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

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Why VIP Services Are Ethically Indefensible in Health Care

Denisse Rojas Marquez and Hazel Lever
AMA J Ethics. 2023;25(1):E66-71.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2023.66.


Many health care centers make so-called VIP services available to “very important persons” who have the ability to pay. This article discusses common services (eg, concierge primary care, boutique hotel-style hospital stays) offered to VIPs in health care centers and interrogates “trickle down” economic effects, including the exacerbation of inequity in access to health services and the maldistribution of resources in vulnerable communities. This article also illuminates how VIP care contributes to multitiered health service delivery streams that constitute de facto racial segregation and influence clinicians’ conceptions of what patients deserve from them in health care settings.

Insurance and Influence

It is common practice for health care centers to make “very important person” (VIP) services available to patients because of their status, wealth, or influence. Some delivery models justify the practice of VIP health care as a means to help offset the cost of less profitable sectors of care, which often involve patients who have low income, are uninsured, and are from historically marginalized communities.1 In this article, we explore the justification of VIP health care as helping finance services for patients with low income and consider if this “trickle down” rationale is valid and whether it should be regarded as acceptable. We then discuss clinicians’ ethical responsibilities when taking part in this system of care.

We use the term VIP health care to refer to services that exceed those offered or available to a general patient population through typical health insurance. These services can include concierge primary care (also called boutique or retainer-based medicine) available to those who pay out of pocket, stays on exclusive hospital floors with luxury accommodations, or other premium-level health care services.1 Take the example of a patient who receives treatment on the “VIP floor” of a hospital, where she receives a private room, chef-prepared food, and attending physician-only services. In the outpatient setting, the hallmarks of VIP service are short waiting times, prompt referrals, and round-the-clock staffing.

While this model of “paying for more” is well accepted in other industries, health care is a unique commodity, with different distributional consequences than markets for other goods (eg, accessing it can be a matter of life or death and it is deemed a human right under the Alma-Ata Declaration2). The existence of VIP health care creates several dilemmas: (1) the reinforcement of existing social inequities, particularly racism and classism, through unequal tiers of care; (2) the maldistribution of resources in a resource-limited setting; (3) the fallacy of financing care of the underserved with care of the overserved in a profit-motivated system.



VIP health care, while potentially more profitable than traditional health care delivery, has not been shown to produce better health outcomes and may distribute resources away from patients with low incomes and patients of color. A system in which wealthy patients are perceived to be the financial engine for the care of patients with low incomes can fuel distorted ideas of who deserves care, who will provide care, and how expeditiously care will be provided. To allow VIP health care to exist condones the notion that some people—namely, wealthy White people—deserve more care sooner and that their well-being matters more. When health institutions allow VIP care to flourish, they go against the ideal of providing equitable care to all, a value often named in organizational mission statements.22 At a time when pervasive distrust in the medical system has fueled negative consequences for communities of color, it is our responsibility as practitioners to restore and build trust with the most vulnerable in our health care system. When evaluating how VIP care fits into our health care system, we should let health equity be a moral compass for creating a more ethical system.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Abortion Access Tied to Suicide Rates Among Young Women

Michael DePeau-Wilson
MedPage Today
Originally posted 28 DEC 22

Restrictions on access to reproductive care were associated with suicide rates among women of reproductive age, researchers found.

In a longitudinal ecologic study using state-based data from 1974 to 2016, enforcement of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws was associated with higher suicide rates among reproductive-age women (β=0.17, 95% CI 0.03-0.32, P=0.02) but not among women of post-reproductive age, according to Ran Barzilay, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues.

Nor was enforcement of TRAP laws associated with deaths due to motor vehicle crashes, they reported in JAMA Psychiatry in a new tab or window.

Additionally, enforcement of a TRAP law was associated with a 5.81% higher annual rate of suicide than in pre-enforcement years, the researchers found.

"Taken together, the results suggest that the association between restricting access to abortion and suicide rates is specific to the women who are most affected by this restriction, which are young women," Barzilay told MedPage Today.

Barzilay said their study "can inform, number one, clinicians working with young women to be aware that this is a macro-level suicide risk factor in this population. And number two, that it informs policymakers as they allocate resources for suicide prevention. And number three, that it informs the ethical, divisive debate regarding access to abortion."

In an accompanying editorial, Tyler VanderWeele, PhD, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, wrote that while analyses of this type are always subject to the possibility of changes in trends being attributable to some third factor, Barzilay and colleagues did "control for a number of reasonable candidates and conducted sensitivity analyses indicating that these associations were observed for reproductive-aged women but not for a control group of older women of post-reproductive age."

VanderWeele wrote the findings do suggest that a "not inconsiderable" number of women might be dying by suicide in part because of a lack of access to abortion services, and that "the increase is cause for clinical concern."

But while more research "might contribute more to our understanding," VanderWeele wrote, its role in the legal debates around abortion "seems less clear. Regardless of whether one is looking at potential adverse effects of access restrictions or of abortion, the abortion and mental health research literature will not resolve the more fundamental and disputed moral questions."

"Debates over abortion access are likely to remain contentious in this country and others," he wrote. "However, further steps can nevertheless be taken in finding common ground to promote women's mental health and healthcare."

For their "difference-in-differences" analysis, Barzilay and co-authors relied on data from the TRAP laws index to measure abortion access, and assessed suicide data from CDC's WONDER database in a new tab or window database.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

UCSF Issues Report, Apologizes for Unethical 1960-70’s Prison Research

Restorative Justice Calls for Continued Examination of the Past

Laura Kurtzman
Press Release
Originally posted 20 DEC 22

Recognizing that justice, healing and transformation require an acknowledgment of past harms, UCSF has created the Program for Historical Reconciliation (PHR). The program is housed under the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, and was started by current Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Dan Lowenstein, MD.

The program’s first report, released this month, investigates experiments from the 1960s and 1970s involving incarcerated men at the California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville. Many of these men were being assessed or treated for psychiatric diagnoses.

The research reviewed in the report was performed by Howard Maibach, MD, and William Epstein, MD, both faculty in UCSF’s Department of Dermatology. Epstein was a former chair of the department who died in 2006. The committee was asked to focus on the work of Maibach, who remains an active member of the department.

Some of the experiments exposed research subjects to pesticides and herbicides or administered medications with side effects. In all, some 2,600 incarcerated men were experimented on.

The men volunteered for the studies and were paid for participating. But the report raises ethical concerns over how the research was conducted. In many cases there was no record of informed consent. The subjects also did not have any of the medical conditions that any of the experiments could have potentially treated or ameliorated.

Such practices were common in the U.S. at the time and were increasingly being criticized both by experts and in the lay press. The research continued until 1977, when the state of California halted all human subject research in state prisons, a year after the federal government did the same.

The report acknowledges that Maibach was working during a time when the governance of human subjects research was evolving, both at UCSF and at institutions across the country. Over a six-month period, the committee gathered some 7,000 archival documents, medical journal articles, interviews, documentaries and books, much of which has yet to be analyzed. UCSF has acknowledged that it may issue a follow-up report.

The report found that “Maibach practiced questionable research methods. Archival records and published articles have failed to show any protocols that were adopted regarding informed consent and communicating research risks to participants who were incarcerated.”

In a review of publications between 1960 and 1980, the committee found virtually all of Maibach’s studies lacked documentation of informed consent despite a requirement for formal consent instituted in 1966 by the newly formed Committee on Human Welfare and Experimentation. Only one article, published in 1975, indicated the researchers had obtained informed consent as well as approval from UCSF’s Committee for Human Research (CHR), which began in 1974 as a result of new federal requirements.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The pervasive impact of ignorance

Kirfel, L., & Phillips, J.
Volume 231, February 2023, 105316


Norm violations have been demonstrated to impact a wide range of seemingly non-normative judgments. Among other things, when agents' actions violate prescriptive norms they tend to be seen as having done those actions more freely, as having acted more intentionally, as being more of a cause of subsequent outcomes, and even as being less happy. The explanation of this effect continue to be debated, with some researchers appealing to features of actions that violate norms, and other researcher emphasizing the importance of agents' mental states when acting. Here, we report the results of two large-scale experiments that replicate and extend twelve of the studies that originally demonstrated the pervasive impact of norm violations. In each case, we build on the pre-existing experimental paradigms to additionally manipulate whether the agents knew that they were violating a norm while holding fixed the action done. We find evidence for a pervasive impact of ignorance: the impact of norm violations on non-normative judgments depends largely on the agent knowing that they were violating a norm when acting. Moreover, we find evidence that the reduction in the impact of normality is underpinned by people's counterfactual reasoning: people are less likely to consider an alternative to the agent's action if the agent is ignorant. We situate our findings in the wider debate around the role or normality in people's reasoning.

General discussion

Studies show that norm violations influence a wide range of domains, including judgments of causation, freedom, happiness, doing vs. allowing, mental state ascriptions, and modal claims. A continuing debate centers on why normality has such a pervasive impact, and whether one should attempt to offer a unified explanation of these various effects (Hindriks, 2014). In this study, we found evidence that the epistemic state of norm-violating agents plays a fundamental role in the impact of norms on non-normative judgments. Across a wide range of intuitive judgments and highly different manipulations of an agents' knowledge, we found that the impact of normality on non-normative judgments was diminished when the agent did not know that they were violating a norm. More precisely, the agent's knowledge of the norm violation determined the extent to which abnormal actions increased judgments of causation, decreased attribution of force, increased attributions of intentional action, and so on. In other words, the impact of ignorance appears to be as pervasive as the impact of normality itself. In addition, our study showed that the agent's epistemic state also influenced to what extent people engage in reasoning about alternatives to the agent's action. If the agent was ignorant when they violated a norm, people were less inclined to consider what the agent could have done differently.

At the broadest level, the current results provide evidence that the pervasive impact of normality likely warrants a unified explanation at some level: we considered a specific feature that had been shown to moderate the impact of normality in one domain (causation) and demonstrated that this same feature of the impact of normality can be found across a wide range of other domains. This finding suggests that the impact of norms arises from a shared underlying mechanism that is recruited across domains. Specific accounts may, of course, seek to incorporate agents' epistemic states into their respective theory of how normality influences judgments in one particular domain. However, such an approach will miss out on a generalization and will necessarily be less parsimonious. Accordingly, we turn now to considering two broad approaches to offering a unified account of the pervasive impact of ignorance.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Moral foundations, values, and judgments in extraordinary altruists

Amormino, P., Ploe, M.L. & Marsh, A.A.
Sci Rep 12, 22111 (2022).


Donating a kidney to a stranger is a rare act of extraordinary altruism that appears to reflect a moral commitment to helping others. Yet little is known about patterns of moral cognition associated with extraordinary altruism. In this preregistered study, we compared the moral foundations, values, and patterns of utilitarian moral judgments in altruistic kidney donors (n = 61) and demographically matched controls (n = 58). Altruists expressed more concern only about the moral foundation of harm, but no other moral foundations. Consistent with this, altruists endorsed utilitarian concerns related to impartial beneficence, but not instrumental harm. Contrary to our predictions, we did not find group differences between altruists and controls in basic values. Extraordinary altruism generally reflected opposite patterns of moral cognition as those seen in individuals with psychopathy, a personality construct characterized by callousness and insensitivity to harm and suffering. Results link real-world, costly, impartial altruism primarily to moral cognitions related to alleviating harm and suffering in others rather than to basic values, fairness concerns, or strict utilitarian decision-making.


In the first exploration of patterns of moral cognition that characterize individuals who have engaged in real-world extraordinary altruism, we found that extraordinary altruists are distinguished from other people only with respect to a narrow set of moral concerns: they are more concerned with the moral foundation of harm/care, and they more strongly endorse impartial beneficence. Together, these findings support the conclusion that extraordinary altruists are morally motivated by an impartial concern for relieving suffering, and in turn, are motivated to improve others’ welfare in a self-sacrificial manner that does not allow for the harm of others in the process. These results are also partially consistent with extraordinary altruism representing the inverse of psychopathy in terms of moral cognition: altruists score lower in psychopathy (with the strongest relationships observed for psychopathy subscales associated with socio-affective responding) and higher-psychopathy participants most reliably endorse harm/care less than lower psychopathy participants, with participants with higher scores on the socio-affective subscales of our psychopathy measures also endorsing impartial beneficence less strongly.


Notably, and contrary to our predictions, we did not find that donating a kidney to a stranger is strongly or consistently correlated (positively or negatively) with basic values like universalism, benevolence, power, hedonism, or conformity. That suggests extraordinary altruism may not be driven by unusual values, at least as they are measured by the Schwartz inventory, but rather by specific moral concerns (such as harm/care). Our findings suggest that reported values may not in themselves predict whether one acts on those values when it comes to extraordinary altruism, much as “…a person can value being outgoing in social gatherings, independently of whether they are prone to acting in a lively or sociable manner”. Similarly, people who share a common culture may value common things but acting on those values to an extraordinarily costly and altruistic degree may require a stronger motivation––a moral motivation.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The AI Ethicist's Dirty Hands Problem

H. S. Sætra, M. Coeckelbergh, & J. Danaher
Communications of the ACM, January 2023, 
Vol. 66 No. 1, Pages 39-41

Assume an AI ethicist uncovers objectionable effects related to the increased usage of AI. What should they do about it? One option is to seek alliances with Big Tech in order to "borrow" their power to change things for the better. Another option is to seek opportunities for change that actively avoids reliance on Big Tech.

The choice between these two strategies gives rise to an ethical dilemma. For example, if the ethicist's research emphasized the grave and unfortunate consequences of Twitter and Facebook, should they promote this research by building communities on said networks? Should they take funding from Big Tech to promote the reform of Big Tech? Should they seek opportunities at Google or OpenAI if they are deeply concerned about the negative implications of large-scale language models?

The AI ethicist’s dilemma emerges when an ethicist must consider how their success in communicating an
identified challenge is associated with a high risk of decreasing the chances of successfully addressing the challenge.  This dilemma occurs in situations in which the means to achieve one’s goals are seemingly best achieved by supporting that which one wishes to correct and/or practicing the opposite of that which one preaches.


The Need for More than AI Ethics

Our analysis of the ethicist’s dilemma shows why close ties with Big Tech can be detrimental for the ethicist seeking remedies for AI related problems.   It is important for ethicists, and computer scientists in general, to be aware of their links to the sources of ethical challenges related to AI.  One useful exercise would be to carefully examine what could happen if they attempted to challenge the actors with whom they are aligned. Such actions could include attempts to report unfortunate implications of the company’s activities internally, but also publicly, as Gebru did. Would such actions be met with active resistance, with inaction, or even straightforward sanctions? Such an exercise will reveal whether or not the ethicist feels free to openly and honestly express concerns about the technology with which they work. Such an exercise could be important, but as we have argued, these individuals are not necessarily positioned to achieve fundamental change in this system.

In response, we suggest the role of government is key to balancing the power the tech companies have
through employment, funding, and their control of modern digital infrastructure. Some will rightly argue that political power is also dangerous.   But so are the dangers of technology and unbridled innovation, and private corporations are central sources of these dangers. We therefore argue that private power must be effectively bridled by the power of government.  This is not a new argument, and is in fact widely accepted.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Outcome effects, moral luck and the hindsight bias

M. Kneer & I. Skoczen
Volume 232, March 2023, 105258


In a series of ten preregistered experiments (N = 2043), we investigate the effect of outcome valence on judgments of probability, negligence, and culpability – a phenomenon sometimes labelled moral (and legal) luck. We found that harmful outcomes, when contrasted with neutral outcomes, lead to an increased perceived probability of harm ex post, and consequently, to a greater attribution of negligence and culpability. Rather than simply postulating hindsight bias (as is common), we employ a variety of empirical means to demonstrate that the outcome-driven asymmetry across perceived probabilities constitutes a systematic cognitive distortion. We then explore three distinct strategies to alleviate the hindsight bias and its downstream effects on mens rea and culpability ascriptions. Not all strategies are successful, but some prove very promising. They should, we argue, be considered in criminal jurisprudence, where distortions due to the hindsight bias are likely considerable and deeply disconcerting.


• In a series of ten studies (N = 2043) we examine the relation between moral luck, negligence and probability

• Most people deem outcome irrelevant for ascriptions of negligence & blame in WS studies, so there’s no “puzzle of moral luck”

• In between-subjects designs, the effect of luck on negligence and blame seems to be driven by the hindsight bias

• We examine three strategies to alleviate the hindsight bias on perceived probability, negligence and blame

• Two alleviation strategies significantly decrease the hindsight bias and could potentially be used in legal trials


In a series of experiments with 2043 participants, we explored the effect of outcome on judgments of subjective and objective probability, mens rea and culpability. For mens rea and blame attributions (though not for deserved punishment), the outcome effect constitutes a bias. The distorted assessment of mens rea and blame, we showed, is ultimately rooted in the hindsight bias: People tend to assess a potential harm as more likely when it does come to pass than when it does not; they therefore ascribe more negligence to the agent, and consequently consider him more culpable.

Echoing the literature from behavioral economics and legal psychology, we argued that the downstream effects of the hindsight bias constitute a serious threat to the just adjudication of legal trials, in particular in countries where mens rea is determined by lay juries (such as the US and the UK). And although it is well established that the hindsight bias is pervasive and difficult to overcome, we have shown that there are measures to reduce its impact. Among a series of different debiasing strategies we have put to the test, we showed that expert probability stabilizing (which, on occasion, is already in use in courts) and entertaining counterfactual outcomes hold considerable promise. We would strongly urge further research conducted jointly with legal practitioners that explores the most suitable ways of introducing (or further implementing) these techniques in the courtroom, so as to make the law more just and equal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

On the value of modesty: How signals of status undermine cooperation

Srna, S., Barasch, A., & Small, D. A. (2022). 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 
123(4), 676–692.


The widespread demand for luxury is best understood by the social advantages of signaling status (i.e., conspicuous consumption; Veblen, 1899). In the present research, we examine the limits of this perspective by studying the implications of status signaling for cooperation. Cooperation is principally about caring for others, which is fundamentally at odds with the self-promotional nature of signaling status. Across behaviorally consequential Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD) games and naturalistic scenario studies, we investigate both sides of the relationship between signaling and cooperation: (a) how people respond to others who signal status, as well as (b) the strategic choices people make about whether to signal status. In each case, we find that people recognize the relative advantage of modesty (i.e., the inverse of signaling status) and behave strategically to enable cooperation. That is, people are less likely to cooperate with partners who signal status compared to those who are modest (Studies 1 and 2), and more likely to select a modest person when cooperation is desirable (Study 3). These behaviors are consistent with inferences that status signalers are less prosocial and less prone to cooperate. Importantly, people also refrain from signaling status themselves when it is strategically beneficial to appear cooperative (Studies 4–6). Together, our findings contribute to a better understanding of the conditions under which the reputational costs of conspicuous consumption outweigh its benefits, helping integrate theoretical perspectives on strategic interpersonal dynamics, cooperation, and status signaling.

From the General Discussion


The high demand for luxury goods is typically explained by the social advantages of status signaling (Veblen, 1899). We do not dispute that status signaling is beneficial in many contexts. Indeed, we find that status signaling helps a person gain acceptance into a group that is seeking competitive members (see Supplemental Study 1). However, our research suggests a more nuanced view regarding the social effects of status signaling. Specifically, the findings caution against using this strategy indiscriminately.  Individuals should consider how important it is for them to appear prosocial, and strategically choose modesty when the goal to achieve cooperation is more important than other social goals (e.g., to appear wealthy or successful).

These strategic concerns are particularly important in the era of social media, where people can easily broadcast their consumption choices to large audiences. Many people show off their status through posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (e.g., Sekhon et al., 2015). Such posts may be beneficial for communicating one’s wealth and status, but as we have shown, they can also have negative effects. A boastful post could wind up on social media accounts such as “Rich Kids of the Internet,” which highlights extreme acts of status signaling and has over 350,000 followers and countless angry comments (Hoffower, 2020). Celebrities and other public figures also risk their reputations when they post about their status. For instance, when Louise Linton, wife of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, posted a photo of herself from an official government visit with many luxury-branded hashtags, she was vilified on social
media and in the press (Calfas, 2017).

Monday, January 23, 2023

Moral Thin-Slicing

De Freitas, Julian and Hafri, Alon
(December 1, 2022).
Harvard Business School Marketing Unit
Harvard Business Working Paper No. 23-002


Given limits on time and attention, people increasingly make moral evaluations in a few seconds or less, yet it is unknown whether such snap judgments are accurate or not. On one hand, the literature suggests that people form fast moral impressions once they already know what has transpired (i.e., who did what to whom, and whether there was harm involved), but how long does it take for them to extract and integrate these ‘moral atoms’ from a visual scene in the first place to decide who is morally wrong? Using controlled stimuli, we find that people are capable of ‘moral thin-slicing’: they reliably identify moral transgressions from visual scenes presented in the blink of an eye (< 100 ms). Across four studies, we show that this remarkable ability arises because observers independently and rapidly extract the atoms of moral judgment — event roles (who acted on whom) and harm level (harmful or unharmful). In sum, despite the rapid rate at which people view provocative moral transgressions online, as when consuming viral videos on social media or negative news about companies’ actions toward customers, their snap moral judgments about visual events can be surprisingly accurate.

From the General Discussion

How Is Moral Thin-Slicing So Fast?

Given that people are more accurate at snap moral judgments than one would think, how is this possible? The current work adds to the literature on how the mind computes moral judgments, by suggesting that such judgments do not have to be slow and effortful; rather, the human visual system in some cases rapidly extracts the high-level information on which moral judgment depends, such as role and harm. Furthermore, the visual system not only extracts such information, which previous literature in some cases has provided evidence for (Hafri et al., 2013; 2018; De Freitas & Alvarez, 2018), but it integrates these moral ‘atoms’ such that they inform moral judgments about events viewed at a brief glance. Notably, this integration was not a given, as there are many cases in other areas of psychology where disparate sources of visual or spatial information fail to be integrated towards a common behavioral goal (e.g., for grasping an object, or reorienting in an unfamiliar environment; Rossetti, 1998; Hermer-Vasquez et al., 1999).

Of course, despite the ability to make moral judgments quickly from a brief glance, this does not mean that people do not sometimes slowly deliberate over whether an event was causal, harmful, and so forth, which thought experiments like the trolley problem clearly illustrate (although such scenarios are overly contrived, and deliberately designed to stump readers; De Freitas, Anthony, Censi, & Alvarez, 2020; De Freitas et al., 2021). Yet the current results suggest that the visual system helps produce a rapid moral judgment when confronted with a range of typical social interactions, circumventing the need to deliberatively mull over this information.

As such, these findings stand in contrast to the characterization of moral judgment as reliant on purely rational inferences about inputs such as causation, harm, etc. without substantive contribution from sensory processing (Martinez & Jaeger, 2016; Olson, McFerran, Morales, & Dahl, 2016; Xie, Yu, Zhou, Sedikides, & Vohs, 2014). These characterizations suggest that visual processing is involved in moral judgment only in a rudimentary sense, e.g., to recognize colors or objects, and their spatial locations within an image.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

No Peace for the Wicked? Immorality is (Usually) Thought to Disrupt Intrapersonal Harmony

Prinzing, M., & Fredrickson, B.
(2022, November 28). 


Past research has found that people who behave morally are seen as happier than people who behave immorally—even when their psychological states are described identically. This has led researchers to conclude that the ordinary concept of happiness includes a role for moral factors as well as psychological states. In three experiments (total N = 1,185), we found similar effects of moral evaluations on attributions of a range of psychological states, including positive attitudes towards one’s life and activities (Study 1), pleasant and unpleasant emotions in general (Studies 2-3) and life-satisfaction (Studies 2-3). This suggests that moral evaluations have pervasive effects on the psychological states that people attribute to others. We propose that this is because immorality is seen as disrupting intrapersonal harmony. That is, immoral people are thought to be less happy because they are thought to experience less positive psychological states, and this occurs when and because they are seen as being internally conflicted. Supporting this explanation, we found that immoral agents are seen as more internally conflicted than moral agents (Study 2), and that the effect of moral evaluations on positive psychological state attributions disappears when agents are described as being at peace with themselves (Study 3).

Implications and Conclusion

We set out to better understand why moral evaluations affect happiness judgments.  One possibility is that, when people judge whether another person is happy, they are partly assessing whether that person experiences positive psychological states and partly assessing whether the person is living a good life. If that were so, then people would not consider immoral agents entirely  happy—even if they recognized that the agents experience overwhelmingly positive psychological states.  That is, morality does not affect the experiential states the people attribute to others—it affects whether they consider such states happiness.  Yet, this research suggests a more striking conclusion.  Our results indicate that people attribute experiential states, like pleasant emotions and satisfaction, differently depending on their moral judgments.  Moreover, we found that this occurs when and because immorality is seen as a source of intrapersonal conflict. When people do not see immoral agents as more conflicted than moral agents, they do not attribute less happiness (or less positive emotion or less life-satisfaction) to those immoral agents. On the lay view, immorality typically means betraying one’s true self, disrupting one’s inner harmony, and leading to at best an incomplete form of happiness.  However, this is not always the case.

Hence, the ordinary concept of happiness appears to be similar to ancient Greek conceptions  of eudaemonia (Aristotle,  2000;  Plato,  2004).  Roughly  speaking, Plato believed that eudaemonia consists in a kind of intrapersonal harmony.  He also argued that moral virtue was necessary for such harmony. Our findings suggest that 21st century Americans similarly see happiness as involving a kind of intrapersonal harmony. However, they don’t seem to think that harmony requires morality. Although immorality is usually a source of intrapersonal conflict, someone who behaves immorally can be happy so long as they can still find peace with themselves.  Hence, according to folk wisdom, there may be very little peace for the wicked. But so long as they find it, there can be happiness too.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Kindness Can Have Unexpectedly Positive Consequences

Amit Kumar
Scientific American
December 12, 2022

Scientists who study happiness know that being kind to others can improve well-being. Acts as simple as buying a cup of coffee for someone can boost a person’s mood, for example. Everyday life affords many opportunities for such actions, yet people do not always take advantage of them.

In a set of studies published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Nick Epley, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and I examined a possible explanation. We found that people who perform random acts of kindness do not always realize how much of an impact they are having on another individual. People consistently and systematically underestimate how others value these acts.

Across multiple experiments involving approximately 1,000 participants, people performed a random act of kindness—that is, an action done with the primary intention of making someone else (who isn’t expecting the gesture) feel good. Those who perform such actions expect nothing in return.

From one procedure to the next, the specific acts of kindness varied. For instance, in one experiment, people wrote notes to friends and family “just because.” In another, they gave cupcakes away. Across these experiments, we asked both the person performing a kind act and the one receiving it to fill out questionnaires. We asked the person who had acted with kindness to report their own experience and predict their recipient’s response. We wanted to understand how valuable people perceived these acts to be, so both the performer and recipient had to rate how “big” the act seemed. In some cases, we also inquired about the actual or perceived cost in time, money or effort. In all cases, we compared the performer’s expectations of the recipient’s mood with the recipient’s actual experience.

Across our investigations, several robust patterns emerged. For one, both performers and recipients of the acts of kindness were in more positive moods than normal after these exchanges. For another, it was clear that performers undervalued their impact: recipients felt significantly better than the kind actors expected. The recipients also reliably rated these acts as “bigger” than the people performing them did.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Teaching Empathy to Mental Health Practitioners and Trainees

Ngo, H., Sokolovic, et al. (2022).
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
90(11), 851–860.

Empathy is a foundational therapeutic skill and a key contributor to client outcome, yet the best combination of instructional components for its training is unclear. We sought to address this by investigating the most effective instructional components (didactic, rehearsal, reflection, observation, feedback, mindfulness) and their combinations for teaching empathy to practitioners.

Studies included were randomized controlled trials targeted to mental health practitioners and trainees, included a quantitative measure of empathic skill, and were available in English. A total of 36 studies (37 samples) were included (N = 1,616). Two reviewers independently extracted data. Data were pooled by using random-effects pairwise meta-analysis and network meta-analysis (NMA).

Overall, empathy interventions demonstrated a medium-to-large effect (d = .78, 95% CI [.58, .99]). Pairwise meta-analysis showed that one of the six instructional components was effective: didactic (d = .91 vs. d = .39, p = .02). None of the program characteristics significantly impacted intervention effectiveness (group vs. individual format, facilitator type, number of sessions). No publication bias, risk of bias, or outliers were detected. NMA, which allows for an examination of instructional component combinations, revealed didactic, observation, and rehearsal were included among the most effective components to operate in combination.

We have identified instructional component, singly (didactic) and in combination (didactic, rehearsal, observation), that provides an efficient way to train empathy in mental health practitioners.

What is the public health significance of this article?

Empathy in mental health practitioners is a core skill associated with positive client outcomes, with evidence that it can be trained. This article provides an aggregation of evidence showing that didactic teaching, as well as trainees observing and practicing the skill, are the elements of training that are most important.

From the Discussion

Despite clear evidence on why empathy should be taught to mental health practitioners and how well empathy interventions work in other professionals, there has been no systematic integration on how best empathy should be taught to those working in mental health. Thus, the present study sought to address this important gap by applying pairwise and network meta-analytic analyses. In effect, we were able to elucidate the efficacious “ingredients” for teaching empathy to mental health practitioners as well as the relative superiority of particular combinations of instructional components. Overall, the effect sizes of empathy interventions were in the moderate to large range (d = .78; 95% CI [.55, .99]), which is comparable to previous meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of empathy interventions within medical students (d = .68, Fragkos & Crampton, 2020), health care practitioners (d = .80, Kiosses et al., 2016; d = .52, Winter et al., 2020), and mixed trainees (adjusted g = .51; Teding van Berkhout & Malouff, 2016). This effect size means that over 78% of those who underwent empathy training will score above the mean of the control group, a result that clearly supports empathy as a trainable skill. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Things could be better

Mastroianni, A., & Ludwin-Peery, E. 
(2022, November 14). 


Eight studies document what may be a fundamental and universal bias in human imagination: people think things could be better. When we ask people how things could be different, they imagine how things could be better (Study 1). The bias doesn't depend on the wording of the question (Studies 2 and 3). It arises in people's everyday thoughts (Study 4). It is unrelated to people's anxiety, depression, and neuroticism (Study 5). A sample of Polish people responding in English show the same bias (Study 6), as do a sample of Chinese people responding in Mandarin (Study 7). People imagine how things could be better even though it's easier to come up with ways things could be worse (Study 8). Overall, it seems, human imagination has a bias: when people imagine how things could be, they imagine how things could be better.


Why Does Human Imagination Work Like This?

Honestly, who knows. Brains are weird, man.

When all else fails, we can always turn to natural selection: maybe this bias helped our ancestors survive. Hungry, rain-soaked hunter-gatherers imagined food in their bellies and roofs over their heads and invented agriculture and architecture. Once warm and full, they out-reproduced their brethren who were busy imagining how much hungrier and wetter they could be.

But really, this is a mystery. We may have uncovered something fundamental about how human imagination works, but it might be a long time before we understand it.

Perhaps This is Why You Can Never Be Happy

Everybody knows about the hedonic treadmill: once you’re moderately happy, it’s hard to get happier. But nobody has ever really explained why this happens. People say things like, “oh, you get used to good things,” but that’s just a description, not an explanation. Why do people get used to good things?

Now we might have an answer: people get used to good things because they’re always imagining how things could be better. So even if things get better, you might not feel better. When you live in a cramped apartment, you dream of getting a house. When you get a house, you dream of a second house. Or you dream of lower property taxes. Or a hot tub. Or two hot tubs. And so on, forever.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Too Good to be Liked? When and How Prosocial Others are Disliked

Boileau, L. L. A., Grüning, D. J., & Bless, H. (2021).
Frontiers in Psychology, 12.


Outstandingly prosocial individuals may not always be valued and admired, but sometimes depreciated and rejected. While prior research has mainly focused on devaluation of highly competent or successful individuals, comparable research in the domain of prosociality is scarce. The present research suggests two mechanisms why devaluation of extreme prosocial individuals may occur: they may (a) constitute very high comparison standards for observers, and may (b) be perceived as communal narcissists. Two experiments test these assumptions. We confronted participants with an extreme prosocial or an ordinary control target and manipulated comparative aspects of the situation (salient vs. non-salient comparison, Experiment 1), and narcissistic aspects of the target (showing off vs. being modest, Experiment 2). Consistent with our assumptions, the extreme prosocial target was liked less than the control target, and even more so when the comparison situation was salient (Experiment 1), and when the target showed off with her good deeds (Experiment 2). Implications that prosociality does not always breed more liking are discussed.

General Discussion

The present research demonstrates that individuals who perform an outstanding degree of prosocial behaviors may be devaluated—due to their prosocial behaviors. Specifically, across two experiments, the prosocial target was liked less than the control target. This consistent pattern is unlikely to be due to participants' perception that the displayed behaviors did not unambiguously reflect prosocial behavior: When explicitly evaluating prosociality, the prosocial target was clearly perceived as prosocial (and more so than the control target). The finding that prosocial behaviors may decrease rather than increase liking seems rather surprising at first glance. Past research suggests that liking and perceptions of prosociality in others are in fact very highly correlated (Imhoff and Koch, 2017). However, the observed devaluation is in line with prior empirical research suggesting that superior prosocial others are indeed sometimes devaluated through rejection and dislike (Fisher et al., 1982; Herrmann et al., 2008; Parks and Stone, 2010; Pleasant and Barclay, 2018).

The present research goes beyond prior research that has similarly demonstrated a possible disliking of prosocial targets by suggesting and investigating two possible underlying processes. Thus, it responds to the call that mediating mechanisms for the dislike of very prosocial targets are yet to be investigated (Parks et al., 2013).

First, the reduced liking of the prosocial target was more pronounced when comparisons between the target and the observers were induced by the information that observers would first evaluate the target and then themselves on the very same items. Eliciting such a comparison expectation increased disliking of the prosocial target. Presumably, in this situation, the extremely prosocial target constituted a very high comparison standard, and this high standard would have negative consequences for participants' evaluations of themselves (Mussweiler, 2003; Bless and Schwarz, 2010; Morina, 2021). This conclusion extends indirect evidence by Parks and Stone (2010) by providing an experimental manipulation of the assumed comparison component.

Second, as predicted, the dislike of the prosocial target was increased when perceptions of communal narcissism (Gebauer et al., 2012; Nehrlich et al., 2019) were elicited by informing participants that the target actively sought to let others know about her prosocial behaviors. This finding suggests that a target's prosocial behavior will not turn into more liking but backfire when that target is perceived as someone who exerts “excessive self-enhancement” in the domain of prosociality and who is showing off with her good deeds (Rentzsch and Gebauer, 2019; p. 1373).

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Deeply Rational Reasons for Irrational Beliefs

Barlev, M., & Neuberg, S. L. (2022, December 7).


Why do people hold irrational beliefs? Two accounts predominate. The first spotlights the information ecosystem and how people process this information; this account either casts those who hold irrational beliefs as cognitively deficient or focuses on the reasoning and decision-making heuristics all people use. The second account spotlights an inwardly-oriented and proximate motivation people have to enhance how they think and feel about themselves. Here, we advance a complementary, outwardly-oriented, and more ultimate account—that people often hold irrational beliefs for evolutionarily rational reasons. Under this view, irrational beliefs may serve as rare and valued information with which to rise in prestige, as signals of group commitment and loyalty tests, as ammunition with which to derogate rivals in the eyes of third-parties, or as outrages with which to mobilize the group toward shared goals. Thus, although many beliefs may be epistemically irrational, they may also be evolutionarily rational from the perspective of the functions they are adapted to serve. We discuss the implications of this view for puzzling theoretical phenomena and for changing problematic irrational beliefs.


Why do we hold irrational beliefs that often are not only improbable, but impossible? According to some, the information ecosystem is to blame, paired with deficiencies in how people process information or with heuristic modes of processing. According to others, it is because certain beliefs—regardless of their veracity—can enhance how we think and feel about ourselves. We suggest that such accounts are promising but incomplete: many irrational beliefs exist because they serve crucial interpersonal (and more ultimate rather than proximal) functions.

We have argued that many irrational beliefs are generated, entertained, and propagated by psychological mechanisms specialized for rising in prestige, signaling group commitment and testing group loyalty, derogating disliked competitors in the eyes of third-parties, or spreading common knowledge and coordination toward shared goals. Thus, although many beliefs are epistemically irrational, they can be evolutionarily rational from the perspective of the functions they are adapted to serve.

Is it not costly to individuals to hold epistemically irrational beliefs? Sometimes. Jehovah's Witnesses reject life-saving blood transfusions, a belief most consider to be very costly, explaining why courts sometimes compel blood transfusions such as in the case of children. Yet even here, the benefits to individuals of carrying such costly beliefs may outweigh their costs, at least for some. For example, if such belief are designed to signal group commitment, they might emerge among particularly devout members of groups or among groups in which the need to signal commitment is particularly strong; the costlier the belief, the more honest a signal of group commitment it is (Petersen et al., 2021). However, such cases are the exception—most of the irrational beliefs people hold tend to be inferentially isolated and behaviorally inert. For example, the belief that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one may function for a Christian as a signal of group affiliation and commitment, without carrying for the individual many costly inferences or behavioral implications (Petersen et al., 2021; Mercier, 2020).

Monday, January 16, 2023

The origins of human prosociality: Cultural group selection in the workplace and the laboratory

Francois, P., Fujiwara, T., & van Ypersele, T. (2018).
Science Advances, 4(9).


Human prosociality toward non-kin is ubiquitous and almost unique in the animal kingdom. It remains poorly understood, although a proliferation of theories has arisen to explain it. We present evidence from survey data and laboratory treatment of experimental subjects that is consistent with a set of theories based on group-level selection of cultural norms favoring prosociality. In particular, increases in competition increase trust levels of individuals who (i) work in firms facing more competition, (ii) live in states where competition increases, (iii) move to more competitive industries, and (iv) are placed into groups facing higher competition in a laboratory experiment. The findings provide support for cultural group selection as a contributor to human prosociality.


There is considerable experimental evidence, referenced earlier, supporting the conclusion that people are conditional cooperators: They condition actions based on their beliefs regarding prevailing norms of behavior. They cooperate if they believe their partners are also likely to do so, and they are unlikely to act cooperatively if they believe that others will not.

The environment in which people interact shapes both the social and economic returns to following cooperative norms. For instance, many aspects of groups within the work environment will determine whether cooperation can be an equilibrium in behavior among group members or whether it is strictly dominated by more selfish actions. Competition across firms can play two distinct roles in affecting this. First, there is a static equilibrium effect, which arises from competition altering rewards from cooperative versus selfish behavior, even without changing the distribution of firms. Competition across firms punishes individual free-riding behavior and rewards cooperative behavior. In the absence of competitive threats, members of groups can readily shirk without serious payoff consequences for their firm. This is not so if a firm faces an existential threat. Less markedly, even if a firm is not close to the brink of survival, more intense market competition renders firm-level payoffs more responsive to the efforts of group members. With intense competition, the deleterious effects of shirking are magnified by large loss of market share, revenues, and, in turn, lower group-level payoffs. Without competition, attendant declines in quality or efficiency arising from poor performance have weaker, and perhaps nonexistent, payoff consequences. These effects on individuals are likely to be small in large firms where any specific worker’s actions are unlikely to be pivotal. However, it is possible that employees overestimate the impact of their actions or instinctively respond to competition with more prosocial attitudes, even in large teams.

Competition across firms does not typically lead to a unique equilibrium in social norms but, if intense enough, can sustain a cooperative group norm. Depending on the setting, multiple different cooperative group equilibria differentiated by the level of costly effort can also be sustained. For example, if individuals are complementary in production, then an individual believing co-workers to all be shirkers and thus unable to produce a viable product will similarly also choose to exert low effort. An equilibrium where no one voluntarily contributes to cooperative tasks is sustained, and such a workplace looks to have noncooperative norms. In contrast, with the same complementary production process, and a workplace where all other workers are believed to be contributing high effort, a single worker will optimally choose to exert high effort as well to ensure viable output. In that case, a cooperative norm is sustained. When payoffs are continuous in both the quality of the product and the intensity of the competition, then the degree of cooperative effort that can be sustained can be continuously increasing in the intensity of market competition across firms. We have formalized this in an economic model that we include in the Supplementary Materials.

Competition’s first effect is thus to make it possible, but not necessary, for group-level cooperative norms to arise as equilibria. The literature has shown that there are many other ways to stabilize cooperative norms as equilibria, such as institutional punishment, third-party punishment, or reputations. Cross-group competition may also enhance these other well-studied mechanisms for generating cooperative norm equilibria, but with or without these factors, it has a general effect of tilting the set of equilibria toward those featuring cooperative norms.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

How Hedges Impact Persuasion

Oba, Demi and Berger, Jonah A.
(July 23, 2022). 


Communicators often hedge. Salespeople say that a product is probably the best, recommendation engines suggest movies they think you’ll like, and consumers say restaurants might have good service. But how does hedging impact persuasion? We suggest that different types of hedges may have different effects. Six studies support our theorizing, demonstrating that (1) the probabilistic likelihood hedges suggest and (2) whether they take a personal (vs. general) perspective both play an important role in driving persuasion. Further, the studies demonstrate that both effects are driven by a common mechanism: perceived confidence. Using hedges associated with higher likelihood, or that involve personal perspective, increases persuasion because they suggest communicators are more confident about what they are saying. This work contributes to the burgeoning literature on language in marketing, showcases how subtle linguistic features impact perceived confidence, and has clear implications for anyone trying to be more persuasive.

General Discussion

Communicating uncertainty is an inescapable part of marketplace interactions. Customer service representatives suggest solutions that “they think”will work, marketers inform buyers about risks a product “may” have, and consumers recommend restaurants that have the best food“in their opinion”.  Such communications are critical in determining which solutions are implemented, which products are bought, and which restaurants are visited.

But while it is clear that hedging is both frequent and important, less is known about its impact.  Do hedges always hurt persuasion?  If not, which hedges more or less persuasive, and why?

Six studies explore these questions. First, they demonstrate that different types of hedges have different effects. Consistent with our theorizing, hedges associated with higher likelihood of occurrence (Studies 1, 2A, 3, and 4A) or that take a personal (rather than general) perspective (Studies 1, 2B, 3, and 4B) are more persuasive. Further, hedges don’t always reduce persuasion (Studies 2A and 2B). Testing these effects using dozens of different hedges, across multiple domains, and using multiple measure of persuasion (including consequential choice) speaks to their robustness and generalizability.

Second, the studies demonstrate a common process that underlies these effects.  When communicators use hedges associated with higher likelihood, or a personal (rather than general) perspective, it makes them seem more confident. This, in turn, increases persuasion (Study 1, 3, 4A and 4B). Demonstrating these effects through mediation (Studies 1, 3, 4A and 4B) and moderation (Studies 4A and 4B) underscores robustness.Further, while other factors may contribute, the studies conducted here indicate full mediation by perceived confidence, highlighting its importance.

Psychologists and other mental health professionals may want to consider this research as part of psychotherapy.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Individuals prefer to harm their own group rather than help an opposing group

Rachel Gershon and Ariel Fridman
PNAS, 119 (49) e2215633119


Group-based conflict enacts a severe toll on society, yet the psychological factors governing behavior in group conflicts remain unclear. Past work finds that group members seek to maximize relative differences between their in-group and out-group (“in-group favoritism”) and are driven by a desire to benefit in-groups rather than harm out-groups (the “in-group love” hypothesis). This prior research studies how decision-makers approach trade-offs between two net-positive outcomes for their in-group. However, in the real world, group members often face trade-offs between net-negative options, entailing either losses to their group or gains for the opposition. Anecdotally, under such conditions, individuals may avoid supporting their opponents even if this harms their own group, seemingly inconsistent with “in-group love” or a harm minimizing strategy. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, these circumstances have not been investigated. In six pre-registered studies, we find consistent evidence that individuals prefer to harm their own group rather than provide even minimal support to an opposing group across polarized issues (abortion access, political party, gun rights). Strikingly, in an incentive-compatible experiment, individuals preferred to subtract more than three times as much from their own group rather than support an opposing group, despite believing that their in-group is more effective with funds. We find that identity concerns drive preferences in group decision-making, and individuals believe that supporting an opposing group is less value-compatible than harming their own group. Our results hold valuable insights for the psychology of decision-making in intergroup conflict as well as potential interventions for conflict resolution.


Understanding the principles guiding decisions in intergroup conflicts is essential to recognizing the psychological barriers to compromise and cooperation. We introduce a novel paradigm for studying group decision-making, demonstrating that individuals are so averse to supporting opposing groups that they prefer equivalent or greater harm to their own group instead. While previous models of group decision-making claim that group members are driven by a desire to benefit their in-group (“in-group love”) rather than harm their out-group, our results cannot be explained by in-group love or by a harm minimizing strategy. Instead, we propose that identity concerns drive this behavior. Our theorizing speaks to research in psychology, political theory, and negotiations by examining how group members navigate trade-offs among competing priorities.

From the Conclusion

We synthesize prior work on support-framing and propose the Identity-Support model, which can parsimoniously explain our findings across win-win and lose-lose scenarios. The model suggests that individuals act in group conflicts to promote their identity, and they do so primarily by providing support to causes they believe in (and avoid supporting causes they oppose; see also SI Appendix, Study S1). Simply put, in win-win contexts, supporting the in-group is more expressive of one’s identity as a group member than harming the opposing group, thereby leading to a preference for in-group support. In lose-lose contexts, supporting the opposing group is more negatively expressive of one’s identity as a group member than harming the in-group, resulting in a preference for in-group harm. Therefore, the principle that individuals make decisions in group conflicts to promote and protect their identity, primarily by allocating their support in ways that most align with their values, offers a single framework that predicts individual behavior in group conflicts in both win-win and lose-lose contexts.

Friday, January 13, 2023

How Much (More) Should CEOs Make? A Universal Desire for More Equal Pay

Kiatpongsan, S., & Norton, M. I. (2014).
Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(6), 587–593.


Do people from different countries and different backgrounds have similar preferences for how much more the rich should earn than the poor? Using survey data from 40 countries (N = 55,238), we compare respondents’ estimates of the wages of people in different occupations—chief executive officers, cabinet ministers, and unskilled workers—to their ideals for what those wages should be. We show that ideal pay gaps between skilled and unskilled workers are significantly smaller than estimated pay gaps and that there is consensus across countries, socioeconomic status, and political beliefs. Moreover, data from 16 countries reveals that people dramatically underestimate actual pay inequality. In the United States—where underestimation was particularly pronounced—the actual pay ratio of CEOs to unskilled workers (354:1) far exceeded the estimated ratio (30:1), which in turn far exceeded the ideal ratio (7:1). In sum, respondents underestimate actual pay gaps, and their ideal pay gaps are even further from reality than those underestimates.


These results demonstrate a strikingly consistent belief that the gaps in incomes between
skilled and unskilled workers should be smaller than people believe them to be – and much
smaller than these gaps actually are. The consensus that income gaps between skilled and
unskilled workers should be smaller holds in all subgroups of respondents regardless of their age,
education, socioeconomic status, political affiliation and opinions on inequality and pay. As a
result, they suggest that – in contrast to a belief that only the poor and members of left-wing
political parties desire greater income equality – people all over the world, and from all walks of
life, would prefer smaller pay gaps between the rich and poor.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Why Moral Judgments Affect Happiness Attributions: Testing the Fittingness and True Self Hypotheses

Prinzing, M., Knobe, J., & Earp, B. D.
(2022, November 25). 


Past research has found that people attribute less happiness to morally bad agents than to morally good agents. One proposed explanation for this effect is that attributions of emotions like happiness are influenced by judgments about their fittingness (i.e., whether they are merited). Another is that emotion attributions are influenced by judgments about whether they reflect the agent’s true self (i.e., who the agent is “deep down”). These two kinds of judgments are highly entangled for happiness, but perhaps less so for other emotions. Accordingly, we tested these hypotheses by examining attributions of happiness, love, sadness, and hatred. In Study 1, manipulating the fittingness of an agent’s emotion affected emotion attributions only when it also affected true self judgments. In Study 2, manipulating whether an agent’s emotion reflects his true self affected attributions of all emotions, regardless of the effects on fittingness judgments. Studies 3-4 examined attributions of “true happiness,” “true love,” “true sadness,” and “true hatred.” The fittingness manipulation again influenced attributions of “true” emotions only where it also affected true self judgments, whereas the true self manipulation affected attributions of all four “true” emotions. Overall, these results cast serious doubt on the fittingness hypothesis and offer some support for the true self hypothesis, which could be developed further in future work.


What are “True” Emotions?

Past  theoretical work on “true” emotions, such as true love and true happiness, has centered on the idea that emotions are true when they are fitting (De Sousa, 2002; Hamlyn, 1989; Salmela,  2006;  Solomon,  2002).  Yet  the  results  of  Studies  3-4  indicate  that  this  is  not  what ordinary people think. We found that manipulating the fittingness of happiness and love affects their perceived trueness, but not so for sadness or hatred. By contrast, the true self manipulation affects the perceived trueness of all four emotions.These findings provide at least some initial support for a very different hypothesis about what people mean when they say that an emotion is “true,” namely, that an emotion is seen as “true” to the extent that it is seen as related in a certain kind of way to the agent’s true self.

Further  research  could  continue  to  explore  this  hypothesis.  One  potential  source  of evidence would be patterns in people’s judgments about whether it even makes sense to use the word  “true”  to  describe  a  particular  emotion.  In other  work  (Earp  et  al.,  2022),  we  asked participants about the degree to which it makes sense to call various emotions “true.” Happiness and love had the highest average scores, with most people thinking it makes perfect sense to say “true happiness” or “true love.” Grumpiness and lust had the lowest averages, with most people thinking that it does not make any sense to say “true grumpiness” or “true lust.” A natural further question would be whether the true self hypothesis can explain this pattern. Is there a general tendency such that the emotions that can appropriately be called “true” are also the emotions that people think can be rooted in a person’s true self? 

As another strategy for better understanding the way people apply the word “true” with emotion words, we might turn to research on apparently similar phrases that are not concerned with emotions in particular: for example, “true scientist,” “true work of art,” or “true friend” (Del Pinal, 2018; Knobe et al., 2013; Leslie, 2015; Reuter, 2019). It’s possible that, although “true” is also used in these cases, it means something quite different and unrelated to what it means when applied to emotions. However, it’s also possible that it is related, and that insight could therefore be gained by investigating connections with these seemingly distant concepts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

How neurons, norms, and institutions shape group cooperation

Van Bavel, J. J., Pärnamets, P., Reinero, D. A., 
& Packer, D. (2022, April 7).


Cooperation occurs at all stages of human life and is necessary for small groups and large-scale societies alike to emerge and thrive. This chapter bridges research in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, neuroeconomics, and social psychology to help understand group cooperation. We present a value-based framework for understanding cooperation, integrating neuroeconomic models of decision-making with psychological and situational variables involved in cooperative behavior, particularly in groups. According to our framework, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex serves as a neural integration hub for value computation during cooperative decisions, receiving inputs from various neuro-cognitive processes such as attention, affect, memory, and learning. We describe factors that directly or indirectly shape the value of cooperation decisions, including cultural contexts and social norms, personal and social identity, and intergroup relations. We also highlight the role of economic, social, and cultural institutions in shaping cooperative behavior. We discuss the implications for future research on cooperation.


Social Institutions

Trust production is crucial for fostering cooperation (Zucker, 1986). We have already discussed two forms of trust production above: the trust and resulting cooperation that develops from experience with and knowledge about individuals, and trust based on social identities. The third form of trust production is institution-based, in which formal mechanisms or processes are used to foster trust (and that do not rely on personal characteristics, a history of exchange, or identity characteristics). At the societal level, trust-supporting institutions include governments, corporate structures, criminal and civil legal systems, contract law and property rights, insurance, and stock markets. When they function effectively, institutions allow for broader cooperation, helping people extend trust beyond other people they know or know of and, crucially, also beyond the boundaries of their in-groups (Fabbri, 2022; Hruschka & Henrich, 2013; Rothstein & Stolle, 2008; Zucker, 1986). Conversely, when these sorts of structures do not function well, “institutional distrust strips away a basic sense that one is protected from exploitation, thus reducing trust between strangers, which is at the core of functioning societies” (van Prooijen, Spadaro, & Wang, 2022).

When strangers with different cultural backgrounds have to interact, it often lacks the interpersonal or group-level trust necessary for cooperation. For instance, reliance on tightly-knit social networks, where everyone knows everyone, is often impossible in larger, more diverse environments. Communities can compensate by relying more on group-based trust. For example, banks may loan money primarily within separate kin or ethnic groups (Zucker, 1986). However, the disruption of homogeneous social networks, combined with the increasing need to cooperate across group boundaries creates incentives to develop and participate in broader sets of institutions. Institutions can facilitate cooperation and individuals prefer institutions that help regulate interactions and foster trust.

People often may seek to build institutions embodying principles, norms, rules, or procedures that foster group-based cooperation. In turn, these institutions shape decisions by altering the value people place oncooperative decisions. One study, for instance, examined these institutional and psychological dynamics over 30 rounds of a public goods game (Gürerk, Irlenbusch & Rockenbach, 2006). Every round had three stages. First, participants chose whether they wanted to play that round with or without a “sanctioning institution” that would provide a means of rewarding or punishing other players based on their behavior in the game. Second, they played the public goods game with (and onlywith) other participants whohad selected the same institutional structure for that round. After making their decisions (to contribute to the common pool), they then saw how much everyone else in their institutional context had contributed. Third, participants who had opted to play the round with a sanctioning institution could choose, for a price, to punish or reward other players.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

San Francisco will allow police to deploy robots that kill

Janie Har
Associated Press
Originally posted 29 Nov 22

Supervisors in San Francisco voted Tuesday to give city police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations -- following an emotionally charged debate that reflected divisions on the politically liberal board over support for law enforcement.

The vote was 8-3, with the majority agreeing to grant police the option despite strong objections from civil liberties and other police oversight groups. Opponents said the authority would lead to the further militarization of a police force already too aggressive with poor and minority communities.

Supervisor Connie Chan, a member of the committee that forwarded the proposal to the full board, said she understood concerns over use of force but that “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipments. So here we are, and it’s definitely not a easy discussion.”

The San Francisco Police Department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns. But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement.

“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” she said.

Supervisors amended the proposal Tuesday to specify that officers could use robots only after using alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding they would not be able to subdue the suspect through those alternative means. Only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorize use of robots as a deadly force option.