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

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

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Nature of Moral Progress: Definitions, Types and Measures

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally posted 24 AUG 22

Moral progress is something to be celebrated. But what is it, exactly? In answer to that question, many people point to paradigmatic cases of moral progress: the abolition of slavery, the extension of legal rights to women and racial minorities, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and so on. But what is it that unites these cases? What makes them all instances of moral progress? Can we identify progress as it happens or does it only become obvious in retrospect?  These are important questions. They are important from a social perspective since past episodes of moral progress have improved the state of the world for many people. We might like to accelerate such progress in the future. They are also important from an individual perspective since we want to be on the right side of history. We don’t want to be reactionary, conservative, relics of the past. At least, most of us don’t.

But it is not always easy to say what moral progress is or to understand how it comes about. Philosophers and social scientists have been studying this topic for some time and there is considerable disagreement about what it is and whether it exists. Indeed, as some academic commentators have noted “for much of the 20th century, it was taken as a sign of moral progress that we had stopped believing in it” (Sauer et al 2021).

Still, we can say some things about the nature of moral progress. In particular, following a recent review by Hanno Sauer, Charlie Blunden, Cecilie Eriksen and Paul Rehren, we can say something about: (i) the definition of moral progress; (ii) the different forms of moral progress; and (iii) the epistemic challenge of identifying episodes of moral progress. In what follows, I will consider each of these in more detail. In doing so, I am inspired, but not constrained, by what Sauer and his colleagues have to say. Much of what I write will summarise their insights; but some of what I write will expand upon or criticise what they have to say. It should be obvious when the latter is happening.


From Measuring Moral Progress section

And therein lies the rub. The measurement problem arises from the fact that there may be too many measuring sticks and they might not all reach the same verdict about a particular instance of moral change. What’s more, these measuring sticks might be contested, with some groups preferring one over another. The demoralisation of homosexuality might be progressive when measured against the values of autonomy and individual well-being but, according to conservative critics, would be regressive (or transgressive) when measured against the values of purity, naturalness, and social cohesion.

And the problem may go even deeper than this. If moral measuring sticks are themselves subject to progressive moral change, then it might be even more difficult to classify instances of change as progressive. You have to have some fixed set of values against which to measure change as progressive. If nothing is fixed, then all progress seems illusory (or at least highly contingent and relativistic).

These are not new problems. They have been part and parcel of moral philosophy for a long time, but they do affect the study of moral progress. I tend to think there is no entirely satisfactory resolution to them. The best we can do is to be clear about the measuring sticks we are using.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

A psychologically rich life: Beyond happiness and meaning

Oishi, S., & Westgate, E. C. (2022).
Psychological Review, 129(4), 790–811.


Psychological science has typically conceptualized a good life in terms of either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. We propose that psychological richness is another, neglected aspect of what people consider a good life. Unlike happy or meaningful lives, psychologically rich lives are best characterized by a variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences. We present empirical evidence that happiness, meaning, and psychological richness are related but distinct and desirable aspects of a good life, with unique causes and correlates. In doing so, we show that a nontrivial number of people around the world report they would choose a psychologically rich life at the expense of a happy or meaningful life, and that approximately a third say that undoing their life’s biggest regret would have made their lives psychologically richer. Furthermore, we propose that the predictors of a psychologically rich life are different from those of a happy life or a meaningful life, and report evidence suggesting that people leading psychologically rich lives tend to be more curious, think more holistically, and lean more politically liberal. Together, this work moves us beyond the dichotomy of hedonic versus eudaimonic well-being, and lays the foundation for the study of psychological richness as another dimension of a good life.

Summary of Empirical Evidence

A psychologically rich life, filled with a wide variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences, is distinct from a happy life and a meaningful life. Psychometrically, a 3-factor model, in which happiness, meaning, and psychological richness each constitute discrete constructs, fits the data significantly better than 1- or 2-factor models which conflate richness with happiness or meaning.  Likewise, people with psychologically rich lives differ in personality from people leading happy or meaningful lives. Openness to experience, in particular, as well as extraversion strongly predicts psychological richness. Finally, leading a psychologically rich life predicts important outcomes above and beyond a happy and/or meaningful life, including system justification, political orientation, attributional complexity, and challenge-seeking.

In sum, the building blocks of a psychologically rich life are different. Particular life experiences and situational factors uniquely contribute to psychological richness, without increasing happiness or meaning. For instance, students’ lives were psychologically richer after a semester studying abroad, but not happier or more meaningful. In experimental work, we likewise find that perspective change uniquely predicts psychological richness. Figure-ground illusions consistently evoke more psychological richness than comparable drawings (but do not increase positive moods). Shifts in perspective increase how psychologically rich (but not how personally meaningful) people find cognitive activities, and perspective-changing information (e.g., learning that a pianist is blind) enriches a musical performance. Finally, perceived difficulty is uniquely associated with psychological richness and (independent of outcomes) predicts how rich, but not how happy or meaningful, people find escape rooms. This is clearly illustrated in the obituary studies: Dramatic (and mostly unpleasant) life events such as unemployment and bereavement are positively associated with richness but negatively associated with happiness.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Attributions of emotion and reduced attitude openness prevent people from engaging others with opposing views

Teeny, J. D., & Petty, R. E. (2022).
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 
102, 104373.


People exhibit a general unwillingness to engage others on social issues for which they disagree (e.g., political elections, police funding, vaccine mandates, etc.), a phenomenon that contributes to the political polarization vexing societies today. Previous research has largely attributed this unwillingness to the perception that such counterattitudinal targets are extreme, certain, and/or difficult to change on these topics. However, the present research offers an additional theoretical explanation. First, we introduce a less studied perception of targets, their affective-cognitive attitude basis (i.e., the degree to which an attitude is seemingly based on emotions versus reasons) that is critical in determining engagement willingness. Specifically, perceivers are less willing to engage with targets who are perceived to hold an affective (vs. cognitive) attitude basis on a topic, because these targets are inferred to have low attitudinal openness on it (i.e., expected to be unlikely to genuinely “hear out” the perceiver). Second, we use a series of multimethod studies with varied U.S. samples to show why this person perception process is central to understanding counterattitudinal engagement. Compared to proattitudinal targets, perceivers on both sides of an issue ascribe more affective (vs. cognitive) attitude bases to rival (counterattitudinal) targets, which cues inferences of reduced attitudinal openness, thereby diminishing people's willingness to engage with these individuals.

From the General Discussion

One of the foremost paths to combatting political polarization is to have people of opposing views engage with counterattitudinal others (e.g., Broockman & Kalla, 2016). Unfortunately, people tend to be unwilling to do this, which previous research has largely attributed to perceptions about the target’s attitudinal extremity, certainty, and the perceived difficulty required to change the target’s mind. However, in the current research, effects on these measures were not only inconsistent (see Footnotes 2 and 4 as well as the web appendix), but they also had reduced explanatory power relative to the focal perceptions outlined here. That is, regardless of how certain, extreme, or difficult to change a counterattitudinal target was perceived to be, it was the affect (relative to cognition) ascribed to their attitude that predicted inferences of reduced attitudinal openness, which in turn determined bipartisan engagement.

These findings emerged across multiple topics, varied study designs, and in light of targets presenting actual rationale for their opinions.  Moreover, post-hoc analyses reveal that these effects were neither moderated by which side of the issue the participants took, nor the participant’s ideological stance (i.e., both liberals and conservatives demonstrated these effects), nor the participants’ own perceived attitude basis.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Beyond individualism: Is there a place for relational autonomy in clinical practice and research?

Dove, E. S., Kelly, S. E., et al. (2017).
Clinical Ethics, 12(3), 150–165.


The dominant, individualistic understanding of autonomy that features in clinical practice and research is underpinned by the idea that people are, in their ideal form, independent, self-interested and rational gain-maximising decision-makers. In recent decades, this paradigm has been challenged from various disciplinary and intellectual directions. Proponents of ‘relational autonomy’ in particular have argued that people’s identities, needs, interests – and indeed autonomy – are always also shaped by their relations to others. Yet, despite the pronounced and nuanced critique directed at an individualistic understanding of autonomy, this critique has had very little effect on ethical and legal instruments in clinical practice and research so far. In this article, we use four case studies to explore to what extent, if at all, relational autonomy can provide solutions to ethical and practical problems in clinical practice and research. We conclude that certain forms of relational autonomy can have a tangible and positive impact on clinical practice and research. These solutions leave the ultimate decision to the person most affected, but encourage and facilitate the consideration of this person’s care and responsibility for connected others.

From the Discussion section

Together, these cases show that in our quest to enhance the practical value of the concept of relational autonomy in healthcare and research, we must be careful not to remove the patient or participant from the centre of decision-making. At the same time, we should acknowledge that the patient’s decision to consent (or refuse) to treatment or research can be augmented by facilitating and encouraging that her relations to, and responsibility for, others are considered in decision-making processes. Our case studies do not suggest that we should expand consent requirements to others per se, such as family members or community elders – that is, to add the requirement of seeking consent from further individuals who may also be seen as having a stake in the decision. Such a position would undermine the idea that the person who is centrally affected by a decision should typically have the final say in what happens with and to her, or her body, or even her data. As long as this general principle respects all legal exceptions (see below), we believe that it is a critical underpinning of fundamental respect for persons that should not done away with. Moreover, expanding consent or requiring consent to include others (however so defined) undermines the main objective of relational autonomy, which is to foreground the relational aspect of human identities and interests, and not merely to expand the range of individuals who need to give consent to a procedure. An approach that merely extends consent requirements to other people does not foreground relations but rather presumptions about who the relevant others of a person are.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Why do narcissists find conspiracy theories so appealing?

A. Cichocka, M. Marchlewska, & M. Biddlestone
Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 47, October 2022, 101386


Narcissism—a conviction about one's superiority and entitlement to special treatment—is a robust predictor of belief in conspiracy theories. Recent developments in the study of narcissism suggest that it has three components: antagonism, agentic extraversion, and neuroticism. We argue that each of these components of narcissism might predispose people to endorse conspiracy theories due to different psychological processes. Specifically, we discuss the role of paranoia, gullibility, and the needs for dominance, control, and uniqueness. We also review parallel findings for narcissistic beliefs about one's social groups. We consider the wider implications this research might have, especially for political leadership. We conclude by discussing outstanding questions about sharing conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation.



Although narcissists are typically overconfident in their abilities, judgments, and intelligence, they tend to be naive and less likely to engage in cognitive reflection. For example, Hart and colleagues found that those scoring high in narcissistic rivalry/antagonism (but not admiration/agentic extraversion) were more gullible, that is insensitive to cues of untrustworthiness and vulnerable to being manipulated. Furthermore, studies consistently show that both grandiose (especially its antagonistic, but less consistently agentic extroversive, component) and vulnerable (its antagonistic and neurotic components) narcissism are associated with a predisposition towards odd and unusual beliefs. Conspiracy theories can be one example of such beliefs. There is also evidence that gullibility strengthens the association between narcissism and conspiracy beliefs. In a study by Ahadzadeh and colleagues, the link between narcissism and endorsement of COVID-19 conspiracy theories was especially pronounced among those who were not skeptical towards social media posts in the first place. Taken together, this research suggests that narcissistic antagonism and neuroticism might predict higher gullibility, further related to conspiracy beliefs.

Parallel effects of collective narcissism

Multiple studies indicate that conspiracy theories might not only be appealing to those high in individual narcissism, but also in collective narcissism—a belief that one's group is exceptional and deserves special treatment. Collective narcissism predicts beliefs in conspiracy theories about outgroups, for instance accusing them of involvement in high-profile events (such as the 2019 Smolensk air disaster). Collective narcissism has also been linked to beliefs in anti-science conspiracy theories (e.g., about vaccines, COVID-19, or climate change). These associations are typically explained by the exaggerated intergroup threat sensitivity of collective narcissists, analogous to the paranoia and threat sensitivity of individual narcissists. A conviction that one's group is unique and entitled to special treatment might also increase the need to deny or deflect from national failings by pointing a finger towards malevolent forces undermining the ingroup. Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting that a motivation to restore personal control strengthens the association between collective narcissism and outgroup conspiracy beliefs, echoing the role of control and dominance motives in individual narcissism. Finally, given studies linking collective narcissism to bullshit receptivity and low cognitive reflection, it is at least plausible that gullibility also plays a role. Thus, collective and individual narcissism could be linked to conspiracy beliefs via similar psychological processes. At the same time, while the effects of individual narcissism might be relatively stable across contexts, any effects of collective narcissism might depend on whether certain identities are important or salient to participants. More work is needed to examine these possibilities.

Some important information for mental health clinicians.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Understanding "longtermism": Why this suddenly influential philosophy is so toxic

Émile P. Torres
Originally posted 20 AUG 22

Here is an excerpt:

But what is longtermism? I have tried to answer that in other articles, and will continue to do so in future ones. A brief description here will have to suffice: Longtermism is a quasi-religious worldview, influenced by transhumanism and utilitarian ethics, which asserts that there could be so many digital people living in vast computer simulations millions or billions of years in the future that one of our most important moral obligations today is to take actions that ensure as many of these digital people come into existence as possible.

In practical terms, that means we must do whatever it takes to survive long enough to colonize space, convert planets into giant computer simulations and create unfathomable numbers of simulated beings. How many simulated beings could there be? According to Nick Bostrom —the Father of longtermism and director of the Future of Humanity Institute — there could be at least 1058 digital people in the future, or a 1 followed by 58 zeros. Others have put forward similar estimates, although as Bostrom wrote in 2003, "what matters … is not the exact numbers but the fact that they are huge."

In this article, however, I don't want to focus on how bizarre and dangerous this ideology is and could be. Instead, I think it would be useful to take a look at the community out of which longtermism emerged, focusing on the ideas of several individuals who helped shape the worldview that MacAskill and others are now vigorously promoting. The most obvious place to start is with Bostrom, whose publications in the early 2000s — such as his paper "Astronomical Waste," which was recently retweeted by Musk — planted the seeds that have grown into the kudzu vine crawling over the tech sector, world governments and major media outlets like the New York Times and TIME.

Nick Bostrom is, first of all, one of the most prominent transhumanists of the 21st century so far. Transhumanism is an ideology that sees humanity as a work in progress, as something that we can and should actively reengineer, using advanced technologies like brain implants, which could connect our brains to the Internet, and genetic engineering, which could enable us to create super-smart designer babies. We might also gain immortality through life-extension technologies, and indeed many transhumanists have signed up with Alcor to have their bodies (or just their heads and necks, which is cheaper) frozen after they die so that they can be revived later on, in a hypothetical future where that's possible. Bostrom himself wears a metal buckle around his ankle with instructions for Alcor to "take custody of his body and maintain it in a giant steel bottle flooded with liquid nitrogen" after he dies.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

A community response approach to mental health and substance abuse crises reduced crime

T. S. Dee and J. Pyne
Science Advances, 8 Jun 2022
Vol 8, Issue 23


Police officers often serve as first responders to mental health and substance abuse crises. Concerns over the unintended consequences and high costs associated with this approach have motivated emergency response models that augment or completely remove police involvement. However, there is little causal evidence evaluating these programs. This preregistered study presents quasi-experimental evidence on the impact of an innovative “community response” pilot in Denver that directed targeted emergency calls to health care responders instead of the police. We find robust evidence that the program reduced reports of targeted, less serious crimes (e.g., trespassing, public disorder, and resisting arrest) by 34% and had no detectable effect on more serious crimes. The sharp reduction in targeted crimes reflects the fact that health-focused first responders are less likely to report individuals they serve as criminal offenders and the spillover benefits of the program (e.g., reducing crime during hours when the program was not in operation).

From the Discussion Section

The evidence in this study indicates that the STAR community response program was effective in reducing police-reported criminal offenses (i.e., both reducing the designation of individuals in crisis as criminal offenders and reducing the actual level of crime). These results provide a compelling motivation for the continued implementation and assessment of this approach. However, successfully replicating the STAR program is likely to rely on key implementation details such as the recruitment and training of dispatchers and mental health field staff as well as the successful coordination of their activities with the police. Furthermore, the generalizability of the community response approach to a broader set of potentially preventable charges is uncertain and a design feature worthy of further study. There are also additional details about programs such as STAR that merit further investigation and clarification. For example, we are unsure of whether the existence of STAR may have increased the trust and the willingness of community members to call 911. However, we note that such an effect is likely to imply that our estimates underestimate the true effect of the STAR program. That is because increase in trust and willingness to call 911 is likely to increase measured crime in the short run as some of these calls would result in police engagement regardless of arrest status. Future studies may also consider the effects of programs like STAR on health-related outcomes, such as access to health services (e.g., counseling and therapy) and related measures of well-being.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Facial attractiveness is more associated with individual warmth than with competence: Behavioral and neural evidence

Mengxue Lan, et al. (2022) 
Social Neuroscience, 17:3, 225-235
DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2022.2069152


Individuals appear to infer others’ psychological characteristics according to facial attractiveness and these psychological characteristics can be classified into two categories in social cognition, that is, warmth and competence. However, which category of psychological characteristic is more associated with face attractiveness and its neural mechanisms have not been explored. To address this, participants were asked to judge others’ warmth and competence traits based on face attractiveness, while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They also assessed the attractiveness of faces after scanning. Behavioral results showed that the correlation between face attractiveness and warmth ratings was significantly higher than that with competence ratings. fMRI results demonstrated that the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), temporoparietal junction (TPJ), lateral prefrontal cortex, and lateral temporal lobe were more involved in the warmth task. Moreover, attractiveness ratings were negatively correlated with activation of the dmPFC and TPJ only in the warmth task. Furthermore, the attractiveness ratings were negatively correlated with the defined dmPFC, region related to attractiveness judgment, only in the warmth task. In conclusion, people are more inclined to infer others’ warmth than competence characteristics from face attractiveness, that is, face attractiveness is more associated with warmth than with competence.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Freezing revisited: coordinated autonomic and central optimization of threat coping

Roelofs, K., Dayan, P. 
Nat Rev Neurosci 23, 568–580 (2022).


Animals have sophisticated mechanisms for coping with danger. Freezing is a unique state that, upon threat detection, allows evidence to be gathered, response possibilities to be previsioned and preparations to be made for worst-case fight or flight. We propose that — rather than reflecting a passive fear state — the particular somatic and cognitive characteristics of freezing help to conceal overt responses, while optimizing sensory processing and action preparation. Critical for these functions are the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and acetylcholine, which modulate neural information processing and also control the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. However, the interactions between autonomic systems and the brain during freezing, and the way in which they jointly coordinate responses, remain incompletely explored. We review the joint actions of these systems and offer a novel computational framework to describe their temporally harmonized integration. This reconceptualization of freezing has implications for its role in decision-making under threat and for psychopathology.

Conclusions and future directions

Considering the post encounter threat state from neural, psychological and computational perspectives has shown how the most obvious external characteristic of this state — a particular form of active freezing arising from co-activation of the normally opposed sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS — could have various advantages from the viewpoints of both information processing and fast Pavlovian or instrumental action. Descending control of this state is quite well understood, and the potential benefits of expending effort on enhancing unbiased, bottom-up, sensory processing and engaging in planning are easy to observe. However, the roles of ascending neuromodulators in engaging these forms of appropriate information processing are less clear.  Certainly, various of the modes of action of ACh and NA in the CNS are in a position to achieve some of this; but much remains to be discovered by precisely recording and manipulating the candidate circuits within the timeframes of the detection, evaluation and action stages.

One important source of ideas is evolutionary theory. For instance, the polyvagal theory of the phylogeny of the ANS suggests that it progressed in three stages. The first, associated with an unmyelinated vagus nerve, allowed metabolic activity to be depressed in response to threat and also controlled aspects of digestion. The second stage was associated with the sympathetic nervous system, which organized energized behaviour for fight or flight. The third stage was associated with a myelinated vagus nerve and allowed for more flexible and sophisticated responding. It has been suggested that the last stage is particularly involved in the evolution of somatic regulation in a social context; but the evolutionary layering of the competition and cooperation between the inhibitory and activating aspects of the different branches of the ANS is notable. It would be interesting to understand the parallel evolution of cholinergic and noradrenergic neuromodulation in the CNS. 

Note: We are primates subject to the principles of biology and evolution.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Professional Civil Disobedience — Medical-Society Responsibilities after Dobbs

Matthew K. Wynia
The New England Journal of Medicine
September 15, 2022, 387:959-961

Here are two excerpts:

The AMA called Dobbs “an egregious allowance of government intrusion into the medical examination room, a direct attack on the practice of medicine and the patient–physician relationship, and a brazen violation of patients’ rights to evidence-based reproductive health services.” The American Academy of Family Physicians wrote that the decision “negatively impacts our practices and our patients by undermining the patient–physician relationship and potentially criminalizing evidence-based medical care.” The American College of Physicians stated, “A patient’s decision about whether to continue a pregnancy should be a private decision made in consultation with a physician or other health care professional, without interference from the government.” And the CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called Dobbs “tragic” for patients, “the boldest act of legislative interference that we have seen in this country,” and “an affront to all that drew my colleagues and me into medicine.”

Medical organizations are rarely so united. Yet even many physicians who oppose abortion recognize that medically nuanced decisions are best left in the hands of individual patients and their physicians — not state lawmakers. Abortion bans are already pushing physicians in some states to wait until patients become critically ill before intervening in cases of ectopic pregnancy or septic miscarriage, among other problems.

Beyond issuing strongly worded statements, what actions should medical organizations take in the face of laws that threaten patients’ well-being? Should they support establishing committees to decide when a pregnant person’s life is in sufficient danger to warrant an abortion? Should they advocate for allowing patients to travel elsewhere for care? Or should they encourage their members to provide evidence-based medical care, even if doing so means accepting — en masse — fines, suspensions of licensure, and potential imprisonment? How long could a dangerous state law survive if the medical profession, as a whole, refused to be intimidated into harming patients, even if such a refusal meant that many physicians might go to jail?


Proposing professional civil disobedience of state laws prohibiting abortion might seem naive. Historically, physicians have rarely been radical, and most have conformed with bad laws and policies, even horrific ones — such as those authorizing forced-sterilization programs in the United States and Nazi Germany, the use of psychiatric hospitals as political prisons in the Soviet Union, and police brutality under apartheid in South Africa. Too often, organized medicine has failed to fulfill its duty to protect patients when doing so required acting against state authority. Although there are many examples of courageous individual physicians defying unjust laws or regulations, examples of open support for these physicians by their professional associations — such as the AMA’s offer to support physicians who refused to be involved in “enhanced” interrogations (i.e., torture) during the Iraq War — are uncommon. And profession-wide civil disobedience — such as Dutch physicians choosing to collectively turn in their licenses rather than practice under Nazi rule — is rare.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Look Over Your Shoulder: Unethical Behaviour Decreases in the Physical Presence of Observers

Köbis, N., van der Lingen, S., et al., (2019, February 5).


Research in behavioural ethics repeatedly emphasizes the importance of others for people’s decisions to break ethical rules. Yet, in most lab experiments participants faced ethical dilemmas in full privacy settings. We conducted three experiments in which we compare such private set-ups to situations in which a second person is co-present in the lab. Study 1 manipulated whether that second person was a mere observer or co-benefitted from the participants’ unethical behaviour. Study 2 investigated social proximity between participant and observer –being a friend versus a stranger. Study 3 tested whether the mere presence of another person who cannot observe the participant’s behaviour suffices to decrease unethical behaviour. By using different behavioural paradigms of unethical behaviour, we obtain three main results: first, the presence of an observing other curbs unethical behaviour. Second, neither the payoff structure (Study 1) nor the social proximity towards the observing other (Study 2) qualifies this effect. Third, the mere presence of others does not reduce unethical behaviour if they do not observe the participant (Study 3). Implications, limitations and avenues for future research are discussed.

General Discussion

Taken together, the results of three experiments suggest that the physical presence of others reduces unethical behaviour, yet only if that other person can actually observe the behaviour. Even though the second person had no means to formally sanction wrong-doing, onlookers’ presence curtailed unethical behaviour while the local social utility (co-beneficiary or observer, Study 1) and the level of proximity (friend vs. stranger,Study 2) played a less important role. When others are merely present without being able to observe, no such attenuating effect on unethical behaviour occurs(Study 3).  Introducing the physical presence of another person to the rapidly growing stream of behavioural ethics research, our experiments provide some of the first empirical insights into the actual social aspects of unethical behaviour.

Humans are social animals who spend a substantial proportion of their time in company. Many decisions are made while being in the presence or in the gaze of others. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of lab experiments in behavioural ethics consists of individuals making decisions in isolation(for a meta-analysis, see Abeler et al., 2016). Also field experiments have sparsely looked at the impact of the tangible social elements of unethical behaviour (for a review, see Pierce & Balasubramanian, 2015). Nevertheless, the behavioural ethics literature emphasizes that appearing moral towards others is one of the main explanatory factor to explain when and how people break ethical rules (Mazar, Amir, & Ariely, 2008; Pillutla & Murnighan, 1995). Yet, so far behavioural research on the presence and observability of actual others remains sparse. Providing some of the first insights into how the physical presence of others shape our moral compass can contribute to the advancement of behavioural ethics and potentially inform the design of practical interventions. 

Direct application to those who practice independently.

Monday, September 19, 2022

The impact of economic inequality on conspiracy beliefs

Salvador Casara, B. G., Suitner, C., & Jetten, J.
(2022). Journal of Experimental Social 
Psychology, 98, 104245.


Previous literature highlights the crucial role of economic inequality in triggering a range of negative societal outcomes. However, the relationship between economic inequality and the proliferation of conspiracy beliefs remains unexplored. Here, we explore the endorsement of conspiracy beliefs as an outcome of objective country-level (Study 1a, 1b, 1c), perceived (Study 2), and manipulated economic inequality (Studies 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b). In the correlational studies, both objective and perceived economic inequality were associated with greater conspiracy beliefs. In the experiments, participants in the high (compared to the low) inequality condition were more likely to endorse conspiratorial narratives. This effect was fully mediated by anomie (Studies 3a, 3b) suggesting that inequality enhances the perception that society is breaking down (anomie), which in turn increases conspiratorial thinking, possibly in an attempt to regain some sense of order and control. Furthermore, the link between economic inequality and conspiracy beliefs was stronger when participants endorsed a conspiracy worldview (Studies 4a, 4b). Moreover, conspiracy beliefs mediated the effect of the economic inequality manipulation on willingness to engage in collective action aimed at addressing economic inequality. The results show that economic inequality and conspiracy beliefs go hand in hand: economic inequality can cause conspiratorial thinking and conspiracy beliefs can motivate collective action against economic inequality.

From the General Discussion

It is also important to consider whether economic inequality triggers the endorsement of general or more specific conspiracy beliefs. Data from Studies 3a and 3b showed that the manipulation of economic inequality affects the endorsement of a wide range of conspiracy beliefs— general conspiracy beliefs as well as conspiracies that relate to the specific fictional society. In Studies 4a and 4b, we found that inequality enhanced the belief in conspiracies perpetrated by different groups in the specific fictional society (i.e., politicians, scientists, multinational companies, and pharmaceutical industries) while it did not affect participants’ conspiracy worldview. Future research should focus on the impact of economic inequality on the endorsement of specific versus more general conspiracy theories. It may well be the case that the relation between economic inequality and conspiracy belief endorsement is stronger when participants consider specific conspiracy beliefs that blame an outgroup for heightened anomie that results from economic inequality. Such conspiracy beliefs best serve the function of mobilizing collective ingroup action that might hold the promise of providing people with a sense of collective agency (or control; see Bukowski et al., 2017).

These results have important implications. First, those who are prone to believe in conspiracy theories are sometimes viewed as driven by irrationality — a vision that is indeed supported by a vast literature about the negative consequences of conspiracy beliefs (e.g., Jolley & Douglas, 2014; Lewandowsky et al., 2013; Van der Linden, 2015). Other findings show that conspiracy beliefs are associated with dispositional constructs that are prodromal of mental disease, such as schizotypy and delusional thinking (Barron et al., 2018; Darwin et al., 2011). However, factors that trigger conspiracy beliefs are not always irrational and they may be driven by anomie-prompted socio-structural perceptions about societies, such as economic inequality. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen

Michael Rezendes
The Associated Press
Originally posted 4 AUG 22

Here is an excerpt:

When it comes to child sexual abuse, the Mormon church says “the first responsibility of the church in abuse cases is to help those who have been abused and protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse,” according to its 2010 handbook for church leaders. The handbook also says, “Abuse cannot be tolerated in any form.”

But church officials, from the bishops in the Bisbee ward to officials in Salt Lake City, tolerated abuse in the Adams family for years.

“They just let it keep happening,” said MJ, in her AP interview. “They just said, ‘Hey, let’s excommunicate her father.’ It didn’t stop. ‘Let’s have them do therapy.’ It didn’t stop. ‘Hey, let’s forgive and forget and all this will go away.’ It didn’t go away.”

A similar dynamic played out in West Virginia, where church leaders were accused of covering up the crimes committed by a young abuser from a prominent Mormon family even after he’d been convicted on child sex abuse charges in Utah. The abuser, Michael Jensen, today is serving a 35- to 75-year prison sentence for abusing two children in West Virginia. Their family, along with others, sued the church and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

“Child abuse festers and grows in secrecy,” said Lynne Cadigan, a lawyer for the Adams children who filed suit. “That is why the mandatory reporting came into effect. It’s the most important thing in the world to immediately report to the police.”

The lawsuit filed by the three Adams children accuses The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and several members, including Bishops Herrod and Mauzy, of negligence and conspiring to cover up child sex abuse to avoid “costly lawsuits” and protect the reputation of the church, which relies on proselytizing and tithing to attract new members and raise money. In 2020, the church claimed approximately 16 million members worldwide, most of them living outside the United States.

“The failure to prevent or report abuse was part of the policy of the defendants, which was to block public disclosure to avoid scandals, to avoid the disclosure of their tolerance of child sexual molestation and assault, to preserve a false appearance of propriety, and to avoid investigation and action by public authority, including law enforcement,” the suit alleges. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe that such actions were motivated by a desire to protect the reputation of the defendants.”

Very few of the scores of lawsuits against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mention the help line, in part because details of its operations have been a closely guarded secret. The documents in the sealed court records show how it works.

“The help line is certainly there to help — to help the church keep its secrets and to cover up abuse,” said Craig Vernon, an Idaho attorney who has filed several sex abuse lawsuits against the church.

Vernon, a former member, routinely demands that the church require bishops to report sex abuse to police or state authorities rather than the help line.

The sealed records say calls to the help line are answered by social workers or professional counselors who determine whether the information they receive is serious enough to be referred to an attorney with Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City firm that represents the church.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Ethical knowledge, dilemmas and resolutions in professional coaching

Hannah K. Heitz & Mark M. Leach (2022) 
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, 
Research and Practice
DOI: 10.1080/17521882.2022.2112247


There is little understanding of coaches’ ethical knowledge, means to resolve ethical dilemmas, and how these dilemmas might align with those experienced in other helping professions. Using purposive convenience sampling, 260 coaches were asked about their training, the ethical dilemmas they have experienced, and how they have resolved their ethical dilemmas. The qualitative and quantitative results indicated that coaches reported a variety of dilemmas, with the three most common types being dilemmas related to conflicts of interest, confidentiality, and boundaries between therapy and coaching. The most reported methods of resolving dilemmas included informal resolution, referral to therapy, seeking supervision, seeking consultation and referring to the ICF Ethics Code. The results highlight common ethical issues that arise in coaching and their relationship to other helping professions.

Types of ethical dilemmas

Almost half of the participants reported having experienced an ethical dilemma as a coach. There were multiple types of ethical dilemmas reported by coaches, although the most prominently reported included conflicts of interest (36%), confidentiality (32%) and boundaries between therapy and coaching (20%). The remaining ethical dilemmas (12%) included a range of themes (e.g., misuse of services, criminality, compensation). Approximately 19% of coaches who reported experiencing an ethical dilemma reported more than one type. See Table 3 for themes and sample responses.

Ethical dilemmas

Approximately half of respondents indicated that they had encountered an ethical dilemma, and those most reported parallel the most common dilemmas reported by psychologists and counsellors. Coach responses most frequently acknowledged ethical dilemmas around conflicts of interest, confidentiality and boundaries of competence, similar to those of a multinational study by Pettifor and Sawchuk (2006) who indicated that practicing psychologists reported confidentiality, multiple relationships and competence as most common. Coaches did not report ethical dilemmas related to multiple relationships as frequently as psychologists in the Pettifor and Sawchuk study; instead, coaches reported a higher percentage of dilemmas related to conflicts of interest. At the time of data collection, multiple relationships were not explicitly mentioned in the ICF Ethics Code, except within the specific context of romantic relationships with clients, so other forms of multiple relationships may not naturally come to mind for coaches. Given that broader multiple relationships were not included within the ICF Ethics Code and the code emphasised conflicts of interest, it was difficult to discern whether coach dilemmas that were described as conflicts of interest were similar to what could be described as multiple relationships. After data was collected, the ICF Ethics Code was updated to include a broader definition of multiple relationships.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Talking with strangers is surprisingly informative

Atir, S., Wald, K. A., & Epley, N. (2022).
PNAS, 119(34). 


A meaningful amount of people’s knowledge comes from their conversations with others. The amount people expect to learn predicts their interest in having a conversation (pretests 1 and 2), suggesting that the presumed information value of conversations guides decisions of whom to talk with. The results of seven experiments, however, suggest that people may systematically underestimate the informational benefit of conversation, creating a barrier to talking with—and hence learning from—others in daily life. Participants who were asked to talk with another person expected to learn significantly less from the conversation than they actually reported learning afterward, regardless of whether they had conversation prompts and whether they had the goal to learn (experiments 1 and 2). Undervaluing conversation does not stem from having systematically poor opinions of how much others know (experiment 3) but is instead related to the inherent uncertainty involved in conversation itself. Consequently, people underestimate learning to a lesser extent when uncertainty is reduced, as in a nonsocial context (surfing the web, experiment 4); when talking to an acquainted conversation partner (experiment 5); and after knowing the content of the conversation (experiment 6). Underestimating learning in conversation is distinct from underestimating other positive qualities in conversation, such as enjoyment (experiment 7). Misunderstanding how much can be learned in conversation could keep people from learning from others in daily life.


Conversation can be a useful source of learning about practically any topic. Information exchanged through conversation is central to culture and society, as talking with others communicates norms, creates shared understanding, conveys morality, shares knowledge, provides different perspectives, and more. Yet we find that people systematically undervalue what they might learn in conversation, anticipating that they will learn less than they actually do. This miscalibration stems from the inherent uncertainty of conversations, where it can be difficult to even conceive of what one might learn before one learns it. Holding miscalibrated expectations about the information value of conversation may discourage people from engaging in them more often, creating a potentially misplaced barrier to learning more from others.

Direct applications to psychotherapy.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The psychology of hate: Moral concerns differentiate hate from dislike

Pretus, C., Ray, J. L., et al. (2018, June 25). 


We investigated whether any differences in the psychological conceptualization of hate and dislike were simply a matter of degree of negativity (i.e., hate falls on the end of the continuum of dislike) or also morality (i.e., hate is imbued with distinct moral components that distinguish it from dislike). In three lab studies in Canada and the US, participants reported disliked and hated attitude objects and rated each on dimensions including valence, attitude strength, morality, and emotional content. Quantitative and qualitative measures revealed that hated attitude objects were more negative than disliked attitude objects and associated with moral beliefs and emotions, even after adjusting for differences in negativity. In study four, we analyzed the rhetoric on real hate sites and complaint forums and found that the language used on prominent hate websites contained more words related to morality, but not negativity, relative to complaint forums.


In our first study, we examined whether the conceptual differences between hate and dislike are simply a matter of degree of negativity or also a matter of morality. We found support for the intensity hypothesis—hated objects were viewed as more negative than disliked objects—suggesting that the difference between hate and dislike is indeed a matter of intensity. However, we also found support for the morality hypothesis—hated attitude objects were rated as more connected to participants’ core moral beliefs and were associated with higher levels of moral emotions (contempt, anger, and disgust) than disliked attitude objects—suggesting that the difference between hate and dislike may also be a matter of morality. We found convergent evidence for this latter hypothesis across quantitative and qualitative analyses, with self-reports, expressions of moral emotions, and spontaneous descriptions.

We note that differences in morality were attenuated when participants were asked about disliked attitudinal objects first. We discuss possible explanations of this order effect below. Importantly, the results supporting the morality hypothesis remained significant even when adjusting for negativity. Above and beyond the effect of negativity, both moral concerns and moral emotions explained the variance in ratings of hated versus disliked attitude objects. Likewise, participants spontaneously reported that hated objects were more closely tied to morality than disliked objects in their qualitative responses. These findings provide preliminary evidence that the conceptualization of hate may differ from dislike, and that morality may play a key role in explaining this difference.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The psychology of asymmetric zero-sum beliefs

Roberts, R., & Davidai, S. (2022).
Journal of Personality and 
Social Psychology, 123(3), 559–575.


Zero-sum beliefs reflect the perception that one party’s gains are necessarily offset by another party’s losses. Although zero-sum relationships are, from a strictly theoretical perspective, symmetrical, we find evidence for asymmetrical zero-sum beliefs: The belief that others gain at one’s own expense, but not vice versa. Across various contexts (international relations, interpersonal negotiations, political partisanship, organizational hierarchies) and research designs (within- and between-participant), we find that people are more prone to believe that others’ success comes at their own expense than they are to believe that their own success comes at others’ expense. Moreover, we find that people exhibit asymmetric zero-sum beliefs only when thinking about how their own party relates to other parties but not when thinking about how other parties relate to each other. Finally, we find that this effect is moderated by how threatened people feel by others’ success and that reassuring people about their party’s strengths eliminates asymmetric zero-sum beliefs. We discuss the theoretical contributions of our findings to research on interpersonal and intergroup zero-sum beliefs and their implications for understanding when and why people view life as zero-sum.

General Discussion

Why do Americans believe that when China gains the U.S. loses but that when the U.S. gains, the whole world—including China— gains as well? Why do both Republicans and Democrats believe that the opposing party only benefits its own voters but that their own party’s success benefits all voters regardless of political affiliation?  And, why do negotiators so commonly believe that the other side is “out to get them” but that they themselves are merely trying to get the best possible deal that benefits all parties involved? In seven studies, we found robust and consistent evidence for asymmetric zero-sum beliefs.  Although situations involving two or more parties are either zero-sum or not, we found that people are ready to view them as both zero-sum and non-zero-sum, believing that other parties succeed at their expense, but that their own party does not succeed at others’ expense. Moreover, we found that people exhibit asymmetric zero-sum beliefs when considering how their party relates to other parties but not when considering how other parties relate to each other. Finally, both correlational and causal evidence found that feeling threatened led to asymmetric zero-sum beliefs. The more participants felt threatened by an opposing country, political party, or work colleague, the more they viewed the other party’s gains as coming at their expense. In contrast, feeling threatened did not affect beliefs regarding how much one’s
own gains come at others’ expense.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

First synthetic embryos: the scientific breakthrough raises serious ethical questions

Savulescu, J., Gyngell, C., & Sawai, T.
The Conversation
Originally posted 11 AUG 22

Here is an excerpt:

Artificial wombs

In the latest study, the scientists started with collections of stem cells. The conditions created by the external uterus triggered the developmental process that makes a fetus. Although the scientists said we are a long way off synthetic human embryos, the experiment brings us closer to a future where some humans gestate their babies artificially.

Each year over 300,000 women worldwide die in childbirth or as a result of pregnancy complications, many because they lack basic care. Even in wealthy countries, pregnancy and childbirth is risky and healthcare providers are criticised for failing mothers.

There is an urgent need to make healthcare more accessible across the planet, provide better mental health support for mothers and make pregnancy and childbirth safer. In an ideal world every parent should expect excellent care in all aspects of motherhood. This technology could help treat premature babies and give at least some women a different option: a choice of whether to carry their child or use an external uterus.

Some philosophers say there is a moral imperative to develop artificial wombs to help remedy the unfairness of parenting roles. But other researchers say artificial wombs would threaten a women’s legal right to terminate a pregnancy.

Synthetic embryos and organs

In the last few years, scientists have learned more about how to coax stem cells to develop into increasingly sophisticated structures, including ones that mimic the structure and function of human organs (organoids). Artificial human kidneys, brains, hearts and more have all been created in a lab, though they are still too rudimentary for medical use.

The issue of whether there are moral differences between using stem cells to produce models of human organs for research and using stem cells to create a synthetic embryo are already playing out in law courts.

One of the key differences between organoids and synthetic embryos is their potential. If a synthetic embryo can develop into a living creature, it should have more protection than those which don’t.

Synthetic embryos do not currently have potential to actually create a living mouse. If scientists did make human synthetic embryos, but without the potential to form a living being, they should arguably be treated similarly to organoids.

Monday, September 12, 2022

A longitudinal study of functional connectome uniqueness and its association with psychological distress in adolescence

Shan, Z.Y, Mohamed, A. Z. et al.
NeuroImage, Volume 258, 
September 2022, 119358


Each human brain has a unique functional synchronisation pattern (functional connectome) analogous to a fingerprint that underpins brain functions and related behaviours. Here we examine functional connectome (whole-brain and 13 networks) maturation by measuring its uniqueness in adolescents who underwent brain scans longitudinally from 12 years of age every four months. The uniqueness of a functional connectome is defined as its ratio of self-similarity (from the same subject at a different time point) to the maximal similarity-to-others (from a given subject and any others at a different time point). We found that the unique whole brain connectome exists in 12 years old adolescents, with 92% individuals having a whole brain uniqueness value greater than one. The cingulo-opercular network (CON; a long-acting ‘brain control network’ configuring information processing) demonstrated marginal uniqueness in early adolescence with 56% of individuals showing uniqueness greater than one (i.e., more similar to her/his own CON four months later than those from any other subjects) and this increased longitudinally. Notably, the low uniqueness of the CON correlates (β = -18.6, FDR-Q < < 0.001) with K10 levels at the subsequent time point. This association suggests that the individualisation of CON network is related to psychological distress levels. Our findings highlight the potential of longitudinal neuroimaging to capture mental health problems in young people who are undergoing profound neuroplasticity and environment sensitivity period.


• Functional connectome uniqueness in adolescents was examined using a temporally rich (up to 9 time points) and a well-controlled (fixed 4 months interval) longitudinal study.

• A unique functional connectome exists at 12 years old.

• The cingulo-opercular network (a long-acting ‘brain control network’ configuring information processing) demonstrated marginal uniqueness.

• Uniqueness indices of the cingulo-opercular network were significantly and negatively associated with the subsequent psychological distress.


In sum, this study confirmed that a unique whole-brain functional connectome exists and is stable over 16 months in early adolescents. For the first time, this study characterised the development of ‘brain control networks’ in adolescents. An individually unique frontoparietal network for immediate information processing exists in early adolescence. Meanwhile, a unique CON for long-acting brain configuration is marginal. We posit that the maturation of CON provides a biological explanation of increased vulnerability in adolescents, which is further confirmed by the finding that CON uniqueness indices are associated with psychological distress measures. Our findings provide support for the notion that a ‘brain signature’ may be utilised in monitoring psychological distress in young people.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Mental control and attributions of blame for negligent wrongdoing

Murray, S., Krasich, K., et al. (2022).
Journal of Experimental Psychology: 
General. Advance online publication.


Third-personal judgments of blame are typically sensitive to what an agent knows and desires. However, when people act negligently, they do not know what they are doing and do not desire the outcomes of their negligence. How, then, do people attribute blame for negligent wrongdoing? We propose that people attribute blame for negligent wrongdoing based on perceived mental control, or the degree to which an agent guides their thoughts and attention over time. To acquire information about others’ mental control, people self-project their own perceived mental control to anchor third-personal judgments about mental control and concomitant responsibility for negligent wrongdoing. In four experiments (N = 841), we tested whether perceptions of mental control drive third-personal judgments of blame for negligent wrongdoing. Study 1 showed that the ease with which people can counterfactually imagine an individual being non-negligent mediated the relationship between judgments of control and blame. Studies 2a and 2b indicated that perceived mental control has a strong effect on judgments of blame for negligent wrongdoing and that first-personal judgments of mental control are moderately correlated with third-personal judgments of blame for negligent wrongdoing. Finally, we used an autobiographical memory manipulation in Study 3 to make personal episodes of forgetfulness salient. Participants for whom past personal episodes of forgetfulness were made salient judged negligent wrongdoers less harshly compared with a control group for whom past episodes of negligence were not salient. Collectively, these findings suggest that first-personal judgments of mental control drive third-personal judgments of blame for negligent wrongdoing and indicate a novel role for counterfactual thinking in the attribution of responsibility.


Models  of  blame  attribution  predict  that  judgments  of  blame  for  negligent  wrongdoing  are sensitive to the perceived  capacity of the individual  to  avoid being negligent. In  this paper, we explored two extensions of these models. The first is that people use perceived degree of mental control to inform judgments of blame for negligent wrongdoing. Information about mental control is acquired through self-projection. These results suggest a novel role for counterfactual thinking in attributing blame, namely that counterfactual thinking is the process whereby people self-project to acquire information that is used to inform judgments of blame.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Social norms and dishonesty across societies

Aycinena, D., et al.
PNAS, 119 (31), 2022.


Social norms have long been recognized as an important factor in curtailing antisocial behavior, and stricter prosocial norms are commonly associated with increased prosocial behavior. In this study, we provide evidence that very strict prosocial norms can have a perverse negative relationship with prosocial behavior. In laboratory experiments conducted in 10 countries across 5 continents, we measured the level of honest behavior and elicited injunctive norms of honesty. We find that individuals who hold very strict norms (i.e., those who perceive a small lie to be as socially unacceptable as a large lie) are more likely to lie to the maximal extent possible. This finding is consistent with a simple behavioral rationale. If the perceived norm does not differentiate between the severity of a lie, lying to the full extent is optimal for a norm violator since it maximizes the financial gain, while the perceived costs of the norm violation are unchanged. We show that the relation between very strict prosocial norms and high levels of rule violations generalizes to civic norms related to common moral dilemmas, such as tax evasion, cheating on government benefits, and fare dodging on public transportation. Those with very strict attitudes toward civic norms are more likely to lie to the maximal extent possible. A similar relation holds across countries. Countries with a larger fraction of people with very strict attitudes toward civic norms have a higher society-level prevalence of rule violations.


Much of the research in the experimental and behavioral sciences finds that stronger prosocial norms lead to higher levels of prosocial behavior. Here, we show that very strict prosocial norms are negatively correlated with prosocial behavior. Using laboratory experiments on honesty, we demonstrate that individuals who hold very strict norms of honesty are more likely to lie to the maximal extent. Further, countries with a larger fraction of people with very strict civic norms have proportionally more societal-level rule violations. We show that our findings are consistent with a simple behavioral rationale. If perceived norms are so strict that they do not differentiate between small and large violations, then, conditional on a violation occurring, a large violation is individually optimal.

In essence, very strict social norms can backfire.  People can lie to the fullest extent with similar costs to minimal lying.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Online Moral Conformity: How Powerful is a Group of Online Strangers When Influencing an Individual’s Moral Judgments?

Paruzel-Czachura, M., Wojciechowska, D., 
& Bostyn, D. H. (2022, May 21). 


People make moral decisions every day, and when making them, they may be influenced by their companions (the so-called moral conformity effect). Nowadays, people make many decisions in online environments like video meetings. In the current preregistered experiment, we studied the online moral conformity effect. We applied an Asch conformity paradigm in an online context by asking participants (N = 120) to reply to sacrificial moral dilemmas through the online video communication tool Zoom when sitting in the “virtual” room with strangers (confederates instructed on how to answer; experimental condition) or when sitting alone (control condition). We found an effect of online moral conformity on half of the dilemmas included in our study as well as in the aggregate.


Social conformity is a well-known phenomenon (Asch, 1951, 1952, 1955, 1956; Sunstein, 2019).  Moreover, past research has demonstrated that conformity effects occur for moral issues as well (Aramovich et al., 2012; Bostyn & Roets, 2017; Crutchfield, 1955; Kelly et al., 2017; Kundu & Cummins, 2013; Lisciandra et al., 2013). However, to what extent does moral conformity occur when people interact in digital spaces, such as video conferencing software, has not yet been investigated.

We conducted a well-powered experimental study to determine if the effect of online moral conformity exists. Two study conditions were used: an experimental one in which study participants were answering along with a group of confederates and a control condition in which study participants were answering individually. In both conditions, participants were invited to a video meeting and asked to orally respond to a set of moral dilemmas with their cameras turned on. All questions and study conditions were the same, apart from the presence of other people in the experimental condition. In the experimental condition, importantly, the experimenter pretended that all people were study participants, but in fact, only the last person was an actual study participant, and all four other participants were confederates who were trained to answer in a specific manner. Confederates answered contrary to what most people had decided in past studies (Gawronski et al., 2017; Greene et al., 2008; Körner et al., 2020). We found an effect of online moral conformity on half of the dilemmas included in our study as well as in aggregate.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Knowledge overconfidence is associated with anti-consensus views on controversial scientific issues

Light, N. et al. 
Science Advances, 20 Jul 2022
Vol 8, Issue 29
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0038


Public attitudes that are in opposition to scientific consensus can be disastrous and include rejection of vaccines and opposition to climate change mitigation policies. Five studies examine the interrelationships between opposition to expert consensus on controversial scientific issues, how much people actually know about these issues, and how much they think they know. Across seven critical issues that enjoy substantial scientific consensus, as well as attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines and mitigation measures like mask wearing and social distancing, results indicate that those with the highest levels of opposition have the lowest levels of objective knowledge but the highest levels of subjective knowledge. Implications for scientists, policymakers, and science communicators are discussed.


Results from five studies show that the people who disagree most with the scientific consensus know less about the relevant issues, but they think they know more. These results suggest that this phenomenon is fairly general, although the relationships were weaker for some more polarized issues, particularly climate change. It is important to note that we document larger mismatches between subjective and objective knowledge among participants who are more opposed to the scientific consensus. Thus, although broadly consistent with the Dunning-Kruger effect and other research on knowledge miscalibration, our findings represent a pattern of relationships that goes beyond overconfidence among the least knowledgeable. However, the data are correlational, and the normal caveats apply.

A strength of these studies is the consistency of the main result across the overall models in studies 1 to 3 and specific (but different) instantiations of anti-consensus attitudes about COVID-19 in studies 4 and 5. Additional strengths are that study 5 is a conceptual replication of study 4 (and studies 1 to 3 more generally) using different measures and operationalizations of the main constructs, conducted by an initially independent group of researchers (with each group unaware of the research of the other during study development and data collection). The final two studies were also collected approximately 2 months apart, in July and September 2020, respectively. These two collection periods reflect the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, with cases in July trending upward and cases in September flat or trending downward. The consistency of our effects across these 2 months suggests that the pattern of results is fairly robust.

One possible interpretation of these relationships is that the people who appear to be overconfident in their knowledge and extreme in their opposition to the consensus are actually reporting their sense of understanding for a set of incorrect alternative facts not those of the scientific community. After all, nonscientific explanations and theories tend to be much simpler and less mechanistic than scientific ones.  As a result, participants could be reporting higher levels of understanding for what are, in fact, simpler interpretations. However, we believe that several elements of this research speak against this interpretation fully explaining the results. First, the battery of objective knowledge questions is sufficiently broad, simple, and removed (at first glance) from the corresponding scientific issues. For example, not knowing that “the skin is the largest organ in the human body” does not suggest that participants hold alternative views about how the human body works; it suggests the lack of real knowledge about the body. We also believe that it does not cue participants to the fact that the question is related to vaccination. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The moralization of effort

Celniker, J. B., et al. (2022).
Journal of Experimental Psychology:
General. Advance online publication.


People believe that effort is valuable, but what kind of value does it confer? We find that displays of effort signal moral character. Eight studies (N = 5,502) demonstrate the nature of these effects in the domains of paid employment, personal fitness, and charitable fundraising. The exertion of effort is deemed morally admirable (Studies 1–6) and is monetarily rewarded (Studies 2–6), even in situations where effort does not directly generate additional product, quality, or economic value. Convergent patterns of results emerged in South Korean and French cross-cultural replications (Studies 2b and 2c). We contend that the seeming irrationality of valuing effort for its own sake, such as in situations where one’s efforts do not directly increase economic output (Studies 3–6), reveals a “deeply rational” social heuristic for evaluating potential cooperation partners. Specifically, effort cues engender broad moral trait ascriptions, and this moralization of effort influences donation behaviors (Study 5) and cooperative partner choice decision-making (Studies 4 and 6). In situating our account of effort moralization into past research and theorizing, we also consider the implications of these effects for social welfare policy and the future of work.

General Discussion

Is effort deemed socially valuable, even in situations where one’s efforts have no direct economic utility? Eight studies using multiple methodologies and cross-cultural samples indicate that it is. We provided evidence of effort moralization—displays of effort increased the moral qualities ascribed to individuals (we did not, we should note, provide evidence of the specific process by which effort cues shift from having a nonmoral to moral status, a more limited definition of moralization; Rhee et al., 2019). Moreover, the moralization of effort guided participants’ allocations of monetary resources and selections of cooperation partners. These data support our argument that effort moralization is a “deeply rational” social heuristic for navigating cooperation markets (Barclay, 2013; Kenrick et al., 2009). Even in circumstances where effort was economically unnecessary, people believed such efforts reflected others’ inner virtues.


This evolutionary perspective may provide a more parsimonious framework for integrating research on effort evaluations: the “effort heuristic” (Kruger et al., 2004) may be more functionally dynamic than previously recognized, with effort moralization constituting one of its social functions. Thus, rather than directly causing people to moralize effort, cultural beliefs like the PWE may be scaffolded on evolved psychological mechanisms such as shared intuitions about the value of effort. The PWE (and similar work ethics among other populations) may have emerged, then, because it benefited from a combination of being well fit to our psychology (in appealing to an underlying tendency for effort moralization) and culturally useful (in promoting cooperation and industriousness; Henrich, 2020; Henrich & Boyd, 2016).

Note: Hardworking people are often seen as more moral than those perceived or believed as lazy. Yet people who work harder are not always more economically productive.  Capitalist fantasies play into these moral stereotypes.  Effort moralization plays right into misconceptions about poor people being lazy and rich people as hard workers.  Neither stereotype is accurate.