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 Good. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Good. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Why Americans Hate Political Division but Can’t Resist Being Divisive

Will Blakely & Kurt Gray
Moral Understanding Substack
Originally posted 21 FEB 23

No one likes polarization. According to a recent poll, 93% of Americans say it is important to reduce the country's current divides, including two-thirds who say it is very important to do so. In a recent Five-Thirty-Eight poll, out of a list of 20 issues, polarization ranked third on a list of the most important issues facing America. Which is… puzzling.

The puzzle is this: How can we be so divided if no one wants to be? Who are the hypocrites causing division and hatred while paying lip service to compromise and tolerance?

If you ask everyday Americans, they’ve got their answer. It’s the elites. Tucker Carlson, AOC, Donald Trump, and MSNBC. While these actors certainly are polarizing, it takes two to tango. We, the people, share some of the blame too. Even us, writing this newsletter, and even you, dear reader.

But this leaves us with a tricky question, why would we contribute to a divide that we can’t stand? To answer this question, we need to understand the biases and motivations that influence how we answer the question, “Who’s at fault here?” And more importantly, we need to understand the strategies that can get us out of conflict.

The Blame Game

The Blame Game comes in two flavors: either/or. Adam or Eve, Will Smith or Chris Rock, Amber Heard or Jonny Depp. When assigning blame in bad situations, our minds are dramatic. Psychology studies show that we tend to assign 100% of the blame to the person we see as the aggressor, and 0% to the side we see as the victim. So, what happens when all the people who are against polarization assign blame for polarization? You guessed it. They give 100% of the blame to the opposing party and 0% to their own. They “morally typecast” themselves as 100% the victim of polarization and the other side as 100% the perpetrator.

We call this moral “typecasting” because people’s minds firmly cast others into roles of victim and victimizer in the same way that actors get typecasted in certain roles. In the world of politics, if you’re a Democrat, you cast Republicans as victimizers, as consistently as Hollywood directors cast Kevin Hart as comic relief and Danny Trejo as a laconic villain.

But why do we rush to this all-or-nothing approach when the world is certainly more complicated? It’s because our brains love simplicity. In the realm of blame, we want one simple cause. In his recent book, “Complicit” Max Bazerman, professor at Harvard Business School, illustrated just how widespread this “monocausality bias” is. Bazerman gave a group of business executives the opportunity to allocate blame after reviewing a case of business fraud. 62 of the 78 business leaders wrote only one cause. Despite being given ample time and a myriad set of potential causes, these executives intuitively reached for their Ockham’s razor. In the same way, we all rush to blame a sputtering economy on the president, a loss on a kicker’s missed field goal, or polarization on the other side.

Friday, October 2, 2020

How to motivate people to do good for others

Erez Yoeli
TED Talk

How can we get people to do more good: to go to the polls, give to charity, conserve resources or just generally act better towards others? MIT research scientist Erez Yoeli shares a simple checklist for harnessing the power of reputations -- or our collective desire to be seen as generous and kind instead of selfish -- to motivate people to act in the interest of others. Learn more about how small changes to your approach to getting people to do good could yield surprising results.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Most Americans don’t believe they need God to be good: poll

Leonardo Blair
Originally posted 22 July 20

Here is an excerpt:

While 70% of Americans still believe that religion is either “somewhat important” or “very important” in their lives, more than half (54%) of Americans said they believe God is “not necessary to be moral or have good values.”

Meanwhile, 44% of American respondents said they believe God is necessary to “be moral and have good values.”

Respondents on the ideological right were found to be significantly more likely to say it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person and have good values compared to those on the political left in 15 of the 34 countries surveyed.

The largest gap between the ideological right and left exists in the United States.

While only 24% of American respondents who identified themselves as leaning more to the left politically said it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values, 37% of centrists agreed.

But when it comes to respondents who lean to the right politically, more than twice the percentage of those on the left (63%) agreed that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.

The info is here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Americans Say U.S. Moral Values Not Good and Getting Worse

Megan Brenan
Originally posted May 31, 2019

Americans continue to rate U.S. moral values negatively, on balance, and overwhelmingly agree that they are getting worse. These readings, from Gallup's May 1-12 Values poll, are the latest in the 18-year trend that shows similarly bleak findings.

Line graph. Americans’ views of moral values in the U.S. getting worse since 2002, currently 77%.

For the third consecutive year, 77% of Americans think moral values in the U.S. are getting worse, slightly below Gallup's all-time 82% high in 2007. Just 19% currently believe that morals are getting better.

The info is here.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Shouldn’t We Make It Easy to Use Behavioral Science for Good?

Manasee Desai
Originally posted September 4, 2018

The evidence showing that applied behavioral science is a powerful tool for creating social good is growing rapidly. As a result, it’s become much more common for the world’s problem solvers to apply a behavioral lens to their work. Yet this approach can still feel distant to the people trying urgently to improve lives on a daily basis—those working for governments, nonprofits, and other organizations that directly tackle some of the most challenging and pervasive problems facing us today.

All too often, effective strategies for change are either locked behind paywalls or buried in inaccessible, jargon-laden articles. And because of the sheer volume of behavioral solutions being tested now, even people working in the fields that compose the behavioral sciences—like me, for instance—cannot possibly stay on top of every new intervention or application happening across countless fields and countries. This means missed opportunities to apply and scale effective interventions and to do more good in the world.

As a field, figuring out how to effectively report and communicate what we’ve learned from our research and interventions is our own “last mile” problem.

While there is no silver bullet for the problems the world faces, the behavioral science community should (and can) come together to make our battle-tested solutions available to problem solvers, right at their fingertips. Expanding the adoption of behavioral design for social good requires freeing solutions from dense journals and cost-prohibitive paywalls. It also requires distilling complex designs into simpler steps—uniting a community that is passionate about social impact and making the world a better place with applied behavioral science.

That is the aim of the Behavioral Evidence Hub (B-Hub), a curated, open-source digital collection of behavioral interventions proven to impact real-world problems.

The info is here.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Why Should We Be Good?

Matt McManus
Originally posted July 7, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

The negative motivation arises from moral dogmatism. There are those who wish to dogmatically assert their own values without worrying that they may not be as universal as one might suppose. For instance, this is often the case with religious fundamentalists who worry that secular society is increasingly unmoored from proper values and traditions. Ironically, the dark underside of this moral dogmatism is often a relativistic epistemology. Ethical dogmatists do not want to be confronted with the possibility that it is possible to challenge their values because they often cannot provide good reasons to back them up.


These issues are all of considerable philosophical interest. In what follows, I want to press on just one issue that is often missed in debates between those who believe there are universal values, and those who believe that what is ethically correct is relative to either a culture or to the subjective preference of individuals. The issue I wish to explore is this: even if we know which values are universal, why should we feel compelled to adhere to them? Put more simply, even if we know what it is to be good, why should we bother to be good? This is one of the major questions addressed by what is often called meta-ethics.

The information is here.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Moral hindsight for good actions and the effects of imagined alternatives to reality

Ruth M.J. Byrne and Shane Timmons
Volume 178, September 2018, Pages 82–91


Five experiments identify an asymmetric moral hindsight effect for judgments about whether a morally good action should have been taken, e.g., Ann should run into traffic to save Jill who fell before an oncoming truck. Judgments are increased when the outcome is good (Jill sustained minor bruises), as Experiment 1 shows; but they are not decreased when the outcome is bad (Jill sustained life-threatening injuries), as Experiment 2 shows. The hindsight effect is modified by imagined alternatives to the outcome: judgments are amplified by a counterfactual that if the good action had not been taken, the outcome would have been worse, and diminished by a semi-factual that if the good action had not been taken, the outcome would have been the same. Hindsight modification occurs when the alternative is presented with the outcome, and also when participants have already committed to a judgment based on the outcome, as Experiments 3A and 3B show. The hindsight effect occurs not only for judgments in life-and-death situations but also in other domains such as sports, as Experiment 4 shows. The results are consistent with a causal-inference explanation of moral judgment and go against an aversive-emotion one.

• Judgments a morally good action should be taken are increased when it succeeds.
• Judgments a morally good action should be taken are not decreased when it fails.
• Counterfactuals that the outcome would have been worse amplify judgments.
• Semi-factuals that the outcome would have been the same diminish judgments.
• The asymmetric moral hindsight effect supports a causal-inference theory.

The research is here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Doing good vs. avoiding bad in prosocial choice

 A refined test and extension of the morality preference hypothesis

Ben Tappin and Valerio Capraro


Prosociality is fundamental to the success of human social life, and, accordingly, much research has attempted to explain human prosocial behavior. Capraro and Rand (2018) recently advanced the hypothesis that prosocial behavior in anonymous, one-shot interactions is not driven by outcome-based social preferences for equity or efficiency, as classically assumed, but by a generalized morality preference for “doing the right thing”. Here we argue that the key experiments reported in Capraro and Rand (2018) comprise prominent methodological confounds and open questions that bear on influential psychological theory. Specifically, their design confounds: (i) preferences for efficiency with self-interest; and (ii) preferences for action with preferences for morality. Furthermore, their design fails to dissociate the preference to do “good” from the preference to avoid doing “bad”. We thus designed and conducted a preregistered, refined and extended test of the morality preference hypothesis (N=801). Consistent with this hypothesis and the results of Capraro and Rand (2018), our findings indicate that prosocial behavior in anonymous, one-shot interactions is driven by a preference for doing the morally right thing. Inconsistent with influential psychological theory, however, our results suggest the preference to do “good” is as potent as the preference to avoid doing “bad” in prosocial choice.

The preprint is here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Two Distinct Moral Mechanisms for Ascribing and Denying Intentionality

L. Ngo, M. Kelly, C. G. Coutlee, R. M. Carter, W. Sinnott-Armstrong & S. A. Huettel
Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 17390 (2015)


Philosophers and legal scholars have long theorized about how intentionality serves as a critical input for morality and culpability, but the emerging field of experimental philosophy has revealed a puzzling asymmetry. People judge actions leading to negative consequences as being more intentional than those leading to positive ones. The implications of this asymmetry remain unclear because there is no consensus regarding the underlying mechanism. Based on converging behavioral and neural evidence, we demonstrate that there is no single underlying mechanism. Instead, two distinct mechanisms together generate the asymmetry. Emotion drives ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while the consideration of statistical norms leads to the denial of intentionality for positive consequences. We employ this novel two-mechanism model to illustrate that morality can paradoxically shape judgments of intentionality. This is consequential for mens rea in legal practice and arguments in moral philosophy pertaining to terror bombing, abortion, and euthanasia among others.

The article is here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad

By Richard Thaler
The New York Times - The Upshot
Originally published October 31, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Whenever I’m asked to autograph a copy of “Nudge,” the book I wrote with Cass Sunstein, the Harvard law professor, I sign it, “Nudge for good.” Unfortunately, that is meant as a plea, not an expectation.

Three principles should guide the use of nudges:

■ All nudging should be transparent and never misleading.

■ It should be as easy as possible to opt out of the nudge, preferably with as little as one mouse click.

■ There should be good reason to believe that the behavior being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.


Some argue that phishing — or evil nudging — is more dangerous in government than in the private sector. The argument is that government is a monopoly with coercive power, while we have more choice in the private sector over which newspapers we read and which airlines we fly.

I think this distinction is overstated. In a democracy, if a government creates bad policies, it can be voted out of office. Competition in the private sector, however, can easily work to encourage phishing rather than stifle it.

One example is the mortgage industry in the early 2000s. Borrowers were encouraged to take out loans that they could not repay when real estate prices fell. Competition did not eliminate this practice, because it was hard for anyone to make money selling the advice “Don’t take that loan.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Understanding ordinary unethical behavior: why people who value morality act immorally

by Francesca Gino
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
Volume 3, June 2015, Pages 107–111

Cheating, deception, organizational misconduct, and many other forms of unethical behavior are among the greatest challenges in today's society. As regularly highlighted by the media, extreme cases and costly scams (e.g., Enron, Bernard Madoff) are common. Yet, even more frequent and pervasive are cases of ‘ordinary’ unethical behavior — unethical actions committed by people who value about morality but behave unethically when faced with an opportunity to cheat. A growing body of research in behavioral ethics and moral psychology shows that even good people (i.e., people who care about being moral) can and often do bad things. Examples include cheating on taxes, deceiving in interpersonal relationships, overstating performance and contributions to teamwork, inflating business expense reports, and lying in negotiations.

When considered cumulatively, ordinary unethical behavior causes considerable societal damage. For instance, employee theft causes U.S. companies to lose approximately $52 billion per year [4]. This empirical evidence is striking in light of social–psychological research that, for decades, has robustly shown that people typically value honesty, believe strongly in their own morality, and strive to maintain a positive self-image as moral individuals.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Being true to your true self

By David Shoemaker
Originally published May 24, 2015

Here is an excerpt

Philosophers who work on the nature of responsibility very often insist that ignorance of the moral status of one’s action is sufficient to excuse — or at least mitigate — one from responsibility. If you didn’t know that what you were doing was wrong, after all, how could it be appropriate to hold you responsible for not refraining from doing it?  This view is thought to hold symmetrically across negative and positive cases: not only does ignorance excuse (or mitigate) one from blame for bad actions, it also excuses (or mitigates) one from praise for good actions to the same extent.

This is not, however, how ordinary people view the matter. My colleague David Faraci and I have investigated the matter several times, and each time we get the same results. When asked about JoJo, people overwhelmingly think that his moral ignorance does mitigate his blameworthiness, albeit only a little bit (versus someone like him without that background). However, when people are asked about a case like Huck’s, they respond that his moral ignorance doesn’t mitigate his praiseworthiness at all; indeed, in some studies, we have found that people think his moral ignorance actually makes him more praiseworthy for what he did than a morally undeprived counterpart.

The entire blog post is here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Answering 'Why be good?" for a Three-Year-old

By Christian B. Miller
Big Ideas at Slate.com

Here is an excerpt:

I would also mention to my son that the question of, “Why be good?” is especially important because most of us—myself included—are simply not good, morally speaking. We do not have a virtuous or good character. Why do I say that? You might think it is obvious based on watching the nightly news. But my answer is based on hundreds of psychological studies from the last 50 years. In a famous experiment, for instance, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram found that many people would willingly shock an innocent person, even to the point of death, if pressured from an authority figure. Less well known but also important, are the findings by Lisa Shu of the London Business School. She and her colleagues have found that cheating on tests dramatically increases when it becomes clear to the test-takers that they will not get caught.

So there is a virtuous way to be—honest, compassionate, etc.—and then there is how we tend to actually be, which is not virtuous. Instead our characters are very much a mixed bag, with many good moral tendencies and many bad ones too. Given that most of us are not virtuous people, the question becomes: Why should we bother to try to develop a better character? Why should we care about it? Does developing better character even matter?

The entire article is here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Can Adversity Make Us Good?

By Eranda Jayawickreme
Big Ideas at Slate.com

Here is an excerpt:

Nevertheless, we know that adversity can help answer the question, “Why be good?” Psychologist Johanna Ray Vollhardt at Clark University has claimed that traumatic life events may in fact enhance the motivation to help other disadvantaged members of society, including people outside the groups with which you identify. One possible explanation for this “altruism born of suffering” is that trauma often forces people to recognize how limited their time on Earth is, which in turn clarifies their values and promotes moral behavior. Blackie found this to be the case in a study she published in Psychological Science, where experimentally manipulating thoughts about death—in this case, asking participants to imagine dying in an apartment fire—predicted increased charitable giving behavior (in this case, the intention to donate blood).

In other words, as the philosopher Valerie Tiberius at the University of Minnesota has argued, we want to be good because we care about having good lives, and adversity can help provide the necessary knowledge and perspective. I would call this knowledge and perspective wisdom.

The entire article is here.

Friday, May 8, 2015

How Goodness Arises from Evolutionary Competition

By Martin A. Nowak
Big Ideas from Slate.com

Here is an excerpt:

In the human sphere, cooperation means helping each other. In some contexts cooperation can imply “being good.” And suddenly the conundrum disappears. The moral imperative of world religions and philosophical systems seems to make sense.  It simply asks us to be true to our cooperative heritage, to cooperate and not only to compete.

The evolutionary process among humans is not only genetic but also cultural. We have language. We write books, articles, and emails, come up with ideas, replicate knowledge. A group of humans learning from each other instantiate a cultural evolutionary process with mutation and selection. And cooperation.

What makes cooperation a possible strategy among humans? The answer is repetition and reputation. Most of our crucial social interactions occur repeatedly with the same people or in situations where we are known, where actions can be observed by others, and thus affect our reputation.

The entire piece is here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Attributions to God and Satan About Life-Altering Events.

Ray, Shanna D.; Lockman, Jennifer D.; Jones, Emily J.; Kelly, Melanie H.
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Sep 22 , 2014, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037884


When faced with negative life events, people often interpret the events by attributing them to the actions of God or Satan (Lupfer, Tolliver, & Jackson, 1996; Ritzema, 1979). To explore these attributions, we conducted a mixed-method study of Christians who were college freshmen. Participants read vignettes depicting a negative life event that had a beginning and an end that was systematically varied. Participants assigned a larger role to God in vignettes where an initially negative event (e.g., relationship breakup) led to a positive long-term outcome (e.g., meeting someone better) than with a negative (e.g., depression and loneliness) or unspecified long-term outcome. Participants attributed a lesser role to Satan when there was positive outcome rather than negative or unspecified outcome. Participants also provided their own narratives, recounting personal experiences that they attributed to the actions of God or Satan. Participant-supplied narratives often demonstrated “theories” about the actions of God, depicting God as being involved in negative events as a rescuer, comforter, or one who brings positive out of the negative. Satan-related narratives were often lacking in detail or a clear theory of how Satan worked. Participants who did provide this information depicted Satan as acting primarily through influencing one’s thoughts and/or using other people to encourage one’s negative behavior.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Is One of the Most Popular Psychology Experiments Worthless?

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Originally published July 24, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

But one group of researchers thinks it might be time to retire the trolley. In an upcoming paper that will be published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Christopher Bauman of the University of California, Irvine, Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and others argue that the dilemma is too silly and unrealistic to be applicable to real-life moral problems. Therefore, they contend, it doesn't tell us as much about the human condition as we might hope.

In a survey of undergraduates, Bauman and McGraw found that 63 percent laughed "at least a little bit" in the fat-man scenario and 33 percent did so in the track-switching scenario. And that's an issue, because "humor may alter the decision-making processes people normally use to evaluate moral situations," they note. "A large body of research shows how positivity is less motivating than negativity."

The entire article is here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beyond Good And Evil: New Science Casts Light On Morality In The Brain

By Carey Goldberg
Common Health
Originally posted August 7, 2014

For two decades, researchers have scanned and analyzed the brains of psychopaths and murderers, but they haven’t pinpointed any single source of evil in the brain. What they’ve found instead, as Buckholtz puts it, “is that our folk concepts of good and evil are much more complicated, and multi-faceted, and riven with uncertainty than we ever thought possible before.”

In other words, so much for the old idea that we have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and that morality is simply a battle between the two. Using new technology, brain researchers are beginning to tease apart the biology that underlies our decisions to behave badly or do good deeds. They’re even experimenting with ways to alter our judgments of what is right and wrong, and our deep gut feelings of moral conviction.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Introducing Empowerment Ethics

By Daniel Fincke
The Secularite
Originally posted on January 3, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

What is “Empowerment Ethics”?

The gist of what I am dubbing “empowerment ethics” is simple.

I think I can argue in objectively factual terms that there is an overriding good that all humans should be concerned with. The good we should all strive for is to be as powerful according to our potential abilities as we can be. Every human being is made up of a set of powers. We do not just have our powers but we are our powers. We do not just have the powers of rationality, we exist through them. We do not just have abilities to feel things emotionally, we exist through them. And the same goes for our powers of sociability, our bodily powers, our sexual powers, our creative powers, our technological powers, our artistic powers, and any other distinct categories of powers you can identify within us. Each of our major categories of powers is comprised of component powers and each of our powers can combine into larger powers.

That’s the power part. The empowerment part specifically comes in when we realize that fulfilling our powers to their maximum means empowering others through the exercise of our abilities. The most marvelous thing about human powers is how much they can spread into other people and how much we need other people to use their powers to empower us. Every ability we have grows in its effectiveness the more that it increases the total net powerful effectiveness of the total number of people. When I am so powerful as to be able to empower you to be more powerful, then I am powerful not just in myself but also in you and in those you further empower, and so it goes, on and on.

The entire blog post is here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Problem of Evil

Sally Haslanger
Professor of Philosophy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sally discusses a classic argument that God does not exist, called 'The Problem of Evil'. Along the way, she distinguishes different ways in which people believe that God exists, and discusses what's bad about having contradictory beliefs.