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 Identity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Identity. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Scientists are on the verge of a male birth-control pill. Will men take it?

Jill Filipovic
The Guardian
Originally posted 18 Dec 23

Here is an excerpt:

The overwhelming share of responsibility for preventing pregnancy has always fallen on women. Throughout human history, women have gone to great lengths to prevent pregnancies they didn’t want, and end those they couldn’t prevent. Safe and reliable contraceptive methods are, in the context of how long women have sought to interrupt conception, still incredibly new. Measured by the lifespan of anyone reading this article, though, they are well established, and have for many decades been a normal part of life for millions of women around the world.

To some degree, and if only for obvious biological reasons, it makes sense that pregnancy prevention has historically fallen on women. But it also, as they say, takes two to tango – and only one of the partners has been doing all the work. Luckily, things are changing: thanks to generations of women who have gained unprecedented freedoms and planned their families using highly effective contraception methods, and thanks to men who have shifted their own gender expectations and become more involved partners and fathers, women and men have moved closer to equality than ever.

Among politically progressive couples especially, it’s now standard to expect that a male partner will do his fair share of the household management and childrearing (whether he actually does is a separate question, but the expectation is there). What men generally cannot do, though, is carry pregnancies and birth babies.

Here are some themes worthy of discussion:

Shifting responsibility: The potential availability of a reliable male contraceptive marks a significant departure from the historical norm where the burden of pregnancy prevention was primarily borne by women. This shift raises thought-provoking questions that delve into various aspects of societal dynamics.

Gender equality: A crucial consideration is whether men will willingly share responsibility for contraception on an equal footing, or whether societal norms will continue to exert pressure on women to take the lead in this regard.

Reproductive autonomy: The advent of accessible male contraception prompts contemplation on whether it will empower women to exert greater control over their reproductive choices, shaping the landscape of family planning.

Informed consent: An important facet of this shift involves how men will be informed about potential side effects and risks associated with the male contraceptive, particularly in comparison to existing female contraceptives.

Accessibility and equity: Concerns emerge regarding equitable access to the male contraceptive, particularly for marginalized communities. Questions arise about whether affordable and culturally appropriate access will be universally available, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location.

Coercion: There is a potential concern that the availability of a male contraceptive might be exploited to coerce women into sexual activity without their full and informed consent.

Psychological and social impact: The introduction of a male contraceptive brings with it potential psychological and social consequences that may not be immediately apparent.

Changes in sexual behavior: The availability of a male contraceptive may influence sexual practices and attitudes towards sex, prompting a reevaluation of societal norms.

Impact on relationships: The shift in responsibility for contraception could potentially cause tension or conflict in existing relationships as couples navigate the evolving dynamics.

Masculinity and stigma: The use of a male contraceptive may challenge traditional notions of masculinity, possibly leading to social stigma that individuals using the contraceptive may face.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Not all skepticism is “healthy” skepticism: Theorizing accuracy- and identity-motivated skepticism toward social media misinformation

Li, J. (2023). 
New Media & Society, 0(0). 


Fostering skepticism has been seen as key to addressing misinformation on social media. This article reveals that not all skepticism is “healthy” skepticism by theorizing, measuring, and testing the effects of two types of skepticism toward social media misinformation: accuracy- and identity-motivated skepticism. A two-wave panel survey experiment shows that when people’s skepticism toward social media misinformation is driven by accuracy motivations, they are less likely to believe in congruent misinformation later encountered. They also consume more mainstream media, which in turn reinforces accuracy-motivated skepticism. In contrast, when skepticism toward social media misinformation is driven by identity motivations, people not only fall for congruent misinformation later encountered, but also disregard platform interventions that flag a post as false. Moreover, they are more likely to see social media misinformation as favoring opponents and intentionally avoid news on social media, both of which form a vicious cycle of fueling more identity-motivated skepticism.


I have made the case that it is important to distinguish between accuracy-motivated skepticism and identity-motivated skepticism. They are empirically distinguishable constructs that cast opposing effects on outcomes important for a well-functioning democracy. Across the board, accuracy-motivated skepticism produces normatively desirable outcomes. Holding a higher level of accuracy-motivated skepticism makes people less likely to believe in congruent misinformation they encounter later, offering hope that partisan motivated reasoning can be attenuated. Accuracy-motivated skepticism toward social media misinformation also has a mutually reinforcing relationship with consuming news from mainstream media, which can serve to verify information on social media and produce potential learning effects.

In contrast, not all skepticism is “healthy” skepticism. Holding a higher level of identity-motivated skepticism not only increases people’s susceptibility to congruent misinformation they encounter later, but also renders content flagging by social media platforms less effective. This is worrisome as calls for skepticism and platform content moderation have been a crucial part of recently proposed solutions to misinformation. Further, identity-motivated skepticism reinforces perceived bias of misinformation and intentional avoidance of news on social media. These can form a vicious cycle of close-mindedness and politicization of misinformation.

This article advances previous understanding of skepticism by showing that beyond the amount of questioning (the tipping point between skepticism and cynicism), the type of underlying motivation matters for whether skepticism helps people become more informed. By bringing motivated reasoning and media skepticism into the same theoretical space, this article helps us make sense of the contradictory evidence on the utility of media skepticism. Skepticism in general should not be assumed to be “healthy” for democracy. When driven by identity motivations, skepticism toward social media misinformation is counterproductive for political learning; only when skepticism toward social media is driven by the accuracy motivations does it inoculate people against favorable falsehoods and encourage consumption of credible alternatives.

Here are some additional thoughts on the research:
  • The distinction between accuracy-motivated skepticism and identity-motivated skepticism is a useful one. It helps to explain why some people are more likely to believe in misinformation than others.
  • The findings of the studies suggest that interventions that promote accuracy-motivated skepticism could be effective in reducing the spread of misinformation on social media.
  • It is important to note that the research was conducted in the United States. It is possible that the findings would be different in other countries.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Varieties of White working-class identity

Knowles, E., McDermott, M., & Richeson, J.
(2021, July 2).


The present work demonstrates that, contrary to popular political narratives, working-class White Americans are far from monolithic in their class identities, social attitudes, and political preferences. Latent profile analysis (LPA) is used to distinguish three types of identity in a nationally representative sample of working-class Whites: Working Class Patriots, who valorize responsibility, embrace national identity, and disparage the poor; Class Conflict Aware, who regard social class as a structural phenomenon and ascribe elitist attitudes to higher classes; and Working Class Connected, who embrace working-class identity, sympathize with the poor, and feel disrespected because of the work they do. This identity typology appears unique to working-class Whites and is associated with distinct patterns of attitudes regarding immigration, race, and politics, such that Class Conflict Aware and Working Class Connected Whites are considerably more progressive than are Working Class Patriots. Implications for electoral politics and race relations are discussed.


Despite often being characterized as a monolithic social and political force, members of theWhite working class display considerable diversity in their intergroup attitudes and voting behavior(Smith & Hanley, 2018; Teixeira & Rogers, 2000; Tyson & Maniam, 2016). In an ethnographic study of working-class Whites in Kentucky, Missouri, and Indiana, McDermott and colleagues(2019) identified three identity types among White working-class interviewees:  Working ClassPatriots, who identity strongly as American, emphasize responsibility, disparage the poor, and report feeling respected in their jobs; Class Conflict Aware Whites, who see the working class as locked in a conflictual relationship with socioeconomic elites; and Working Class Connected Whites, who identify strongly as members of the working class, feel compassion toward the poor, and report feeling looked down on because of the work they do. These researchers found that the three identity types were associated with different patterns of social attitudes—with Patriots tending to disparage Black people and Latino immigrants, Conflict Aware Whites displaying progressive attitudes toward these groups, and Class Connected Whites exhibiting a combination of tolerant attitudes toward immigrants and hostile attitudes toward Black people.

The present research represents a quantitative extension of these qualitative findings. In a nationally representative sample of working-class (non–college-educated) White Americans, we measured five themes emerging from previous qualitative work: American identification, the value placed on responsibility, psychological distance from the poor, the belief in stark divisions between social classes, and the tendency to feel looked down on by members of higher classes. Latent profile analysis (LPA) was then used to assess whether the White American population contains discrete types resembling the Working Class Patriot, Class Conflict Aware, and Working Class Connected groups. Indeed, the best LPA solution yielded three identity types based on our five indicators, and these types could be readily matched to those found in McDermott et al.’s (2019) qualitative work(Figure 1a). The representation of the types in our survey sample broadly matched the breakdown in the ethnographic study—with Patriots making up the majority of respondents and the remaining sample split roughly between Class Conflict Aware and Working Class Connected Whites.

Psychologists need to understand that white working class culture is not monolithic, just like other cultures.

Monday, November 28, 2022

What is behind the rise in girls questioning their gender identity?

Amelia Gentleman
The Guardian
Originally posted 24 Nov 22

Here is an excerpt:

The trend was confirmed by clinicians who spoke to the Guardian.

“In the past few years it has become an explosion. Many of us feel confused by what has happened, and it’s often hard to talk about it to colleagues,” said a London-based psychiatrist working in a child and adolescent mental health unit, who has been a consultant for the past 17 years.

Like all NHS employees interviewed, she asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

“I might have seen one child with gender dysphoria once every two years when I started practising. It was very niche and rare.” Now, somewhere between 10% and 20% of her caseload is made up of adolescents registered as female at birth who identify as non-binary or trans, with just an occasional male-registered teenager who identifies as trans.

Another senior child psychiatrist said girls who wanted to transition made up about 5% of her caseload.

“In the last five to 10 years we’ve seen a huge surge in young women who, at the age of around 12 or 13, want to become boys. They’ve changed their name and they are pressing … to have hormones or puberty blockers”

The psychiatrist added: “Often those girls are children who are going through the normal identity and developmental problems of adolescence and finding a solution for themselves in this way.”

Greater awareness of trans issues is likely to be one common-sense explanation for the rise in requests for referrals.

“Left-handedness increased over time after we stopped punishing left-handed children in schools, because some children are naturally left-handed and were now able to express it,” said Cleo Madeleine, a spokesperson for the trans support group Gendered Intelligence.

“In the same way, increased visibility and acceptance of trans people has led to a gradual increase in young people who feel comfortable expressing their trans identity. The most important thing is to recognise that this is not a problem to be solved or a bad outcome to be avoided.”

The mother of a 17-year-old A-level student (who came out as trans at 13, leaving a handwritten letter for his parents on his bed) agreed: “It’s discussed so much more – on Facebook and on social media. It’s no longer a taboo.”

She is confident this was the right decision for her child. “I think I wondered if this was a phase, but I didn’t look to dissuade him. As he began to socially transition he was a different person. It has made him happier,” she said.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Dangerous as the Plague

Samuel Huneke
The Baffler
Originally posted 23 JUN 22

Here is an excerpt:

There is not enough space here to enumerate all of the similarities and differences between National Socialism and today’s right, but the place of Christianity in each movement is instructive. The churches were always on tenuous terms at best with Hitler’s state. Many Nazi leaders were openly hostile to Christianity and to the “traditional” family. Homosexuality posed a threat to Nazism not in moral terms, but rather in social and political terms, threatening to undermine its homosocial order. In stark contrast, the American right today remains in thrall to white Christian nationalism, which openly seeks to impose its own version of morality on the nation. The threat queerness poses to this version of patriarchal Christianity, coupled with broader anxieties about loss of social status, is what appears to motivate the new right’s transphobia and homophobia.

The endurance of these tropes also highlights the limits of the professionalized LGBTQ political movement in this country, which has prioritized visibility and assimilation—eschewing more revolutionary strategies that would encompass the needs of the most marginalized. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign have been successful up to a point, but their strategies were always predicated on the notion that if queer people were visible and showed that they weren’t actually that different, prejudice would seep away. Because its aim was assimilation, this tactic fundamentally upheld the division between normal and abnormal on which animus rests. Instead of contesting that very division, it sought to put certain queer people on the “right” side of it. In this way, it also misunderstood hatred as a product of ignorance rather than a political strategy or an expression of sublimated anxieties.

Now animus against queer people—especially trans people—is back with a vengeance. From the conspiracy-addled world of QAnon, in which a shadowy cabal of pedophiles, juiced on the blood of children, runs the world, to the mendacity of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (or TERFs), a growing segment of the population seems willing to entertain the notion that lesbians, gay men, and trans people are “recruiting” children. The bestseller Irreversible Damage, published in 2020 and reaching audiences well beyond the fringe right, insisted that girls were being seduced by a “transgender craze” that it termed a “contagion.” Just before Pride month, U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has embraced the rhetoric of “grooming,” predicted that in “four or five generations, no one will be straight anymore.”

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.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Do Obligations Follow the Mind or Body?

Protzko, J., Tobia, K., Strohminger, N.,
& Schooler, J.  (2022, February 7). 
Retrieved from psyarxiv.com/m5a6g


Do you persist as the same person over time because you keep the same mind or because you keep the same body? Philosophers have long investigated this question of personal identity with thought experiments. Cognitive scientists have joined this tradition by assessing lay intuitions about those cases. Much of this work has focused on judgments of identity continuity. But identity also has practical significance: obligations are tagged to one’s identity over time. Understanding how someone persists as the same person over time could provide insight into how and why moral and legal obligations persist. In this paper, we investigate judgments of obligations in hypothetical cases where a person’s mind and body diverge (e.g., brain transplant cases). We find a striking pattern of results: In assigning obligations in these identity test cases, people are divided among three groups: “body-followers”, “mind-followers”, and “splitters”—people who say that the obligation is split between the mind and the body. Across studies, responses are predicted by a variety of factors, including mind/body dualism, essentialism, education, and professional training. When we give this task to professional lawyers, accountants, and bankers, we find they are more inclined to rely on bodily continuity in tracking obligations. These findings reveal not only the heterogeneity of intuitions about identity, but how these intuitions relate to the legal standing of an individual’s obligations.

From the General Discussion

Whether one is a mind-follower, body-follower, or splitter was predicted by several psychological traits, suggesting that participants’ decisions were not arbitrary. Furthermore, the use of comprehension checks did not moderate the results, so the variety of assigning obligations were not due to participants not understanding the scenarios. We found physical essentialism and mind/body dualism predict body-following; while the best educated participants are more likely mind-followers and the least educated are more likely splitters. The professional experts were more likely to be body-followers.

Essentialism predicted the belief that obligations track the body. This may seem mysterious, until we consider that much of essentialism has to do with tracking a physical (if invisible) properties. Here is a sample item from the Beliefs in Essentialism Scale: Trying on a sweater that Hitler wore, even if it was washed thoroughly beforehand, would make me very uncomfortable (Horne & Cimpian, 2019). If someone believes that essences are physically real in this way, it makes sense that they would also believe that obligations and identity go with the body. 

Consideration of specific items in the Mind/body Dualism Scale (Nadelhoffer et al., 2014) similarly offer insight into its relationship with the continuity of obligation in this study. Items like Human action can only be understood in terms of our souls and minds and not just in terms of our brains, indicate that for mind/body dualists, a person is not reducible to their brain. Accordingly, for mind/body dualists, though the brain may change, something else remains in the body that maintains both identity and obligations.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Social threat indirectly increases moral condemnation via thwarting fundamental social needs

Henderson, R.K., Schnall, S.
Sci Rep 11, 21709 (2021).


Individuals who experience threats to their social needs may attempt to avert further harm by condemning wrongdoers more severely. Three pre-registered studies tested whether threatened social esteem is associated with increased moral condemnation. In Study 1 (N = 381) participants played a game in which they were socially included or excluded and then evaluated the actions of moral wrongdoers. We observed an indirect effect: Exclusion increased social needs-threat, which in turn increased moral condemnation. Study 2 (N = 428) was a direct replication, and also showed this indirect effect. Both studies demonstrated the effect across five moral foundations, and was most pronounced for harm violations. Study 3 (N = 102) examined dispositional concerns about social needs threat, namely social anxiety, and showed a positive correlation between this trait and moral judgments. Overall, results suggest threatened social standing is linked to moral condemnation, presumably because moral wrongdoers pose a further threat when one’s ability to cope is already compromised.

From the General Discussion

These findings indicating that social threat is associated with harsher moral judgments suggest that various threats to survival can influence assessments of moral wrongdoing. Indeed, it has been proposed that the reason social exclusion reliably results in negative emotions is because social disconnectedness has been detrimental throughout human societies. As we found in Studies 1 and 2 and consistent with prior research, even brief exclusion via a simulated computer game can thwart fundamental social needs. Taken together, these experimental and correlational findings suggest that an elevated sense of danger appears to fortify moral judgment, because when safety is compromised, wrongdoers represent yet another source of potential danger. As a consequence, vulnerable individuals may be motivated to condemn moral violations more harshly. Interestingly, the null finding for loneliness suggests that amplified moral condemnation is not associated with having no social connections in the first place, but rather, with the existence or prospect of social threat. Relatedly, prior research has shown that greater cortisol release is associated with social anxiety but not with loneliness indicating that the body’s stress response does not react to loneliness in the same way as it does to social threat.

Monday, June 28, 2021

You are a network

Kathleen Wallace
Originally published

Here is an excerpt:

Social identities are traits of selves in virtue of membership in communities (local, professional, ethnic, religious, political), or in virtue of social categories (such as race, gender, class, political affiliation) or interpersonal relations (such as being a spouse, sibling, parent, friend, neighbour). These views imply that it’s not only embodiment and not only memory or consciousness of social relations but the relations themselves that also matter to who the self is. What philosophers call ‘4E views’ of cognition – for embodied, embedded, enactive and extended cognition – are also a move in the direction of a more relational, less ‘container’, view of the self. Relational views signal a paradigm shift from a reductive approach to one that seeks to recognise the complexity of the self. The network self view further develops this line of thought and says that the self is relational through and through, consisting not only of social but also physical, genetic, psychological, emotional and biological relations that together form a network self. The self also changes over time, acquiring and losing traits in virtue of new social locations and relations, even as it continues as that one self.

How do you self-identify? You probably have many aspects to yourself and would resist being reduced to or stereotyped as any one of them. But you might still identify yourself in terms of your heritage, ethnicity, race, religion: identities that are often prominent in identity politics. You might identify yourself in terms of other social and personal relationships and characteristics – ‘I’m Mary’s sister.’ ‘I’m a music-lover.’ ‘I’m Emily’s thesis advisor.’ ‘I’m a Chicagoan.’ Or you might identify personality characteristics: ‘I’m an extrovert’; or commitments: ‘I care about the environment.’ ‘I’m honest.’ You might identify yourself comparatively: ‘I’m the tallest person in my family’; or in terms of one’s political beliefs or affiliations: ‘I’m an independent’; or temporally: ‘I’m the person who lived down the hall from you in college,’ or ‘I’m getting married next year.’ Some of these are more important than others, some are fleeting. The point is that who you are is more complex than any one of your identities. Thinking of the self as a network is a way to conceptualise this complexity and fluidity.

Let’s take a concrete example. Consider Lindsey: she is spouse, mother, novelist, English speaker, Irish Catholic, feminist, professor of philosophy, automobile driver, psychobiological organism, introverted, fearful of heights, left-handed, carrier of Huntington’s disease (HD), resident of New York City. This is not an exhaustive set, just a selection of traits or identities. Traits are related to one another to form a network of traits. Lindsey is an inclusive network, a plurality of traits related to one another. The overall character – the integrity – of a self is constituted by the unique interrelatedness of its particular relational traits, psychobiological, social, political, cultural, linguistic and physical.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Making moral principles suit yourself

Stanley, M.L., Henne, P., Niemi, L. et al. 
Psychon Bull Rev (2021). 


Normative ethical theories and religious traditions offer general moral principles for people to follow. These moral principles are typically meant to be fixed and rigid, offering reliable guides for moral judgment and decision-making. In two preregistered studies, we found consistent evidence that agreement with general moral principles shifted depending upon events recently accessed in memory. After recalling their own personal violations of moral principles, participants agreed less strongly with those very principles—relative to participants who recalled events in which other people violated the principles. This shift in agreement was explained, in part, by people’s willingness to excuse their own moral transgressions, but not the transgressions of others. These results have important implications for understanding the roles memory and personal identity in moral judgment. People’s commitment to moral principles may be maintained when they recall others’ past violations, but their commitment may wane when they recall their own violations.

From the General Discussion

 Moral disengagement mechanisms (e.g., distorting the consequences of actions, dehumanizing victims)
help people to convince themselves that their actions are permissible and that their ethical standards need not apply in certain contexts (Bandura, 1999; Bandura et al., 1996; Detert et al., 2008). These disengagement mechanisms are thought to help people to protect their favorable views of themselves.
Note that convincing oneself that a particular action is morally acceptable in a particular context via moral disengagement entails maintaining the same level of agreement with the overarching moral principles; the principle just does not apply in some particular context. In contrast, our findings suggest that by reflecting on their own morally objectionable actions, people’s agreement with the overarching, guiding principles
changes. It is not that the principle does not apply; it is that the principle is held with less conviction.


Normative ethical theories and religious traditions that offer general moral principles are meant to help us to understand aspects of ourselves and our world in ways that offer insights and guidance for living a moral life (Albertzart, 2013; Väyrynen, 2008). Our findings introduce some cause for doubt about the stability of moral principles over time, and therefore, their reliability as accurate indicators of moral judgments and actions in the real world.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Do Brain Implants Change Your Identity?

Christine Kenneally
The New Yorker
Originally posted 19 Apr 21

Here are two excerpts:

Today, at least two hundred thousand people worldwide, suffering from a wide range of conditions, live with a neural implant of some kind. In recent years, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Bryan Johnson, the founder of the payment-processing company Braintree, all announced neurotechnology projects for restoring or even enhancing human abilities. As we enter this new era of extra-human intelligence, it’s becoming apparent that many people develop an intense relationship with their device, often with profound effects on their sense of identity. These effects, though still little studied, are emerging as crucial to a treatment’s success.

The human brain is a small electrical device of super-galactic complexity. It contains an estimated hundred billion neurons, with many more links between them than there are stars in the Milky Way. Each neuron works by passing an electrical charge along its length, causing neurotransmitters to leap to the next neuron, which ignites in turn, usually in concert with many thousands of others. Somehow, human intelligence emerges from this constant, thrilling choreography. How it happens remains an almost total mystery, but it has become clear that neural technologies will be able to synch with the brain only if they learn the steps of this dance.


For the great majority of patients, deep-brain stimulation was beneficial and life-changing, but there were occasional reports of strange behavioral reactions, such as hypomania and hypersexuality. Then, in 2006, a French team published a study about the unexpected consequences of otherwise successful implantations. Two years after a brain implant, sixty-five per cent of patients had a breakdown in their marriages or relationships, and sixty-four per cent wanted to leave their careers. Their intellect and their levels of anxiety and depression were the same as before, or, in the case of anxiety, had even improved, but they seemed to experience a fundamental estrangement from themselves. One felt like an electronic doll. Another said he felt like RoboCop, under remote control.

Gilbert describes himself as “an applied eliminativist.” He doesn’t believe in a soul, or a mind, at least as we normally think of them, and he strongly questions whether there is a thing you could call a self. He suspected that people whose marriages broke down had built their identities and their relationships around their pathologies. When those were removed, the relationships no longer worked. Gilbert began to interview patients. He used standardized questionnaires, a procedure that is methodologically vital for making dependable comparisons, but soon he came to feel that something about this unprecedented human experience was lost when individual stories were left out. The effects he was studying were inextricable from his subjects’ identities, even though those identities changed.

Many people reported that the person they were after treatment was entirely different from the one they’d been when they had only dreamed of relief from their symptoms. Some experienced an uncharacteristic buoyancy and confidence. One woman felt fifteen years younger and tried to lift a pool table, rupturing a disk in her back. One man noticed that his newfound confidence was making life hard for his wife; he was too “full-on.” Another woman became impulsive, walking ten kilometres to a psychologist’s appointment nine days after her surgery. She was unrecognizable to her family. They told her that they grieved for the old her.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Mapping Principal Dimensions of Prejudice in the United States

R. Bergh & M. J. Brandt


Research  is often guided  by  maps  of  elementary  dimensions, such  as core  traits, foundations  of  morality,  and principal stereotype  dimensions. Yet  there is no comprehensive  map of prejudice dimensions. A major  limiter of  developing  a prejudice map is the ad hoc sampling of target groups. We used a broad and largely theory-agnostic  selection  of  groups  to  derive  a  map  of  principal dimensions of expressed prejudice in contemporary American society. Across a   series   of exploratory and confirmatory studies, we found three principal factors: Prejudice against marginalized groups, prejudice against privileged/conservative groups, and prejudice   against unconventional groups(with some inverse loadings for conservative groups). We documented distinct correlates foreach factor, in terms of social    identifications, perceived    threats, personality, and    behavioral manifestations. We discuss how the current map integrates several lines of research, and point to novel and underexplored insights about prejudice.


Concluding Remarks

Identifying distinct, broad domains of prejudice is important for the same reason as differentiating bacteria and viruses. While diseases may require very specific treatments, it is still helpful to know which broad category they fall in. Virtually all prejudice interventions to date are based on generic methods for changing mindsets based on “us” versus “them” (Paluck & Green, 2009). While value-based prejudice might fit with this kind of thinking (Cikara et al., 2017), that seems more questionable for biases based on status and power differences (Bergh et al., 2016).  For that reason, it would seem relevant to outline basic kinds of prejudice, and here we propose that there are three such factors, at least in the American context: Prejudice against privileged/conservative groups, prejudice against marginalized groups, and prejudice expressed toward either conventional or unconventional groups(inversely related).

With this research, we are not challenging research programs aimed to identify specific explanations for specific group evaluations (e.g., Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005; Mackie et al., 2000; Mackie & Smith, 2015). Yet, we believe it is important to also recognize that there are–in addition –clear and broad commonalities between prejudices toward different groups. Studying racism, sexism, and ageism as isolated phenomena, for instance, is missing a bigger picture–especially when the common features account for more than half of the individual variability in these attitudes (e.g., Bergh et al., 2012; Ekehammar & Akrami, 2003). In the current studies, we also showed that such commonalities are associated with broad patterns of behaviors: Those who were prejudiced against marginalized and unconventional groups were less likely to donate to in general, regardless if charity would benefit a conservative, unconventional or marginalized group cause. In other words, people who are generally prejudiced in the classic sense seem more self-serving (versus prosocial) in a fairly broad sense. Such findings are clearly complementary to specific, emotion-driven biases for understanding human behavior.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Brain Scans Confirm There's a Part of You That Remains 'You' Throughout Your Life

Mike McRae
Science Alert
Originally published 27 Nov 20

At the very core of your identity a kernel of self awareness combines memories of the past with the fleeting sensations of the present, and adds a touch of anticipation for the future.

The question of whether this ongoing sense of 'you' is as robust as it feels has intrigued philosophers and psychologists throughout the ages. A new, small psychobiological study weighs in, looking at brain scans to conclude that at least some part of you is indeed consistent as you grow and age.

"In our study, we tried to answer the question of whether we are the same person throughout our lives," says Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist from the Complutense University of Madrid.

"In conjunction with the previous literature, our results indicate that there is a component that remains stable while another part is more susceptible to change over time."

Self-continuity forms the very basis of identity. Every time you use the word 'I', you're referring to a thread that stitches a series of experiences into a tapestry of a lifetime, representing a relationship between the self of your youth with one yet to emerge.

Yet identity is more than the sum of its parts. Consider the allegory of Theseus's ship, or the grandfather's axe paradox – a tool that's had its shaft replaced, as well as its head, but is still somehow the same axe that belonged to grandfather.

If our experiences change us, swapping out components of our identity with every heart break and every promotion, every illness and every windfall, can we truly still say we see ourself as the same person today as we were when we were four years old?

You can be forgiven for thinking this sounds more like philosophical navel-gazing than something science can address. But there are perspectives which psychology – and even the wiring of our neurological programming – can flesh out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Hate Trumps Love: The Impact of Political Polarization on Social Preferences

Eugen Dimant
Published 4 September 20


Political polarization has ruptured the fabric of U.S. society. The focus of this paper is to examine various layers of (non-)strategic decision-making that are plausibly affected by political polarization through the lens of one's feelings of hate and love for Donald J. Trump. In several pre-registered experiments, I document the behavioral-, belief-, and norm-based mechanisms through which perceptions of interpersonal closeness, altruism, and cooperativeness are affected by polarization, both within and between political factions. To separate ingroup-love from outgroup-hate, the political setting is contrasted with a minimal group setting. I find strong heterogeneous effects: ingroup-love occurs in the perceptional domain (how close one feels towards others), whereas outgroup-hate occurs in the behavioral domain (how one helps/harms/cooperates with others). In addition, the pernicious outcomes of partisan identity also comport with the elicited social norms. Noteworthy, the rich experimental setting also allows me to examine the drivers of these behaviors, suggesting that the observed partisan rift might be not as forlorn as previously suggested: in the contexts studied here, the adverse behavioral impact of the resulting intergroup conflict can be attributed to one's grim expectations about the cooperativeness of the opposing faction, as opposed to one's actual unwillingness to cooperate with them.

From the Conclusion and Discussion

Along all investigated dimensions, I obtain strong effects and the following results: for one, polarization produces ingroup/outgroup differentiation in all three settings (nonstrategic, Experiment 1; strategic, Experiment 2; social norms, Experiment 3), leading participants to actively harm and cooperate less with participants from the opposing faction. For another, lack of cooperation is not the result of a categorical unwillingness to cooperate across factions, but based on one’s grim expectations about the other’s willingness to cooperate. Importantly, however, the results also cast light on the nuance with which ingroup-love and outgroup-hate – something that existing literature often takes as being two sides of the same coin – occurs. In particular, by comparing behavior between the Trump Prime and minimal group prime treatments, the results suggest that ingroup-love can be observed in terms of feeling close to one another, whereas outgroup hate appears in form of taking money away from and being less cooperative with each other. The elicited norms are consistent with these observations and also point out that those who love Trump have a much weaker ingroup/outgroup differentiation than those who hate Trump do.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Racism among white Christians is higher than among the nonreligious. That's no coincidence.

Robert Jones
Originally published 27 July 20

Here are two excerpts:

As a white Christian who was raised Southern Baptist and shaped by a denominational college and seminary, it pains me to see these patterns in the data. Even worse, these questions only hint at the magnitude of the problem.

To determine the breadth of these attitudes, I created a "Racism Index," a measure consisting of 15 questions designed to get beyond personal biases and include perceptions of structural injustice. These questions included the three above, as well as questions about the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system and general perceptions of race, racism and racial discrimination.

Even at a glance, the Racism Index reveals a clear distinction. Compared to nonreligious whites, white Christians register higher median scores on the Racism Index, and the differences among white Christian subgroups are largely differences of degree rather than kind.

Not surprisingly, given their concentration in the South, white evangelical Protestants have the highest median score (0.78) on the Racism Index. But it is a mistake to see this as merely a Southern or an evangelical problem. The median scores of white Catholics (0.72) and white mainline Protestants (0.69) — groups that are more culturally dominant in the Northeast and the Midwest — are not far behind. Notably, the median score for each white Christian subgroup is significantly above the median scores of the general population (0.57), white religiously unaffiliated Americans (0.42) and Black Protestants (0.24).


The results point to a stark conclusion: While most white Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans, holding racist views is nonetheless positively and independently associated with white Christian identity. Again, this troubling relationship holds not just for white evangelical Protestants, but also for white mainline Protestants and white Catholics.

The info is here.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Moral Self and Moral Duties

Everett, J. A. C., Skorburg, J. A., & Savulescu, J.
(2020, January 6).


Recent research has begun treating the perennial philosophical question, “what makes a person the same over time?” as an empirical question. A long tradition in philosophy holds that psychological continuity and connectedness of memories are at the heart of personal identity. More recent experimental work, following Strohminger & Nichols (2014), has suggested that persistence of moral character, more than memories, is perceived as essential for personal identity. While there is a growing body of evidence supporting these findings, a critique by Starmans & Bloom (2018) suggests that this research program conflates personal identity with mere similarity. To address this criticism, we explore how loss of someone’s morality or memories influence perceptions of identity change, and perceptions of moral duties towards the target of the change. We present participants with a classic ‘body switch’ thought experiment and after assessing perceptions of identity persistence, we present a moral dilemma, asking participants to imagine that one of the patients must die (Study 1) or be left alone in a care home for the rest of their life (Study 2). Our results highlight the importance of the continuity of moral character, suggesting lay intuitions are tracking (something like) personal identity, not just mere similarity.

The ending:

Finally, it is important to reiterate that our work here seeks to shed light on  ordinary  people’s intuitions  about personal  identity and  moral duties and  not  to  draw  metaphysical  conclusions  about  the  nature  of  personal identity per se. We show that ordinary people think that morality is important for psychological  continuity  and  that this judgment  is  related  to  sub-sequent perceptions of moral duties. It is possible that people are mistaken about  the  nature  of  personal  identity  or  their  moral  duties,  but  that  is a debate for another paper.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Concealment of nonreligious identity: Exploring social identity threat among atheists and other nonreligious individuals

Mackey, C. D., Silver, and others
(2020). Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.


Negative attitudes toward the nonreligious persist in America. This may compel some nonreligious individuals to conceal their identity to manage feelings of social identity threat. In one correlational study and one experiment, we found evidence of social identity threat and concealment behavior among nonreligious Americans. Our first study showed that Southern nonreligious individuals reported higher levels of stigma consciousness and self-reported concealment of nonreligious identity, which in turn predicted lower likelihood of self-identifying as “atheist” in public settings than in private settings. Our second study successfully manipulated feelings of social identity threat by showing that atheists who read an article about negative stereotypes of their group subsequently exhibited higher concealment scores than did atheists who read one of two control articles. Implications for how nonreligious individuals negotiate social identity threat and future directions for nonreligion research are discussed.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Is identity illusory?

Andreas L. Mogensen
European Journal of Philosophy
First published 29 April 2020


Certain of our traits are thought more central to who we are: they comprise our individual identity. What makes these traits privileged in this way? What accounts for their identity centrality? Although considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of moral philosophy, I argue that we currently have no satisfactory account of the basis of identity centrality. Nor should we expect one. Rather, we should adopt an error theory: we should concede that there is nothing in reality corresponding to the perceived distinction between the central and peripheral traits of a person.

Here is an excerpt:

Considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of contemporary moral philosophy. The following is not intended as an exhaustive survey. I will focus on just four key issues: the ethics of biomedical enhancement; blame and responsibility; constructivist theories in meta‐ethics; and the value of moral testimony.

The wide‐ranging moral importance of individual identity plausibly reflects its intimate connection to the ethics of authenticity (Taylor, 1991). To a first approximation, authenticity is achieved when the way a person lives is expressive of her most centrally defining traits. Inauthenticity occurs when she fails to give expression to these traits. The key anxiety attached to the ideal of authenticity is that the conditions of modern life conspire to mask the true self beneath the demands of social conformity and the enticements of mass culture (Riesman, Glazer, & Denney, 1961/2001; Rousseau, 1782/2011). In spite of this perceived incongruity, authenticity is considered one of the constitutive ideals of modernity (Guignon, 2004; Taylor, 1989, 1991).

Considerations of authenticity have played a key role in recent debates on human enhancement (Juth, 2011). The specific type of enhancement at issue here is cosmetic psychopharmacology: the use of psychiatric drugs to bring about changes in mood and personality, allowing already healthy individuals to lead happier and more successful lives by becoming less shy, more confident, etc. (Kramer, 1993). Many find cosmetic psychopharmacology disturbing. In an influential paper, Elliott (1998) suggests that what disturbs us is the apparent inauthenticity involved in this kind of personal transformation: the pursuit of a new, enhanced personality represents a flight from the real you. Defenders of enhancement charge that Elliott's concern rests on a mistaken conception of identity. DeGrazia (2000, 2005) argues that Elliott fails to appreciate the extent to which a person's identity is determined by her own reflexive attitudes. Because of the authoritative role assigned to a person's self‐conception, DeGrazia concludes that if a person wholeheartedly desires to change some aspect of herself, she cannot meaningfully be accused of inauthenticity.

The paper is here.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Does virtue lead to status? Testing the moral virtue theory of status attainment.

Bai, F., Ho, G. C. C., & Yan, J. (2020).
Journal of Personality and 
Social Psychology, 118(3), 501–531.


The authors perform one of the first empirical tests of the moral virtue theory of status attainment (MVT), a conceptual framework for showing that morality leads to status. Studies 1a to 1d are devoted to developing and validating a 15-item status attainment scale (SAS) to measure how virtue leads to admiration (virtue–admiration), how dominance leads to fear (dominance–fear), and how competence leads to respect (competence–respect). Studies 2a and 2b are an exploration of the nomological network and discriminant validity to show that peer-reported virtue–admiration is positively related to moral character and perceptions such as perceived warmth and unrelated to amoral constructs such as neuroticism. In addition, virtue–admiration mediates the positive effect of several self-reported moral character traits, such as moral identity-internalization, on status conferral. Study 3 supports the external validity of the virtue route to status in a sample of full-time managers from China. In Study 4, a preregistered experiment, virtue evokes superior status while selfishness evokes inferior status. Perceivers who are high in moral character show stronger perceptions of superior status. Finally, Study 5, another preregistered experiment, shows that virtue leads to higher status through inducing virtue–admiration rather than competence–respect, even for incompetent actors. The findings provide initial support for MVT arguing that virtue is a distinct, third route to status.

The research is here.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Docs Decry ‘Moral Injury’ From Financial Pressures Of Health Care

Melissa Bailey
Kaiser Health News
Originally published 4 Feb 20

Here are two excerpts:

But “the real priority is speed and money and not our patients’ care,” Corl said. “That makes it tough for doctors who know they could be doing better for their patients.”

Dean said people often frame burnout as a personal failing. Doctors get the message: “If you did more yoga, if you ate more salmon salad, if you went for a longer run, it would help.” But, she argued, burnout is a symptom of deeper systemic problems beyond clinicians’ control.


“The health system is not set up to help patients. It’s set up to make money,” he said.

The best way to approach this problem, he said, is to help future generations of doctors understand “how decisions made at the systems level impact how we care about patients” — so they can “stand up for what’s right.”

Whether these experiences amount to moral injury is open for discussion.

Cynda Rushton, a nurse and professor of clinical ethics at Johns Hopkins University, who has studied the related notion of “moral distress” for 25 years, said there isn’t a base of research, as there is for moral distress, to measure moral injury among clinicians.

But “what both of these terms signify,” Rushton said, “is a sense of suffering that clinicians are experiencing in their roles now, in ways that they haven’t in the past.”

Dean grew interested in moral injury from personal experience: After a decade of treating patients as a psychiatrist, she stopped because of financial pressures. She said she wanted to treat her patients in longer visits, offering both psychotherapy and medication management, but that became more difficult. Insurers would rather pay her for only a 15-minute session to manage medications and let a lower-paid therapist handle the therapy.

The info is here.