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 Perception. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Perception. Show all posts

Monday, March 11, 2024

Why People Fail to Notice Horrors Around Them

Tali Sharot and Cass R. Sunstein
The New York Times
Originally posted 25 Feb 24

The miraculous history of our species is peppered with dark stories of oppression, tyranny, bloody wars, savagery, murder and genocide. When looking back, we are often baffled and ask: Why weren't the horrors halted earlier? How could people have lived with them?

The full picture is immensely complicated. But a significant part of it points to the rules that govern the operations of the human brain.

Extreme political movements, as well as deadly conflicts, often escalate slowly. When threats start small and increase gradually, they end up eliciting a weaker emotional reaction, less resistance and more acceptance than they would otherwise. The slow increase allows larger and larger horrors to play out in broad daylight- taken for granted, seen as ordinary.

One of us is a neuroscientist; the other is a law professor. From our different fields, we have come to believe that it is not possible to understand the current period - and the shifts in what counts as normal - without appreciating why and how people do not notice so much of what we live with.

The underlying reason is a pivotal biological feature of our brain: habituation, or our tendency to respond less and less to things that are constant or that change slowly. You enter a cafe filled with the smell of coffee and at first the smell is overwhelming, but no more than 20 minutes go by and you cannot smell it any longer. This is because your olfactory neurons stop firing in response to a now-familiar odor.

Similarly, you stop hearing the persistent buzz of an air-conditioner because your brain filters out background noise. Your brain cares about what recently changed, not about what remained the same.
Habituation is one of our most basic biological characteristics - something that we two-legged, bigheaded creatures share with other animals on earth, including apes, elephants, dogs, birds, frogs, fish and rats. Human beings also habituate to complex social circumstances such as war, corruption, discrimination, oppression, widespread misinformation and extremism. Habituation does not only result in a reduced tendency to notice and react to grossly immoral deeds around us; it also increases the likelihood that we will engage in them ourselves.

Here is my summary:

From a psychological perspective, the failure to notice horrors around us can be attributed to cognitive biases and the human tendency to see reality in predictable yet flawed ways. This phenomenon is linked to how individuals perceive and value certain aspects of their environment. Personal values play a crucial role in shaping our perceptions and emotional responses. When there is a discrepancy between our self-perception and reality, it can lead to various troubles as our values define us and influence how we react to events. Additionally, the concept of safety needs is highlighted as a mediating factor in mental disorders induced by stressful events. The unexpected nature of events can trigger fear and anger, while the anticipation of events can induce calmness. This interplay between safety needs, emotions, and pathological conditions underscores how individuals react to perceived threats and unexpected situations, impacting their mental well-being

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Donald Trump and the rationalization of transgressive behavior: The role of group prototypicality and identity advancement

Davies, B., Leicht, C., & Abrams, D.
Journal of Applied Social Psychology
Volume 52, Issue 7, July 2022
Pages 481-495


Transgressive leadership, especially in politics, can have significant consequences for groups and communities. However, research suggests that transgressive leaders are often granted deviance credit, and regarded sympathetically by followers due to perceptions of the leader's group prototypicality and identity advancement. We extend previous work by examining whether these perceptions additionally play a role in rationalizing the transgressions of a leader and whether deviance credit persists after a leader exits their leadership position. The present three-wave longitudinal study (N = 200) addresses these questions using the applied context of the 2020 US Presidential election. Across three survey waves administered during and after Donald Trump's election loss, Republicans perceived three transgressive behaviors (sharing false information, nepotism, and abuse of power) as less unethical when committed by Donald Trump than when the same behaviors are viewed in isolation. Perceptions of Trump's identity advancement, but not his group prototypicality, predicted the extent to which Republicans downplayed the unethicalness of his transgressions. Decreases in identity advancement across time were also related to increases in perceptions of Trump's unethicalness. Implications for the social identity theory of leadership, subjective group dynamics, and the broader consequences of deviance credit to transgressive leaders are discussed.


This study aimed to understand how followers of transgressive leaders rationalize their leader's behavior, to what extent group prototypicality and identity advancement encourage this rationalization, and whether these effects would persist after a leader exits their leadership position. Specifically, we expected that Republicans would downplay the perceived unethicalness of behavior by Donald Trump relative to the same behavior when unattributed, and that this downplaying would be predicted by perceptions of Trump's group prototypicality and identity advancement. We also expected that, following his election loss, Donald Trump would be perceived as less prototypical and less identity advancing, and concomitantly as more unethical. In partial support of these hypotheses, we found that Republicans did indeed downplay the perceived unethicalness of Donald Trump's behavior, but that this was only predicted by perceptions of his identity advancement, and not his group prototypicality. In contrast to expectations, perceptions of Donald Trump's prototypicality and identity advancement, after controlling for his encouragement of the Capitol riots, did not decrease after his election loss, and neither did perceptions of his unethicalness increase. However, we found that intra-individual drops in perceptions of Trump's identity advancement (but not group prototypicality) did correspond with increases in perceptions of his unethicalness for two of the three transgressive behaviors. Evidence from the cross-lagged analysis is consistent with the interpretation that initial perceptions of identity advancement influenced later evaluations of Donald Trump's unethicalness, rather than the reverse. Overall, these results provide an important extension of previous deviance credit theory and research, highlighting the role of identity advancement and presenting the rationalization of a leader's behavior as a novel mechanism in the support of transgressive leaders. The applied and longitudinal nature of this study additionally demonstrates how social psychological processes operate in real-world contexts, providing a much-needed contribution to more ecologically valid behavioral research.

Editor's note: Contemplate this research as you watch the J6 committee findings today and in the future. I wonder if these perceptions will change after the J6 hearings, in their entirety.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Human Vision Reconstructs Time to Satisfy Causal Constraints

Bechlivanidis, C., Buehner, M. J., et al.
Psychological Science, 33(2), 224–235.


The goal of perception is to infer the most plausible source of sensory stimulation. Unisensory perception of temporal order, however, appears to require no inference, because the order of events can be uniquely determined from the order in which sensory signals arrive. Here, we demonstrate a novel perceptual illusion that casts doubt on this intuition: In three experiments (N = 607), the experienced event timings were determined by causality in real time. Adult participants viewed a simple three-item sequence, ACB, which is typically remembered as ABC in line with principles of causality. When asked to indicate the time at which events B and C occurred, participants’ points of subjective simultaneity shifted so that the assumed cause B appeared earlier and the assumed effect C later, despite participants’ full attention and repeated viewings. This first demonstration of causality reversing perceived temporal order cannot be explained by postperceptual distortion, lapsed attention, or saccades.

Statement of Relevance

There are two sources of information on the temporal order of events: the order in which we experience them and their causal relationships, because causes precede their effects. Intuitively, direct experience of order is far more dependable than causal inference. Here, we showed participants events that looked like collisions, but the collided-on object started moving before the collision occurred. Surprisingly, participants indicated in real time that they saw events happening significantly earlier or later than they actually did, at timings compatible with causal interpretations (as if there were indeed a collision). This is evidence that perceived order is not the passive registration of the sequence of signals arriving at the observer but an active interpretation informed by rich assumptions.

General Discussion

Collectively, our findings constitute the first demonstration of a unisensory perceptual illusion of temporal order induced by causal impressions, indicating that the visual system generates the experienced order through a process of interpretation (Grush, 2016; Holcombe, 2015).  Participants were given precise instructions and sufficient time to repeatedly view the sequences, they attended to the critical events using the same modality, and they synchronized object motion with a nonlocalized flash.  We can thus confidently rule out alternative explanations based on inattentional blindness, multimodal integration, flash lag, and motion aftereffects. Because stimulus presentation was free and unconstrained relative to the time of saccades, our results cannot be accounted for by transient perisaccadic mislocalization, either (Kresevic et al., 2016; Morrone et al., 2005). Although in this case we examined the effect only with an adult population recruited from a crowdsourcing platform, previous research suggests that children as young as 4 years old are also susceptible to causal reordering, at least when asked to make post hoc reports (Tecwyn et al., 2020).  More research needs to be carried out to study the degree of perceptual shift and, more broadly, the generalizability of the current results.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Bridging Political Divides by Correcting the Basic Morality Bias

Puryear, C., Kubin, E., Schein, et al. 
(2022, January 11).


Efforts to bridge political divides often focus on navigating complex and divisive issues. However, nine studies suggest that we should also focus on a more basic moral divide: the erroneous belief that political opponents lack a fundamental sense of right and wrong. This “basic morality bias” is tied to political dehumanization and is revealed by multiple methods, including natural language analyses from a large Twitter corpus, and a representative survey of Americans with incentives for accuracy. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans substantially overestimate the number of political outgroup members who approve of blatant wrongs (e.g., child pornography, embezzlement). Importantly, the basic morality bias can be corrected with a brief, scalable intervention. Providing information that just one political opponent condemns blatant wrongs increases willingness to work with political opponents and substantially decreases political dehumanization.

From the General Discussion

These findings provide vital insights into why the United States finds itself burdened by political gridlock, partisanship, and high levels of political dehumanization. It may be difficult to imagine how disagreement over details of political policy can make partisans unwilling to even speak to one another or see each other as equally human. However, it could be that Americans do not see themselves in conflict with an alternative ideology but with opponents who lack a moral compass entirely. Believing others lack this fundamental component of humanity has fueled intergroup conflict throughout history. If the political climate in America continues down this path, then it may not be surprising to see two parties—who believe each other embrace murder and theft—continue to escalate conflict.  

Fortunately, our results unveil a simple intervention with both large and broad effects upon the basic morality bias. Telling others that we oppose wrongs as basic as murder seems like it should provide no new information capable of altering how others see us. This was also supported by a pilot study showing that participants do not expect information about basic moral judgments to generally impact their evaluations of others. However, because the basic morality bias is common in the political domain, assuring opponents that we have even the most minimal moral capacities improves their willingness to engage with us. Most importantly, our results suggest that even just one person who successfully communicates their basic moral values has the potential to make their entire political party seem more moral and human.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Virtuous Victims

Jordan, Jillian J., and Maryam Kouchaki
Science Advances 7, no. 42 (October 15, 2021).


How do people perceive the moral character of victims? We find, across a range of transgressions, that people frequently see victims of wrongdoing as more moral than nonvictims who have behaved identically. Across 17 experiments (total n = 9676), we document this Virtuous Victim effect and explore the mechanisms underlying it. We also find support for the Justice Restoration Hypothesis, which proposes that people see victims as moral because this perception serves to motivate punishment of perpetrators and helping of victims, and people frequently face incentives to enact or encourage these “justice-restorative” actions. Our results validate predictions of this hypothesis and suggest that the Virtuous Victim effect does not merely reflect (i) that victims look good in contrast to perpetrators, (ii) that people are generally inclined to positively evaluate those who have suffered, or (iii) that people hold a genuine belief that victims tend to be people who behave morally.


Across 17 experiments (total n = 9676), we have documented and explored the Virtuous Victim effect. We find that victims are frequently seen as more virtuous than nonvictims—not because of their own behavior, but because others have mistreated them. We observe this effect across a range of moral transgressions and find evidence that it is not moderated by the victim’s (white versus black) race or gender. Humans ubiquitously—and perhaps increasingly (1, 2)—encounter narratives about immoral acts and their victims. By demonstrating that these narratives have the power to confer moral status, our results shed new light on the ways that victims are perceived by society.

We have also explored the boundaries of the Virtuous Victim effect and illuminated the mechanisms that underlie it. For example, we find that the Virtuous Victim effect may be especially likely to flow from victim narratives that describe a transgression’s perpetrator and are presented by a third-person narrator (or perhaps, more generally, a narrator who is unlikely to be doubted). We also find that the effect is specific to victims of immorality (i.e., it does not extend to accident victims) and to moral virtue (i.e., it does not extend equally to positive but nonmoral traits). Furthermore, the effect shapes perceptions of moral character but not predictions about moral behavior.

We have also evaluated several potential explanations for the Virtuous Victim effect. Ultimately, our results provide evidence for the Justice Restoration Hypothesis, which proposes that people see victims as virtuous because this perception serves to motivate punishment of perpetrators and helping of victims, and people frequently face incentives to enact or encourage these justice-restorative actions.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

A Minimal Turing Test

McCoy, J. P., and Ullman, T.D.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 79, November 2018, Pages 1-8


We introduce the Minimal Turing Test, an experimental paradigm for studying perceptions and meta-perceptions of different social groups or kinds of agents, in which participants must use a single word to convince a judge of their identity. We illustrate the paradigm by having participants act as contestants or judges in a Minimal Turing Test in which contestants must convince a judge they are a human, rather than an artificial intelligence. We embed the production data from such a large-scale Minimal Turing Test in a semantic vector space, and construct an ordering over pairwise evaluations from judges. This allows us to identify the semantic structure in the words that people give, and to obtain quantitative measures of the importance that people place on different attributes. Ratings from independent coders of the production data provide additional evidence for the agency and experience dimensions discovered in previous work on mind perception. We use the theory of Rational Speech Acts as a framework for interpreting the behavior of contestants and judges in the Minimal Turing Test.

Friday, August 6, 2021

White and minority demographic shifts, intergroup threat, and right-wing extremism

Bai, H., & Federico, C. M.
(2021). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 94, May 2021, 104114


We present four studies (one correlational and three experimental) of American Whites that examine relationships between White and minority demographic shifts, intergroup threat, and support for extreme-right groups and actions. We focus in particular on the role of collective existential threat (i.e., a perception that the ingroup will cease to exist), along with three alternative/competing intergroup threats: status threat, symbolic threat, and prototypicality threat. Though no zero-order relationship was found between perceived White population decline and far-right variables, we find evidence that (1) perceived White population decline leads to collective existential threat net of other perceived demographic shifts, (2) collective existential threat is related to far-right support net of other threats, and (3) perceived White decline has a robust indirect relationship with measures of far-right support via collective existential threat.


• Perceived White population decline leads to collective existential threat net of other perceived demographic shifts.

• Existential threat is related to far-right support net of other threats.

• Perceived White population decline has a robust indirect relationship with measures of far-right support via collective existential threat.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Effects of Language on Visual Perception

Lupyan, G., et al. (2020, April 28). 


Does language change what we perceive? Does speaking different languages cause us to perceive things differently? We review the behavioral and electrophysiological evidence for the influence of language on perception, with an emphasis on the visual modality. Effects of language on perception can be observed both in higher-level processes such as recognition, and in lower-level processes such as discrimination and detection. A consistent finding is that language causes us to perceive in a more categorical way. Rather than being fringe or exotic, as they are sometimes portrayed, we discuss how effects of language on perception naturally arise from the interactive and predictive nature of perception.

  • Our ability to detect, discriminate, and recognize perceptual stimuli is influenced both by their physical features and our prior experiences.
  • One potent prior experience is language. How might learning a language affect perception?
  • We review evidence of linguistic effects on perception, focusing on the effects of language on visual recognition, discrimination, and detection.
  • Language exerts both off-line and on-line effects on visual processing; these effects naturally emerge from taking a predictive processing approach to perception.
In sum, language shapes perception in terms of higher-level processes (recognition) and lower-level processes (discrimination and detection).

Very important research in terms of psychotherapy and the language we use.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Robots at work: People prefer—and forgive—service robots with perceived feelings

Yam, K. C, Bingman, Y. E. et. al.
Journal of Applied Psychology. 
Advance online publication. 


Organizations are increasingly relying on service robots to improve efficiency, but these robots often make mistakes, which can aggravate customers and negatively affect organizations. How can organizations mitigate the frontline impact of these robotic blunders? Drawing from theories of anthropomorphism and mind perception, we propose that people evaluate service robots more positively when they are anthropomorphized and seem more humanlike—capable of both agency (the ability to think) and experience (the ability to feel). We further propose that in the face of robot service failures, increased perceptions of experience should attenuate the negative effects of service failures, whereas increased perceptions of agency should amplify the negative effects of service failures on customer satisfaction. In a field study conducted in the world’s first robot-staffed hotel (Study 1), we find that anthropomorphism generally leads to higher customer satisfaction and that perceived experience, but not agency, mediates this effect. Perceived experience (but not agency) also interacts with robot service failures to predict customer satisfaction such that high levels of perceived experience attenuate the negative impacts of service failures on customer satisfaction. We replicate these results in a lab experiment with a service robot (Study 2). Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

From Practical Contributions

Second, our findings also suggest that organizations should focus on encouraging perceptions of service robots’ experience rather than agency. For example, when assigning names to robots or programming robots’ voices, a female name and voice could potentially lead to enhanced perceptions of experience more so than a male name and voice (Gray et al., 2007). Likewise, service robots’ programmed scripts should include content that conveys the capacity of experience, such as displaying emotions. Although
the emerging service robotic technologies are not perfect and failures are inevitable, encouraging anthropomorphism and, more specifically, perceptions of experience can likely offset the negative effects of robot service failures.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

‘Disorders of consciousness’: Understanding ‘self’ might be the greatest scientific challenge of our time

new scientist full
Joel Frohlich
Genetic Literacy report
Originally published 18 Sept 20

Here are two excerpts:

Just as life stumped biologists 100 years ago, consciousness stumps neuroscientists today. It’s far from obvious why some brain regions are essential for consciousness and others are not. So Tononi’s approach instead considers the essential features of a conscious experience. When we have an experience, what defines it? First, each conscious experience is specific. Your experience of the colour blue is what it is, in part, because blue is not yellow. If you had never seen any colour other than blue, you would most likely have no concept or experience of colour. Likewise, if all food tasted exactly the same, taste experiences would have no meaning, and vanish. This requirement that each conscious experience must be specific is known as differentiation.

But, at the same time, consciousness is integrated. This means that, although objects in consciousness have different qualities, we never experience each quality separately. When you see a basketball whiz towards you, its colour, shape and motion are bound together into a coherent whole. During a game, you’re never aware of the ball’s orange colour independently of its round shape or its fast motion. By the same token, you don’t have separate experiences of your right and your left visual fields – they are interdependent as a whole visual scene.

Tononi identified differentiation and integration as two essential features of consciousness. And so, just as the essential features of life might lead a scientist to infer the existence of DNA, the essential features of consciousness led Tononi to infer the physical properties of a conscious system.


Consciousness might be the last frontier of science. If IIT continues to guide us in the right direction, we’ll develop better methods of diagnosing disorders of consciousness. One day, we might even be able to turn to artificial intelligences – potential minds unlike our own – and assess whether or not they are conscious. This isn’t science fiction: many serious thinkers – including the late physicist Stephen Hawking, the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, the computer scientist Stuart Russell at the University of California, Berkeley and the philosopher Nick Bostrom at the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford – take recent advances in AI seriously, and are deeply concerned about the existential risk that could be posed by human- or superhuman-level AI in the future. When is unplugging an AI ethical? Whoever pulls the plug on the super AI of coming decades will want to know, however urgent their actions, whether there truly is an artificial mind slipping into darkness or just a complicated digital computer making sounds that mimic fear.

Friday, May 29, 2020

When Is “Gay Panic” Accepted? Exploring Juror Characteristics and Case Type as Predictors of a Successful Gay Panic Defense

Michalski, N. D., & Nunez, N. (2020).
Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 


“Gay panic” refers to a situation in which a heterosexual individual charged with a violent crime against a homosexual individual claims they lost control and reacted violently because of an unwanted sexual advance that was made upon them. This justification for a violent crime presented by the defendant in the form of a provocation defense is used as an effort to mitigate the charges brought against him. There has been relatively little research conducted concerning this defense strategy and the variables that might predict when the defense is likely to be successful in achieving a lesser sentence for the defendant. This study utilized 249 mock jurors to assess the effects of case type (assault or homicide) and juror characteristics (homophobia, religious fundamentalism, and political orientation) on the success of the gay panic defense compared with a neutral provocation defense. Participant homophobia was found to be the driving force behind their willingness to accept the gay panic defense as legitimate. Higher levels of homophobia and religious fundamentalism were found to predict more leniency in verdict decisions when the gay panic defense was presented. This study furthers the understanding of decision making in cases involving the gay panic defense and highlights the need for more research to be conducted to help understand and combat LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) prejudice in the courtroom.

The research is here.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

We Tend To See Acts We Disapprove Of As Deliberate

Jesse Singal
Research Digest
Originally published 14 April 20

One of the most important and durable findings in moral and political psychology is that there is a tail-wags-the-dog aspect to human morality. Most of us like to think we have carefully thought-through, coherent moral systems that guide our behaviour and judgments. In reality our behaviour and judgments often stem from gut-level impulses, and only after the fact do we build elaborate moral rationales to justify what we believe and do.

A new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines this issue through a fascinating lens: free will. Or, more specifically, via people’s judgments about how much free will others had when committing various transgressions. The team, led by Jim A. C. Everett of the University of Kent and Cory J. Clark of Durham University, ran 14 studies geared at evaluating the possibility that at least some of the time the moral tail wags the dog: first people decide whether someone is blameworthy, and then judge how much free will they have, in a way that allows them to justify blaming those they want to blame and excusing those they want to excuse.

The researchers examined this hypothesis, for which there is already some evidence, through the lens of American partisan politics. In the paper they note that previous research has shown that conservatives have a greater belief in free will than liberals, and are more moralising in general (that is, they categorise a larger number of acts as morally problematic, and rely on a greater number of principles — or moral foundations — in making these judgments). The first two of the new studies replicated these findings — this is consistent with the idea, put simply, that conservatives believe in free will more because it allows them to level more moral judgments.

The info is here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The effectiveness of moral messages on public health behavioral intentions during the COVID-19 pandemic

J. Everett, C. Colombatta, & others
PsyArXiv PrePrints
Originally posted 20 March 20

With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening millions of lives, changing our behaviors to prevent the spread of the disease is a moral imperative. Here, we investigated the effectiveness of messages inspired by three major moral traditions on public health behavioral intentions. A sample of US participants representative for age, sex and race/ethnicity (N=1032) viewed messages from either a leader or citizen containing deontological, virtue-based, utilitarian, or non-moral justifications for adopting social distancing behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. We measured the messages’ effects on participants’ self-reported intentions to wash hands, avoid social gatherings, self-isolate, and share health messages, as well as their beliefs about others’ intentions, impressions of the messenger’s morality and trustworthiness, and beliefs about personal control and responsibility for preventing the spread of disease. Consistent with our pre-registered predictions, deontological messages had modest effects across several measures of behavioral intentions, second-order beliefs, and impressions of the messenger, while virtue-based messages had modest effects on personal responsibility for preventing the spread. These effects were observed for messages from leaders and citizens alike. Our findings are at odds with participants’ own beliefs about moral persuasion: a majority of participants predicted the utilitarian message would be most effective. We caution that these effects are modest in size, likely due to ceiling effects on our measures of behavioral intentions and strong heterogeneity across all dependent measures along several demographic dimensions including age, self-identified gender, self-identified race, political conservatism, and religiosity. Although the utilitarian message was the least effective among those tested, individual differences in one key dimension of utilitarianism—impartial concern for the greater good—were strongly and positively associated with public health intentions and beliefs. Overall, our preliminary results suggest that public health messaging focused on duties and responsibilities toward family, friends and fellow citizens will be most effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the US. Ongoing work is investigating whether deontological persuasion generalizes across different populations, what aspects of deontological messages drive their persuasive effects, and how such messages can be most effectively delivered across global populations.

The research is here.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

You’re Not Going to Kill Them With Kindness. You’ll Do Just the Opposite.

Judith Newman
The New York Times
Originally posted 8 Jan 20

It was New Year’s Eve, and my friends had just adopted a little girl, 4 years old, from China. The family was going around the table, suggesting what each thought the New Year’s resolution should be for the other. Fei Fei’s English was still shaky. When her turn came, though, she didn’t hesitate. She pointed at her new father, mother and sister in turn. “Be nice, be nice, be nice,” she said.

Fifteen years later, in this dark age for civility, a toddler’s cri de coeur resonates more than ever. In his recent remarks at the memorial service for Congressman Elijah Cummings, President Obama said, “Being a strong man includes being kind, and there’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion; nothing weak about looking out for others.” On a more pedestrian level, yesterday I walked into the Phluid Project, the NoHo gender-neutral shop where T-shirts have slogans like “Hatephobic” and “Be Your Self.” I asked the salesperson, “What is your current best seller?” She pointed to a shirt in the window imprinted with the slogan: “Be kind.”

So I’m not surprised that there’s been a little flurry of self-help books on basic human decency and what it will do for you.

Kindness is doing small acts for others without expecting anything in return. It’s the opposite of transactional, and therefore the opposite of what we’re seeing in our body politic today.

The info is here.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Donald Hoffman: The Case Against Reality

The Institute of Arts and Ideas
Originally published September 8, 2019

Many scientists believe that natural selection brought our perception of reality into clearer and deeper focus, reasoning that growing more attuned to the outside world gave our ancestors an evolutionary edge. Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, thinks that just the opposite is true. Because evolution selects for survival, not accuracy, he proposes that our conscious experience masks reality behind millennia of adaptions for ‘fitness payoffs’ – an argument supported by his work running evolutionary game-theory simulations. In this interview recorded at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival from the Institute of Arts and Ideas in 2019, Hoffman explains why he believes that perception must necessarily hide reality for conscious agents to survive and reproduce. With that view serving as a springboard, the wide-ranging discussion also touches on Hoffman’s consciousness-centric framework for reality, and its potential implications for our everyday lives.

Editor Note: If you work as a mental health professional, this video may be helpful in understanding perceptions, understanding self, and consciousness.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom: a review.

Image result for neuroscience evidence in the courtroom"Aono, D., Yaffe, G. & Kober, H.
Cogn. Research 4, 40 (2019)


The use of neuroscience in the courtroom can be traced back to the early twentieth century. However, the use of neuroscientific evidence in criminal proceedings has increased significantly over the last two decades. This rapid increase has raised questions, among the media as well as the legal and scientific communities, regarding the effects that such evidence could have on legal decision makers. In this article, we first outline the history of neuroscientific evidence in courtrooms and then we provide a review of recent research investigating the effects of neuroscientific evidence on decision-making broadly, and on legal decisions specifically. In the latter case, we review studies that measure the effect of neuroscientific evidence (both imaging and nonimaging) on verdicts, sentencing recommendations, and beliefs of mock jurors and judges presented with a criminal case. Overall, the reviewed studies suggest mitigating effects of neuroscientific evidence on some legal decisions (e.g., the death penalty). Furthermore, factors such as mental disorder diagnoses and perceived dangerousness might moderate the mitigating effect of such evidence. Importantly, neuroscientific evidence that includes images of the brain does not appear to have an especially persuasive effect (compared with other neuroscientific evidence that does not include an image). Future directions for research are discussed, with a specific call for studies that vary defendant characteristics, the nature of the crime, and a juror’s perception of the defendant, in order to better understand the roles of moderating factors and cognitive mediators of persuasion.


The increased use of neuroscientific evidence in criminal proceedings has led some to wonder what effects such evidence has on legal decision makers (e.g., jurors and judges) who may be unfamiliar with neuroscience. There is some concern that legal decision makers may be unduly influenced by testimony and images related to the defendant’s brain. This paper briefly reviews the history of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom to provide context for its current use. It then reviews the current research examining the influence of neuroscientific evidence on legal decision makers and potential moderators of such effects. Our synthesis of the findings suggests that neuroscientific evidence has some mitigating effects on legal decisions, although neuroimaging-based evidence does not hold any special persuasive power. With this in mind, we provide recommendations for future research in this area. Our review and conclusions have implications for scientists, legal scholars, judges, and jurors, who could all benefit from understanding the influence of neuroscientific evidence on judgments in criminal cases.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Principles of karmic accounting: How our intuitive moral sense balances rights and wrongs

Image result for karmic accountingJohnson, S. G. B., & Ahn, J.
(2019, September 10).


We are all saints and sinners: Some of our actions benefit other people, while other actions harm people. How do people balance moral rights against moral wrongs when evaluating others’ actions? Across 9 studies, we contrast the predictions of three conceptions of intuitive morality—outcome- based (utilitarian), act-based (deontologist), and person-based (virtue ethics) approaches. Although good acts can partly offset bad acts—consistent with utilitarianism—they do so incompletely and in a manner relatively insensitive to magnitude, but sensitive to temporal order and the match between who is helped and harmed. Inferences about personal moral character best predicted blame judgments, explaining variance across items and across participants. However, there was modest evidence for both deontological and utilitarian processes too. These findings contribute to conversations about moral psychology and person perception, and may have policy implications.

Here is the beginning of the General Discussion:

Much  of  our  behavior  is  tinged  with  shades  of  morality. How  third-parties  judge  those behaviors has numerous social consequences: People judged as behaving immorally can be socially ostracized,  less  interpersonally  attractive,  and  less  able  to  take  advantage  of  win–win  agreements. Indeed, our desire to avoid ignominy and maintain our moral reputations motivate much of our social behavior. But on the other hand, moral judgment is subject to a variety of heuristics and biases that appear  to  violate  normative  moral  theories  and  lead  to  inconsistency  (Bartels,  Bauman,  Cushman, Pizarro, & McGraw, 2015; Sunstein, 2005).  Despite the dominating influence of moral judgment in everyday social cognition, little is known about how judgments of individual acts scale up into broader judgments  about  sequences  of  actions,  such  as  moral  offsetting  (a  morally  bad  act  motivates  a subsequent morally good act) or self-licensing (a morally good act motivates a subsequent morally bad act). That is, we need a theory of karmic accounting—how rights and wrongs add up in moral judgment.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Cognitive skills and decision-making are related to distinct facets of trait mindfulness

Tung Bui, Neil Dittmann, Kaleb Hobgood, and Neil Schmitzer-Torbert
PsyArXiv Preprints
Lasted edited June 1, 2019


Objective: Mindfulness has been an active area of research focused on the potential links to health. Recent work has also established that trait mindfulness is also related to cognition and decision-making. The present study tested the relationship between dimensions of trait mindfulness and measures of perception, cognition, and decision-making.

Method: Forty-three undergraduate males and 126 online participants (54 females) completed a perceptual accuracy task, Stroop task, and surveys assessing five facets of trait mindfulness, problem solving, decentering, and mental health measures (stress, depression, anxiety).

Results: Overall, only a subset of mindfulness facets were related to performance on the perceptual accuracy and Stroop tasks, partially replicating previous reports. Similarly, a subset of mindfulness dimensions was related to ethical decision-making and problem-solving success. In contrast, measures of poor mental health (stress, worry, depression) were non-specifically related to the majority of mindfulness facets. Relationships between mental health measures, but not measures of cognition and decision-making, were mediated by decentering. One exception was perceptual accuracy, which was related to several mindfulness facets, and mediated by decentering.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that separable dimensions of mindfulness are specifically related to distinct cognitive skills and decision-making, and that these relationships are largely distinct from those between mindfulness and psychological health.

The research is here.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The fallacy of obviousness

Teppo Felin
Originally posted July 5, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The alternative interpretation says that what people are looking for – rather than what people are merely looking at – determines what is obvious. Obviousness is not self-evident. Or as Sherlock Holmes said: ‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’ This isn’t an argument against facts or for ‘alternative facts’, or anything of the sort. It’s an argument about what qualifies as obvious, why and how. See, obviousness depends on what is deemed to be relevant for a particular question or task at hand. Rather than passively accounting for or recording everything directly in front of us, humans – and other organisms for that matter – instead actively look for things. The implication (contrary to psychophysics) is that mind-to-world processes drive perception rather than world-to-mind processes. The gorilla experiment itself can be reinterpreted to support this view of perception, showing that what we see depends on our expectations and questions – what we are looking for, what question we are trying to answer.

At first glance that might seem like a rather mundane interpretation, particularly when compared with the startling claim that humans are ‘blind to the obvious’. But it’s more radical than it might seem. This interpretation of the gorilla experiment puts humans centre-stage in perception, rather than relegating them to passively recording their surroundings and environments. It says that what we see is not so much a function of what is directly in front of us (Kahneman’s natural assessments), or what one is in camera-like fashion recording or passively looking at, but rather determined by what we have in our minds, for example, by the questions we have in mind. People miss the gorilla not because they are blind, but because they were prompted – in this case, by the scientists themselves – to pay attention to something else. The question – ‘How many basketball passes’ (just like any question: ‘Where are my keys?’) – primes us to see certain aspects of a visual scene, at the expense of any number of other things.

The info is here.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought

Steve Ayan
Scientific American
Originally posted December 20, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

What makes you think conscious thought is an illusion?

I believe that the whole idea of conscious thought is an error. I came to this conclusion by following out the implications of the two of the main theories of consciousness. The first is what is called the Global Workspace Theory, which is associated with neuroscientists Stanislas Dehaene and Bernard Baars. Their theory states that to be considered conscious a mental state must be among the contents of working memory (the “user interface” of our minds) and thereby be available to other mental functions, such as decision-making and verbalization. Accordingly, conscious states are those that are “globally broadcast,” so to speak. The alternative view, proposed by Michael Graziano, David Rosenthal and others, holds that conscious mental states are simply those that you know of, that you are directly aware of in a way that doesn’t require you to interpret yourself. You do not have to read you own mind to know of them. Now, whichever view you adopt, it turns out that thoughts such as decisions and judgments should not be considered to be conscious. They are not accessible in working memory, nor are we directly aware of them. We merely have what I call “the illusion of immediacy”—the false impression that we know our thoughts directly.

The info is here.

Here is a link to Keith Frankish's chapter on the Illusion of Consciousness.