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 Behavior. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Behavior. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

An evolutionary explanation for ineffective altruism

Burum, B., Nowak, M.A. & Hoffman, M. 
Nat Hum Behav (2020). 


We donate billions to charities each year, yet much of our giving is ineffective. Why are we motivated to give but not to give effectively? Building on evolutionary game theory, we argue that donors evolved (genetically or culturally) to be insensitive to efficacy because people tend not to reward efficacy, as social rewards tend to depend on well-defined and highly observable behaviours. We present five experiments testing key predictions of this account that are difficult to reconcile with alternative accounts based on cognitive or emotional limitations. Namely, we show that donors are more sensitive to efficacy when helping themselves or their families. Moreover, social rewarders don’t condition on efficacy or other difficult-to-observe behaviours, such as the amount donated.

From the Conclusion

This paper has argued that altruism in a behavioural sense is an act that benefits another person, while it is altruistically motivated when the ultimate goal of such act is the welfare of that other. In evolutionary sense, altruism means the sacrifice of fitness for the benefit of other organisms. 

According to the evolutionary theories of altruism, behaviour which promotes the reproductive success of the receiver at the cost of the altruist is favoured by natural selection, because it is either beneficial for the altruist in the long run, or for his genes, or for the group he belongs to. Thus, in line with Trivers, it can be argued that “models that attempt to explain altruistic behaviour in terms of natural selection are models designed to take the altruism out of altruism” (Trivers 1971: 35).

Friday, May 29, 2020

Humans are complicated—do we need behavioral science to get through this?

Cathleen O'Grady
Ars Technica
Originally published 16 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

Leaning on the evidence

If humans didn’t insist on being quite so messily human, pandemic response would be much simpler. People would stay physically separated whenever possible; leaders would be proactive and responsive to evidence; our fight could be concentrated on the biomedical tools we so urgently need. The problem is that our maddening, imperfect humanity gets in the way at every turn, and getting around those imperfections demands that we understand the human behavior underlying them.

It's also clear that we need to understand the differences between groups of people to get a handle on the pandemic. Speculation has been rampant about how cultural differences might influence what sort of responses are palatable. And some groups are suffering disproportionately: death rates are higher among African-American and Latinx communities in the US, while a large analysis from the UK found that black, minority ethnic, and poorer people are at higher risk of death—our social inequalities, housing, transport, and food systems all play a role in shaping the crisis. We can’t extricate people and our complicated human behavior and society from the pandemic: they are one and the same.

In their paper, Van Bavel, Willer and their group of behavioral research proponents point to studies from fields like public health, sociology and psychology. They cover work on cultural differences, social inequality, mental health, and more, pulling out suggestions for how the research could be useful for policymakers and community leaders.

Those recommendations are pretty intuitive. For effective communications, it could be helpful to lean on sources that carry weight in different communities, like religious leaders, they suggest. And public health messaging that emphasizes protecting others—rather than fixating on just protecting oneself—tends to be persuasive, the proponents argue.

But not everyone is convinced that it would necessarily be a good idea to act on the recommendations. “Many of the topics surveyed are relevant,” write psychologist Hans IJzerman and a team of critics in their draft. The team's concern isn’t the relevance of the research; it’s how robust that research is. If there are critical flaws in the supporting data, then applying these lessons on a broad scale could be worse than useless—it could be actively harmful.

The info is here.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Changes in risk perception and protective behavior during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

T. Wise, T. Zbozinek, & others
Originally posted 19 March 20


By mid-March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread to over 100 countries and all 50 states in the US. Government efforts to minimize the spread of disease emphasized behavioral interventions, including raising awareness of the disease and encouraging protective behaviors such as social distancing and hand washing, and seeking medical attention if experiencing symptoms. However, it is unclear to what extent individuals are aware of the risks associated with the disease, how they are altering their behavior, factors which could influence the spread of the virus to vulnerable populations. We characterized risk perception and engagement in preventative measures in 1591 United States based individuals over the first week of the pandemic (March 11th-16th 2020) and examined the extent to which protective behaviors are predicted by individuals’ perception of risk. Over 5 days, subjects demonstrated growing awareness of the risk posed by the virus, and largely reported engaging in protective behaviors with increasing frequency. However, they underestimated their personal risk of infection relative to the average person in the country. We found that engagement in social distancing and hand washing was most strongly predicted by the perceived likelihood of personally being infected, rather than likelihood of transmission or severity of potential transmitted infections. However, substantial variability emerged among individuals, and using data-driven methods we found a subgroup of subjects who are largely disengaged, unaware, and not practicing protective behaviors. Our results have implications for our understanding of how risk perception and protective behaviors can facilitate early interventions during large-scale pandemics.

From the Discussion:

One explanation for our results is the optimism bias.  This bias is associated with the belief that we are less likely to acquire a disease than others, and has been shown across a variety of diseases including lung  cancer. Indeed,  those  who  show  the  optimism  bias  are  less  likely  to  be  vaccinated  against disease. Recent evidence suggests that this may also be the case for COVID-19 and could result in a failure to engage in behaviors that contribute to the spread this highly contagious disease.  Our results extend  on  these  findings  by  showing  that behavior  changes  over  the  first  week  of  the  COVID-19 pandemic such that as individuals perceive an increase in personal risk they increasingly engage in risk-prevention  behaviors.   Notably,  we  observed  rapid  increases  in  risk  perception  over  a  5-day  period, indicating that public health messages spread through government and the media can be effective in raising awareness of the risk.

The research is here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Can Artificial Intelligence Increase Our Morality?

Matthew Hutson
Originally posted 9 Dec 19

Here is an excerpt:

For sure, designing technologies to encourage ethical behavior raises the question of which behaviors are ethical. Vallor noted that paternalism can preclude pluralism, but just to play devil’s advocate I raised the argument for pluralism up a level and noted that some people support paternalism. Most in the room were from WEIRD cultures—Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic—and so China’s social credit system feels Orwellian, but many in China don’t mind it.

The biggest question in my mind after Vallor’s talk was about the balance between self-cultivation and situation-shaping. Good behavior results from both character and context. To what degree should we focus on helping people develop a moral compass and fortitude, and to what degree should we focus on nudges and social platforms that make morality easy?

The two approaches can also interact in interesting ways. Occasionally extrinsic rewards crowd out intrinsic drives: If you earn points for good deeds, you come to expect them and don’t value goodness for its own sake. Sometimes, however, good deeds perform a self-signaling function, in which you see them as a sign of character. You then perform more good deeds to remain consistent. Induced cooperation might also act as a social scaffolding for bridges of trust that can later stand on their own. It could lead to new setpoints of collective behavior, self-sustaining habits of interaction.

The info is here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Can Business Schools Have Ethical Cultures, Too?

Brian Gallagher
Originally posted 18 Nov 19

Here is an excerpt:

The informal aspects of an ethical culture are pretty intuitive. These include role models and heroes, norms, rituals, stories, and language. “The systems can be aligned to support ethical behavior (or unethical behavior),” Eury and Treviño write, “and the systems can be misaligned in a way that sends mixed messages, for instance, the organization’s code of conduct promotes one set of behaviors, but the organization’s norms encourage another set of behaviors.” Although Smeal hasn’t completely rid itself of unethical norms, it has fostered new ethical ones, like encouraging teachers to discuss the school’s honor code on the first day of class. Rituals can also serve as friendly reminders about the community’s values—during finals week, for example, the honor and integrity program organizes complimentary coffee breaks, and corporate sponsors support ethics case competitions. Eury and Treviño also write how one powerful story has taken hold at Smeal, about a time when the college’s MBA program, after it implemented the honor code, rejected nearly 50 applicants for plagiarism, and on the leadership integrity essay, no less. (Smeal was one of the first business schools to use plagiarism-detection software in its admissions program.)

Given the inherently high turnover rate at a school—and a diverse student population—it’s a constant challenge to get the community’s newcomers to aspire to meet Smeal’s honor and integrity standards. Since there’s no stopping students from graduating, Eury and Treviño stress the importance of having someone like Smeal’s honor and integrity director—someone who, at least part-time, focuses on fostering an ethical culture. “After the first leadership integrity director stepped down from her role, the college did not fill her position for a few years in part because of a coming change in deans,” Eury and Treviño write. The new Dean eventually hired an honor and integrity director who served in her role for 3-and-a-half years, but, after she accepted a new role in the college, the business school took close to 8 months to fill the role again. “In between each of these leadership changes, the community continued to change and grow, and without someone constantly ‘tending to the ethical culture garden,’ as we like to say, the ‘weeds’ will begin to grow,” Eury and Treviño write. Having an honor and integrity director makes an “important symbolic statement about the college’s commitment to tending the culture but it also makes a more substantive contribution to doing so.”

The info is here.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The unbearable wrongness of William Barr: Secularism doesn't destroy society or moral order

Phil Zuckerman
Originally posted November 9, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

When lots of people in a given society stop being religious of their own accord, such organic secularization does not result in the evaporation of morality in society, nor national decay. For instance, the most secular countries in the world today fare much better on nearly every measure of peace, prosperity, and societal well-being — including infant mortality, life expectancy, educational attainment, economic prosperity, freedom, levels of corruption, and so forth — than the most religious countries. In fact, those countries with the highest murder rates — such as Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil — are extremely religious, while those countries with the lowest murder rates — such as Iceland, Canada, Slovenia, Norway, and the Netherlands — are among the most secular nations in the world. Heck, Singapore and the Czech Republic are among the least religious nations on earth, while Brazil and the Philippines are among the most God-worshipping, yet the latter’s murder rates are over ten times higher than the former’s, and the crime rate of never-been-Christian, strongly secular Japan is 80 times lower than El Salvador’s, a Catholic nation neck-deep in worship of Barr’s “Supreme Transcendent Being.”

Similar correlations hold within our own country: on almost every measure of societal well-being — from poverty rates to STD rates to DUIs — the most secular states tend to fare the best, while the most religious tend to fare the worst. For example, among the states with the highest gun violence and murder rates, many are among the most religious — e.g., Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arkansas — while among those with the lowest gun violence and murder rates, many are among the least religious states, such as New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.

Of course, such correlations don’t prove that secularism causes these more positive outcomes experienced by less religious societies. But they do knock the knees out of Barr’s thesis that secularism is a destructive force. For if secularism resulted in moral deterioration, then highly secular societies would be decaying bastions of crime and misery, while the strongly religious would be shining beacons of liberty and harmony. But we find just the opposite reality: the nations with the best overall quality of life are among the most secular countries in the world. And while numerous factors account for the differing degrees of societal well-being — factors that have nothing to do with religion or secularism — that’s exactly the point. Societies thrive or fail because of their social policies, laws, economic opportunities, civil institutions, and government regulations — not because of their faith in God, or lack thereof.

The info is here.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Moral grandstanding in public discourse: Status-seeking motives as a potential explanatory mechanism in predicting conflict

Grubbs JB, Warmke B, Tosi J, James AS, Campbell WK
(2019) PLoS ONE 14(10): e0223749.


Public discourse is often caustic and conflict-filled. This trend seems to be particularly evident when the content of such discourse is around moral issues (broadly defined) and when the discourse occurs on social media. Several explanatory mechanisms for such conflict have been explored in recent psychological and social-science literatures. The present work sought to examine a potentially novel explanatory mechanism defined in philosophical literature: Moral Grandstanding. According to philosophical accounts, Moral Grandstanding is the use of moral talk to seek social status. For the present work, we conducted six studies, using two undergraduate samples (Study 1, N = 361; Study 2, N = 356); a sample matched to U.S. norms for age, gender, race, income, Census region (Study 3, N = 1,063); a YouGov sample matched to U.S. demographic norms (Study 4, N = 2,000); and a brief, one-month longitudinal study of Mechanical Turk workers in the U.S. (Study 5, Baseline N = 499, follow-up n = 296), and a large, one-week YouGov sample matched to U.S. demographic norms (Baseline N = 2,519, follow-up n = 1,776). Across studies, we found initial support for the validity of Moral Grandstanding as a construct. Specifically, moral grandstanding motivation was associated with status-seeking personality traits, as well as greater political and moral conflict in daily life.


Public discourse regarding morally charged topics is prone to conflict and polarization, particularly on social media platforms that tend to facilitate ideological echo chambers. The present study introduces an interdisciplinary construct called Moral Grandstanding as possible a contributing factor to this phenomenon. MG links various domains of psychology with moral philosophy to describe the use of public moral speech to enhance one’s status or image in the eyes of others. Within the present work, we focused on the motivation to engage in MG. Specifically, MG Motivation is framed as an expression of status-seeking drives in the domain of public discourse. Self-reported motivations underlying grandstanding behaviors seem to be consistent with the construct of status-seeking more broadly, seeming to represent prestige and dominance striving, both of which were found to be associated with greater interpersonal conflict and polarization. These results were consistently replicated in samples of U.S. undergraduates and nationally representative cross-sectional of U.S. residents, and longitudinal studies of adults in the U.S. Collectively, these results suggest that MG Motivation is a useful psychological phenomenon that has potential to aid our understanding of the intraindividual mechanisms driving caustic public discourse.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The brain, the criminal and the courts

A graph shows the number of mentions of neuroscience in judicial opinions in US cases from 2005 to 2015. Capital and noncapital homicides are shown, as well as other felonies. For the three categories added together, the authors found 101 mentions in 2005 and more than 400 in 2015. All three categories show growth.Eryn Brown
Originally posted August 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

It remains to be seen if all this research will yield actionable results. In 2018, Hoffman, who has been a leader in neurolaw research, wrote a paper discussing potential breakthroughs and dividing them into three categories: near term, long term and “never happening.” He predicted that neuroscientists are likely to improve existing tools for chronic pain detection in the near future, and in the next 10 to 50 years he believes they’ll reliably be able to detect memories and lies, and to determine brain maturity.

But brain science will never gain a full understanding of addiction, he suggested, or lead courts to abandon notions of responsibility or free will (a prospect that gives many philosophers and legal scholars pause).

Many realize that no matter how good neuroscientists get at teasing out the links between brain biology and human behavior, applying neuroscientific evidence to the law will always be tricky. One concern is that brain studies ordered after the fact may not shed light on a defendant’s motivations and behavior at the time a crime was committed — which is what matters in court. Another concern is that studies of how an average brain works do not always provide reliable information on how a specific individual’s brain works.

“The most important question is whether the evidence is legally relevant. That is, does it help answer a precise legal question?” says Stephen J. Morse, a scholar of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He is in the camp who believe that neuroscience will never revolutionize the law, because “actions speak louder than images,” and that in a legal setting, “if there is a disjunct between what the neuroscience shows and what the behavior shows, you’ve got to believe the behavior.” He worries about the prospect of “neurohype,” and attorneys who overstate the scientific evidence.

The info is here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Not lost in translation: Successfully replicating Prospect Theory in 19 countries

Kai Ruggeri and others
OSF Preprints
Originally posted August 21, 2019


Kahneman and Tversky’s 1979 article on Prospect Theory is one of the most influential papers across all of the behavioural sciences. The study tested a series of binary financial (risky) choices, ultimately concluding that judgments formed under uncertainty deviate significantly from those presumed by expected utility theory, which was the prevailing theoretical construct at the time. In the forty years since publication, this study has had a remarkable impact on science, policy, and other real-world applications. At the same time, a number of critiques have been raised about its conclusions and subsequent constructs that were founded on it, such as loss aversion. In an era where such presumed canonical theories have increasingly drawn scrutiny for inability to replicate, we attempted a multinational study of N = 4,099 participants from 19 countries and 13 languages. The same methods and procedures were used as in the original paper, adjusting only currencies to make them relative to current values, and requiring all participants to respond to all items. Overall, we found that results replicated for 94% of the 17 choice items tested. At most, results from the 1979 study were attenuated in our findings, which is most likely due to a more robust sample. Twelve of the 13 theoretical contrasts presented by Kahneman and Tversky also replicated, with a further 89% replication rate of the total contrasts possible when separating by location, up to 100% replication in some countries. We conclude that the principles of Prospect Theory replicate beyond any reasonable thresholds, and provide a number of important insights about replications, attenuation, and implications for the study of human decision-making at population-level.

The research is here.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Allegations of sexual assault, cocaine use among SEAL teams prompt 'culture' review

Image result for navy sealsBarbara Starr
Originally posted August 12, 2019

In the wake of several high-profile scandals, including allegations of sexual assault and cocaine use against Navy SEAL team members, the four-star general in charge of all US special operations has ordered a review of the culture and ethics of the elite units.

"Recent incidents have called our culture and ethics into question and threaten the trust placed in us," Gen. Richard Clarke, head of Special Operations Command, said in a memo to the entire force.
While the memo did not mention specific incidents, it comes after an entire SEAL platoon was recently sent home from Iraq following allegations of sexual assault and drinking alcohol during their down time -- which is against regulations.

Another recent case involved an internal Navy investigation that found members of SEAL Team 10 allegedly abused cocaine and other illicit substances while they were stationed in Virginia last year. The members were subsequently disciplined.


"I don't know yet if we have a culture problem, I do know that we have a good order and discipline problem that must be addressed immediately," Green said.

In early July, a military court decided Navy SEAL team leader Eddie Gallagher, a one-time member of SEAL Team 7, would be demoted in rank and have his pay reduced for posing for a photo with a dead ISIS prisoner while he was serving in Iraq. Another SEAL was sentenced in June for his role in the 2017 death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Green Beret, in Bamako, Mali.

The info is here.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Microsoft wants to build artificial general intelligence: an AI better than humans at everything

A humanoid robot stands in front of a screen displaying the letters “AI.”Kelsey Piper 
Originally published July 22, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Existing AI systems beat humans at lots of narrow tasks — chess, Go, Starcraft, image generation — and they’re catching up to humans at others, like translation and news reporting. But an artificial general intelligence would be one system with the capacity to surpass us at all of those things. Enthusiasts argue that it would enable centuries of technological advances to arrive, effectively, all at once — transforming medicine, food production, green technologies, and everything else in sight.

Others warn that, if poorly designed, it could be a catastrophe for humans in a few different ways. A sufficiently advanced AI could pursue a goal that we hadn’t intended — a recipe for catastrophe. It could turn out unexpectedly impossible to correct once running. Or it could be maliciously used by a small group of people to harm others. Or it could just make the rich richer and leave the rest of humanity even further in the dust.

Getting AGI right may be one of the most important challenges ahead for humanity. Microsoft’s billion dollar investment has the potential to push the frontiers forward for AI development, but to get AGI right, investors have to be willing to prioritize safety concerns that might slow commercial development.

The info is here.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Morality and Self-Control: How They are Intertwined, and Where They Differ

Wilhelm Hofmann, Peter Meindl, Marlon Mooijman, & Jesse Graham
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited November 18, 2018


Despite sharing conceptual overlap, morality and self-control research have led largely separate lives. In this article, we highlight neglected connections between these major areas of psychology. To this end, we first note their conceptual similarities and differences. We then show how morality research, typically emphasizing aspects of moral cognition and emotion, may benefit from incorporating motivational concepts from self-control research. Similarly, self-control research may benefit from a better understanding of the moral nature of many self-control domains. We place special focus on various components of self-control and on the ways in which self-control goals may be moralized.


Here is the Conclusion:

How do we resist temptation, prioritizing our future well-being over our present pleasure? And how do we resist acting selfishly, prioritizing the needs of others over our own self-interest? These two questions highlight the links between understanding self-control and understanding morality. We hope we have shown that morality and self-control share considerable conceptual overlap with regard to the way people regulate behavior in line with higher-order values and standards. As the psychological study of both areas becomes increasingly collaborative and integrated, insights from each subfield can better enable research and interventions to increase human health and flourishing.

The info is here.

Friday, March 15, 2019

4 Ways Lying Becomes the Norm at a Company

Ron Carucci
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted February 15, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Unjust accountability systems. When an organization’s processes for measuring employee contributions is perceived as unfair or unjust, we found it is 3.77 times more likely to have people withhold or distort information. We intentionally excluded compensation in our research, because incentive structures can sometimes play disproportionate roles in influencing behavior, and simply looked at how contribution was measured and evaluated through performance management systems, routine feedback processes, and cultural recognition. One interviewee captured a pervasive sentiment about how destructive these systems can be: “I don’t know why I work so hard. My boss doesn’t have a clue what I do. I fill out the appraisal forms at the end of the year, he signs them and sends them to HR. We pretend to have a discussion, and then we start over. It’s a rigged system.” Our study showed that when accountability processes are seen as unfair, people feel forced to embellish their accomplishments and hide, or make excuses for their shortfalls. That sets the stage for dishonest behavior. Research on organizational injustice shows a direct correlation between an employee’s sense of fairness and a conscious choice to sabotage the organization. And more recent research confirms that unfair comparison among employees leads directly to unethical behavior.

Fortunately, our statistical models show that even a 20% improvement in performance management consistency, as evidenced by employees belief that their contributions have been fairly assessed against known standards, can improve truth telling behavior by 12%.

The info is here.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Supreme Court should adopt an ethics code

Robert H. Tembeckjian
Special to the Washington Post
Originally published February 23, 2019

During the contentious Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, and soon after he was confirmed on Oct. 6, dozens of ethics complaints against him were filed. All were dismissed on Dec. 18 by a federal judicial review panel, without investigation, because once Kavanaugh was elevated to the Supreme Court, he became immune to ethics oversight that applies to judges in lower courts.

Allegations that the review panel had deemed “serious” – that Kavanaugh had testified falsely during his confirmation hearings about his personal conduct and about his activities in the White House under President George W. Bush, and that he had displayed partisan bias and a lack of judicial temperament – went into ethical limbo.

The fate of the Kavanaugh complaints seems to have stirred House Democrats to action: The first bill introduced in the 116th Congress, H.R. 1, includes, along with provisions for voting rights and campaign finance reform, a measure to require the development of a judicial code of ethics that would apply to all federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts is on the record as opposing such a move. In 2011, he addressed it at some length in his year-end report on the federal judiciary. Roberts argued that the justices already adhere informally to some ethical strictures, and that the separation-of-powers doctrine precludes Congress from imposing such a mandate on the Supreme Court.

Roberts’ statement didn’t deter Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., from introducing legislation in 2013 and in subsequent sessions that would impose a code of ethics on the Supreme Court. Slaughter died last year. Her proposals never gained traction in Congress, and the current incarnation of the idea probably faces a steep challenge, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats controlling the House.

The info is here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Social relationships more important than hard evidence in partisan politics

Dartmouth College
Originally posted November 13, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Three factors drive the formation of social and political groups according to the research: social pressure to have stronger opinions, the relationship of an individual's opinions to those of their social neighbors, and the benefits of having social connections.

A key idea studied in the paper is that people choose their opinions and their connections to avoid differences of opinion with their social neighbors. By joining like-minded groups, individuals also prevent the psychological stress, or "cognitive dissonance," of considering opinions that do not match their own.

"Human social tendencies are what form the foundation of that political behavior," said Tucker Evans, a senior at Dartmouth who led the study. "Ultimately, strong relationships can have more value than hard evidence, even for things that some would take as proven fact."

The information is here.

The original research is here.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Does AI Ethics Need to be More Inclusive?

Patrick Lin
Originally posted October 29, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Ethics is more than a survey of opinions

First, as the study’s authors allude to in their Nature paper and elsewhere, public attitudes don’t dictate what’s ethical or not.  People believe all kinds of crazy things—such as that slavery should be permitted—but that doesn’t mean those ethical beliefs are true or have any weight.  So, capturing responses of more people doesn’t necessarily help figure out what’s ethical or not.  Sometimes, more is just more, not better or even helpful.

This is the difference between descriptive ethics and normative ethics.  The former is more like sociology that simply seeks to describe what people believe, while the latter is more like philosophy that seeks reasons for why a belief may be justified (or not) and how things ought to be.

Dr. Edmond Awad, lead author of the Nature paper, cautioned, “What we are trying to show here is descriptive ethics: peoples’ preferences in ethical decisions.  But when it comes to normative ethics, which is how things should be done, that should be left to experts.”

Nonetheless, public attitudes are a necessary ingredient in practical policymaking, which should aim at the ethical but doesn’t always hit that mark.  If expert judgments in ethics diverge too much from public attitudes—asking more from a population than what they’re willing to agree to—that’s a problem for implementing the policy, and a resolution is needed.

The info is here.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Ethics, a Psychological Perspective

Andrea Dobson
Originally posted September 22, 2018

Key Takeaways
  • With emerging technologies like machine learning, developers can now achieve much more than ever before. But this new power has a down side. 
  • When we talk about ethics - the principles that govern a person's behaviour - it is impossible to not talk about psychology. 
  • Processes like obedience, conformity, moral disengagement, cognitive dissonance and moral amnesia all reveal why, though we see ourselves as inherently good, in certain circumstances we are likely to behave badly.
  • Recognising that although people aren’t rational, they are to a large degree predictable, has profound implications on how tech and business leaders can approach making their organisations more ethical.
  • The strongest way to make a company more ethical is to start with the individual. Companies become ethical one person at a time, one decision at a time. We all want to be seen as good people, known as our moral identity, which comes with the responsibility to have to act like it.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Nike picks a side in America’s culture wars

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
Financial Times
Originally posted September 7, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

This is Nike’s second reason to be confident: drill down into this week’s polls and they show that support for Nike and Kaepernick is strongest among millennial or Gen-Z, African-American, liberal urbanites — the group Nike targets. The company’s biggest risk is becoming “mainstream, the usual, everywhere, tamed”, Prof Lee says. Courting controversy forces its most dedicated fans to defend it and catches the eye of more neutral consumers.

Finally, Nike will have been encouraged by studies showing that consumers reward brands for speaking up on divisive social issues. But it is doing something more novel and calculated than other multinationals that have weighed in on immigration, gun control or race: it did not stumble into this controversy; it sought it.

A polarised populace is a fact of life for brands, in the US and beyond. That leaves them with a choice: try to carry on catering to a vanishing mass-market middle ground, or stake out a position that will infuriate one side but excite the other. The latter strategy has worked for politicians such as Mr Trump. Unlike elected officials, a brand can win with far less than 50.1 per cent of the population behind it. (Nike chief executive Mark Parker told investors last year that it was looking to just 12 global cities to drive 80 per cent of its growth.)

The info is here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Distinct Brain Areas involved in Anger versus Punishment during Social Interactions

Olga M. Klimecki, David Sander & Patrik Vuilleumier
Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 10556 (2018)


Although anger and aggression can have wide-ranging consequences for social interactions, there is sparse knowledge as to which brain activations underlie the feelings of anger and the regulation of related punishment behaviors. To address these issues, we studied brain activity while participants played an economic interaction paradigm called Inequality Game (IG). The current study confirms that the IG elicits anger through the competitive behavior of an unfair (versus fair) other and promotes punishment behavior. Critically, when participants see the face of the unfair other, self-reported anger is parametrically related to activations in temporal areas and amygdala – regions typically associated with mentalizing and emotion processing, respectively. During anger provocation, activations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area important for regulating emotions, predicted the inhibition of later punishment behavior. When participants subsequently engaged in behavioral decisions for the unfair versus fair other, increased activations were observed in regions involved in behavioral adjustment and social cognition, comprising posterior cingulate cortex, temporal cortex, and precuneus. These data point to a distinction of brain activations related to angry feelings and the control of subsequent behavioral choices. Furthermore, they show a contribution of prefrontal control mechanisms during anger provocation to the inhibition of later punishment.

The research is here.

Friday, August 10, 2018

SAS officers given lessons in ‘morality’

Paul Maley
PM Malcolm Turnbull with Defence Minister Marise Payne and current Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin. Picture: Kym SmithThe Australian
Originally posted July 9, 2018

SAS officers are being given ­additional training in ethics, ­morality and courage in leadership as the army braces itself for a potentially damning report ­expected to find that a small number of troops may have committed war crimes during the decade-long fight in Afghanistan.

With the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force due within months to hand down his report into ­alleged battlefield atrocities committed by Diggers, The Australian can reveal that the SAS Regiment has been quietly instituting a series of reforms ahead of the findings.

The changes to special forces training reflect a widely held view within the army that any alleged misconduct committed by Australian troops was in part the ­result of a failure of leadership, as well as the transgression of individual soldiers.

Many of the reforms are ­focused on strengthening operational leadership and regimental culture, while others are designed to help special operations officers make ethical ­decisions even under the most challenging conditions.