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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Competition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Competition. Show all posts

Friday, October 20, 2023

Competition and moral behavior: A meta-analysis of forty-five crowd-sourced experimental designs

Huber, C., Dreber, A., et al. (2023).
PNAS of the United States of America, 120(23).


Does competition affect moral behavior? This fundamental question has been debated among leading scholars for centuries, and more recently, it has been tested in experimental studies yielding a body of rather inconclusive empirical evidence. A potential source of ambivalent empirical results on the same hypothesis is design heterogeneity—variation in true effect sizes across various reasonable experimental research protocols. To provide further evidence on whether competition affects moral behavior and to examine whether the generalizability of a single experimental study is jeopardized by design heterogeneity, we invited independent research teams to contribute experimental designs to a crowd-sourced project. In a large-scale online data collection, 18,123 experimental participants were randomly allocated to 45 randomly selected experimental designs out of 95 submitted designs. We find a small adverse effect of competition on moral behavior in a meta-analysis of the pooled data. The crowd-sourced design of our study allows for a clean identification and estimation of the variation in effect sizes above and beyond what could be expected due to sampling variance. We find substantial design heterogeneity—estimated to be about 1.6 times as large as the average standard error of effect size estimates of the 45 research designs—indicating that the informativeness and generalizability of results based on a single experimental design are limited. Drawing strong conclusions about the underlying hypotheses in the presence of substantive design heterogeneity requires moving toward much larger data collections on various experimental designs testing the same hypothesis.


Using experiments involves leeway in choosing one out of many possible experimental designs. This choice constitutes a source of uncertainty in estimating the underlying effect size which is not incorporated into common research practices. This study presents the results of a crowd-sourced project in which 45 independent teams implemented research designs to address the same research question: Does competition affect moral behavior? We find a small adverse effect of competition on moral behavior in a meta-analysis involving 18,123 experimental participants. Importantly, however, the variation in effect size estimates across the 45 designs is substantially larger than the variation expected due to sampling errors. This “design heterogeneity” highlights that the generalizability and informativeness of individual experimental designs are limited.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the research:
  • Competition can have a small, but significant, negative effect on moral behavior.
  • This effect is likely due to the fact that competition can lead to people being more self-interested and less concerned about the well-being of others.
  • The findings of this research have important implications for our understanding of how competition affects moral behavior.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Darwinian Argument for Worrying About AI

Dan Hendrycks
Originally posted 31 May 23

Here is an excerpt:

In the biological realm, evolution is a slow process. For humans, it takes nine months to create the next generation and around 20 years of schooling and parenting to produce fully functional adults. But scientists have observed meaningful evolutionary changes in species with rapid reproduction rates, like fruit flies, in fewer than 10 generations. Unconstrained by biology, AIs could adapt—and therefore evolve—even faster than fruit flies do.

There are three reasons this should worry us. The first is that selection effects make AIs difficult to control. Whereas AI researchers once spoke of “designing” AIs, they now speak of “steering” them. And even our ability to steer is slipping out of our grasp as we let AIs teach themselves and increasingly act in ways that even their creators do not fully understand. In advanced artificial neural networks, we understand the inputs that go into the system, but the output emerges from a “black box” with a decision-making process largely indecipherable to humans.

Second, evolution tends to produce selfish behavior. Amoral competition among AIs may select for undesirable traits. AIs that successfully gain influence and provide economic value will predominate, replacing AIs that act in a more narrow and constrained manner, even if this comes at the cost of lowering guardrails and safety measures. As an example, most businesses follow laws, but in situations where stealing trade secrets or deceiving regulators is highly lucrative and difficult to detect, a business that engages in such selfish behavior will most likely outperform its more principled competitors.

Selfishness doesn’t require malice or even sentience. When an AI automates a task and leaves a human jobless, this is selfish behavior without any intent. If competitive pressures continue to drive AI development, we shouldn’t be surprised if they act selfishly too.

The third reason is that evolutionary pressure will likely ingrain AIs with behaviors that promote self-preservation. Skeptics of AI risks often ask, “Couldn’t we just turn the AI off?” There are a variety of practical challenges here. The AI could be under the control of a different nation or a bad actor. Or AIs could be integrated into vital infrastructure, like power grids or the internet. When embedded into these critical systems, the cost of disabling them may prove too high for us to accept since we would become dependent on them. AIs could become embedded in our world in ways that we can’t easily reverse. But natural selection poses a more fundamental barrier: we will select against AIs that are easy to turn off, and we will come to depend on AIs that we are less likely to turn off.

These strong economic and strategic pressures to adopt the systems that are most effective mean that humans are incentivized to cede more and more power to AI systems that cannot be reliably controlled, putting us on a pathway toward being supplanted as the earth’s dominant species. There are no easy, surefire solutions to our predicament.

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.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

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

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


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

From the Discussion Section

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

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

Friday, April 22, 2022

Generous with individuals and selfish to the masses

Alós-Ferrer, C.; García-Segarra, J.; Ritschel, A.
(2022). Nature Human Behaviour, 6(1):88-96.


The seemingly rampant economic selfishness suggested by many recent corporate scandals is at odds with empirical results from behavioural economics, which demonstrate high levels of prosocial behaviour in bilateral interactions and low levels of dishonest behaviour. We design an experimental setting, the ‘Big Robber’ game, where a ‘robber’ can obtain a large personal gain by appropriating the earnings of a large group of ‘victims’. In a large laboratory experiment (N = 640), more than half of all robbers took as much as possible and almost nobody declined to rob. However, the same participants simultaneously displayed standard, predominantly prosocial behaviour in Dictator, Ultimatum and Trust games. Thus, we provide direct empirical evidence showing that individual selfishness in high-impact decisions affecting a large group is compatible with prosociality in bilateral low-stakes interactions. That is, human beings can simultaneously be generous with others and selfish with large groups.

From the Discussion

Our results demonstrate that socially-relevant selfishness in the large is fully compatible with evidence from experimental economics on bilateral, low-stake games at the individual level, without requiring arguments relying on population differences (in fact, we found no statistically significant differences in the behavior of participants with or without an economics background). The same individuals can behave selfishly when interacting with a large group of other people while, at the same time, displaying standard levels of prosocial behavior in commonly-used laboratory tasks where only one other individual is involved. Additionally, however, individual differences in behavior in the Big Robber Game correlate with individual selfishness in the DG/UG/TG, i.e., Extreme Robbers gave less in the DG, offered less in the UG, and transferred less in the TG than Moderate Robbers.

The finding that people behave selfishly toward a large group while being generous toward individuals suggests that harming many individuals might be easier than harming just one, in line with received evidence that people are more willing to help one individual than many. It also reflects the tradeoff between personal gain and other-regarding concerns encompassed in standard models of social preferences, although this particular implication had not been demonstrated so far. When facing a single opponent in a bilateral game, appropriating a given monetary amount can result in a large interpersonal difference. When appropriating income from a large group of people, the same personal gain involves a smaller percentual difference. Correspondingly, creating a given level of inequality with respect to others results in a much larger personal gain when income is taken from a group than when it is taken from just another person, and hence it is much more likely to offset the disutility from inequality aversion in the former case.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Opt-out choice framing attenuates gender differences in the decision to compete in the laboratory and in the field

J. C. He, S. K. Kang, N. Lacetera
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 
Oct 2021, 118 (42) e2108337118


Research shows that women are less likely to enter competitions than men. This disparity may translate into a gender imbalance in holding leadership positions or ascending in organizations. We provide both laboratory and field experimental evidence that this difference can be attenuated with a default nudge—changing the choice to enter a competitive task from a default in which applicants must actively choose to compete to a default in which applicants are automatically enrolled in competition but can choose to opt out. Changing the default affects the perception of prevailing social norms about gender and competition as well as perceptions of the performance or ability threshold at which to apply. We do not find associated negative effects for performance or wellbeing. These results suggest that organizations could make use of opt-out promotion schemes to reduce the gender gap in competition and support the ascension of women to leadership positions.


How can we close the gender gap in high-level positions in organizations? Interventions such as unconscious bias training or the “lean in” approach have been largely ineffective. This article suggests, and experimentally tests, a “nudge” intervention, altering the choice architecture around the decision to apply for top positions from an “opt in” to an “opt out” default. Evidence from the laboratory and the field shows that a choice architecture in which applicants must opt out from competition reduces gender differences in competition. Opt-out framing thus seems to remove some of the bias inherent in current promotion systems, which favor those who are overconfident or like to compete. Importantly, we show that such an intervention is feasible and effective in the field.

From the Discussion

A practical implication of our studies is that organizations could attenuate the gender gap in competitions by moving from a default, in which applicants must opt in to apply, to a default whereby those who pass a performance and qualification threshold are automatically considered but can choose to opt out. Examples include promotions in organizations, participation into start-up pitch competitions, and innovation or creativity contests. Future work could examine similar interventions that circumvent the self-nomination aspect of opt-in schemes for competitive selection processes. For instance, rather than self-nomination, peer-nomination could attenuate the gender gap. The results of Study 2 also suggest that manipulating or nudging social norms could result in a similar effect.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Ethics Pays: Summary for Businesses

September 2021

Is good ethics good for business? Crime and sleazy behavior sometimes pay off handsomely. People would not do such things if they didn’t think they were more profitable than the alternatives.

But let us make two distinctions right up front. First, let us contrast individual employees with companies. Of course, it can benefit individual employees to lie, cheat, and steal when they can get away with it. But these benefits usually come at the expense of the firm and its shareholders, so leaders and managers should work very hard to design ethical systems that will discourage such self-serving behavior (known as the “principal-agent problem”).

The harder question is whether ethical violations committed by the firm or for the firm’s benefit are profitable. Cheating customers, avoiding taxes, circumventing costly regulations, and undermining competitors can all directly increase shareholder value.

And here we must make the second distinction: short-term vs. long-term. Of course, bad ethics can be extremely profitable in the short run. Business is a complex web of relationships, and it is easy to increase revenues or decrease costs by exploiting some of those relationships. But what happens in the long run?

Customers are happy and confident in knowing they’re dealing with an honest company. Ethical companies retain the bulk of their employees for the long-term, which reduces costs associated with turnover. Investors have peace of mind when they invest in companies that display good ethics because they feel assured that their funds are protected. Good ethics keep share prices high and protect businesses from takeovers.

Culture has a tremendous influence on ethics and its application in a business setting. A corporation’s ability to deliver ethical value is dependent on the state of its culture. The culture of a company influences the moral judgment of employees and stakeholders. Companies that work to create a strong ethical culture motivate everyone to speak and act with honesty and integrity. Companies that portray strong ethics attract customers to their products and services, and are far more likely to manage their negative environmental and social externalities well.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Could you hate a robot? And does it matter if you could?

Ryland, H. 
AI & Soc (2021).


This article defends two claims. First, humans could be in relationships characterised by hate with some robots. Second, it matters that humans could hate robots, as this hate could wrong the robots (by leaving them at risk of mistreatment, exploitation, etc.). In defending this second claim, I will thus be accepting that morally considerable robots either currently exist, or will exist in the near future, and so it can matter (morally speaking) how we treat these robots. The arguments presented in this article make an important original contribution to the robo-philosophy literature, and particularly the literature on human–robot relationships (which typically only consider positive relationship types, e.g., love, friendship, etc.). Additionally, as explained at the end of the article, my discussions of robot hate could also have notable consequences for the emerging robot rights movement. Specifically, I argue that understanding human–robot relationships characterised by hate could actually help theorists argue for the rights of robots.


This article has argued for two claims. First, humans could be in relationships characterised by hate with morally considerable robots. Second, it matters that humans could hate these robots. This is at least partly because such hateful relations could have long-term negative effects for the robot (e.g., by encouraging bad will towards the robots). The article ended by explaining how discussions of human–robot relationships characterised by hate are connected to discussions of robot rights. I argued that the conditions for a robot being an object of hate and for having rights are the same—being sufficiently person-like. I then suggested how my discussions of human–robot relationships characterised by hate could be used to support, rather than undermine, the robot rights movement.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Blind loyalty? When group loyalty makes us see evil or engage in it

J. A. Hildreth, F. Gino, & M. Bazerman
Organizational Behavior and 
Human Decision Processes
Volume 132, January 2016, 16-36


Loyalty often drives corruption. Corporate scandals, political machinations, and sports cheating highlight how loyalty’s pernicious nature manifests in collusion, conspiracy, cronyism, nepotism, and other forms of cheating. Yet loyalty is also touted as an ethical principle that guides behavior. Drawing on moral psychology and behavioral ethics research, we developed hypotheses about when group loyalty fosters ethical behavior and when it fosters corruption. Across nine studies, we found that individuals primed with loyalty cheated less than those not primed (Study 1A and 1B). Members more loyal to their fraternities (Study 2A) and students more loyal to their study groups (Study 2B) also cheated less than their less loyal counterparts due to greater ethical salience when they pledged their loyalty (Studies 3A and 3B). Importantly, competition moderated these effects: when competition was high, members more loyal to their fraternities (Study 4) or individuals primed with loyalty (Studies 5A and 5B) cheated more.


• We define loyalty as the principle of partiality toward an object (e.g. group).

• Across nine studies we found that loyalty reduced rather than increased cheating when group goals were unclear.

• Pledging loyalty increased the salience of ethics which led to less cheating.

• Competition moderated these effects: when competition was high the loyal cheated more.

• The findings are consistent with loyalty’s role as an ethical principle.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Disasters and Community Resilience: Spanish Flu and the Formation of Retail Cooperatives in Norway

H. Rao and H. R. Greve
Academy of Management Journal
Vol. 61, No. 1


Why are some communities resilient in the face of disasters, and why are others unable to recover? We suggest that two mechanisms matter: the framing of the cause of the disaster, and the community civic capacity to form diverse non-profits. We propose that disasters that are attributed to other community members weaken cooperation and reduce the formation of new cooperatives that serve the community, unlike disasters attributed to chance or to nature, which strengthen cooperation and increase the creation of cooperatives. We analyze the Spanish Flu, a contagious disease that was attributed to infected individuals, and compare it with spring frost, which damaged crops and was attributed to nature. Our measure of resilience is whether the community members could form retail cooperatives—non-profit community organizations. We find that communities hit by the Spanish Flu during the period 1918–1919 were unable to form new retail cooperatives in the short and long run after the epidemic, but this effect was reduced over time and countered by civic capacity. Implications for research on disasters and institutional legacies are outlined.

From the Discussion:

Our primary interest is in contagious disease outbreaks (such as the Spanish Flu) as an instance of disasters attributed to other community members, and we use weather shocks as a contrasting example of disasters attributed to nature. We find that disasters attributed to other community members weaken cooperation, increase suspicion and distrust of the other, and lead to a long-term (with a declining effect) reduction in organization building. By contrast, disasters attributed to an act of nature evoke a sense of shared fate which fosters cooperation, although with short term effect. These findings suggest that disasters are not merely physical events but socially constructed as well.

The research is here.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Are Insects Capable of Moral Behavior?

Livia Gershon
Originally published 6 Feb 20

Are insects conscious, capable of a subjective experience of the world? And, if so, can they be moral actors, or victims of immoral acts (like, say, being flushed down the toilet)? These questions interest modern scientists. And, as Jeanette Samyn writes, they also mattered to nineteenth-century naturalists who asked questions about behavior and morality in relation to the nonhuman world.

Writing in the 1810s and 1820s, British entomologists William Kirby and William Spence presented parasites as tools of God. To them, lice represented a punishment for both “personal uncleanliness” and for “oppression and tyranny.”

Still, Kirby, Spence, and other biologists wrestled with whether insects could be moral actors. Were they driven purely by instinct or capable of some sort of reason? And how could their more disgusting behaviors be reconciled with a universe ordered by God? Charles Darwin wrote that it was difficult to believe “that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.” Instead, he wrote, he preferred to “look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.” “Not,” he added somewhat glumly, “that this at all satisfies me.”

Other naturalists presented insects as moral beings. Some chose to focus on a few charismatic species—notably bees, which had long been admired as sociable, productive creatures who were helpful to humans. But Samyn points to a different take on the value of insect life presented by Louis Figuier, a French writer who interpreted science for a popular audience.

The info is here.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Inaccurate group meta-perceptions drive negative out-group attributions in competitive contexts

Lees, J., Cikara, M.
Nat Hum Behav (2019)


Across seven experiments and one survey (N=4282) people consistently overestimated out-group negativity towards the collective behavior of their in-group. This negativity bias in group meta-perception was present across multiple competitive (but not cooperative) intergroup contexts, and appears to be yoked to group psychology more generally; we observed negativity bias for estimation of out-group, anonymized-group, and even fellow in-group members’ perceptions. Importantly, in the context of American politics greater inaccuracy was associated with increased belief that the out-group is motivated by purposeful obstructionism. However, an intervention that informed participants of the inaccuracy of their beliefs reduced negative out-group attributions, and was more effective for those whose group meta-perceptions were more inaccurate. In sum, we highlight a pernicious bias in social judgments of how we believe ‘they’ see ‘our’ behavior, demonstrate how such inaccurate beliefs can exacerbate intergroup conflict, and provide an avenue for reducing the negative effects of inaccuracy.

From the Discussion

Our findings highlight a consistent, pernicious inaccuracy in social perception, along withhow these inaccurate perceptions relate to negative attributions towards out-groups. More broadly, inaccurate and overly negative GMPs exist across multiple competitive intergroup contexts, and we find no evidence they differ across the political spectrum. This suggests that there may be many domains of intergroup interaction where inaccurate GMPs could potentially diminish the likelihood of cooperation and instead exacerbate the possibility of conflict. However, our findings also highlight a straight-forward manner in which simply informing individuals of their inaccurate beliefs can reduce these negative attributions.

A version of the research can be downloaded here.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Are You a Moral Grandstander?

Image result for moral superiorityScott Barry Kaufman
Scientific American
Originally published October 28, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

Do you strongly agree with the following statements?

  • When I share my moral/political beliefs, I do so to show people who disagree with me that I am better than them.
  • I share my moral/political beliefs to make people who disagree with me feel bad.
  • When I share my moral/political beliefs, I do so in the hopes that people different than me will feel ashamed of their beliefs.

If so, then you may be a card-carrying moral grandstander. Of course it's wonderful to have a social cause that you believe in genuinely, and which you want to share with the world to make it a better place. But moral grandstanding comes from a different place.


Nevertheless, since we are such a social species, the human need for social status is very pervasive, and often our attempts at sharing our moral and political beliefs on public social media platforms involve a mix of genuine motives with social status motives. As one team of psychologists put it, yes, you probably are "virtue signaling" (a closely related concept to moral grandstanding), but that doesn't mean that your outrage is necessarily inauthentic. It just means that we often have a subconscious desire to signal our virtue, which when not checked, can spiral out of control and cause us to denigrate or be mean to others in order to satisfy that desire. When the need for status predominates, we may even lose touch with what we truly believe, or even what is actually the truth.

The info is here.

Monday, September 30, 2019

An Admissions Group Is Scrambling to Delete Parts of Its Ethical Code. That Could Mean Big Changes for Higher Ed.

Grace Elletson
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally published August 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

A handful of provisions are at issue. One prohibits colleges from offering incentives, like special housing or better financial-aid packages, only to students who use an early-decision application.

Another says colleges can’t recruit or offer enrollment to students who are already enrolled or have submitted deposits to other colleges. Under the NACAC ethics code, May 1 is when commitments by those students are made final, and colleges must respect that deadline.

Another states that colleges cannot solicit transfer applications from a previous applicant or prospect unless that student inquired about transferring.

According to a document sent to NACAC members, the Justice Department believes “that these provisions restrain competition among colleges” and that, if they are removed, thus allowing for more competition, the result “may lower” college costs if colleges can solicit students who have already committed.

If the provisions are removed, the changes will be significant, and turmoil in admissions offices should be expected, said Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University.

Removing those parts of the ethical code would allow institutions to recruit students from competitor colleges even after they’ve committed, and to see their own students get poached, he said.

The changes could cause colleges to enter into a precarious dance — keep students committed and simultaneously recruit others, all year long.

Given the uncertainty that the changes would cause for enrollment predictions, especially for smaller, tuition-dependent colleges, higher education’s landscape will be upended, Boeckenstedt said.

The info is here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Should Students Take Smart Drugs?

Darian Meacham
Originally posted December 8, 2017

If this were a straightforward question, you would not be reading about it in a philosophy magazine. But you are, so it makes sense that we try to clarify the terms of the discussion before wading in too far. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), when philosophers set out to de-obfuscate what look to be relatively forthright questions, things usually get more complicated rather than less: each of the operative terms at stake in the question, ‘should students take smart drugs?’ opens us up onto larger debates about the nature of medicine, health, education, learning, and creativity as well as economic, political and social structures and norms. So, in a sense, a seemingly rather narrow question about a relatively peripheral issue in the education sector morphs into a much larger question about how we think about and value learning; what constitutes psychiatric illness and in what ways should we deal with it; and what sort of productivity should educational institutions like universities, but also secondary and even primary schools value and be oriented towards?

The first question that needs to be addressed is what is a ‘smart drug’? I have in mind two things when I use the term here:

(1) On the one hand, existing psychostimulants normally prescribed for children and adults with a variety of conditions, most prominently ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but also various others like narcolepsy, sleep-work disorder and schizophrenia. Commonly known by brand and generic names like Adderall, Ritalin, and Modafinil, these drugs are often sold off-label or on the grey market for what could be called non-medical or ‘enhancement’ purposes. The off-label use of psychostimulants for cognitive enhancement purposes is reported to be quite widespread in the USA. So the debate over the use of smart drugs is very much tied up with debates about how the behavioural and cognitive disorders for which these drugs are prescribed are diagnosed and what the causes of such conditions are.

(2) On the other hand, the philosophical-ethical debate around smart drugs need not be restricted to currently existing technologies. Broader issues at stake in the debate allow us to reflect on questions surrounding possible future cognitive enhancement technologies, and even much older ones. In this sense, the question about the use of smart drugs situates itself in a broader discussion about cognitive enhancement and enhancement in general.

The info is here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Why good businesspeople do bad things

Joseph Holt
The Chicago Tribune
Originally posted October 30, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Businesspeople are also more likely to engage in bad behavior if they assume that their competitors are doing so and that they will be at a competitive disadvantage if they do not.

A 2006 study showed that MBA students in the U.S. and Canada were more likely to cheat than other graduate students. One of the authors of the study, Donald McCabe, explained in an article that the cheating was a result of MBA students’ “succeed-at-all-costs mentality” and the belief that they were acting the way they believed they needed to act to succeed in the corporate world.

Casey Donnelly, Gatto’s attorney, claimed in her opening statement at the trial that “every major apparel company” engaged in the same payment practice, and that her client was simply attempting to “level the playing field.”

Federal authorities engaged in a yearslong investigation of shadowy dealings involving shoe companies, sports agents, college coaches and top high school basketball players have reportedly looked into Nike and Under Armour as well as Adidas.

Time will tell whether those companies were involved in similar payment schemes.

The info is here.

Friday, October 19, 2018

If Humility Is So Important, Why Are Leaders So Arrogant?

Bill Taylor
Harvard Business Review
Originally published October 15, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

With all due modesty, I’d offer a few answers to these vexing questions. For one thing, too many leaders think they can’t be humble and ambitious at the same time. One of the great benefits of becoming CEO of a company, head of a business unit, or leader of a team, the prevailing logic goes, is that you’re finally in charge of making things happen and delivering results. Edgar Schein, professor emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, and an expert on leadership and culture, once asked a group of his students what it means to be promoted to the rank of manager. “They said without hesitation, ‘It means I can now tell others what to do.’” Those are the roots of the know-it-all style of leadership. “Deep down, many of us believe that if you are not winning, you are losing,” Schein warns. The “tacit assumption” among executives “is that life is fundamentally and always a competition” — between companies, but also between individuals within companies. That’s not exactly a mindset that recognizes the virtues of humility.

In reality, of course, humility and ambition need not be at odds. Indeed, humility in the service of ambition is the most effective and sustainable mindset for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world filled with huge unknowns. Years ago, a group of HR professionals at IBM embraced a term to capture this mindset. The most effective leaders, they argued, exuded a sense of “humbition,” which they defined as “one part humility and one part ambition.” We “notice that by far the lion’s share of world-changing luminaries are humble people,” they wrote. “They focus on the work, not themselves. They seek success — they are ambitious — but they are humbled when it arrives…They feel lucky, not all-powerful.”

The info is here.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The primeval tribalism of American politics

The Economist
Originally posted May 24, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The problem is structural: the root of tribalism is human nature, and the current state of American democracy is distinctly primeval. People have an urge to belong to exclusive groups and to affirm their membership by beating other groups. A new book by the political scientist Lilliana Mason, “Uncivil Agreement”, describes the psychology experiments that proved this. In one, members of randomly selected groups were told to share a pile of cash between their group and another. Given the choice of halving the sum, or of keeping a lesser portion for themselves and handing an even smaller portion to the other group, they preferred the second option. The common good meant nothing. Winning was all. This is the logic of American politics today.

How passion got strained

The main reason for that, Ms Mason argues, is a growing correlation between partisan and other important identities, concerning race, religion and so on. When the electorate was more jumbled (for example, when the parties had similar numbers of racists and smug elitists) most Americans had interests in both camps. That allowed people to float between, or at least to respect them. The electorate is now so sorted—with Republicans the party of less well-educated and socially conservative whites and Democrats for everyone else—as to provide little impediment to a deliciously self-affirming intertribal dust-up.

The article is here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Choosing partners or rivals

The Harvard Gazette
Originally published April 27, 2018

Here is the conclusion:

“The interesting observation is that natural selection always chooses either partners or rivals,” Nowak said. “If it chooses partners, the system naturally moves to cooperation. If it chooses rivals, it goes to defection, and is doomed. An approach like ‘America First’ embodies a rival strategy which guarantees the demise of cooperation.”

In addition to shedding light on how cooperation might evolve in a society, Nowak believes the study offers an instructive example of how to foster cooperation among individuals.

“With the partner strategy, I have to accept that sometimes I’m in a relationship where the other person gets more than me,” he said. “But I can nevertheless provide an incentive structure where the best thing the other person can do is to cooperate with me.

“So the best I can do in this world is to play a strategy such that the other person gets the maximum payoff if they always cooperate,” he continued. “That strategy does not prevent a situation where the other person, to some extent, exploits me. But if they exploit me, they get a lower payoff than if they fully cooperated.”

The information is here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Many Academics Are Eager to Publish in Worthless Journals

Gina Kolata
The New York Times
Originally published October 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Yet “every university requires some level of publication,” said Lawrence DiPaolo, vice president of academic affairs at Neumann University in Aston, Pa.

Recently a group of researchers invented a fake academic: Anna O. Szust. The name in Polish means fraudster. Dr. Szust applied to legitimate and predatory journals asking to be an editor. She supplied a résumé in which her publications and degrees were total fabrications, as were the names of the publishers of the books she said she had contributed to.

The legitimate journals rejected her application immediately. But 48 out of 360 questionable journals made her an editor. Four made her editor in chief. One journal sent her an email saying, “It’s our pleasure to add your name as our editor in chief for the journal with no responsibilities.”

The lead author of the Dr. Szust sting operation, Katarzyna Pisanski, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England, said the question of what motivates people to publish in such journals “is a touchy subject.”

“If you were tricked by spam email you might not want to admit it, and if you did it wittingly to increase your publication counts you might also not want to admit it,” she said in an email.

The consequences of participating can be more than just a résumé freckled with poor-quality papers and meeting abstracts.

Publications become part of the body of scientific literature.

There are indications that some academic institutions are beginning to wise up to the dangers.

Dewayne Fox, an associate professor of fisheries at Delaware State University, sits on a committee at his school that reviews job applicants. One recent applicant, he recalled, listed 50 publications in such journals and is on the editorial boards of some of them.

A few years ago, he said, no one would have noticed. But now he and others on search committees at his university have begun scrutinizing the publications closely to see if the journals are legitimate.

The article is here.