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 Helping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Helping. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Young children show negative emotions after failing to help others

Gerdemann, S. C., Tippmann, J., et al (2022). 
PloS one, 17(4), e0266539.


Self-conscious emotions, such as guilt and shame, motivate the adherence to social norms, including to norms for prosociality. The relevance of an observing audience to the expression of negative self-conscious emotions remains poorly understood. Here, in two studies, we investigated the influence of being observed on 4-to 5-year-old children's (N = 161) emotional response after failing to help someone in need and after failing to complete their own goal. As an index of children's emotional response, we recorded the change in children's upper body posture using a motion depth sensor imaging camera. Failing to help others lowered children's upper body posture regardless of whether children were observed by an audience or not. Children's emotional response was similar when they failed to help and when they failed to complete their own goal. In Study 2, 5-year-olds showed a greater decrease in upper body posture than 4-year-olds. Our findings suggest that being observed is not a necessary condition for young children to express a negative self-conscious emotion after failing to help or after failing to complete their own goal. We conclude that 5-year-olds, more so that 4-year-olds, show negative emotions when they fail to adhere to social norms for prosociality.

General discussion

The current studies represent the first investigation of children’s emotional response to failing to help others using a method that automatically and objectively record changes in children’s body posture. Our studies show that young children’s emotional response is similarly negative when they fail to help or fail to achieve their own goal in both an observed and unobserved set-ting. Specifically, in both studies, children expressed a greater reduction in upper body posture after they failed to help (Trial 1) than during the resolution of the situation moments later (Trial 2). This result was corroborated by the emotion valence coding of Study 1. While observation or goal context did not influence this emotional response, we did find evidence in Study2 that 5-year-olds expressed a greater reduction in upper body posture after failing to help than 4-year-olds. Moreover, in Study 2, children expressed a predominantly shame-like negative emotion after failing to help, suggesting that self-evaluative processes were involved in children’s emotional response.

The influence of observation

Children expressed similarly negative emotions regardless of whether they were observed or unobserved during a failure to help, suggesting that the presence of an audience is not required for young children to express a negative self-conscious emotion. It is worth noting that children were made aware of the observer’s presence twice during the studies and were told that the observer would watch them today, which is comparable to previous studies of the influence of observation on children’s prosocial behavior. Our findings thus raise questions about the role of others’ evaluation or judgment of oneself in young children’s expression of self-conscious emotions. Some scholars have argued that young children’s expression of shame following achievement-related failures is the result of observing adults knowing (or having the impression) that children have performed poorly until children are school-aged.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Beliefs about humanity, not higher power, predict extraordinary altruism

Amormino, P., O'Connell, et al.
Journal of Research in Personality
Volume 101, December 2022, 104313


Using a rare sample of altruistic kidney donors (n = 56, each of whom had donated a kidney to a stranger) and demographically similar controls (n = 75), we investigated how beliefs about human nature correspond to extraordinary altruism. Extraordinary altruists were less likely than controls to believe that humans can be truly evil. Results persisted after controlling for trait empathy and religiosity. Belief in pure good was not associated with extraordinary altruism. We found no differences in the religiosity and spirituality of extraordinary altruists compared to controls. Findings suggest that highly altruistic individuals believe that others deserve help regardless of their potential moral shortcomings. Results provide preliminary evidence that lower levels of cynicism motivate costly, non-normative altruism toward strangers.


We found for the first time a significant negative relationship between real-world acts of altruism toward strangers and the belief that humans can be purely evil. Specifically, our results showed that adults who have engaged in costly altruism toward strangers are distinguished from typical adults by their reduced tendency to believe that humans can be purely evil. By contrast, altruists were no more likely than controls to believe that humans can be purely good. These patterns could not be accounted for by demographic differences, differences in self reported empathy, or differences in religious or spiritual beliefs.

This finding could be viewed as paradoxical, in that extraordinary altruists are themselves often viewed as the epitome of pure good—even described as “saints” in the scholarly literature (Henderson et al., 2003).
But our findings suggest that the willingness to provide costly aid for anonymous strangers may not require believing that others are purely \good (i.e., that morally infallible people exist), but rather believing that there is at least a little bit of good in everyone. Thus, extraordinary altruists are not overly optimistic about the moral goodness of other people but are willing to act altruistically towards morally imperfect people anyway. Although the concept of “pure evil” is conceptually linked to spiritual phenomena, we did not find any evidence directly linking altruists’ beliefs in evil to spirituality or religion.



Because altruistic kidney donations to anonymous strangers satisfy the most stringent definitions of costly altruism (Clavien & Chapuisat, 2013), the study of these altruists can provide valuable insight into the nature of altruism, much as studying other rare, ecologically valid populations has yielded insights into psychological phenomena such asmemory (LePort et al., 2012) and face processing (Russell, Duchaine, &
Nakayama, 2009). Results show that altruists report lower belief in pure evil, which extends previous literature showing that higher levels of generalized trust and lower levels of cynicism and are associated with everyday prosocial behavior (Turner & Valentine, 2001). Our findings provide preliminary evidence that beliefs about the morality of people in general, and the goodness (or rather, lack of badness) of other humans may help motivate real-world costly altruistic acts toward strangers.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The habituation fallacy: Disaster victims who are repeatedly victimized are assumed to suffer less, and they are helped less

Hanna Zagefka
European Journal of Social Psychology
First published: 09 February 2022


This paper tests the effects of lay beliefs that disaster victims who have been victimized by other events in the past will cope better with a new adverse event than first-time victims. It is shown that believing that disaster victims can get habituated to suffering reduces helping intentions towards victims of repeated adversity, because repeatedly victimized victims are perceived to be less traumatized by a new adverse event. In other words, those who buy into habituation beliefs will impute less trauma and suffering to repeated victims compared to first-time victims, and they will therefore feel less inclined to help those repeatedly victimized victims. This was demonstrated in a series of six studies, two of which were preregistered (total N = 1,010). Studies 1, 2 and 3 showed that beliefs that disaster victims become habituated to pain do indeed exist among lay people. Such beliefs are factually inaccurate, because repeated exposure to severe adversity makes it harder, not easier, for disaster victims to cope with a new negative event. Therefore, we call this belief the ‘habituation fallacy’. Studies 2, 3 and 4 demonstrated an indirect negative effect of a belief in the ‘habituation fallacy’ on ‘helping intentions’, via lesser ‘trauma’ ascribed to victims who had previously been victimized. Studies 5 and 6 demonstrated that a belief in the ‘habituation fallacy’ causally affects trauma ascribed to, and helping intentions towards, repeatedly victimized victims, but not first-time victims. The habituation fallacy can potentially explain reluctance to donate to humanitarian causes in those geographical areas that frequently fall prey to disasters.

From the General Discussion

Taken together, these studies show a tendency to believe in the habituation fallacy. That is, they might believe that victims who have previously suffered are less affected by new adversity than victims who are first-time sufferers. Buy-in to the habituation fallacy means that victims of repeated adversity are assumed to suffer less, and that they are consequently helped less. Consistent evidence for this was found across
six studies, two of which were preregistered.

These results are important and add to the extant literature in significant ways.  Many factors have been discussed as driving disaster giving (see e.g., Albayrak, Aydemir, & Gleibs, 2021; Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011; Berman et al., 2018; Bloom, 2017; Cuddy et al., 2007; Dickert et al., 2011; Evangelidis & Van den Bergh, 2013; Hsee et al., 2013; Kogut, 2011; Kogut et al., 2015; van Leeuwen & Täuber, 2012; Zagefka & James, 2015).  Significant perceived suffering caused by an event is clearly a powerful factor that propels donors into action. However, although lay beliefs about disasters have been studied, lay beliefs about suffering by the victims have been neglected so far. Moreover, although clearly some areas of the world are visited more frequently by disasters than others, the potential effects of this on helping decisions have not previously been studied.

The present paper therefore addresses an important gap, by linking lay beliefs about disasters to both perceived previous victimization and perceived suffering of the victims.  Clearly, helping decisions are driven by emotional and often biased factors (Bloom, 2017), and this contribution sheds light on an important mechanism that is both affective and potentially biased in nature, thereby advancing our understanding of donor motivations (Chapman et al., 2020). 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Impact of Leader Dominance on Employees’ Zero-Sum Mindset and Helping Behavior

Kakkar, H and Sivanathan, N (2021) 
Journal of Applied Psychology


Leaders strive to encourage helping behaviors among employees, as it positively affects both organizational and team effectiveness. However, the manner in which a leader influences others can unintentionally limit this desired behavior. Drawing on social learning theory, we contend that a leader’s tendency to influence others via dominance could decrease employees’ interpersonal helping. Dominant leaders, who influence others by being assertive and competitive, shape their subordinates’ cognitive schema of success based on zero-sum thinking. Employees with a zero-sum mindset are more likely to believe that they can only make progress at the expense of others. We further propose that this zero-sum mindset results in less interpersonal helping among subordinates. We test our hypotheses by employing different operationalizations of our key variables in eight studies of which four are reported in the manuscript and another four in supplementary information (SI) across a combined sample of 147,780 observations. These studies include a large archival study, experiments with both laboratory and online samples, and a time-lagged field study with employees from 50 different teams. Overall, this research highlights the unintended consequences that dominant leaders have on their followers’ helping behavior by increasing their zero-sum mindset.

From the Discussion

Second, and relatedly, our results uncover the unintentional effects that leaders can have on employees’ cognitions and behaviors. These findings reflect broader observations made by social learning theorists that “job descriptions, rules, and policies are more likely to be interpreted from watching what others do than following written directives” (Davis & Luthans, 1980, p. 284). In this way, our research reveals a more subtle way in which dominant leaders by altering employees’ cognitions of success may reduce helping behavior among team members, which could eventually affect team performance. Given the beneficial effects of employee prosocial behavior on a team’s bottom line, it is entirely possible that dominant leaders may actually want their subordinates to participate in discretionary helping behaviors—in which case, they are inadvertently undermining their own aims by fostering a zero-sum mindset.

Third, the literature on dominance and prestige has typically argued that followers copy, emulate, and look up to leaders associated with prestige rather than dominance. In contrast to this, our findings offer a more nuanced understanding of this point by revealing how dominant leaders can influence employees’ cognitions and how this can trickle down to critical employee behaviors. Thus, subordinates of dominant leaders do engage in emulating their leaders but the process underlying this emulation is cognitive and less intentional.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Older adults across the globe exhibit increased prosocial behavior but also greater in-group preferences

Cutler, J., Nitschke, J.P., Lamm, C. et al. 
Nat Aging 1, 880–888 (2021).


Population aging is a global phenomenon with substantial implications across society. Prosocial behaviors—actions that benefit others—promote mental and physical health across the lifespan and can save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. We examined whether age predicts prosociality in a preregistered global study (46,576 people aged 18–99 across 67 countries) using two acutely relevant measures: distancing during COVID-19 and willingness to donate to hypothetical charities. Age positively predicted prosociality on both measures, with increased distancing and donations among older adults. However, older adults were more in-group focused than younger adults in choosing who to help, making larger donations to national over international charities and reporting increased in-group preferences. In-group preferences helped explain greater national over international donations. Results were robust to several control analyses and internal replication. Our findings have vital implications for predicting the social and economic impacts of aging populations, increasing compliance with public health measures and encouraging charitable donations.


Prosocial behaviors have critical individual and societal impacts. Emerging evidence suggests that older adults might be more prosocial than younger adults on measures including economic games learning about rewards for others, effortful actions and charitable donations. In line with this, theoretical accounts of lifespan development, such as socioemotional selectivity theory, propose that motivation for socially and emotionally meaningful behaviors increases as a result of age-related differences in goals and priorities. However, most research has tested participants from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic populations. It is unknown whether increased prosociality is shown by older adults across the world. Moreover, although some studies point to increased prosocial behavior, others find no association or even heightened negative behaviors, including greater bias toward one’s own emotions, increased stereotyping of outgroups and less support for foreign aid. Together these findings suggest that age might be associated with both increased positive helping behaviors but also heightened self-serving and in-group preferences.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Are Free Will Believers Nicer People? (Four Studies Suggest Not)

Crone DL, & Levy NL. 
Social Psychological and 
Personality Science. 2019;10(5):612-619. 


Free will is widely considered a foundational component of Western moral and legal codes, and yet current conceptions of free will are widely thought to fit uncomfortably with much research in psychology and neuroscience. Recent research investigating the consequences of laypeople’s free will beliefs (FWBs) for everyday moral behavior suggests that stronger FWBs are associated with various desirable moral characteristics (e.g., greater helpfulness, less dishonesty). These findings have sparked concern regarding the potential for moral degeneration throughout society as science promotes a view of human behavior that is widely perceived to undermine the notion of free will. We report four studies (combined N = 921) originally concerned with possible mediators and/or moderators of the abovementioned associations. Unexpectedly, we found no association between FWBs and moral behavior. Our findings suggest that the FWB–moral behavior association (and accompanying concerns regarding decreases in FWBs causing moral degeneration) may be overstated.

(Bold added by me.)

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Children’s evaluations of third-party responses to unfairness: Children prefer helping over punishment.

Lee, Y., & Warneken, F. (2020, June 13).


Third-party punishment of selfish individuals is an important mechanism to intervene against unfairness. However, there is another way in which third parties can intervene. Rather than focusing on the unfair individual, third parties can choose to help those who were treated unfairly by reducing inequality. Such third-party helping as an alternative to third-party punishment has received little attention in studies with children. Across four studies, we examined the evaluations of third-party punishment versus third-party helping in N = 322 5- to 9-year-old children. Study 1, 3 and 4 showed that when asked about the agents directly, children evaluated both helpers and punishers positively, but they preferred helpers over punishers overall. When asked about the type of intervention itself, children preferred helping over punishment, suggesting that their preference for the type of intervention corresponds to how children think about the agents performing these interventions. Study 2 showed that children’s preference for third-party helping is driven by distributive justice concerns and not a mere preference for giving or resource maximization as children consider which type of third-party intervention decreases inequality. Together, this series of studies demonstrate that children between 5 and 9 years of age develop a sophisticated understanding of punishment and helping as two adequate forms of intervention but also display a preference for third-party helping. We discuss how these findings and prior work with adults supports the hypothesis of developmental continuity, showing that a preference for helping over punishment is deeply rooted in ontogeny.

From the Discussion:

The current study contributes to the literature by moving beyond the focus on punishment alone and probing children’s thinking about punishment and helping side by side. Prior developmental research focused on comparing punishers with third parties such as onlookers who choose not to intervene after witnessing a transgression (e.g., Vaish et al., 2016) or givers who reward a transgressor(e.g., Hamlin et al., 2011), which might have led to inflating children’s preference for punishers. Instead, the current study compared punishment with helping, a valid and common form of third-party intervention. Additionally, our study assessed children’s evaluations of punishment intervention per se and revealed a subtle but meaningful difference in understanding punishers vs. punishment, which was especially remarkable in young children. With the use of various measures and comparisons, the current study provided a more comprehensive understanding of the development of third-party punishment in children

Monday, July 6, 2020

Reframing Clinician Distress: Moral Injury Not Burnout

W. Dean, S. Talbot, and A. Dean
Fed Pract. 2019 Sep; 36(9): 400–402.

For more than a decade, the term burnout has been used to describe clinician distress. Although some clinicians in federal health care systems may be protected from some of the drivers of burnout, other federal practitioners suffer from rule-driven health care practices and distant, top-down administration. The demand for health care is expanding, driven by the aging of the US population. Massive information technology investments, which promised efficiency for health care providers, have instead delivered a triple blow: They have diverted capital resources that might have been used to hire additional caregivers, diverted the time and attention of those already engaged in patient care, and done little to improve patient outcomes. Reimbursements are falling, and the only way for health systems to maintain their revenue is to increase the number of patients each clinician sees per day. As the resources of time and attention shrink, and as spending continues with no improvement in patient outcomes, clinician distress is on the rise. It will be important to understand exactly what the drivers of the problem are for federal clinicians so that solutions can be appropriately targeted. The first step in addressing the epidemic of physician distress is using the most accurate terminology to describe it.

Freudenberger defined burnout in 1975 as a constellation of symptoms—malaise, fatigue, frustration, cynicism, and inefficacy—that arise from “making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” in the workplace. The term was borrowed from other fields and applied to health care in the hopes of readily transferring the solutions that had worked in other industries to address a growing crisis among physicians. Unfortunately, the crisis in health care has proven resistant to solutions that have worked elsewhere, and many clinicians have resisted being characterized as burned out, citing a subtle, elusive disconnect between what they have experienced and what burnout encapsulates.

In July 2018, the conversation about clinician distress shifted with an article we wrote in STAT that described the moral injury of health care. The concept of moral injury was first described in service members who returned from the Vietnam War with symptoms that loosely fit a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but which did not respond to standard PTSD treatment and contained symptoms outside the PTSD constellation. On closer assessment, what these service members were experiencing had a different driver. Whereas those with PTSD experienced a real and imminent threat to their mortality and had come back deeply concerned for their individual, physical safety, those with this different presentation experienced repeated insults to their morality and had returned questioning whether they were still, at their core, moral beings. They had been forced, in some way, to act contrary to what their beliefs dictated was right by killing civilians on orders from their superiors, for example. This was a different category of psychological injury that required different treatment.

The article is here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Don't just look for the helpers. Be a helper

Elissa Strauss
Originally posted 3 April 20

Here is an excerpt:

One of the easiest ways to teach your children to be helpers is by doing more helping yourself.

"Modeling, also called observational learning, is one of the most underestimated and poorly used tools by parents," said Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.

Kazdin said modeling generosity can begin by simply appreciating generosity in others. Hear about something nice someone did for someone else? Point it out.

When parents do it themselves, they should make a habit of telling their children about it. Though, importantly, do not boast about it. "Be instructive, kind and gentle, rather than righteous," Kazdin said. (This should not be an opportunity for parents to toot their own horns.)

The amazing thing about modeling, Kazdin explained, is how it can teach our children skills without them ever actually doing anything. We can change who they are just by being the people we want them to become.

Kazdin said the brain's mirror networks — the marvelous trick of the mind that allows us to feel as though we are doing what we see others doing — is probably responsible. Our kids can experience the arc of giving, the initial flush of generosity, the execution of act and the helper's high, through us.

The info is here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The costs of being consequentialist: Social perceptions of those who harm and help for the greater good

Everett, J. A. C., Faber, N. S., Savulescu, J., & Crockett, M. (2017, December 15).
The Cost of Being Consequentialist. Retrieved from psyarxiv.com/a2kx6


Previous work has demonstrated that people are more likely to trust “deontological” agents who reject instrumentally harming one person to save a greater number than “consequentialist” agents who endorse such harm in pursuit of the greater good. It has been argued that these differential social perceptions of deontological vs. consequentialist agents could explain the higher prevalence of deontological moral intuitions. Yet consequentialism involves much more than decisions to endorse instrumental harm: another critical dimension is impartial beneficence, defined as the impartial maximization of the greater good, treating the well-being of every individual as equally important. In three studies (total N = 1,634), we investigated preferences for deontological vs. consequentialist social partners in both the domains of instrumental harm and impartial beneficence, and consider how such preferences vary across different types of social relationships.  Our results demonstrate consistent preferences for deontological over consequentialist agents across both domains of instrumental harm and impartial beneficence: deontological agents were viewed as more moral and trustworthy, and were actually entrusted with more money in a resource distribution task. However, preferences for deontological agents were stronger when those preferences were revealed via aversion to instrumental harm than impartial beneficence. Finally, in the domain of instrumental harm, deontological agents were uniformly preferred across a variety of social roles, but in the domain of impartial beneficence, people prefer deontologists for roles requiring direct interaction (friend, spouse, boss) but not for more distant roles with little-to-no personal interaction (political leader).

The research is here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

'The deserving’: Moral reasoning and ideological dilemmas in public responses to humanitarian communications

Irene Bruna Seu
British Journal of Social Psychology 55 (4), pp. 739-755.


This paper investigates everyday moral reasoning in relation to donations and prosocial behaviour in a humanitarian context. The discursive analysis focuses on the principles of deservingness which members of the public use to decide who to help and under what conditions.  The paper discusses three repertoires of deservingness: 'Seeing a difference', 'Waiting in queues' and 'Something for nothing ' to illustrate participants' dilemmatic reasoning and to examine how the position of 'being deserving' is negotiated in humanitarian crises.  Discursive analyses of these dilemmatic repertoires of deservingness identify the cultural and ideological resources behind these constructions and show how humanitarianism intersects and clashes with other ideologies and value systems.  The data suggest that a neoliberal ideology, which endorses self-gratification and materialistic and individualistic ethics, and cultural assimilation of helper and receiver play important roles in decisions about humanitarian helping. The paper argues for the need for psychological research to engage more actively with the dilemmas involved in the moral reasoning related to humanitarianism and to contextualize decisions about giving and helping within the socio-cultural and ideological landscape in which the helper operates.

The research is here.