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
Showing posts with label Adaptation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adaptation. Show all posts

Thursday, February 8, 2024

People's thinking plans adapt to the problem they're trying to solve

Ongchoco, J. D., Knobe, J., & Jara-Ettinger, J. (2024).
Cognition, 243, 105669.


Much of our thinking focuses on deciding what to do in situations where the space of possible options is too large to evaluate exhaustively. Previous work has found that people do this by learning the general value of different behaviors, and prioritizing thinking about high-value options in new situations. Is this good-action bias always the best strategy, or can thinking about low-value options sometimes become more beneficial? Can people adapt their thinking accordingly based on the situation? And how do we know what to think about in novel events? Here, we developed a block-puzzle paradigm that enabled us to measure people's thinking plans and compare them to a computational model of rational thought. We used two distinct response methods to explore what people think about—a self-report method, in which we asked people explicitly to report what they thought about, and an implicit response time method, in which we used people's decision-making times to reveal what they thought about. Our results suggest that people can quickly estimate the apparent value of different options and use this to decide what to think about. Critically, we find that people can flexibly prioritize whether to think about high-value options (Experiments 1 and 2) or low-value options (Experiments 3, 4, and 5), depending on the problem. Through computational modeling, we show that these thinking strategies are broadly rational, enabling people to maximize the value of long-term decisions. Our results suggest that thinking plans are flexible: What we think about depends on the structure of the problems we are trying to solve.

Some thoughts:

The study is based on the idea that people have "thinking plans" which are essentially roadmaps that guide our thoughts and actions when we are trying to solve a problem. These thinking plans are not static, but rather can change and adapt depending on the specific problem we are facing.

For example, if we are trying to solve a math problem, our thinking plan might involve breaking the problem down into smaller steps, identifying the relevant information, and applying the appropriate formulas. However, if we are trying to solve a social problem, our thinking plan might involve considering the different perspectives of the people involved, identifying potential solutions, and evaluating the consequences of each solution.

The study used computational modeling to simulate how people would solve different types of problems. The model showed that people's thinking plans were flexible and adapted to the specific problem at hand. The model also showed that these thinking plans were broadly rational, meaning that they helped people to make decisions that were in their best interests.

The findings of the study have important implications for education and other fields that are concerned with human decision-making. The study suggests that it is important to teach people how to think flexibly and adapt their thinking plans to different situations. It also suggests that we should not expect people to always make the "right" decision, as the best course of action will often depend on the specific circumstances.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Is identity illusory?

Andreas L. Mogensen
European Journal of Philosophy
First published 29 April 2020


Certain of our traits are thought more central to who we are: they comprise our individual identity. What makes these traits privileged in this way? What accounts for their identity centrality? Although considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of moral philosophy, I argue that we currently have no satisfactory account of the basis of identity centrality. Nor should we expect one. Rather, we should adopt an error theory: we should concede that there is nothing in reality corresponding to the perceived distinction between the central and peripheral traits of a person.

Here is an excerpt:

Considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of contemporary moral philosophy. The following is not intended as an exhaustive survey. I will focus on just four key issues: the ethics of biomedical enhancement; blame and responsibility; constructivist theories in meta‐ethics; and the value of moral testimony.

The wide‐ranging moral importance of individual identity plausibly reflects its intimate connection to the ethics of authenticity (Taylor, 1991). To a first approximation, authenticity is achieved when the way a person lives is expressive of her most centrally defining traits. Inauthenticity occurs when she fails to give expression to these traits. The key anxiety attached to the ideal of authenticity is that the conditions of modern life conspire to mask the true self beneath the demands of social conformity and the enticements of mass culture (Riesman, Glazer, & Denney, 1961/2001; Rousseau, 1782/2011). In spite of this perceived incongruity, authenticity is considered one of the constitutive ideals of modernity (Guignon, 2004; Taylor, 1989, 1991).

Considerations of authenticity have played a key role in recent debates on human enhancement (Juth, 2011). The specific type of enhancement at issue here is cosmetic psychopharmacology: the use of psychiatric drugs to bring about changes in mood and personality, allowing already healthy individuals to lead happier and more successful lives by becoming less shy, more confident, etc. (Kramer, 1993). Many find cosmetic psychopharmacology disturbing. In an influential paper, Elliott (1998) suggests that what disturbs us is the apparent inauthenticity involved in this kind of personal transformation: the pursuit of a new, enhanced personality represents a flight from the real you. Defenders of enhancement charge that Elliott's concern rests on a mistaken conception of identity. DeGrazia (2000, 2005) argues that Elliott fails to appreciate the extent to which a person's identity is determined by her own reflexive attitudes. Because of the authoritative role assigned to a person's self‐conception, DeGrazia concludes that if a person wholeheartedly desires to change some aspect of herself, she cannot meaningfully be accused of inauthenticity.

The paper is here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Is Editing the Genome for Climate Change Adaptation Ethically Justifiable?

Lisa Soleymani Lehmann
AMA J Ethics. 2017;19(12):1186-1192.


As climate change progresses, we humans might have to inhabit a world for which we are increasingly maladapted. If we were able to identify genes that directly influence our ability to thrive in a changing climate, would it be ethically justifiable to edit the human genome to enhance our ability to adapt to this new environment? Should we use gene editing not only to prevent significant disease but also to enhance our ability to function in the world? Here I suggest a “4-S framework” for analyzing the justifiability of gene editing that includes these considerations: (1) safety, (2) significance of harm to be averted, (3) succeeding generations, and (4) social consequences.


Gene editing has unprecedented potential to improve human health. CRISPR/Cas9 has a specificity and simplicity that opens up wide possibilities. If we are unable to prevent serious negative health consequences of climate change through environmental and public health measures, gene editing could have a role in helping human beings adapt to new environmental conditions. Any decision to proceed should apply the 4-S framework.

The info is here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Seven Key Misconceptions about Evolutionary Psychology

Image result for evolutionary psychologyLaith Al-Shawaf
Originally published August 20, 2019

Evolutionary approaches to psychology hold the promise of revolutionizing the field and unifying it with the biological sciences. But among both academics and the general public, a few key misconceptions impede its application to psychology and behavior. This essay tackles the most pervasive of these.

Misconception 1: Evolution and Learning Are Conflicting Explanations for Behavior

People often assume that if something is learned, it’s not evolved, and vice versa. This is a misleading way of conceptualizing the issue, for three key reasons.

First, many evolutionary hypotheses are about learning. For example, the claim that humans have an evolved fear of snakes and spiders does not mean that people are born with this fear. Instead, it means that humans are endowed with an evolved learning mechanism that acquires a fear of snakes more easily and readily than other fears. Classic studies in psychology show that monkeys can acquire a fear of snakes through observational learning, and they tend to acquire it more quickly than a similar fear of other objects, such as rabbits or flowers. It is also harder for monkeys to unlearn a fear of snakes than it is to unlearn other fears. As with monkeys, the hypothesis that humans have an evolved fear of snakes does not mean that we are born with this fear. Instead, it means that we learn this fear via an evolved learning mechanism that is biologically prepared to acquire some fears more easily than others.

Second, learning is made possible by evolved mechanisms instantiated in the brain. We are able to learn because we are equipped with neurocognitive mechanisms that enable learning to occur—and these neurocognitive mechanisms were built by evolution. Consider the fact that both children and puppies can learn, but if you try to teach them the same thing—French, say, or game theory—they end up learning different things. Why? Because the dog’s evolved learning mechanisms are different from those of the child. What organisms learn, and how they learn it, depends on the nature of the evolved learning mechanisms housed in their brains.

The info is here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

When do we punish people who don’t?

Martin, J., Jordan, J., Rand, D., & Cushman, F.
(2019). Cognition, 193(August)


People often punish norm violations. In what cases is such punishment viewed as normative—a behavior that we “should” or even “must” engage in? We approach this question by asking when people who fail to punish a norm violator are, themselves, punished. (For instance, a boss who fails to punish transgressive employees might, herself, be fired). We conducted experiments exploring the contexts in which higher-order punishment occurs, using both incentivized economic games and hypothetical vignettes describing everyday situations. We presented participants with cases in which an individual fails to punish a transgressor, either as a victim (second-party) or as an observer (third-party). Across studies, we consistently observed higher-order punishment of non-punishing observers. Higher-order punishment of non-punishing victims, however, was consistently weaker, and sometimes non-existent. These results demonstrate the selective application of higher-order punishment, provide a new perspective on the psychological mechanisms that support it, and provide some clues regarding its function.

The research can be found here.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The evolution of moral cognition

Leda Cosmides, Ricardo Guzmán, and John Tooby
The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology - Chapter 9

1. Introduction

Moral concepts, judgments, sentiments, and emotions pervade human social life. We consider certain actions obligatory, permitted, or forbidden, recognize when someone is entitled to a resource, and evaluate character using morally tinged concepts such as cheater, free rider, cooperative, and trustworthy. Attitudes, actions, laws, and institutions can strike us as fair, unjust, praiseworthy, or punishable: moral judgments. Morally relevant sentiments color our experiences—empathy for another’s pain, sympathy for their loss, disgust at their transgressions—and our decisions are influenced by feelings of loyalty, altruism, warmth, and compassion.  Full blown moral emotions organize our reactions—anger toward displays of disrespect, guilt over harming those we care about, gratitude for those who sacrifice on our behalf, outrage at those who harm others with impunity. A newly reinvigorated field, moral psychology, is investigating the genesis and content of these concepts, judgments, sentiments, and emotions.

This handbook reflects the field’s intellectual diversity: Moral psychology has attracted psychologists (cognitive, social, developmental), philosophers, neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists,  primatologists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists.

The chapter can be found here.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Why Social Science Needs Evolutionary Theory

Christine Legare
Originally posted June 15, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Human cognition and behavior is the product of the interaction of genetic and cultural evolution. Gene-culture co-evolution has allowed us to adapt to highly diverse ecologies and to produce cultural adaptations and innovations. It has also produced extraordinary cultural diversity. In fact, cultural variability is one of our species’ most distinctive features. Humans display a wider repertoire of behaviors that vary more within and across groups than any other animal. Social learning enables cultural transmission, so the psychological mechanisms supporting it should be universal. These psychological mechanisms must also be highly responsive to diverse developmental contexts and cultural ecologies.

Take the conformity bias. It is a universal proclivity of all human psychology—even very young children imitate the behavior of others and conform to group norms. Yet beliefs about conformity vary substantially between populations. Adults in some populations are more likely to associate conformity with children’s intelligence, whereas others view creative non-conformity as linked with intelligence. Psychological adaptations for social learning, such as conformity bias, develop in complex and diverse cultural ecologies that work in tandem to shape the human mind and generate cultural variation.

The info is here.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Psychotherapy Is 'The' Biological Treatment

Robert Berezin
Originally posted March 16, 2018

Neuroscience surprisingly teaches us that not only is psychotherapy purely biological, but it is the only real biological treatment. It addresses the brain in the way it actually develops, matures, and operates. It follows the principles of evolutionary adaptation. It is consonant with genetics. And it specifically heals the problematic adaptations of the brain in precisely the ways that they evolved in the first place. Psychotherapy deactivates maladaptive brain mappings and fosters new and constructive pathways. Let me explain.

The operations of the brain are purely biological. The brain maps our experiences and memories through the linking of trillions of neuronal connections. These interconnected webs create larger circuits that map all throughout the architecture of the cortex. This generates high-level symbolic neuronal maps that take form as images in our consciousness. The play of consciousness is the highest level of symbolic form. It is a living theater of "image-ination," a representational world that consists of a cast of characters who relate together by feeling as well as scenarios, plots, set designs, and landscape.

As we adapt to our environment, the brain maps our emotional experience through cortical memory. This starts very early in life. If a baby is startled by a loud noise, his arms and legs will flail. His heart pumps adrenaline, and he cries. This "startle" maps a fight-or-flight response in his cortex, which is mapped through serotonin and cortisol. The baby is restored by his mother's holding. Her responsive repair once again re-establishes and maintains his well-being, which is mapped through oxytocin. These ongoing formative experiences of life are mapped into memory in precisely these two basic ways.

The article is here.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cultivating Moral Resilience

Cynda Rushton
American Journal of Nursing:
February 2017 - Volume 117 - Issue 2 - p S11–S15
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000512205.93596.00

Here is an excerpt:

To derive meaning from moral distress, one must first change the relationship with the suffering that it causes. Human beings have the potential to consciously decide what mindset they will bring to a given situation; they have the option to choose a path of mindful awareness and inquiry over one of helplessness and frustration. When people are mired in the “judger pit,” the tone of their conversation is punctuated by negativity, closed thinking, and judgment of themselves and others.40 Alternatively, when in an inquiring mindset, they are more inclined to remain positive—despite their distress—and are able to ask questions that may help reveal unknown or overlooked possibilities.

Shifting the focus from helplessness to resilience offers promising possibilities in designing interventions to help mitigate the effects of moral distress. Resilience—an umbrella concept that has been applied in diverse fields of study—can be psychological, physiologic, genetic, sociologic, organizational or communal, or moral. Although there is no unifying definition, resilience generally refers to the ability to recover from or healthfully adapt to challenges, stress, adversity, or trauma. One definition characterizes it as “the process of harnessing biological, psychosocial, structural, and cultural resources to sustain wellbeing.”

Psychological resilience, for example, “involves the creation of meaning in life, even life that is sometimes painful or absurd, and having the courage to live life fully despite its inherent pain and futility.”

The article is here.