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 Groups. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Groups. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Moral Hypocrisy: Social Groups and the Flexibility of Virtue

Robertson, C., Akles, M., & Van Bavel, J. J.
(2024, March 19).


The tendency for people to consider themselves morally good while behaving selfishly is known as “moral hypocrisy.” Influential work by Valdesolo & DeSteno (2007) found evidence for intergroup moral hypocrisy, such that people are more forgiving of transgressions when they were committed by an in-group member than an out-group member. We conducted two experiments to examine moral hypocrisy and group membership in an online paradigm with Prolific Workers from the US: a direct replication of the original work with minimal groups (N = 610, nationally representative) and a conceptual replication with political groups (N = 606, 50% Democrat and 50% Republican). Although the results did not replicate the original findings, we observed evidence of in-group favoritism in minimal groups and out-group derogation in political groups. The current research finds mixed evidence of intergroup moral hypocrisy and has implications for understanding the contextual dependencies of intergroup bias and partisanship.

Statement of Relevance

Social identities and group memberships influence social judgment and decision-making. Prior research found that social identity influences moral decision making, such that people are more likely to forgive moral transgressions perpetrated by their in-group members than similar transgressions from out-group members (Valdesolo & DeSteno, 2007). The present research sought to replicate this pattern of intergroup moral hypocrisy using minimal groups (mirroring the original research) and political groups. Although we were unable to replicate the findings from the original paper, we found that people who are highly identified with their minimal group exhibited in-group favoritism, and partisans exhibited out-group derogation. This work contributes both to open science replication efforts, and to the literature on moral hypocrisy and intergroup relations.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Delusions shape our reality

Lisa Bortolotti
Originally posted 12 March 24

Here is an excerpt:

But what makes it the case that a delusion disqualifies the speaker from further engagement? When we call a person’s belief “delusional”, we assume that that person’s capacity to exercise agency is compromised. So, we may recognise that the person has a unique perspective on the world, but it won’t seem to us as a valuable perspective. We may realise that the person has concerns, but we won’t think of those concerns as legitimate and worth addressing. We may come to the conviction that, due to the delusional belief, the person is not in a position to affect change or participate in decision making because their grasp on reality is tenuous. If they were simply mistaken about something, we could correct them. If Laura thought that a latte at the local coffee shop costed £2.50 when it costs £3.50, we could show her the price list and set her straight. But her belief that her partner is unfaithful because the lamp post is unlit cannot be corrected that way, because what Laura considers evidence for the claim is not likely to overlap with what we consider evidence for it. When this happens, and we feel that there is no sufficient common ground for a fruitful exchange, we may see Laura as a problem to be fixed or a patient to be diagnosed and treated, as opposed to an agent with a multiplicity of needs and interests, and a person worth interacting with.

I challenge the assumption that delusional beliefs are marks of compromised agency by default and I do so based on two main arguments. First, there is nothing in the way in which delusional beliefs are developed, maintained, or defended that can be legitimately described as a dysfunctional process. Some cognitive biases may help explain why a delusional explanation is preferred to alternative explanations, or why it is not discarded after a challenge. For instance, people who report delusional beliefs often jump to conclusions. Rashid might have the belief that the US government strives to manipulate citizens’ behaviour and concludes that the tornadoes are created for this purpose, without considering arguments against the feasibility of a machine that controls the weather with that precision. Also, people who report delusional beliefs tend to see meaningful connections between independent events—as Laura who takes the lamp post being unlit as evidence for her partner’s unfaithfulness. But these cognitive biases are a common feature of human cognition and not a dysfunction giving rise to a pathology: they tend to be accentuated at stressful times when we may be strongly motivated to come up with a quick causal explanation for a distressing event.

Here is my summary:

The article argues that delusions, though often seen as simply false beliefs, can significantly impact a person's experience of the world. It highlights that delusions can be complex and offer a kind of internal logic, even if it doesn't match objective reality.

Bortolotti also points out that the term "delusion" can be judgmental and may overlook the reasons behind the belief. Delusions can sometimes provide comfort or a sense of control in a confusing situation.

Overall, the article suggests a more nuanced view of delusions, acknowledging their role in shaping a person's reality while still recognizing the importance of distinguishing them from objective reality.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Why do we focus on trivial things? Bikeshedding explained

The Decision Lab
An Explainer
Originally posted: No idea

What is Bikeshedding?

Bikeshedding, also known as Parkinson’s law of triviality, describes our tendency to devote a disproportionate amount of our time to menial and trivial matters while leaving important matters unattended.

Where does this bias occur?

Do you ever remember sitting in class and having a teacher get off track from a lesson plan? They may have spent a large portion of your biology class time telling you a personal story and skimmed over important scientific theory. In such an instance, your teacher may have been a victim of bikeshedding, where they spent too long discussing something minor and lost track of what was important. Even though it may have been more entertaining to listen to their story, it did not help you acquire important information.

Although that scenario is one familiar to most, bikeshedding is an issue most commonly seen as a problem in corporate and consulting environments, especially during meetings. Imagine that at work, you have a meeting scheduled to discuss two important issues. The first issue is having to come up with ways in which the company can reduce carbon emissions. The second issue is discussing the implementation of standing desks at the office. It is clear that the first issue is more important, but it is also more complex. You and your coworkers will likely find it much easier to talk about whether or not to get standing desks, and as a result, a large portion of the scheduled meeting time is devoted to this more trivial matter. This disproportionate time allocation is known as bikeshedding and causes complicated matters to receive little attention.


How to avoid it?

An awareness of bikeshedding is vital to countering its effects. There are various techniques that can be used in order to ensure that a group or team is being efficient with the time they spend on each topic.

One method to avoid bikeshedding is to have a separate meeting for any major, complex issue. If the topic is brought into a meeting with a long agenda, it can get lost under the trivial issues. However, if it is the main and only purpose for a meeting, it is difficult to avoid talking about it. Keeping meetings specific and focused on a particular issue can help counter bikeshedding.1 It may also be a good idea to have a particular person appointed to keep the team on task and pull back focus if the discussion does get sidetracked.

Another way of pulling the focus onto particular issues is to have less people present at the meeting. Bikeshedding is a big problem in group settings because simple issues entice multiple people to speak, which can drag them out. By only having the necessary people present at a meeting, even if a trivial issue is discussed, it will take up less time since there are fewer people to voice their opinion.

This bias may occur in psychotherapy when psychologist and patient focus on trivial issues that are easier to discuss or solve, rather than addressing critical, difficult issues.  There is a difference between creating a therapeutic attachment and bikeshedding.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

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

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


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

General Discussion

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Deeply Rational Reasons for Irrational Beliefs

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


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


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

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

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

Saturday, January 14, 2023

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

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


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


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

From the Conclusion

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

How social identity tunes moral cognition

Van Bavel, J. J., Packer, D.,  et al.
PsyArXiv.com (2022, November 18). 


In this chapter, we move beyond the treatment of intuition and reason as competing systems and outline how social contexts, and especially social identities, allow people to flexibly “tune” their cognitive reactions to moral contexts—a process we refer to as ‘moral tuning’. Collective identities—identities based on shared group memberships—significantly influence judgments and decisions of many kinds, including in the moral domain. We explain why social identities influence all aspects of moral cognition, including processes traditionally classified as intuition and reasoning. We then explain how social identities tune preferences and goals, expectations, and what outcomes care about. Finally, we propose directions for future research in moral psychology.

Social Identities Tune Preferences and Goals

Morally-relevant situations often involve conflicts between choices about which the interests of different parties are in tension. Moral transgressions typically involve an agent putting their own desires ahead of the interests, needs, or rights of others, thus causing them harm (e.g., Gray et al., 2012), whereas acts worthy of moral praise usually involve an agent sacrificing self-interest for the sake of someone else’s or the greater good. Value-computation frameworks of cooperation model how much people weigh the interests of different parties (e.g., their own versus others’) in terms of social preferences (see Van Bavel et al., 2022). Social preference parameters can, for example, capture individual differences in how much people prioritize their own outcomes over others’ (e.g., pro-selfs versus pro-socials as indexed by social value orientation; Balliet et al., 2009). These preferences, along with social norms, inform the computations that underlie decisions to engage in selfish or pro-social behavior (Hackel, Wills &Van Bavel, 2020).

We argue that social identity also influences social preferences, such that people tend to care more about outcomes incurred by in-group than out-group members (Tajfel & Turner, 1979;Van Bavel & Packer, 2021). For instance, highly identified group members appear to experience vicarious reward when they observe in-group (but not out-group) members experiencing positiveoutcomes, as indexed by activity in ventral striatum, a brain region implicated in hedonic reward (Hackel et al., 2017). Intergroup competition may exacerbate differences in concern for in-group versus out-group targets, causing people to feel empathy when in-group targets experience negative outcomes, but schadenfreude (pleasure in others’ pain) when out-group members experience these same events (Cikara et al., 2014). Shared social identities can also lead people to put collective interests ahead of their own individual interests in social dilemmas. For instance, making collective identities salient causes selfish individuals to contribute more to theirgroup than when these same people were reminded of their individual self (De Cremer & Van Vugt, 1999). This shift in behavior was not necessarily because they were less selfish, but rather because their sense of self had shifted from the individual to the collective level.



For centuries, philosophers and scientists have debated the role of emotional intuition and reason in moral judgment. Thanks to theoretical and methodological developments over the past few decades, we believe it is time to move beyond these debates. We argue that social identity can tune the intuitions and reasoning processes that underlie moral cognition (Van Bavel et al., 2015). Extensive research has found that social identities have a significant influence on social and moral judgment and decision-making (Oakes et al., 1994; Van Bavel & Packer, 2021). This approach offers an important complement to other theories of moral psychology and suggests a powerful way to shift moral judgments and decisions—by changing identities and norms, rather than hearts and minds.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Work group rituals enhance the meaning of work

T. Kima, O. Sezer, et al.
Organizational Behavior and 
Human Decision Processes
Volume 165, July 2021, Pages 197-212


The many benefits of finding meaning in work suggest the importance of identifying activities that increase job meaningfulness. The current paper identifies one such activity: engaging in rituals with workgroups. Five studies (N = 1,099) provide evidence that performing group rituals can enhance the meaningfulness of work, and that in turn this meaning can enhance organizational citizenship behaviors (to the benefit of those groups). We first define group rituals both conceptually and empirically, identifying three types of features associated with group rituals—physical actions, psychological import, and communality—and differentiating group rituals from the related concept of group norms (Pilot Studies A and B). We then examine—correlationally in a survey of employed individuals (Study 1a) and experimentally in a study that manipulates the presence or absence of the three types of ritualistic features (Study 1b)—whether performing an activity at work with ritualistic physical, psychological, and communal features (versus an activity with none or just one of these features) is associated with more meaningful work experiences. We test whether this enhanced meaning predicts the extent to which individuals are willing to engage in behaviors enacted on behalf of that group, even without the promise of reward, using organizational citizenship behaviors in Studies 1a–1b and performance on a brainstorming task in Study 2. Taken together, these studies offer a framework for understanding group ritual and offer novel insight into the downstream consequences of employing group rituals in organizational contexts.


• Physical, psychological, and communal elements capture group ritual’s core meaning.

• Organizations can employ group rituals to imbue tasks with meaning.

• This meaning can, in turn, enhance organizational citizenship behaviors.


Group rituals are prevalent in countless contexts, from sporting events to religious services to workplaces. Our findings not only suggest that there may be wisdom behind their ubiquity, but also that groups can engineer group activities to increase the success of meaning transfer. A series of ritualistic movements can become a simple—yet effective—tool for enhancing meaning at work. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Strategic identity signaling in heterogeneous networks

T. Van der dos, M. Galesic, et al.
PNAS, 2022.
119 (10) e2117898119


Individuals often signal identity information to facilitate assortment with partners who are likely to share norms, values, and goals. However, individuals may also be incentivized to encrypt their identity signals to avoid detection by dissimilar receivers, particularly when such detection is costly. Using mathematical modeling, this idea has previously been formalized into a theory of covert signaling. In this paper, we provide an empirical test of the theory of covert signaling in the context of political identity signaling surrounding the 2020 US presidential elections. To identify likely covert and overt signals on Twitter, we use methods relying on differences in detection between ingroup and outgroup receivers. We strengthen our experimental predictions with additional mathematical modeling and examine the usage of selected covert and overt tweets in a behavioral experiment. We find that participants strategically adjust their signaling behavior in response to the political constitution of their audiences. These results support our predictions and point to opportunities for further theoretical development. Our findings have implications for our understanding of political communication, social identity, pragmatics, hate speech, and the maintenance of cooperation in diverse populations.


Much of online conversation today consists of signaling one’s political identity. Although many signals are obvious to everyone, others are covert, recognizable to one’s ingroup while obscured from the outgroup. This type of covert identity signaling is critical for collaborations in a diverse society, but measuring covert signals has been difficult, slowing down theoretical development. We develop a method to detect covert and overt signals in tweets posted before the 2020 US presidential election and use a behavioral experiment to test predictions of a mathematical theory of covert signaling. Our results show that covert political signaling is more common when the perceived audience is politically diverse and open doors to a better understanding of communication in politically polarized societies.

From the Discussion

The theory predicts that individuals should use more covert signaling in more heterogeneous groups or when they are in the minority. We found support for this prediction in the ways people shared political speech in a behavioral experiment. We observed the highest levels of covert signaling when audiences consisted almost entirely of cross-partisans, supporting the notion that covert signaling is a strategy for avoiding detection by hostile outgroup members. Of note, we selected tweets for our study at a time of heightened partisan divisions: the four weeks preceding the 2020 US presidential election. Consequently, these tweets mostly discussed the opposing political party. This focus was reflected in our behavioral experiment, in which we did not observe an effect of audience composition when all members were (more or less extreme) copartisans. In that societal context, participants might have perceived the cost of dislikes to be minimal and have likely focused on partisan disputes in their real-life conversations happening around that time. Future work testing the theory of covert signaling should also examine signaling strategies in copartisan conversations during times of salient intragroup political divisions.

Editor's Note: Wondering if this research generalizes into other covert forms of communication during psychotherapy.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Checked by reality, some QAnon supporters seek a way out

David Klepper
Associated Press
Originally posted 28 January 21

Here are two excerpts:

It's not clear exactly how many people believe some or all of the narrative, but backers of the movement were vocal in their support for Trump and helped fuel the insurrectionists who overran the U.S. Capitol this month. QAnon is also growing in popularity overseas.

Former believers interviewed by The Associated Press liken the process of leaving QAnon to kicking a drug addiction. QAnon, they say, offers simple explanations for a complicated world and creates an online community that provides escape and even friendship.

Smith's then-boyfriend introduced her to QAnon. It was all he could talk about, she said. At first she was skeptical, but she became convinced after the death of financier Jeffrey Epstein while in federal custody facing pedophilia charges. Officials debunked theories that he was murdered, but to Smith and other QAnon supporters, his suicide while facing child sex charges was too much to accept.

Soon, Smith was spending more time on fringe websites and on social media, reading and posting about the conspiracy theory. She said she fell for QAnon content that presented no evidence, no counter arguments, and yet was all too convincing.


“This isn't about critical thinking, of having a hypothesis and using facts to support it," Cohen said of QAnon believers. “They have a need for these beliefs, and if you take that away, because the storm did not happen, they could just move the goal posts.”

Some now say Trump's loss was always part of the plan, or that he secretly remains president, or even that Joe Biden's inauguration was created using special effects or body doubles. They insist that Trump will prevail, and powerful figures in politics, business and the media will be tried and possibly executed on live television, according to recent social media posts.

“Everyone will be arrested soon. Confirmed information,” read a post viewed 130,000 times this week on Great Awakening, a popular QAnon channel on Telegram. “From the very beginning I said it would happen.”

But a different tone is emerging in the spaces created for those who have heard enough.

“Hi my name is Joe,” one man wrote on a Q recovery channel in Telegram. “And I’m a recovering QAnoner.”

Friday, November 20, 2020

When Did We Become Fully Human? What Fossils and DNA Tell Us About the Evolution of Modern Intelligence

Nick Longrich
Originally posted 18 OCT 2020 

Here are two excerpts:

Because the fossil record is so patchy, fossils provide only minimum dates. Human DNA suggests even earlier origins for modernity. Comparing genetic differences between DNA in modern people and ancient Africans, it’s estimated that our ancestors lived 260,000 to 350,000 years ago. All living humans descend from those people, suggesting that we inherited the fundamental commonalities of our species, our humanity, from them.

All their descendants—Bantu, Berber, Aztec, Aboriginal, Tamil, San, Han, Maori, Inuit, Irish—share certain peculiar behaviors absent in other great apes. All human cultures form long-term pair bonds between men and women to care for children. We sing and dance. We make art. We preen our hair, adorn our bodies with ornaments, tattoos and makeup.

We craft shelters. We wield fire and complex tools. We form large, multigenerational social groups with dozens to thousands of people. We cooperate to wage war and help each other. We teach, tell stories, trade. We have morals, laws. We contemplate the stars, our place in the cosmos, life’s meaning, what follows death.


First, we journeyed out of Africa, occupying more of the planet. There were then simply more humans to invent, increasing the odds of a prehistoric Steve Jobs or Leonardo da Vinci. We also faced new environments in the Middle East, the Arctic, India, Indonesia, with unique climates, foods and dangers, including other human species. Survival demanded innovation.

Many of these new lands were far more habitable than the Kalahari or the Congo. Climates were milder, but Homo sapiens also left behind African diseases and parasites. That let tribes grow larger, and larger tribes meant more heads to innovate and remember ideas, more manpower, and better ability to specialize. Population drove innovation.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Religious moral righteousness over care: a review and a meta-analysis

Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 40, August 2021, Pages 79-85


Does religion enhance an ‘extended’ morality? We review research on religiousness and Schwartz’s values, Haidt’s moral foundations (through a meta-analysis of 45 studies), and deontology versus consequentialism (a review of 27 studies). Instead of equally encompassing prosocial (care for others) and other values (duties to the self, the community, and the sacred), religiosity implies a restrictive morality: endorsement of values denoting social order (conservation, loyalty, and authority), self-control (low autonomy and self-expansion), and purity more strongly than care; and, furthermore, a deontological, non-consequentialist, righteous orientation, that could result in harm to (significant) others. Religious moral righteousness is highest in fundamentalism and weakens in secular countries. Only spirituality reflects an extended morality (care, fairness, and the binding foundations). Evolutionarily, religious morality seems to be more coalitional and ‘hygienic’ than caring.


• We meta-analyzed 45 studies on religion and Haidt’s five moral foundations.

• Religiosity implies high purity, authority, and loyalty; care is involved only weakly.

• Only spirituality reflects extended morality: care, fairness, and the binding values.

• Results parallel findings on religion and Schwartz’s values across the world.

• Religious morality is primarily deontological, non-consequentialist, and righteous.


On the basis of the findings of the various research areas examined in this article, we think it is reasonable to infer that the role of religious (ingroup) prosociality in forming and consolidating large coalitions involving reciprocal interpersonal helping may have been overestimated in the contemporary evolutionary psychology of religion.  This role may not reflect the very center of religious morality. Rather, the results of the present review suggest that the evolutionary perspectives of religion focusing on the importance of hygienic and righteous/coalitional morality (avoidance of pathogens, loyalty, group conformity, as well as preservation of personal and social order) may be more central in explaining, from a moral perspective, religions’ origin and maintenance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The psychology and neuroscience of partisanship

Harris, E. A., Pärnamets, et al.


Why have citizens become increasingly polarized? The answer is that there is increasing identification with political parties —a process known as partisanship (Mason, 2018). This chapter will focus on the role that social identity plays in contemporary politics (Greene, 2002). These party identities influence political preferences, such that partisans are more likely to agree with policies that were endorsed by their political party, regardless of the policy content, and, in some cases, their own ideological beliefs (Cohen, 2003; Samuels & Zucco Jr, 2014). There are many social and structural factors that are related to partisanship, including polarization (Lupu, 2015), intergroup threat (e.g., Craig & Richeson, 2014), and media exposure (Tucker et al., 2018; Barberá, 2015). Our chapter will focus on the psychology and neuroscience of partisanship within these broader socio-political contexts. This will help reveal the roots of partisanship across political contexts.


A burgeoning literature suggests that partisanship is a form of social identity with interesting and wide-reaching implications for our brains and behavior. In some ways, the effects of partisanship mirror those of other forms of group identity, both behaviorally and in the brain. However, partisanship also has interesting biological antecedents and effects in political domains such as belief in fake news and conspiracy theories, as well as voting behavior. As political polarization rises in many nations across the world, partisanship will become an increasingly divisive and influential form of social identity in those countries, thus highlighting the urgency to understand its psychological and neural underpinnings.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

America Is Being Pulled Apart. Here's How We Can Start to Heal Our Nation

David French
Time Magazine
Originally posted 10 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

I’ve been writing and speaking about national polarization and division since before the Trump election. Two years ago, I began writing a book describing our challenge, outlining how we could divide and how we can heal. The prescription isn’t easy. We have to flip the script on the present political narrative. We have to prioritize accommodation.

That means revitalizing the Bill of Rights. America’s worst sins have always included denying fundamental constitutional rights to America’s most vulnerable citizens, those without electoral power. While progress has been made, doctrines like qualified immunity leave countless citizens without recourse when they face state abuse. It alienates citizens from the state and drains confidence in the American republic.

That means diminishing presidential power. A principal reason presidential politics is so toxic is that the diminishing power of states and Congress means that every four years we elect the most powerful peacetime ruler in the history of the U.S. No one person should have so much authority over an increasingly diverse and divided nation.

The increasing stakes of each presidential election increase political tension and heighten public anxiety. Americans should not see their individual liberty or the autonomy of their churches and communities as so dependent on the identity of the President.

But beyond the political changes–more local control, less centralization–Americans need a change of heart. Defending the Bill of Rights requires commitment and effort, and it requires citizens to think of others beyond their partisan tribe. Defending the Bill of Rights means that you must fight for others to have the rights that you would like to exercise yourself. The goal is simple yet elusive. Every American–regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion or sexual orientation–can and should have a home in this land.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

What do you believe? Atheism and Religion

Kristen Weir
Monitor on Psychology
Vol. 51, No. 5, p. 52

Here is an excerpt:

Good health isn’t the only positive outcome attributed to religion. Research also suggests that religious belief is linked to prosocial behaviors such as volunteering and donating to charity.

But as with health benefits, Galen’s work suggests such prosocial benefits have more to do with general group membership than with religious belief or belonging to a specific religious group (Social Indicators Research, Vol. 122, No. 2, 2015). In fact, he says, while religious people are more likely to volunteer or give to charitable causes related to their beliefs, atheists appear to be more generous to a wider range of causes and dissimilar groups.

Nevertheless, atheists and other nonbelievers still face considerable stigma, and are often perceived as less moral than their religious counterparts. In a study across 13 countries, Gervais and colleagues found that people in most countries intuitively believed that extreme moral violations (such as murder and mutilation) were more likely to be committed by atheists than by religious believers. This anti-atheist prejudice also held true among people who identified as atheists, suggesting that religious culture exerts a powerful influence on moral judgments, even among non­believers (Nature Human Behaviour, Vol. 1, Article 0151, 2017).

Yet nonreligious people are similar to religious people in a number of ways. In the Understanding Unbelief project, Farias and colleagues found that across all six countries they studied, both believers and nonbelievers cited family and freedom as the most important values in their own lives and in the world more broadly. The team also found evidence to counter a common assumption that atheists believe life has no purpose. They found the belief that the universe is “ultimately meaningless” was a minority view among non­believers in each country.

“People assume that [non­believers] have very different sets of values and ideas about the world, but it looks like they probably don’t,” Farias says.

For the nonreligious, however, meaning may be more likely to come from within than from above. Again drawing on data from the General Social Survey, Speed and colleagues found that in the United States, atheists and the religiously unaffiliated were no more likely to believe that life is meaningless than were people who were religious or raised with a religious affiliation. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The MAD Model of Moral Contagion: The role of motivation, attention and design in the spread of moralized content online

Brady WJ, Crockett MJ, Van Bavel JJ.
Perspect Psychol Sci. 2020;1745691620917336.


With over 3 billion users, online social networks represent an important venue for moral and political discourse and have been used to organize political revolutions, influence elections, and raise awareness of social issues. These examples rely on a common process in order to be effective: the ability to engage users and spread moralized content through online networks. Here, we review evidence that expressions of moral emotion play an important role in the spread of moralized content (a phenomenon we call ‘moral contagion’). Next, we propose a psychological model to explain moral contagion. The ‘MAD’ model of moral contagion argues that people have group identity-based motivations to share moral-emotional content; that such content is especially likely to capture our attention; and that the design of social media platforms amplifies our natural motivational and cognitive tendencies to spread such content. We review each component of the model (as well as interactions between components) and raise several novel, testable hypotheses that can spark progress on the scientific investigation of civic engagement and activism, political polarization, propaganda and disinformation, and other moralized behaviors in the digital age.

A copy of the research can be found 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.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Ideological differences in the expanse of the moral circle

Adam Waytz, Ravi Iyer, Liane Young,
Jonathan Haidt & Jesse Graham
Nature Communications volume 10, 
Article number: 4389 (2019)


Do clashes between ideologies reflect policy differences or something more fundamental? The present research suggests they reflect core psychological differences such that liberals express compassion toward less structured and more encompassing entities (i.e., universalism), whereas conservatives express compassion toward more well-defined and less encompassing entities (i.e., parochialism). Here we report seven studies illustrating universalist versus parochial differences in compassion. Studies 1a-1c show that liberals, relative to conservatives, express greater moral concern toward friends relative to family, and the world relative to the nation. Studies 2a-2b demonstrate these universalist versus parochial preferences extend toward simple shapes depicted as proxies for loose versus tight social circles. Using stimuli devoid of political relevance demonstrates that the universalist-parochialist distinction does not simply reflect differing policy preferences. Studies 3a-3b indicate these universalist versus parochial tendencies extend to humans versus nonhumans more generally, demonstrating the breadth of these psychological differences.


Seven studies demonstrated that liberals relative to conservatives exhibit universalism relative to parochialism. This difference manifested in conservatives exhibiting greater concern and preference for family relative to friends, the nation relative to the world, tight relative to loose perceptual structures devoid of social content, and humans relative to nonhumans.

Others have identified this universalist–parochial distinction, with Haidt, for example, noting “Liberals…are more universalistic…Conservatives, in contrast, are more parochial—concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” The present findings comprehensively support this distinction empirically, explicitly demonstrating the relationship between ideology and universalism versus parochialism, assessing judgments of multiple social circles, and providing converging evidence across diverse measures.

The research is here.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Connecting the dots on the origins of social knowledge

Arber Tasimi
in press, Perspectives on Psychological Science


Understanding what infants know about social life is a growing enterprise. Indeed, one of the most exciting developments within psychological science over the past decade is the view that infants may come equipped with knowledge about “good” and “bad,” and about “us” and “them.” At the heart of this view is a seminal set of studies indicating that infants prefer helpers to hinderers and similar to dissimilar others. What a growing number of researchers now believe is that these preferences may be based on innate (i.e., unlearned) social knowledge. Here I consider how decades of research in developmental psychology can lead to a different way to make sense of this popular body of work. As I make connections between old observations and new theorizing––and between classic findings and contemporary research––I consider how the same preferences that are thought to emanate from innate social knowledge may, instead, reflect social knowledge that infants can rapidly build as they pursue relationships with their caregivers.  I offer this perspective with hopes that it will inspire future work that supports or questions the ideas sketched out here and, by doing so, will broaden an understanding of the origins of social knowledge.

The paper is here.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The evolution of moral cognition

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

1. Introduction

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

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

The chapter can be found here.