’t enough to keep the law from violating the free exercise of the Jewish faith. The congregation’s lawsuit states that the Florida law violates Jewish religious beliefs holding that abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman,” among other reasons.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Anti-Black Racism as a Chronic Condition

Nneka Sederstrom and Tamika Lasege, 
In A Critical Moment in Bioethics: Reckoning 
with Anti-Black Racism through Intergenerational 
Dialogue,  ed.  Faith  E.  Fletcher  et  al., 
Special  Report, Hastings Center Report 52, no. 2 
(2022):  S24-S29.


Because America has a foundation of anti-Black racism, being born Black in this nation yields an identity that breeds the consequences of a chronic condition. This article highlights several ways in which medicine and clinical ethics, despite the former's emphasis on doing no harm and the latter's emphasis on nonmaleficence, fail to address or acknowledge some of the key ways in which physicians can—and do—harm patients of color. To understand harm in a way that can provide real substance for ethical standards in the practice of medicine, physicians need to think about how treatment decisions are constrained by a patient's race. The color of one's skin can and does negatively affect the quality of a person's diagnosis, promoted care plan, and prognosis. Yet racism in medicine and bioethics persist—because a racist system serves the interests of the dominant caste, White people. As correctives to this system, the authors propose several antiracist commitments physicians or ethicists can make.


Here are some commitments to add to a newly revised Hippocratic oath: We shall stop denying that racism exists in medicine. We shall face the reality that we fail to train and equip our clinicians with the ability to effectively make informed clinical decisions using the reality of how race impacts health outcomes. We shall address the lack of the declaration of racism as a bioethics priority and work to train ethicists on how to engage in antiracism work. We shall own the effects of racism at every level in health care and the academy. Attempting to talk about everything except racism is another form of denial, privilege, and power that sustains racism. We will not have conversations about disproportionally high rates of “minority” housing insecurity, food scarcity, noncompliance with treatment plans, “drug-seeking behavior,” complex social needs, or “disruptive behavior” or rely on any other terms that are disguised proxies for racism without explicitly naming racism. As ethicists, we will not engage in conversations around goal setting, value judgments, benefits and risks of interventions, autonomy and capacity, or any other elements around the care of patients without naming racism.

So where do we go from here? How do we address the need to decolonize medicine and bioethics? When do we stop being inactive and start being proactive? It starts upstream with improving the medical education and bioethics curricula to accurately and thoroughly inform students on the social and biological sciences of human beings who are not White in America. Then, and only then, will we breed a generation of race-conscious clinicians and ethicists who can understand and interpret the historic inequities in our system and ultimately be capable of providing medical care and ethical analysis that reflect the diversity of our country. Clinical ethics program development must include antiracism training to develop clinical ethicists who have the skills to recognize and address racism at the bedside in clinical ethics consultation. It requires changing the faces in the field and addressing the extreme lack of racial diversity in bioethics. Increasing the number of clinicians of color in all professions within medicine, but especially the numbers of physicians, advance practice providers, and clinical ethicists, is imperative to the goal of improving patient outcomes for Black and brown populations.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

If you rise, I fall: Equality is prevented by the misperception that it harms advantaged groups

Brown, N. D., Jacoby-Senghor, D. S., 
& Raymundo, I. (2022). 
Science advances, 8(18)


Nine preregistered studies (n = 4197) demonstrate that advantaged group members misperceive equality as necessarily harming their access to resources and inequality as necessarily benefitting them. Only when equality is increased within their ingroup, instead of between groups, do advantaged group members accurately perceive it as unharmful. Misperceptions persist when equality-enhancing policies offer broad benefits to society or when resources, and resource access, are unlimited. A longitudinal survey of the 2020 U.S. voters reveals that harm perceptions predict voting against actual equality-enhancing policies, more so than voters’ political and egalitarian beliefs. Finally two novel-groups experiments experiments reveal that advantaged participants’ harm misperceptions predict voting for inequality-enhancing policies that financially hurt them and against equality-enhancing policies that financially benefit them. Misperceptions persist even after an intervention to improve decision-making. This misperception that equality is necessarily zero-sum may explain why inequality prevails even as it incurs societal costs that harm everyone.

From the Discussion Section

Across nine studies, we show that advantaged group members misperceive equality-enhancing policies as harming their access to resources, even when the policies do no such thing. We identify this misperception across various inequality contexts (e.g., mortgage lending, salary, and hiring), various group boundaries (e.g., race, gender, disability, and arbitrary group distinctions), and different types of resources (e.g., money and jobs). Advantaged group members also misperceive policies that maintain the status quo or magnify inequality as improving their resource access, even when the policies actually leave them no better off. This tendency for advantaged group members to think that equality necessarily incurs a cost to their group lingered even when equality-enhancing policies mutually benefited disadvantaged and advantaged groups in a win-win fashion. That is, advantaged group members misperceive having greater inequality and fewer resources available to their group as more advantageous than having greater overall resources that were shared more equally.

We also find that these harm perceptions can have profound implications for individuals’ attitudinal and behavioral opposition to policies that promote equality. During the 2020 election, California Proposition 16 proposed relegalizing the use of affirmative action policies in the public sector. We find that the more white and Asian voters perceived that California Proposition 16 would harm their access to resources, the less likely they were to express support or vote for Proposition 16, independent of their political leaning. Moreover, we find that behavioral opposition occurs even when harm perceptions are objectively false and the effects of equality-enhancing policies are unambiguously positive. In an experimental setting, advantaged group participants were just as likely to vote for an inequality-enhancing policy that financially harmed them as they were to vote for an equality-enhancing policy that financially benefitted them. These studies suggest that real-world opposition to equality is likely caused by unduly negative perceptions of policies that could reduce inequality and unduly positive perceptions of policies that exacerbate it.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Capable but Amoral? Comparing AI and Human Expert Collaboration in Ethical Decision Making

S. Tolmeijer, M. Christen, et al.
In CHI Conference on Human Factors in 
Computing Systems (CHI '22), April 29-May 5,
2022, New Orleans, LA, USA. ACM

While artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly applied for decision-making processes, ethical decisions pose challenges for AI applications. Given that humans cannot always agree on the right thing to do, how would ethical decision-making by AI systems be perceived and how would responsibility be ascribed in human-AI collaboration? In this study, we investigate how the expert type (human vs. AI) and level of expert autonomy (adviser vs. decider) influence trust, perceived responsibility, and reliance. We find that participants consider humans to be more morally trustworthy but less capable than their AI equivalent. This shows in participants’ reliance on AI: AI recommendations and decisions are accepted more often than the human expert's. However, AI team experts are perceived to be less responsible than humans, while programmers and sellers of AI systems are deemed partially responsible instead.

From the Discussion Section

Design implications for ethical AI

In sum, we find that participants had slightly higher moral trust and more responsibility ascription towards human experts, but higher capacity trust, overall trust, and reliance on AI. These different perceived capabilities could be combined in some form of human-AI collaboration. However, lack of responsibility of the AI can be a problem when AI for ethical decision making is implemented. When a human expert is involved but has less autonomy, they risk becoming a scapegoat for the decisions that the AI proposed in case of negative outcomes.

At the same time, we find that the different levels of autonomy, i.e., the human-in-the-loop and human-on-the-loop setting, did not influence the trust people had, the responsibility they assigned (both to themselves and the respective experts), and the reliance they displayed. A large part of the discussion on usage of AI has focused on control and the level of autonomy that the AI gets for different tasks. However, our results suggest that this has less of an influence, as long a human is appointed to be responsible in the end. Instead, an important focus of designing AI for ethical decision making should be on the different types of trust users show for a human vs. AI expert.

One conclusion of this finding that the control conditions of AI may be of less relevance than expected is that the focus on human-AI collaboration should be less on control and more on how the involvement of AI improves human ethical decision making. An important factor in that respect will be the time available for actual decision making: if time is short, AI advice or decisions should make clear which value was guiding in the decision process (e.g., maximizing the expected number of people to be saved irrespective of any characteristics of the individuals involved), such that the human decider can make (or evaluate) the decision in an ethically informed way. If time for deliberation is available, a AI decision support system could be designed in a way to counteract human biases in ethical decision making (e.g., point to the possibility that human deciders solely focus on utility maximization and in this way neglecting fundamental rights of individuals) such that those biases can become part of the deliberation process.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Record-High 50% of Americans Rate U.S. Moral Values as 'Poor'

Megan Brenan & Nicole Willcoxon
Originally posted 15 June 22

Story Highlights
  • 50% say state of moral values is "poor"; 37% "only fair"
  • 78% think moral values in the U.S. are getting worse
  • "Consideration of others" cited as top problem with state of moral values
A record-high 50% of Americans rate the overall state of moral values in the U.S. as "poor," and another 37% say it is "only fair." Just 1% think the state of moral values is "excellent" and 12% "good."

Although negative views of the nation's moral values have been the norm throughout Gallup's 20-year trend, the current poor rating is the highest on record by one percentage point.

These findings, from Gallup's May 2-22 Values and Beliefs poll, are generally in line with perceptions since 2017 except for a slight improvement in views in 2020 when Donald Trump was running for reelection. On average since 2002, 43% of U.S. adults have rated moral values in the U.S. as poor, 38% as fair and 18% as excellent or good.

Republicans' increasingly negative assessment of the state of moral values is largely responsible for the record-high overall poor rating. At 72%, Republicans' poor rating of moral values is at its highest point since the inception of the trend and up sharply since Trump left office.

At the same time, 36% of Democrats say the state of moral values is poor, while a 48% plurality rate it as only fair and 15% as excellent or good. Independents' view of the current state of moral values is relatively stable and closer to Democrats' than Republicans' rating, with 44% saying it is poor, 40% only fair and 16% excellent or good.

Outlook for State of Moral Values Is Equally Bleak

Not only are Americans feeling grim about the current state of moral values in the nation, but they are also mostly pessimistic about the future on the subject, as 78% say morals are getting worse and just 18% getting better. The latest percentage saying moral values are getting worse is roughly in line with the average of 74% since 2002, but it is well above the past two years' 67% and 68% readings.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

A Constructionist Review of Morality and Emotions: No Evidence for Specific Links Between Moral Content and Discrete Emotions

Cameron, C. D., Lindquist, K. A., & Gray, K. (2015). 
Personality and Social Psychology Review
19(4), 371–394.


Morality and emotions are linked, but what is the nature of their correspondence? Many “whole number” accounts posit specific correspondences between moral content and discrete emotions, such that harm is linked to anger, and purity is linked to disgust. A review of the literature provides little support for these specific morality–emotion links. Moreover, any apparent specificity may arise from global features shared between morality and emotion, such as affect and conceptual content. These findings are consistent with a constructionist perspective of the mind, which argues against a whole number of discrete and domain-specific mental mechanisms underlying morality and emotion. Instead, constructionism emphasizes the flexible combination of basic and domain-general ingredients such as core affect and conceptualization in creating the experience of moral judgments and discrete emotions. The implications of constructionism in moral psychology are discussed, and we propose an experimental framework for rigorously testing morality–emotion links.


The tension between whole number and constructionist accounts has existed in psychology since its beginning (e.g., Darwin, 1872/2005 vs. James, 1890; see Gendron & Barrett, 2009; Lindquist, 2013). Commonsense and essentialism suggest the existence of distinct and immutable psychological constructs. The intuitiveness of whole number accounts is reinforced by the communicative usefulness of distinguishing harm from purity (Graham et al., 2009), and anger from disgust (Barrett, 2006; Lindquist, Gendron, et al., 2013), but utility does not equal ontology. As decades of psychological research have demonstrated, intuitive experiences are poor guides to the structure of the mind (Barrett, 2009; Davies, 2009; James, 1890; Nisbett & Wilson, 1977; Roser & Gazzaniga, 2004; Ross & Ward, 1996; Wegner, 2003).  Although initially less intuitive, we suggest that constructionist approaches are actually better at capturing the nature of the powerful subjective phenomena long treasured by social psychologists (Gray & Wegner, 2013; Wegner & Gilbert, 2000). Whereas whole number theories impose taxonomies onto human experience and treat variability as noise or error, constructionist theories allow that experience is complex and messy. Rather than assuming that human experience is “wrong” when it fails to conform to a preferred taxonomy, constructionist theories appreciate this diversity and use domain-general mechanisms to explain it. Returning to our opening example, Jack and Diane may be soul-mates with a love that is unique, unchanging, and eternal, or they may just be two similar American kids who feel the rush of youth and the heat of a summer’s day. The first may be more romantic, but the second is more likely to be true.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Minority salience and the overestimation of individuals from minority groups in perception and memory

R. Kadosh, A. Y. Sklar, et al. 
PNAS (2022).
Vol 119 (12) 1-10.


Our cognitive system is tuned toward spotting the uncommon and unexpected. We propose that individuals coming from minority groups are, by definition, just that—uncommon and often unexpected. Consequently, they are psychologically salient in perception, memory, and visual awareness. This minority salience creates a tendency to overestimate the prevalence of minorities, leading to an erroneous picture of our social environments—an illusion of diversity. In 12 experiments with 942 participants, we found evidence that the presence of minority group members is indeed overestimated in memory and perception and that masked images of minority group members are prioritized for visual awareness. These findings were consistent when participants were members of both the majority group and the minority group. Moreover, this overestimated prevalence of minorities led to decreased support for diversity-promoting policies. We discuss the theoretical implications of the illusion of diversity and how it may inform more equitable and inclusive decision-making.


Our minds are tuned to the uncommon or unexpected in our environment. In most environments, members of minority groups are just that—uncommon. Therefore, the cognitive system is tuned to spotting their presence. Our results indicate that individuals from minority groups are salient in perception, memory, and visual awareness. As a result, we consistently overestimate their presence—leading to an illusion of diversity: the environment seems to be more diverse than it actually is, decreasing our support for diversity-promoting measures. As we try to make equitable decisions, it is important that private individuals and decision-makers alike become aware of this biased perception. While these sorts of biases can be counteracted, one must first be aware of the bias.


Taken together, our results from 12 experiments and 942 participants indicate that minority salience and overestimation are robust phenomena. We consistently overestimate the prevalence of individuals from minority groups and underestimate the prevalence of members from the majority group, thus perceiving our social environments as more diverse than they truly are. Our experiments also indicate that this effect maybe found at the level of priority for visual awareness and that it is social in nature: our social knowledge, our representation of the overall composition of our social environment, shapes this effect. Importantly, this illusion of diversity is consequential in that it leads to less support for measures to increase diversity.

Monday, June 13, 2022

San Diego doctor who smuggled hydroxychloroquine into US, sold medication as a COVID-19 cure sentenced

Hope Sloop
KSWB-TV San Diego
Originally posted 29 MAY 22

A San Diego doctor was sentenced Friday to 30 days of custody and one year of house arrest for attempting to smuggle hydroxychloroquine into the U.S. and sell COVID-19 "treatment kits" at the beginning of the pandemic.  

According to officials with the U.S. Department of Justice, Jennings Ryan Staley attempted to sell what he described as a "medical cure" for the coronavirus, which was really hydroxychloroquine powder that the physician had imported in from China by mislabeling the shipping container as "yam extract." Staley had attempted to replicate this process with another seller at one point, as well, but the importer told the San Diego doctor that they "must do it legally." 

Following the arrival of his shipment of the hydroxychloroquine powder, Staley solicited investors to help fund his operation to sell the filled capsules as a "medical cure" for COVID-19. The SoCal doctor told potential investors that he could triple their money within 90 days.  

Staley also told investigators via his plea agreement that he had written false prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, using his associate's name and personal details without the employee's consent or knowledge.  

During an undercover operation, an agent purchased six of Staley's "treatment kits" for $4,000 and, during a recorded phone call, the doctor bragged about the efficacy of the kits and said, "I got the last tank of . . . hydroxychloroquine, smuggled out of China."  

Sunday, June 12, 2022

You Were Right About COVID, and Then You Weren’t

Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Originally posted 3 MAY 22

Here are two excerpts:

Tenelle Porter, a psychologist at UC Davis, studies so-called intellectual humility, or the recognition that we have imperfect information and thus our beliefs might be wrong. Practicing intellectual humility, she says, is harder when you’re very active on the internet, or when you’re operating in a cutthroat culture. That might be why it pains me—a very online person working in the very competitive culture of journalism—to say that I was incredibly wrong about COVID at first. In late February 2020, when Smith was sounding the alarm among his co-workers, I had drinks with a colleague who asked me if I was worried about “this new coronavirus thing.”

“No!” I said. After all, I had covered swine flu, which blew over quickly and wasn’t very deadly.

A few days later, my mom called and asked me the same question. “People in Italy are staying inside their houses,” she pointed out.

“Yeah,” I said. “But SARS and MERS both stayed pretty localized to the regions they originally struck.”

Then, a few weeks later, when we were already working from home and buying dried beans, a friend asked me if she should be worried about her wedding, which was scheduled for October 2020.

“Are you kidding?” I said. “They will have figured out a vaccine or something by then.” Her wedding finally took place this month.


Thinking like a scientist, or a scout, means “recognizing that every single one of your opinions is a hypothesis waiting to be tested. And every decision you make is an experiment where you forgot to have a control group,” Grant said. The best way to hold opinions or make predictions is to determine what you think given the state of the evidence—and then decide what it would take for you to change your mind. Not only are you committing to staying open-minded; you’re committing to the possibility that you might be wrong.

Because the coronavirus has proved volatile and unpredictable, we should evaluate it as a scientist would. We can’t hold so tightly to prior beliefs that we allow them to guide our behavior when the facts on the ground change. This might mean that we lose our masks one month and don them again the next, or reschedule an indoor party until after case numbers decrease. It might mean supporting strict lockdowns in the spring of 2020 but not in the spring of 2022. It might even mean closing schools again, if a new variant seems to attack children. We should think of masks and other COVID precautions not as shibboleths but like rain boots and umbrellas, as Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus-response coordinator, has put it. There’s no sense in being pro- or anti-umbrella. You just take it out when it’s raining.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

No convincing evidence outgroups are denied uniquely human characteristics: Distinguishing intergroup preference from trait-based dehumanization

F. E. Enock, J. C. Flavell. et al. (2021).
Volume 212, July 2021, 104682


According to the dual model, outgroup members can be dehumanized by being thought to possess uniquely and characteristically human traits to a lesser extent than ingroup members. However, previous research on this topic has tended to investigate the attribution of human traits that are socially desirable in nature such as warmth, civility and rationality. As a result, it has not yet been possible to determine whether this form of dehumanization is distinct from intergroup preference and stereotyping. We first establish that participants associate undesirable (e.g., corrupt, jealous) as well as desirable (e.g., open-minded, generous) traits with humans. We then go on to show that participants tend to attribute desirable human traits more strongly to ingroup members but undesirable human traits more strongly to outgroup members. This pattern holds across three different intergroup contexts for which dehumanization effects have previously been reported: political opponents, immigrants and criminals. Taken together, these studies cast doubt on the claim that a trait-based account of representing others as ‘less human’ holds value in the study of intergroup bias.


•  The dual model predicts outgroups are attributed human traits to a lesser extent.

•  To date, predominantly desirable traits have been investigated, creating a confound.

•  We test attributions of desirable and undesirable human traits to social groups.

•  Attributions of undesirable human traits were stronger for outgroups than ingroups.

•  We find no support for the predictions of the dual model of dehumanization.

From the General Discussion

The dual model argues that there are two sense of humanness: human uniqueness and human nature. Uniquely human traits can be summarised as civility, refinement, moral sensibility, rationality, and maturity. Human nature traits can be summarised as emotional responsiveness, interpersonal warmth, cognitive openness, agency, and depth (Haslam, 2006). However, the traits that supposedly characterise ‘humanness’ within this model are broadly socially desirable (Over, 2020a; Over, 2020b). We showed that people also associate some undesirable traits with the concept ‘human’. As well as considering humans to be refined and cultured, people also consider humans to be corrupt, selfish and cruel.

Results from our pretest provided us with grounds for re-examining predictions made by the dual model of dehumanization about the nature of intergroup bias in trait attributions. The dual model account holds that lesser attribution of human specific traits to outgroup members represents a psychological process of dehumanization that is separable from ingroup preference. However, as the human specific attributes summarised by the model are positive and socially desirable, it is possible that previous findings are better explained in terms of ingroup preference, the process of attributing positive qualities to ingroup members to a greater extent than to outgroup members.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Disrupting the System Constructively: Testing the Effectiveness of Nonnormative Nonviolent Collective Action

Shuman, E. (2020, June 21). 


Collective action research tends to focus on motivations of the disadvantaged group, rather than on which tactics are effective at driving the advantaged group to make concessions to the disadvantaged. We focused on the potential of nonnormative nonviolent action as a tactic to generate support for concessions among advantaged group members who are resistant to social change. We propose that this tactic, relative to normative nonviolent and to violent action, is particularly effective because it reflects constructive disruption: a delicate balance between disruption (which can put pressure on the advantaged group to respond), and perceived constructive intentions (which can help ensure that the response to action is a conciliatory one). We test these hypotheses across four contexts (total N = 3650). Studies 1-3 demonstrate that nonnormative nonviolent action (compared to inaction, normative nonviolent action, and violent action) is uniquely effective at increasing support for concessions to the disadvantaged among resistant advantaged group members (compared to advantaged group members more open to social change). Study 3 shows that constructive disruption mediates this effect. Study 4 shows that perceiving a real-world ongoing protest as constructively disruptive predicts support for the disadvantaged, while Study 5 examines these processes longitudinally over 2 months in the context of an ongoing social movement. Taken together, we show that nonnormative nonviolent action can be an effective tactic for generating support for concessions to the disadvantaged among those who are most resistant because it generates constructive disruption.

From the General Discussion

Practical Implications

Based on this research, which collective action tactic should disadvantaged groups choose to advance their status? While a simple reading of these findings might suggest that nonnormative nonviolent action is the “most effective” form of action, a closer reading of these findings and other research (Saguy & Szekeres, 2018; Teixeira et al., 2020; Thomas & Louis, 2014) would suggest that what type of action is most effective depends on the goal. We demonstrate that nonnormative nonviolent action is effective for generating support for concessions to the protest that would advance its policy goals from those who were more resistant. On the other hand, other prior research has found that normative nonviolent action was more effective at turning sympathizers into active supporters (Teixeira et al., 2020; Thomas & Louis, 2014)16. Thus, which action tactic will be most useful to the disadvantaged may depend on the goal: If they are facing resistance from the advantaged blocking the achievement of their goals, nonnormative nonviolent action may be more effective. However, if the disadvantaged are seeking to build a movement that includes members of the advantaged group, then normative nonviolent action will likely be more effective. The question is thus not which tactic is “most effective”, but which tactic is most effective to achieve which goal for what audience.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Their own worst enemy? Collective narcissists are willing to conspire against their in-group

M. Biddlestone, A. Cichocka, 
M. Główczewski, & A. Cislak
The British Psychological Society
Accepted: 11 April 2022


Collective narcissism – a belief in in-group greatness that is not appreciated by others – is associated with using one's group for personal benefits. Across one pilot and four studies, we demonstrated that collective narcissism predicts readiness to conspire against in-group members (rmeta-analysis = .24). In Study 1, conducted in Poland (N = 361), collective narcissism measured in the context of national identity predicted readiness to engage in secret surveillance against one's own country's citizens. In Study 2 (N = 174; pre-registered), collective narcissism in UK workplace teams predicted intentions to engage in conspiracies against co-workers. In Study 3 (N = 471; pre-registered), US national narcissism predicted intentions to conspire against fellow citizens. Furthermore, conspiracy intentions accounted for the relationship between collective narcissism and beliefs in conspiracy theories about the in-group. Finally, in Study 4 (N = 1064; pre-registered), we corroborated the link between Polish national narcissism and conspiracy intentions against fellow citizens, further showing that these intentions were only directed towards group members that were perceived as moderately or strongly typical of the national in-group (but not when perceived in-group typicality was low). In-group identification was either negatively related (Studies 1 and 2) or unrelated (Studies 3 and 4) to conspiracy intentions (rmeta-analysis = .04). We discuss implications for research on conspiracy theories and populism.

Practitioner points
  • Analysts should monitor cases of public endorsement of collective narcissism, which is a belief that one’s in-group (e.g. nation, organisation, or political party) is exceptional but underappreciated by others.
  • As we show, collective narcissism is associated with a willingness to conspire against fellow in-group members and with support for in-group surveillance policies.
  • Thus, groups cherishing such a defensive form of in-group identity are threatened from the inside, thereby warranting education aimed at identifying and avoiding potential exploitation from otherwise trusted members within their own groups.

From the General Discussion

Importantly,  given  the  correlational  nature  of  our  studies,  causality  was  not  established.  It  is  then  also possible that in-group conspiracy beliefs affected conspiracy intentions. For example, intentions to engage in conspiracies within one's group might be a response to a conviction that malevolent forces operate within one's society. Such beliefs and intentions might in fact form a positive feedback loop, which fuels a culture of intragroup suspicion and paranoia, making conspiracy narratives about the in- group more believable and further frustrating personal needs (see also Douglas et al., 2017). This also implies that the conspiracies those high in collective narcissism appear willing to engage in are unlikely to satisfy the frustrated personal needs they purport to serve.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Humans first: Why people value animals less than humans

L. Caviola, S. Schubert, G. Kahane, & N. S.Faber
Volume 225, August 2022, 105139


People routinely give humans moral priority over other animals. Is such moral anthropocentrism based in perceived differences in mental capacity between humans and non-humans or merely because humans favor other members of their own species? We investigated this question in six studies (N = 2217). We found that most participants prioritized humans over animals even when the animals were described as having equal or more advanced mental capacities than the humans. This applied to both mental capacity at the level of specific individuals (Studies 1a-b) and at the level typical for the respective species (Study 2). The key driver behind moral anthropocentrism was thus mere species-membership (speciesism). However, all else equal, participants still gave more moral weight to individuals with higher mental capacities (individual mental capacity principle), suggesting that the belief that humans have higher mental capacities than animals is part of the reason that they give humans moral priority. Notably, participants found mental capacity more important for animals than for humans—a tendency which can itself be regarded as speciesist. We also explored possible sub-factors driving speciesism. We found that many participants judged that all individuals (not only humans) should prioritize members of their own species over members of other species (species-relativism; Studies 3a-b). However, some participants also exhibited a tendency to see humans as having superior value in an absolute sense (pro-human species-absolutism, Studies 3–4). Overall, our work demonstrates that speciesism plays a central role in explaining moral anthropocentrism and may be itself divided into multiple sub-factors.

From the General Discussion

The distal sources of moral anthropocentrism

So far, we have discussed how the factors of moral anthropocentrism are related to each other. We now turn to briefly discuss what ultimate factors may explain moral anthropocentrism, though at present there is little evidence that directly bears on this question. However, evolutionary considerations suggest a preliminary, even if inevitably speculative, account of the ultimate sources of moral anthropocentrism. Such an explanation could also shed light on the role of the sub-factors of speciesism.

There is extensive evidence that people categorize individuals into different groups (cf. Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, & Flament, 1971), identify with their own group (Hornsey, 2008; Tajfel & Turner, 1979), and prioritize members of their ingroup over members of their outgroup (Balliet, Wu, & De Dreu, 2014; Crimston et al., 2016; Fu et al., 2012; Sherif, 1961; Yamagishi & Kiyonari, 2000; for bounded generalized reciprocity theory, cf. Yamagishi & Mifune, 2008). Ingroup favoritism is expressed in many different contexts. People have, for example, a tendency to favor others who share their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or political affiliation. (Rand et al., 2009; Whitt & Wilson, 2007). It has been argued that ingroup favoritism is an innate tendency since it can promote safety and help to encourage mutual cooperation among ingroup members (Gaertner & Insko, 2000). It seems, therefore, that there are good reasons to assume that speciesism is a form of ingroup favoritism analogous to ingroup favoritism among human groups.

While typical human ingroups would be far smaller than humanity itself, our similarity to other humans would be salient in contexts where a choice needs to be made between a human and a non-human. Since the differences between humans and animals are perceived as vast—in terms of biology, physical appearance, mental capacities, and behavior—and the boundaries between the groups so wide and clear, one would expect ingroup favoritism between humans and animals to be particularly strong. Indeed, research suggests that perceived similarity with outgroup members can reduce ingroup favoritism—as long as they are seen as non-threatening (Henderson-King, Henderson-King, Zhermer, Posokhova, & Chiker, 1997). Similarly, it has been shown that people have more positive reactions towards animals that are perceived as biologically, physically, mentally, or behaviorally more similar to humans than animals that are dissimilar (Burghardt & Herzog, 1989; Kellert & Berry, 1980).

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Bigotry and the human–animal divide: (Dis)belief in human evolution and bigoted attitudes across different cultures

Syropoulos, S., Lifshin, U., et al. (2022). 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Advance online publication. 


The current investigation tested if people’s basic belief in the notion that human beings have developed from other animals (i.e., belief in evolution) can predict human-to-human prejudice and intergroup hostility. Using data from the American General Social Survey and Pew Research Center (Studies 1–4), and from three online samples (Studies 5, 7, 8) we tested this hypothesis across 45 countries, in diverse populations and religious settings, across time, in nationally representative data (N = 60,703), and with more comprehensive measures in online crowdsourced data (N = 2,846). Supporting the hypothesis, low belief in human evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice, racist attitudes, and support for discriminatory behaviors against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ), Blacks, and immigrants in the United States (Study 1), with higher ingroup biases, prejudicial attitudes toward outgroups, and less support for conflict resolution in samples collected from 19 Eastern European countries (Study 2), 25 Muslim countries (Study 3), and Israel (Study 4). Further, among Americans, lower belief in evolution was associated with greater prejudice and militaristic attitudes toward political outgroups (Study 5). Finally, perceived similarity to animals (a construct distinct from belief in evolution, Study 6) partially mediated the link between belief in evolution and prejudice (Studies 7 and 8), even when controlling for religious beliefs, political views, and other demographic variables, and were also observed for nondominant groups (i.e., religious and racial minorities). Overall, these findings highlight the importance of belief in human evolution as a potentially key individual-difference variable predicting racism and prejudice.

General Discussion 

The current set of studies tested the hypothesis that believing that human beings evolved from animals, relates to (decreased) human-to-human prejudice and discrimination and negative attitudes towards various outgroups. In Study 1, we tested and found support for this hypothesis using data from the American GSS (Smith et al., 1972-2018). Across all the years in which a measure of belief in human evolution was included, it was consistently associated with less prejudice, less racist attitudes and decreased support for discriminatory behaviors against blacks and other minorities among white and presumably primarily heterosexual Americans. These results held when controlling for measures of religiosity, level of education and political views, and were not explained by other measures related to common knowledge, or attitudes towards animal rights (see Supplementary Materials). In Studies 2-4, we further tested if belief in human evolution predicted ingroup bias and negative attitudes towards outgroups in nationally representative samples of 45 countries obtained from the Pew Research Center, including data collected from Eastern Europe (19 countries), Muslim countries (25 countries), and Israel. In support of the hypothesis, belief in human evolution was mostly-consistently associated with decreased discrimination towards outgroups, a finding that held even after controlling for key demographic characteristics, such as religiosity and conservative political beliefs. In Study 4, Israelis who believe in human evolution were more likely to support a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to those did not believe.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Morals as Luxury Goods and Political Polarization

B. Enke, M. Polborn, and Alex Wu
NBER Working Paper No. 30001
April 2022
JEL No. D03,D72


This paper develops a theory of political behavior in which moral values are a luxury good: the relative weight that voters place on moral rather than material considerations increases in income.  This idea both generates new testable implications and ties together a broad set of empirical regularities about political polarization in the U.S. The model predicts (i) the emergence of economically left-wing elites; (ii) that more rich than poor people vote against their material interests; (iii) that within-party heterogeneity is larger among Democrats than Republicans; and (iv) widely-discussed realignment patterns: rich moral liberals who swing Democrat, and poor moral conservatives who swing Republican. Assuming that parties set policies by aggregating their supporters’ preferences, the model also predicts increasing social party polarization over time, such that poor moral conservatives swing Republican even though their relative incomes decreased. We relate these predictions to known stylized facts, and test our new predictions empirically.


This paper has shown that the simple idea of income-dependent utility weights – which is bolstered by a large body of evidence on “modernization” or “postmaterialism” – generates a host of new testable predictions and sheds light on various widely-emphasized stylized facts about the nature of political polarization and realignment patterns in the U.S. In particular, our approach offers a new lens through which the increased salience of moral and cultural dimensions of political conflict can be understood.

One aspect of polarization that we only briefly and informally touched upon is affective polarization: the stylized fact that people’s dislike of supporters of the other party has strongly increased over time (Iyengar, Sood and Lelkes, 2012; Iyengar et al., 2019). In our interpretation, this reflects that the distribution of moral values of Republican and Democrat voters have diverged over time as a result of sorting processes that are triggered by our account of morals as luxury goods. However, while much psychological research suggests that people get angry if others don’t share their basic moral convictions (Haidt, 2012), more research is needed to establish a direct link between increased voter sorting based on moral values and affective polarization.