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 Meta-analysis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Meta-analysis. Show all posts

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Empathy Trends in American Youth Between 1979 and 2018: An Update

Konrath, S., et al. (2023).
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 0(0).


Previous research has found declining dispositional empathy among American youth from 1979 to 2009. We update these trends until 2018, using three datasets. Study 1 presents a cross-temporal meta-analysis of undergraduates’ empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index), finding significant cubic trends over time: perspective taking (PT) and empathic concern (EC) both increased since 2009. Study 2 conceptually replicated these findings using nationally representative datasets, also showing increasing PT (Study 2a: American Freshman Survey) and EC (Study 2b: Monitoring the Future Survey) since 2009. We include economic, interpersonal, and worldview covariates to test for potential explanations, finding evidence that empathy trends may be related to recent changes in interpersonal dynamics.


Shifting trend: Contrary to earlier studies, researchers found that empathy among college students has increased since 2009 in two key dimensions: perspective taking (understanding another's viewpoint) and empathic concern (sharing another's feelings).

Data sources: The study used three datasets: a meta-analysis of college students' self-reported empathy, a nationally representative survey of freshmen (American Freshman Survey), and another national survey of high school students (Monitoring the Future Survey).

Possible explanations: The reasons for the shift are explored, with potential factors including changes in interpersonal dynamics, increased exposure to diverse perspectives through technology, and growing involvement in social movements emphasizing empathy and social justice.

Overall, the research suggests that the story of empathy in American youth may be more nuanced than previously thought. While earlier studies documented a decline, recent data points towards a possible reversal. Understanding the factors influencing empathy trends is crucial for fostering a more compassionate and connected society.

The study highlights the importance of using multiple data sources and different measurement methods to gain a comprehensive understanding of complex social phenomena.  Further research is needed to confirm the trend and explore its causes in more detail.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Personality and prosocial behavior: A theoretical framework and meta-analysis

Thielmann, I., Spadaro, G., & Balliet, D. (2020).
Psychological Bulletin, 146(1), 30–90.


Decades of research document individual differences in prosocial behavior using controlled experiments that model social interactions in situations of interdependence. However, theoretical and empirical integration of the vast literature on the predictive validity of personality traits to account for these individual differences is missing. Here, we present a theoretical framework that identifies 4 broad situational affordances across interdependent situations (i.e., exploitation, reciprocity, temporal conflict, and dependence under uncertainty) and more specific subaffordances within certain types of interdependent situations (e.g., possibility to increase equality in outcomes) that can determine when, which, and how personality traits should be expressed in prosocial behavior. To test this framework, we meta-analyzed 770 studies reporting on 3,523 effects of 8 broad and 43 narrow personality traits on prosocial behavior in interdependent situations modeled in 6 commonly studied economic games (Dictator Game, Ultimatum Game, Trust Game, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods Game, and Commons Dilemma). Overall, meta-analytic correlations ranged between −.18 ≤ ρ̂ ≤ .26, and most traits yielding a significant relation to prosocial behavior had conceptual links to the affordances provided in interdependent situations, most prominently the possibility for exploitation. Moreover, for several traits, correlations within games followed the predicted pattern derived from a theoretical analysis of affordances. On the level of traits, we found that narrow and broad traits alike can account for prosocial behavior, informing the bandwidth-fidelity problem. In sum, the meta-analysis provides a theoretical foundation that can guide future research on prosocial behavior and advance our understanding of individual differences in human prosociality.

Public Significance Statement

This meta-analysis provides a theoretical framework and empirical test identifying when, how, and which of 51 personality traits account for individual variation in prosocial behavior. The meta-analysis shows that the relations between personality traits and prosocial behavior can be understood in terms of a few situational affordances (e.g., a possibility for exploitation, a possibility for reciprocity, dependence on others under uncertainty) that allow specific traits to become expressed in behavior across a variety of interdependent situations. As such, the meta-analysis provides a theoretical basis for understanding individual differences in prosocial behavior in various situations that individuals face in their everyday social interactions.

A massive review of the literature finds that the best predictors of pro-social behavior are:
  1. social value orientation
  2. proneness to feel guilt
  3. humility/honesty

Friday, October 20, 2023

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

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


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


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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Observation moderates the moral licensing effect: A meta-analytic test of interpersonal and intrapsychic mechanisms.

Rotella, A., Jung, J., Chinn, C., 
& Barclay, P. (2023, March 28).


Moral licensing occurs when someone who initially behaved morally subsequently acts less morally. We apply reputation-based theories to predict when and why moral licensing would occur. Specifically, our pre-registered predictions were that (1) participants observed during the licensing manipulation would have larger licensing effects, and (2) unambiguous dependent variables would have smaller licensing effects. In a pre-registered multi-level meta-analysis of 111 experiments (N = 19,335), we found a larger licensing effect when participants were observed (Hedge’s g = 0.61) compared to unobserved (Hedge’s g = 0.14). Ambiguity did not moderate the effect. The overall moral licensing effect was small (Hedge’s g = 0.18). We replicated these analyses using robust Bayesian meta-analysis and found strong support for the moral licensing effect only when participants are observed. These results suggest that the moral licensing effect is predominantly an interpersonal effect based on reputation, rather than an intrapsychic effect based on self-image.

Statement of Relevance

When and why will people behave morally?Everyday, people make decisions to act in ways that are more or less moral –holding a door open for others, donating to charity, or assistant a colleague. Yet, it is not well understood how people’s prior actions influence their subsequent behaviors. In this study, we investigated how observation influences the moral licensing effect, which is when someone who was initially moral subsequently behaves less morally, as if they had“license” to act badly.  In a review of existing literature, we found a larger moral licensing effect when people were seen to act morally compared to when they were unobserved, which suggests that once someone establishes a moral reputation to others, they can behave slightly less moral and maintain a moral reputation. This finding advances our understanding of the moral licensing mechanism and how reputation and observation impact moral actions.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Teaching Empathy to Mental Health Practitioners and Trainees

Ngo, H., Sokolovic, et al. (2022).
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
90(11), 851–860.

Empathy is a foundational therapeutic skill and a key contributor to client outcome, yet the best combination of instructional components for its training is unclear. We sought to address this by investigating the most effective instructional components (didactic, rehearsal, reflection, observation, feedback, mindfulness) and their combinations for teaching empathy to practitioners.

Studies included were randomized controlled trials targeted to mental health practitioners and trainees, included a quantitative measure of empathic skill, and were available in English. A total of 36 studies (37 samples) were included (N = 1,616). Two reviewers independently extracted data. Data were pooled by using random-effects pairwise meta-analysis and network meta-analysis (NMA).

Overall, empathy interventions demonstrated a medium-to-large effect (d = .78, 95% CI [.58, .99]). Pairwise meta-analysis showed that one of the six instructional components was effective: didactic (d = .91 vs. d = .39, p = .02). None of the program characteristics significantly impacted intervention effectiveness (group vs. individual format, facilitator type, number of sessions). No publication bias, risk of bias, or outliers were detected. NMA, which allows for an examination of instructional component combinations, revealed didactic, observation, and rehearsal were included among the most effective components to operate in combination.

We have identified instructional component, singly (didactic) and in combination (didactic, rehearsal, observation), that provides an efficient way to train empathy in mental health practitioners.

What is the public health significance of this article?

Empathy in mental health practitioners is a core skill associated with positive client outcomes, with evidence that it can be trained. This article provides an aggregation of evidence showing that didactic teaching, as well as trainees observing and practicing the skill, are the elements of training that are most important.

From the Discussion

Despite clear evidence on why empathy should be taught to mental health practitioners and how well empathy interventions work in other professionals, there has been no systematic integration on how best empathy should be taught to those working in mental health. Thus, the present study sought to address this important gap by applying pairwise and network meta-analytic analyses. In effect, we were able to elucidate the efficacious “ingredients” for teaching empathy to mental health practitioners as well as the relative superiority of particular combinations of instructional components. Overall, the effect sizes of empathy interventions were in the moderate to large range (d = .78; 95% CI [.55, .99]), which is comparable to previous meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of empathy interventions within medical students (d = .68, Fragkos & Crampton, 2020), health care practitioners (d = .80, Kiosses et al., 2016; d = .52, Winter et al., 2020), and mixed trainees (adjusted g = .51; Teding van Berkhout & Malouff, 2016). This effect size means that over 78% of those who underwent empathy training will score above the mean of the control group, a result that clearly supports empathy as a trainable skill. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Cross-cultural variation in cooperation: A meta-analysis

Spadaro, G., Graf, C., et al.
JPSP, 123(5), 1024–1088.


Impersonal cooperation among strangers enables societies to create valuable public goods, such as infrastructure, public services, and democracy. Several factors have been proposed to explain variation in impersonal cooperation across societies, referring to institutions (e.g., rule of law), religion (e.g., belief in God as a third-party punisher), cultural beliefs (e.g., trust) and values (e.g., collectivism), and ecology (e.g., relational mobility). We tested 17 preregistered hypotheses in a meta-analysis of 1,506 studies of impersonal cooperation in social dilemmas (e.g., the Public Goods Game) conducted across 70 societies (k = 2,271), where people make costly decisions to cooperate among strangers. After controlling for 10 study characteristics that can affect the outcome of studies, we found very little cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation. Categorizing societies into cultural groups explained no variance in cooperation. Similarly, cultural, ancestral, and linguistic distance between societies explained little variance in cooperation. None of the cross-societal factors hypothesized to relate to impersonal cooperation explained variance in cooperation across societies. We replicated these conclusions when meta-analyzing 514 studies across 41 states and nine regions in the United States (k = 783). Thus, we observed that impersonal cooperation occurred in all societies-and to a similar degree across societies-suggesting that prior research may have overemphasized the magnitude of differences between modern societies in impersonal cooperation. We discuss the discrepancy between theory, past empirical research and the meta-analysis, address a limitation of experimental research on cooperation to study culture, and raise possible directions for future research. 


Humans cooperate within multiple domains in daily life, such as sharing common pool resources and producing large-scale public goods. Cooperation can be expressed in many ways, including strategies to favor kin (Hamilton, 1964), allies and coalitional members (Balliet et al., 2014; Yamagishi et al., 1999), and it can even occur in interactions among strangers with no known future interactions (Delton et al., 2011; Macy & Skvoretz, 1998).  Here, we focused on this later kind of impersonal cooperation, in which people interact for the first time, they have no knowledge of their partner’s reputation, and no known possibilities of future interaction outside the experiment. Impersonal cooperation can enable societies to  develop, expand, and compete, impacting wealth and prosperity. Although impersonal cooperation occurs in all modern, industrialized, market-based societies, prior research has documented cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation (Henrich, Ensminger, et al., 2010; Hermann et al., 2008; Romano et al., 2021). To date, several perspectives have been advanced to explain why and how impersonal cooperation varies across societies. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Functional neural changes associated with psychotherapy in anxiety disorders - A meta-analysis of longitudinal fMRI studies

Schrammen E, Roesmann K, Rosenbaum D, et al.
Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2022 


Successful psychotherapy for anxiety disorders is thought to be linked to functional neural changes in prefrontal control areas and fear-related limbic regions. Thus, discovering such therapy-associated neural changes might point to relevant mechanisms of action. Using AES-SDM, we conducted a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 22 whole-brain datasets (n = 419 anxiety patients) from 18 studies identified by our systematic literature search following PRISMA criteria (preregistration available at OSF: https://osf.io/dgc4p). In these studies, fMRI data was collected in response to negative stimuli during cognitive-emotional tasks before and after psychotherapy. Post-psychotherapy, activation decreased in the right insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; no region had increased activation. A subgroup analysis for CBT revealed additional decrease in the supplementary motor area. Reduced activation in limbic and frontal regions might indicate therapy-associated normalization regarding the perception of internal and external threat, subsequent allocation of cognitive resources, and changes in cognitive control. Due to the integration of diverse treatments and experimental tasks, these changes presumably reflect global effects of successful psychotherapy.


• We conducted a coordinate-based meta-analysis of studies assessing fMRI pre- and post-therapy in anxiety disorders.

• Our results are based on whole-brain findings and include more than 50% original statistical maps.

• From pre to post, activation decreased in the insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

• Subgroup-analysis for CBT and exposure revealed an additional cluster of activation decrease in the supplementary motor area.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Meta-Analysis of Inequality Aversion Estimates

Nunnari, S., & Pozzi, M. (2022).
SSRN Electronic Journal.


Loss aversion is one of the most widely used concepts in behavioral economics. We conduct a large-scale interdisciplinary meta-analysis, to systematically accumulate knowledge from numerous empirical estimates of the loss aversion coefficient reported during the past couple of decades. We examine 607 empirical estimates of loss aversion from 150 articles in economics, psychology, neuroscience, and several other disciplines. Our analysis indicates that the mean loss aversion coefficient is between 1.8 and 2.1. We also document how reported estimates vary depending on the observable characteristics of the study design.


In this paper, we reported the results of a meta-analysis of empirical estimates of the inequality aversion coefficients in models of outcome-based other-regarding preferences `a la Fehr and Schmidt (1999). We conduct both a frequentist analysis (using a multi-level random-effects model) and a Bayesian analysis (using a Bayesian hierarchical model) to provide a “weighted average” for α and β. The results from the two approaches are nearly identical and support the hypothesis of inequality concerns. From the frequentist analysis, we learn that the mean envy coefficient is 0.425 with a 95% confidence interval of [0.244, 0.606]; the mean guilt coefficient is, instead, 0.291 with a 95% confidence interval [0.218, 0.363]. This means that, on average, an individual is willing to spend € 0.41 to increase others’ earnings by €1 when ahead, and € 0.74 to decrease others’ earnings by €1 when behind. The theoretical assumptions α ≥ β and 0 ≤ β < 1 are upheld in our empirical analysis, but we cannot conclude that the disadvantageous inequality coefficient is statistically greater than the coefficient for advantageous inequality. We also observe no correlation between the two parameters.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Modular Morals: Mapping the organisation of the moral brain

Wilkinson, J. Curry, O.S., et al.
OSF Home
Last Updated: 2022-07-12


Is morality the product of multiple domain-specific psychological mechanisms, or one domain-general mechanism? Previous research suggests that morality consists of a range of solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. This theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ suggests that there are (at least) seven specific moral domains: family values, group loyalty, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness and property rights. However, it is unclear how these types of morality are implemented at the neuroanatomical level. The possibilities are that morality is (1) the product of multiple distinct domain-specific adaptations for cooperation, (2) the product of a single domain-general adaptation which learns a range of moral rules, or (3) the product of some combination of domain-specific and domain-general adaptations. To distinguish between these possibilities, we first conducted an anatomical likelihood estimation meta-analysis of previous studies investigating the relationship between these seven moral domains and neuroanatomy. This meta-analysis provided evidence for a combination of specific and general adaptations. Next, we investigated the relationship between the seven types of morality – as measured by the Morality as Cooperation Questionnaire (Relevance) – and grey matter volume in a large neuroimaging (n=607) sample. No associations between moral values and grey matter volume survived whole-brain exploratory testing. We conclude that whatever combination of mechanisms are responsible for morality, either they are not neuroanatomically localised, or else their localisation is not manifested in grey matter volume. Future research should employ phylogenetically informed a priori predictions, as well as alternative measures of morality and of brain function.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Cross-Cultural Variation in Cooperation: A Meta-Analysis

Spadaro, G., Graf, C., et al. (2022). 
Journal of personality and social psychology.
Advance online publication. 


Impersonal cooperation among strangers enables societies to create valuable public goods, such as infrastructure, public services, and democracy. Several factors have been proposed to explain variation in impersonal cooperation across societies, referring to institutions (e.g., rule of law), religion (e.g., belief in God as a third-party punisher), cultural beliefs (e.g., trust) and values (e.g., collectivism), and ecology (e.g., relational mobility). We tested 17 pre-registered hypotheses in a meta-analysis of 1,506 studies of impersonal cooperation in social dilemmas (e.g., the Public Goods Game) conducted across 70 societies (k = 2,271), where people make costly decisions to cooperate among strangers. After controlling for 10 study characteristics that can affect the outcome of studies, we found very little cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation. Categorizing societies into cultural groups explained no variance in cooperation. Similarly, cultural, ancestral, and linguistic distance between societies explained little variance in cooperation. None of the cross-societal factors hypothesized to relate to impersonal cooperation explained variance in cooperation across societies. We replicated these conclusions when meta-analyzing 514 studies across 41 states and nine regions in the United States (k = 783). Thus, we observed that impersonal cooperation occurred in all societies – and to a similar degree across societies – suggesting that prior research may have overemphasized the magnitude of differences between modern societies in impersonal cooperation. We discuss the discrepancy between theory, past empirical research and the meta-analysis, address a limitation of experimental research on cooperation to study culture, and raise possible directions for future research.

From the Discussion

In the present meta-analysis, we found little variation in impersonal cooperation across 70 societies and 8 cultural groups. In fact, we found no significant differences in cooperation between cultural groups, which suggests there is little variation both within and between cultures. Moreover, linguistic and cultural distance between each pair of societies were only weakly related to differences in cooperation between societies, and genetic distance was not significantly associated with cooperation. If there existed substantial, systematic differences between societies in impersonal cooperation, we would expect a strong association between cultural distance and cooperation. Furthermore, we gathered all the societal indicators that have been hypothesized to explain cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation and found that none of these were associated with cooperation. We also analyzed variation in cooperation across U.S. states and regions and found mixed evidence for variation in cooperation across the US. Contrary to what we observed within the global data, we found some variation in cooperation across U.S. regions, but only in one out of eight comparisons (i.e., South Atlantic region vs. East North Central region). That said, we did not find evidence for any between-state variation in cooperation.

Friday, October 22, 2021

A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Antecedents, Theoretical Correlates, and Consequences of Moral Disengagement at Work

Ogunfowora, B. T., et al. (2021)
The Journal of Applied Psychology
Advance online publication. 


Moral disengagement refers to a set of cognitive tactics people employ to sidestep moral self-regulatory processes that normally prevent wrongdoing. In this study, we present a comprehensive meta-analytic review of the nomological network of moral disengagement at work. First, we test its dispositional and contextual antecedents, theoretical correlates, and consequences, including ethics (workplace misconduct and organizational citizenship behaviors [OCBs]) and non-ethics outcomes (turnover intentions and task performance). Second, we examine Bandura's postulation that moral disengagement fosters misconduct by diminishing moral cognitions (moral awareness and moral judgment) and anticipatory moral self-condemning emotions (guilt). We also test a contrarian view that moral disengagement is limited in its capacity to effectively curtail moral emotions after wrongdoing. The results show that Honesty-Humility, guilt proneness, moral identity, trait empathy, conscientiousness, idealism, and relativism are key individual antecedents. Further, abusive supervision and perceived organizational politics are strong contextual enablers of moral disengagement, while ethical leadership and organizational justice are relatively weak deterrents. We also found that narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and psychological entitlement are key theoretical correlates, although moral disengagement shows incremental validity over these "dark" traits. Next, moral disengagement was positively associated with workplace misconduct and turnover intentions, and negatively related to OCBs and task performance. Its positive impact on misconduct was mediated by lower moral awareness, moral judgment, and anticipated guilt. Interestingly, however, moral disengagement was positively related to guilt and shame post-misconduct. In sum, we find strong cumulative evidence for the pertinence of moral disengagement in the workplace.

From the Discussion

Our moderator analyses reveal several noteworthy findings. First, the relationship between moral disengagement and misconduct did not significantly differ depending on whether it is operationalized as a trait or state. This suggests that the impact of moral disengagement – at least with respect to workplace misconduct – is equally devastating when it is triggered in specific situations or when it is captured as a stable propensity. This provides initial support for conceptualizing moral disengagement along a continuum – from “one off” instances in specific contexts (i.e., state moral disengagement) to a “dynamic disposition” (Bandura, 1999b) that is relatively stable, but which may also shift in response to different situations (Moore et al., 2019).  

Second, there may be utility in exploring specific disengagement tactics. For instance, euphemistic labeling exerted stronger effects on misconduct compared to moral justification and diffusion of responsibility. Relative weight analyses further showed that some tactics contribute more to understanding misconduct and OCBs. Scholars have proposed that exploring moral disengagement tactics that match the specific context may offer new insights (Kish-Gephart et al., 2014; Moore et al., 2019). It is possible that moral justification might be critical in situations where participants must conjure up rationales to justify their misdeeds (Duffy et al., 2005), while diffusion of responsibility might matter more in team settings where morally disengaging employees can easily assign blame to the collective (Alnuaimi et al., 2010). These possibilities suggest that specific disengagement tactics may offer novel theoretical insights that may be overlooked when scholars focus on overall moral disengagement. However, we acknowledge that this conclusion is preliminary given the small number of studies available for these analyses. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Valence framing effects on moral judgments: A meta-analysis

McDonald, K., et al.
Volume 212, July 2021, 104703


Valence framing effects occur when participants make different choices or judgments depending on whether the options are described in terms of their positive outcomes (e.g. lives saved) or their negative outcomes (e.g. lives lost). When such framing effects occur in the domain of moral judgments, they have been taken to cast doubt on the reliability of moral judgments and raise questions about the extent to which these moral judgments are self-evident or justified in themselves. One important factor in this debate is the magnitude and variability of the extent to which differences in framing presentation impact moral judgments. Although moral framing effects have been studied by psychologists, the overall strength of these effects pooled across published studies is not yet known. Here we conducted a meta-analysis of 109 published articles (contributing a total of 146 unique experiments with 49,564 participants) involving valence framing effects on moral judgments and found a moderate effect (d = 0.50) among between-subjects designs as well as several moderator variables. While we find evidence for publication bias, statistically accounting for publication bias attenuates, but does not eliminate, this effect (d = 0.22). This suggests that the magnitude of valence framing effects on moral decisions is small, yet significant when accounting for publication bias.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Is Burnout Depression by Another Name?

Bianchi R, Verkuilen J, Schonfeld IS, et al. 
Clinical Psychological Science. March 2021. 


There is no consensus on whether burnout constitutes a depressive condition or an original entity requiring specific medical and legal recognition. In this study, we examined burnout–depression overlap using 14 samples of individuals from various countries and occupational domains (N = 12,417). Meta-analytically pooled disattenuated correlations indicated (a) that exhaustion—burnout’s core—is more closely associated with depressive symptoms than with the other putative dimensions of burnout (detachment and efficacy) and (b) that the exhaustion–depression association is problematically strong from a discriminant validity standpoint (r = .80). The overlap of burnout’s core dimension with depression was further illuminated in 14 exploratory structural equation modeling bifactor analyses. Given their consistency across countries, languages, occupations, measures, and methods, our results offer a solid base of evidence in support of the view that burnout problematically overlaps with depression. We conclude by outlining avenues of research that depart from the use of the burnout construct.


In essence, the core feature of burnout is depression.  However, burnout is not as debilitating as depression.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Anchoring Effect in Legal Decision-Making: A Meta-Analysis

Bystranowski, P., Janik, B., Próchnicki, M., 
& Skórska, P. 
(2021). Law and Human Behavior, 45(1), 1-23. 

We conducted a meta-analysis to examine whether numeric decision-making in law is susceptible to the effect of (possibly arbitrary) values present in the decision contexts (anchoring effect) and to investigate which factors might moderate this effect. 

We predicted that the presence of numeric anchors would bias legal decision-makers’ judgment in the direction of the anchor value. We hypothesized that the effect size of anchoring would be moderated by several variables, which we grouped into three categories: methodological (type of stimuli; type of sample), psychological (standard vs. basic paradigm; anchor value; type of scale on which the participants assessed the target value), and legal (relevance of the anchor; type of the anchor; area of law to which the presented case belonged; presence of any salient numeric values other than the main anchor). 

Twenty-nine studies (93 effect sizes; N = 8,549) met the inclusion criteria. We divided them into two groups, depending on whether they included a control group, and calculated the overall effect size using a random-effects Model with robust variance estimation. We assessed the influence of moderators using random effects metaregression. 

The overall effect sizes of anchoring for studies with a control group (z = .27, 95% CI [.21, .33], d = .58, 95% CI [.44, .73]) and without a control group (z = .39, 95% CI [.31, .47], d = .91, 95% CI [.69, 1.12]) were both significant, although we provide some evidence of possible publication bias. We found preliminary evidence of a potential moderating effect of some legally relevant factors, such as legal expertise or the anchor relevance. 

Existing research indicates anchoring effects exist in legal contexts. The influence of anchors seems to depend on some situational factors, which paves the way for future research on countering the problematic effect in legal settings.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Do antidepressants work?

Jacob Stegenga
Originally published 5 Mar 19

Here is an excerpt:

To see this, consider an analogy. Imagine we are testing a drug for weight loss. For every 100 subjects in the drug group, three subjects lose one kilogramme and 97 subjects gain five kilos. For every 100 subjects in the placebo group, two lose four kilos and 98 subjects do not gain or lose any weight. How effective is the drug for weight loss? The odds ratio of weight loss is 1.5, and yet this number tells us nothing about how much weight people on average gain or lose – indeed, the number entirely conceals the real effects of the drug. Though this is an extreme analogy, it shows how cautious we must be when interpreting this celebrated meta-analysis. Unfortunately, however, in response to this work, many leading psychiatrists celebrated, and news headlines misleadingly claimed ‘The drugs do work.’ On the winding route from the hard work of these researchers to the news reports where you were most likely to hear about that study, a simple number became a lie.

When analysed properly, the best evidence indicates that antidepressants are not clinically beneficial. The meta-analyses worth considering, such as the one above, involve attempts to gather evidence from all trials on antidepressants, including those that remain unpublished. Of course it is impossible to know that a meta-analysis includes all unpublished evidence, because publication bias is characterised by deception, either inadvertent or wilful. Nevertheless, these meta-analyses are serious attempts to address publication bias by finding as much data as possible. What, then, do they show?

In meta-analyses that include as much of the evidence as possible, the severity of depression among subjects who receive antidepressants goes down by approximately two points compared with subjects who receive a placebo. Two points. Remember, a depression score can go down by double that amount simply if a subject stops fidgeting. This result, found by both champions and critics of antidepressants, has been replicated year after year for more than a decade (see, for example, the meta-analyses led by Irving Kirsch in 2008, by J C Fournier in 2010, and by Janus Christian Jakobsen in 2017). The phenomena of blind-breaking, the placebo effect and unresolved publication bias could easily account for this trivial two-point reduction in severity scores.

Monday, February 23, 2015

On making the right choice: A meta-analysis and large-scale replication attempt of the unconscious thought advantage

M.R. Nieuwenstein, T. Wirenga, R.D. Morey, J.M. Wichers, T.N. Blom, E. Wagenmakers, and H. vanRijn
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2015, pp. 1-17


Are difficult decisions best made after a momentary diversion of thought? Previous research addressing this important question has yielded dozens of experiments in which participants were asked to choose the best of several options (e.g., cars or apartments) either after conscious deliberation, or after a momentary diversion of thought induced by an unrelated task. The results of these studies were mixed. Some found that participants who had first performed the unrelated task were more likely to choose the best option, whereas others found no evidence for this so-called unconscious thought advantage (UTA). The current study examined two accounts of this inconsistency in previous findings. According to the reliability account, the UTA does not exist and previous reports of this effect concern nothing but spurious effects obtained with an unreliable paradigm. In contrast, the moderator account proposes that the UTA is a real effect that occurs only when certain conditions are met in the choice task. To test these accounts, we conducted a meta-analysis and a large-scale replication study (N = 399) that met the conditions deemed optimal for replicating the UTA. Consistent with the reliability account, the large-scale replication study yielded no evidence for the UTA, and the meta-analysis showed that previous reports of the UTA were confined to underpowered studies that used relatively small sample sizes. Furthermore, the results of the large-scale study also dispelled the recent suggestion that the UTA might be gender-specific. Accordingly, we conclude that there exists no reliable support for the claim that a momentary diversion of thought leads to better decision making than a period of deliberation.

The entire article is here.