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 Perceptions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Perceptions. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ethics Ratings of Nearly All Professions Down in U.S.

M. Brenan and J. M. Jones
Originally posted 22 Jan 24

Here is an excerpt:

New Lows for Five Professions; Three Others Tie Their Lows

Ethics ratings for five professions hit new lows this year, including members of Congress (6%), senators (8%), journalists (19%), clergy (32%) and pharmacists (55%).

Meanwhile, the ratings of bankers (19%), business executives (12%) and college teachers (42%) tie their previous low points. Bankers’ and business executives’ ratings were last this low in 2009, just after the Great Recession. College teachers have not been viewed this poorly since 1977.

College Graduates Tend to View Professions More Positively

About half of the 23 professions included in the 2023 survey show meaningful differences by education level, with college graduates giving a more positive honesty and ethics rating than non-college graduates in each case. Almost all of the 11 professions showing education differences are performed by people with a bachelor’s degree, if not a postgraduate education.

The largest education differences are seen in ratings of dentists and engineers, with roughly seven in 10 college graduates rating those professions’ honesty and ethical standards highly, compared with slightly more than half of non-graduates.

Ratings of psychiatrists, college teachers and pharmacists show nearly as large educational differences, ranging from 14 to 16 points, while doctors, nurses and veterinarians also show double-digit education gaps.

These educational differences have been consistent in prior years’ surveys.

Adults without a college degree rate lawyers’ honesty and ethics slightly better than college graduates in the latest survey, 18% to 13%, respectively. While this difference is not statistically significant, in prior years non-college graduates have rated lawyers more highly by significant margins.

Partisans’ Ratings of College Teachers Differ Most    
Republicans and Democrats have different views of professions, with Democrats tending to be more complimentary of workers’ honesty and ethical standards than Republicans are. In fact, police officers are the only profession with higher honesty and ethics ratings among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (55%) than among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (37%).

The largest party differences are seen in evaluations of college teachers, with a 40-point gap (62% among Democrats/Democratic leaners and 22% among Republicans/Republican leaners). Partisans’ honesty and ethics ratings of psychiatrists, journalists and labor union leaders differ by 20 points or more, while there is a 19-point difference for medical doctors.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Dehumanization: Beyond the Intergroup to the Interpersonal

Karantzas, G. C., Simpson, J. A., & Haslam, N. (2023).
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 0(0).


Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift in how dehumanization is conceptualized and studied. This shift has broadened the construct from the blatant denial of humanness to groups to include more subtle dehumanization within people’s interpersonal relationships. In this article, we focus on conceptual and empirical advances in the study of dehumanization in interpersonal relationships, with a particular focus on dehumanizing behaviors. In the first section, we describe the concept of interpersonal dehumanization. In the second section, we review social cognitive and behavioral research into interpersonal dehumanization. Within this section, we place special emphasis on the conceptualization and measurement of dehumanizing behaviors. We then propose a conceptual model of interpersonal dehumanization to guide future research. While doing so, we provide a novel review and integration of cutting-edge research on interpersonal dehumanization.


This review shines a spotlight on interpersonal dehumanization, with a specific emphasis on dehumanizing behaviors. Our review highlights that interpersonal dehumanization is a rapidly expanding and innovative field of research. It provides a clearer understanding of the current and emerging directions of research investigating how even subtle forms of negative behavior may, at times, thwart social connection and human bonding. It also provides a theoretical platform for scholars to launch new streams of research on interpersonal dehumanization processes and outcomes.

My summary

Traditionally, dehumanization has been studied in the context of intergroup conflict and prejudice, where individuals or groups are perceived as less human than others. However, recent research has demonstrated that dehumanization can also manifest in interpersonal interactions, affecting how individuals perceive, treat, and interact with each other.

The article argues that interpersonal dehumanization is a prevalent and impactful phenomenon that can have significant consequences for both individuals and relationships. It can lead to reduced empathy, increased hostility, and justification for aggression and violence.

The authors propose a conceptual model of interpersonal dehumanization that identifies three key components:

Dehumanizing Cognitions & Perceptions: The tendency to view others as less human-like, lacking essential human qualities like emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Dehumanizing Behaviors: Actions or expressions that convey a disregard for another's humanity, such as insults, mockery, or exclusion.

Dehumanizing Consequences: The negative effects of dehumanization on individuals and relationships, including reduced empathy, increased hostility, and justification for aggression.

By understanding the mechanisms and consequences of interpersonal dehumanization, we can better address its prevalence and mitigate its harmful effects. The article concludes by emphasizing the importance of fostering empathy, promoting inclusive environments, and encouraging respectful interactions to combat dehumanization and promote healthy interpersonal relationships.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Beauty Goes Down to the Core: Attractiveness Biases Moral Character Attributions

Klebl, C., Rhee, J.J., Greenaway, K.H. et al. 
J Nonverbal Behav (2021). 


Physical attractiveness is a heuristic that is often used as an indicator of desirable traits. In two studies (N = 1254), we tested whether facial attractiveness leads to a selective bias in attributing moral character—which is paramount in person perception—over non-moral traits. We argue that because people are motivated to assess socially important traits quickly, these may be the traits that are most strongly biased by physical attractiveness. In Study 1, we found that people attributed more moral traits to attractive than unattractive people, an effect that was stronger than the tendency to attribute positive non-moral traits to attractive (vs. unattractive) people. In Study 2, we conceptually replicated the findings while matching traits on perceived warmth. The findings suggest that the Beauty-is-Good stereotype particularly skews in favor of the attribution of moral traits. As such, physical attractiveness biases the perceptions of others even more fundamentally than previously understood.

From the Discussion

The present investigation advances the Beauty-is-Good stereotype literature. Our findings are consistent with extensive research showing that people attribute positive traits more strongly to attractive compared to unattractive individuals (Dion et al., 1972). Most significantly, the present studies add to the previous literature by providing evidence that attractiveness does not bias the attribution of positive traits uniformly. Attractiveness especially biases the attribution of moral traits compared to positive non-moral traits, constituting an update to the Beauty-is-Good stereotype. One possible explanation for this selective bias is that because people are particularly motivated to assess socially important traits—traits that help us quickly decide who our allies are (Goodwin et  al., 2014)—physical attractiveness selectively biases the attribution of those traits over socially less important traits. While in many instances, this may allow us to assess moral character quickly and accurately (cf. Ambady et al., 2000) and thus obtain valuable information about whether the target is a threat or ally, where morally relevant information is absent (such as during initial impression formation) this motivation to assess moral character may lead to an over reliance on heuristic cues. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Virtuous Victims

Jordan, J., & Kouchaki, M. (2020, April 11).


Humans ubiquitously encounter narratives about immoral acts and their victims. Here, we demonstrate that these narratives can influence perceptions of victims’ moral character. Specifically, across a wide range of contexts, victims are seen as more moral than non-victims who have behaved identically. Using 13 experiments (total n = 8,358), we explore this Virtuous Victim effect. We show that it is specific to victims of immorality (i.e., it does not extend equally to victims of accidental misfortune) and to moral virtue (i.e., it does not extend equally to positive nonmoral traits). We also show that the Virtuous Victim effect can occur online and in the lab, when subjects have other morally relevant information about the victim, when subjects have a direct opportunity to condemn the perpetrator, and in the context of both third- and first-person victim narratives. Finally, we provide support for the Justice Restoration Hypothesis, which posits that people see victims as moral in order to motivate adaptive justice-restorative action (i.e., punishment of perpetrators and helping of victims). We show that people see victims as having elevated moral character, but do not expect them to behave more morally or less immorally—a pattern that is consistent with the Justice Restoration Hypothesis, but not readily explained by alternative explanations for the Virtuous Victim effect. And we provide both correlational and causal evidence for a key prediction of the Justice Restoration Hypothesis: when people do not perceive incentives to help victims and punish perpetrators, the Virtuous Victim effect disappears.

From the Discussion

Our theory and results negate the hypothesis that people see victims as morally deserving of mistreatment in order to maintain just world beliefs. We suggest that, when exposed to apparent injustice, the default reaction is not to justify what has occurred, but rather to seek to restore justice (by punishing the perpetrator and/or helping the victim)  .It has been proposed that restoring justice is another route through which people can maintain just world beliefs(25, 26). And we have argued it is typically a more adaptive response to wrongdoing, because people frequently face incentives for justice-restorative action.  Our experiments are consistent with the hypothesis that in order to adaptively motivate such action, people see victims as morally good. Future research should investigate whether people also see victims as possessing other traits (e.g., helpless, neediness, or innocence) that might motivate justice-restorative action.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Cognitive Barriers to Reducing Income Inequality

Jackson, J. C., & Payne, K. (2020).
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 


As economic inequality grows, more people stand to benefit from wealth redistribution. Yet in many countries, increasing inequality has not produced growing support for redistribution, and people often appear to vote against their economic interest. Here we suggest that two cognitive tendencies contribute to these paradoxical voting patterns. First, people gauge their income through social comparison, and those comparisons are usually made to similar others. Second, people are insensitive to large numbers, which leads them to underestimate the gap between themselves and the very wealthy. These two tendencies can help explain why subjective income is normally distributed (therefore most people think they are middle class) and partly explain why many people who would benefit from redistribution oppose it. We support our model’s assumptions using survey data, a controlled experiment, and agent-based modeling. Our model sheds light on the cognitive barriers to reducing inequality.

General Discussion

These findings emphasize a new perspective on inequality. In addition to institutional drivers of inequality, our studies outline several cognitive constraints on people’s calculation of their support for wealth redistribution. By relying partly on subjective income to determine whether redistribution is in their interest, people leave themselves open to the effects of selective social comparison and insensitivity to large numbers. These cognitive tendencies help explain why most people believe they are middle class, occupying the middle of a bell-shaped distribution of SES, despite the extreme skew present in actual income distributions.

Both of these problems can potentially be mitigated. Accessible resources that help people learn whether they will benefit from wealth redistribution could help people select economic policies that are in their best interest. On a larger scale, reducing residential segregation or otherwise increasing inter-group contact across social class lines could facilitate more representative social comparisons, and more accurate judgments of economic self-interest. 

Attitudes about redistribution are not the only influences on people’s voting decisions and contribute to rising inequality. Institutional factors like gerrymandering may distort voting outcomes, and social factors such as moral and intergroup values may lead people to vote against their economic interests in favor of symbolic or group interests.

A pdf can be found here.

Italics added.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Polarization of Reality

A. Alesina, A. Miano, and S. Stantcheva
American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings

Evidence is growing that Americans are polarized not only in their views on policy issues and attitudes towards government and society, but also in their perceptions of the same, factual reality.

In this paper we conceptualize how to think about the polarization of reality and review recent papers that show that Republican and Democrats as well as Trump and non-Trump voters since 2016) view the same reality through a different lens. Perhaps as a result, they hold different views about policies and what should be done to address different economic and social issues.

The direction of causality is unclear: On the one hand, individuals could select into political affiliation based on their perceptions of reality. On the other hand, political affiliation affects the information one receives, the groups one interacts with, and the media one is exposed to, which in turn can shape perceptions of reality.

Regardless of the direction of causality though, this is not about having different attitudes about economic or social phenomena or policies that could justifiably be viewed differently from different angles.

What is striking is rather to have different perceptions of realities that can be factually checked.

We highlight evidence about differences in perceptions across the political spectrum on social mobility, inequality, immigration, and public policies.

We also show that providing information leads to different reassessments of reality and different responses along the policy support margin, depending on one’s political leanings.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

It Pays to Be Yourself

Francesca Gino
Originally posted 13 Feb 20

Whether it’s trying to land a new job or a new deal or client, we often focus on making a good initial impression on people, especially when they don’t know us well or the stakes are high. One strategy people often use is to cater to the interests, preferences, and expectations of the person they want to impress. Most people, it seems, believe this is a more promising strategy than being themselves and use it in high-stakes interpersonal first meetings. But research I conducted with Ovul Sezer of the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill and Laura Huang of Harvard Business School found those beliefs are wrong.

Our research confirmed that catering to others’ interests and expectations is quite common. When we asked over 450 employed adults to imagine they were about to have an important professional interaction — such as interviewing for their dream job, conducting a valuable negotiation for their company, pitching an entrepreneurial idea to potential investors, or making a presentation to a client — 66% of them indicated they would use catering techniques, rather than simply being themselves; 71% reported believing that catering would be the most effective approach in the situation.

But another study we conducted found that catering was much less effective than being yourself. We asked 166 entrepreneurs to participate in a “fast-pitch” competition held at a private university in the northeastern United States. Each entrepreneur presented his or her venture idea to a panel of three judges: experienced, active members of angel investment groups. The ideas pitched were all in the early stages; none had received any external financing. At the end of the event, the judges collectively deliberated to choose 10 semifinalists who would be invited to participate in the final round. After entrepreneurs made their pitches, we had them answer a few questions about their presentations. We found that when they were genuine in their pitches, they were more than three times as likely to be chosen as semifinalists than when they tried to cater to the judges.

The info is here.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Taking Stock of Moral Approaches to Leadership: An Integrative Review of Ethical, Authentic, and Servant Leadership

FIGURE 2G. James Lemoine, Chad A. Hartnell,
and Hannes Leroy
Academy of Management AnnalsVol. 13, No. 1
Published Online:16 Jan 2019


Moral forms of leadership such as ethical, authentic, and servant leadership have seen a surge of interest in the 21st century. The proliferation of morally based leadership approaches has resulted in theoretical confusion and empirical overlap that mirror substantive concerns within the larger leadership domain. Our integrative review of this literature reveals connections with moral philosophy that provide a useful framework to better differentiate the specific moral content (i.e., deontology, virtue ethics, and consequentialism) that undergirds ethical, authentic, and servant leadership, respectively. Taken together, this integrative review clarifies points of integration and differentiation among moral approaches to leadership and delineates avenues for future research that promise to build complementary rather than redundant knowledge regarding how moral approaches to leadership inform the broader leadership domain.

From the Conclusion section

Although morality’s usefulness in the leadership domain has often been questioned (e.g., Mumford & Fried, 2014), our comparative review of the three dominant moral approaches (i.e., ethical, authentic, and servant leadership) clearly indicates that moral leadership behaviors positively impact a host of desirable organizationally relevant outcomes. This conclusion counters old critiques that issues of morality in leadership are unimportant (e.g., England & Lee, 1974; Rost, 1991; Thompson, 1956). To the contrary, moral forms of leadership have much potential to explain leadership’s influence in a manner substantially distinct from classical forms of leadership such as task-oriented, relationship-oriented, and change-oriented leadership (DeRue, Nahrgang, Wellman, & Humphrey, 2011; Yukl, Gordon, & Taber, 2002).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Whistle-blowers act out of a sense of morality

Alice Walton
Originally posted September 16, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

To understand the factors that predict the likelihood of whistle-blowing, the researchers analyzed data from more than 42,000 participants in the ongoing Merit Principles Survey, which has polled US government employees since 1979, and which covers whistle-blowing. Respondents answer questions about their past experiences with unethical behavior, the approaches they’d take in dealing with future unethical behavior, and their personal characteristics, including their concern for others and their feelings about their organizations.

Concern for others was the strongest predictor of whistle-blowing, the researchers find. This was true both of people who had already blown the whistle on bad behavior and of people who expected they might in the future.

Loyalty to an immediate community—or ingroup, in psychological terms—was also linked to whistle-blowing, but in an inverse way. “The greater people’s concern for loyalty, the less likely they were to blow the whistle,” write the researchers. 

Organizational factors—such as people’s perceptions about their employer, their concern for their job, and their level of motivation or engagement—were largely unconnected to whether people spoke up. The only ones that appeared to matter were how fair people perceived their organization to be, as well as the extent to which the organization educated its employees about ways to expose bad behavior and the rights of whistle-blowers. The data suggest these two factors were linked to whether whistle-blowers opted to address the unethical behavior through internal or external avenues. 

The info is here.

Moral and religious convictions: Are they the same or different things?

Skitka LJ, Hanson BE, Washburn AN, Mueller AB (2018)
PLoS ONE 13(6): e0199311.


People often assume that moral and religious convictions are functionally the same thing. But are they? We report on 19 studies (N = 12,284) that tested whether people’s perceptions that their attitudes are reflections of their moral and religious convictions across 30 different issues were functionally the same (the equivalence hypothesis) or different constructs (the distinct constructs hypothesis), and whether the relationship between these constructs was conditional on political orientation (the political asymmetry hypothesis). Seven of these studies (N = 5,561, and 22 issues) also had data that allowed us to test whether moral and religious conviction are only closely related for those who are more rather than less religious (the secularization hypothesis), and a narrower form of the political asymmetry and secularization hypotheses, that is, that people’s moral and religious convictions may be tightly connected constructs only for religious conservatives. Meta-analytic tests of each of these hypotheses yielded weak support for the secularization hypothesis, no support for the equivalence or political asymmetry hypotheses, and the strongest support for the distinct constructs hypothesis.

From the Discussion

People’s lay theories often confound these constructs: If something is perceived as religious, it will also be perceived as moral (and vice versa). Contrary to both people’s lay theories and various scholarly theories of religion, however, we found that the degree to which people perceive a given attitude as a moral or religious conviction is largely orthogonal, sharing only on average 14% common variance.


Religious and moral conviction were more strongly related to each other among the religious than the non-religious for 59% of the issues we examined, a finding consistent with the secularization hypothesis. That said, the effect size in support of the secularization hypothesis was very small; the interaction of religiosity and religious conviction only explained a little more than 1% of the variance in moral conviction overall. Taken together, the overwhelming evidence therefore seems most consistent with the distinct constructs hypothesis: Moral and religious convictions are largely independent constructs.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cognitive Bias in Forensic Mental Health Assessment: Evaluator Beliefs About Its Nature and Scope

Zapf, P. A., Kukucka, J., Kassin, S. M., & Dror, I. E.
Psychology, Public Policy, & Law


Decision-making of mental health professionals is influenced by irrelevant information (e.g., Murrie, Boccaccini, Guarnera, & Rufino, 2013). However, the extent to which mental health evaluators acknowledge the existence of bias, recognize it, and understand the need to guard against it, is unknown. To formally assess beliefs about the scope and nature of cognitive bias, we surveyed 1,099 mental health professionals who conduct forensic evaluations for the courts or other tribunals (and compared these results with a companion survey of 403 forensic examiners, reported in Kukucka, Kassin, Zapf, & Dror, 2017). Most evaluators expressed concern over cognitive bias but held an incorrect view that mere willpower can reduce bias. Evidence was also found for a bias blind spot (Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002), with more evaluators acknowledging bias in their peers’ judgments than in their own. Evaluators who had received training about bias were more likely to acknowledge cognitive bias as a cause for concern, whereas evaluators with more experience were less likely to acknowledge cognitive bias as a cause for concern in forensic evaluation as well as in their own judgments. Training efforts should highlight the bias blind spot and the fallibility of introspection or conscious effort as a means of reducing bias. In addition, policies and procedural guidance should be developed in regard to best cognitive practices in forensic evaluations.

Closing statements:

What is clear is that forensic evaluators appear to be aware of the issue of bias in general, but diminishing rates of perceived susceptibility to bias in one’s own judgments and the perception of higher rates of bias in the judgments of others as compared with oneself, underscore that we may not be the most objective evaluators of our own decisions. As with the forensic sciences, implementing procedures and strategies to minimize the impact of bias in forensic evaluation can serve to proactively mitigate against the intrusion of irrelevant information in forensic decision making. This is especially important given the courts’ heavy reliance on evaluators’ opinions (see Zapf, Hubbard, Cooper, Wheeles, & Ronan, 2004), the fact that judges and juries have little choice but to trust the expert’s self-assessment of bias (see Kassin et al., 2013), and the potential for biased opinions and conclusions to cross-contaminate other evidence or testimony (see Dror, Morgan, Rando, & Nakhaeizadeh, 2017). More research is necessary to determine the specific strategies to be used and the various recommended means of implementing those strategies across forensic evaluations, but the time appears to be ripe for further discussion and development of policies and guidelines to acknowledge and attempt to reduce the potential impact of bias in forensic evaluation.

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

President Trump’s Mental Health — Is It Morally Permissible for Psychiatrists to Comment?

Claire Pouncey
The New England Journal of Medicine
December 27, 2107

Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist who was recently elected governor of Virginia, distinguished himself during the gubernatorial race by calling President Donald Trump a “narcissistic maniac.” Northam drew criticism for using medical diagnostic terminology to denounce a political figure, though he defended the terminology as “medically correct.” The term isn’t medically correct — “maniac” has not been a medical term for well over a century — but Northam’s use of it in either medical or political contexts would not be considered unethical by his professional peers.

For psychiatrists, however, the situation is different, which is why many psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have refrained from speculating about Trump’s mental health. But in October, psychiatrist Bandy Lee published a collection of essays written largely by mental health professionals who believe that their training and expertise compel them to warn the public of the dangers they see in Trump’s psychology. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President rejects the position of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) that psychiatrists should never offer diagnostic opinions about persons they have not personally examined. Past APA president Jeffrey Lieberman has written in Psychiatric News that the book is “not a serious, scholarly, civic-minded work, but simply tawdry, indulgent, fatuous tabloid psychiatry.” I believe it shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Jesse Graham
Originally posted December 13, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

What we found was that dehumanising victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanising them eases our guilt. In contrast, seeing ISIS terrorists as less human predicted nothing about support for drone strikes against them. This is because people want to hurt and kill terrorists. Without their humanity, how could terrorists be guilty, and how could they feel the pain that they deserve?


Many people believe that it is only a breakdown in our moral sensibilities that causes violence. To reduce violence, according to this argument, we need only restore our sense of morality by generating empathy toward victims. If we could just see them as fellow human beings, then we would do them no harm. Yet our research suggests that this is untrue. In cases of moral violence, our experiments suggest that it is the engagement of our moral sense, not its disengagement, that often causes aggression. When Myanmar security forces plant landmines at the Bangladesh border in an attempt to kill the Rohingya minorities who are trying to escape the slaughter, the primary driver of their behaviour is not dehumanisation, but rather moral outrage toward an enemy conceptualised as evil, but also completely human.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another's opinions

Jeremy A. Frimer, Linda J. Skitka, Matt Motyl
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 72, September 2017, Pages 1-12


Ideologically committed people are similarly motivated to avoid ideologically crosscutting information. Although some previous research has found that political conservatives may be more prone to selective exposure than liberals are, we find similar selective exposure motives on the political left and right across a variety of issues. The majority of people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate willingly gave up a chance to win money to avoid hearing from the other side (Study 1). When thinking back to the 2012 U.S. Presidential election (Study 2), ahead to upcoming elections in the U.S. and Canada (Study 3), and about a range of other Culture War issues (Study 4), liberals and conservatives reported similar aversion toward learning about the views of their ideological opponents. Their lack of interest was not due to already being informed about the other side or attributable election fatigue. Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance (e.g., require effort, cause frustration) and undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views (e.g., damage the relationship; Study 5). A high-powered meta-analysis of our data sets (N = 2417) did not detect a difference in the intensity of liberals' (d = 0.63) and conservatives' (d = 0.58) desires to remain in their respective ideological bubbles.

The research is here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

No Child Left Alone: Moral Judgments about Parents Affect Estimates of Risk to Children

Thomas, A. J., Stanford, P. K., & Sarnecka, B. W. (2016).
Collabra, 2(1), 10.


In recent decades, Americans have adopted a parenting norm in which every child is expected to be under constant direct adult supervision. Parents who violate this norm by allowing their children to be alone, even for short periods of time, often face harsh criticism and even legal action. This is true despite the fact that children are much more likely to be hurt, for example, in car accidents. Why then do bystanders call 911 when they see children playing in parks, but not when they see children riding in cars? Here, we present results from six studies indicating that moral judgments play a role: The less morally acceptable a parent’s reason for leaving a child alone, the more danger people think the child is in. This suggests that people’s estimates of danger to unsupervised children are affected by an intuition that parents who leave their children alone have done something morally wrong.

Here is part of the discussion:

The most important conclusion we draw from this set of experiments is the following: People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous. That is, people overestimate the actual danger to children who are left alone by their parents, in order to better support or justify their moral condemnation of parents who do so.

This brings us back to our opening question: How can we explain the recent hysteria about unsupervised children, often wildly out of proportion to the actual risks posed by the situation? Our findings suggest that once a moralized norm of ‘No child left alone’ was generated, people began to feel morally outraged by parents who violated that norm. The need (or opportunity) to better support or justify this outrage then elevated people’s estimates of the actual dangers faced by children. These elevated risk estimates, in turn, may have led to even stronger moral condemnation of parents and so on, in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

The article is here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

You are fair, but I expect you to also behave unfairly

Positive asymmetry in trait-behavior relations for moderate morality information

Patrice Rusconi, Simona Sacchi, Roberta Capellini, Marco Brambilla, Paolo Cherubini
Published: July 11, 2017

Summary: People who are believed to be immoral are unable to reverse individuals' perception of them, potentially resulting in difficulties in the workplace and barriers in accessing fair and equal treatment in the legal system.


Trait inference in person perception is based on observers’ implicit assumptions about the relations between trait adjectives (e.g., fair) and the either consistent or inconsistent behaviors (e.g., having double standards) that an actor can manifest. This article presents new empirical data and theoretical interpretations on people’ behavioral expectations, that is, people’s perceived trait-behavior relations along the morality (versus competence) dimension. We specifically address the issue of the moderate levels of both traits and behaviors almost neglected by prior research by using a measure of the perceived general frequency of behaviors. A preliminary study identifies a set of competence- and morality-related traits and a subset of traits balanced for valence. Studies 1–2 show that moral target persons are associated with greater behavioral flexibility than immoral ones where abstract categories of behaviors are concerned. For example, participants judge it more likely that a fair person would behave unfairly than an unfair person would behave fairly. Study 3 replicates the results of the first 2 studies using concrete categories of behaviors (e.g., telling the truth/omitting some information). Study 4 shows that the positive asymmetry in morality-related trait-behavior relations holds for both North-American and European (i.e., Italian) individuals. A small-scale meta-analysis confirms the existence of a positive asymmetry in trait-behavior relations along both morality and competence dimensions for moderate levels of both traits and behaviors. We discuss these findings in relation to prior models and results on trait-behavior relations and we advance a motivational explanation based on self-protection.

The article is here.

Note: This research also applies to perceptions in psychotherapy and in family relationships.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think

By Nicholas Fitz
Scientific American
Originally published on March 31, 2015 (and likely worse today)

Here is an excerpt:

The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.

We don’t want to live like this. In our ideal distribution, the top quintile owns 32% and the bottom two quintiles own 25%. As the journalist Chrystia Freeland put it,  “Americans actually live in Russia, although they think they live in Sweden. And they would like to live on a kibbutz.” Norton and Ariely found a surprising level of consensus: everyone — even Republicans and the wealthy—wants a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.

The article is here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Can Morality Be Taught?

Ashley Lamb-Sinclair
The Atlantic
Originally published September 14, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

I am especially disheartened, as are many Americans, when I consider the events of this past summer alone—bombings, riots, shootings—every bit of which derive from a need to identify and destroy the other, or, at the very least, a refusal to understand each other’s perspective. Then there is the presidential campaign with Donald Trump proclaiming “the other” as the source of many societal ills.

Arguments abound regarding laws to pass and policies to implement as solutions to these issues. And while passing bills might feel like a solution—and in some ways it would be—policy can only go so far in changing habits and perception. The only surefire solution to developing tolerance and openness to the perspectives of others is through educating young people.

I believe that the problem is not what is taught in schools, but how it is taught. It is not enough to simply offer curriculum about the ills of racism, homophobia, or bullying, and then expect lasting results from students who are entrenched in cultural beliefs that are reinforced by society.

The article is here.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mind Perception Is the Essence of Morality

Kurt Gray , Liane Young , Adam Waytz
Psychological Inquiry 
Vol. 23, Iss. 2, 2012


Mind perception entails ascribing mental capacities to other entities, whereas moral judgment entails labeling entities as good or bad or actions as right or wrong. We suggest that mind perception is the essence of moral judgment. In particular, we suggest that moral judgment is rooted in a cognitive template of two perceived minds—a moral dyad of an intentional agent and a suffering moral patient. Diverse lines of research support dyadic morality. First, perceptions of mind are linked to moral judgments: dimensions of mind perception (agency and experience) map onto moral types (agents and patients), and deficits of mind perception correspond to difficulties with moral judgment. Second, not only are moral judgments sensitive to perceived agency and experience, but all moral transgressions are fundamentally understood as agency plus experienced suffering—that is, interpersonal harm—even ostensibly harmless acts such as purity violations. Third, dyadic morality uniquely accounts for the phenomena of dyadic completion (seeing agents in response to patients, and vice versa), and moral typecasting (characterizing others as either moral agents or moral patients). Discussion also explores how mind perception can unify morality across explanatory levels, how a dyadic template of morality may be developmentally acquired, and future directions.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever

Say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, or reason can provide the tools that people need in order to make good decisions.

By Marty Kaplan
Originally posted September 16, 2013

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research paper is called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but for me a better title is the headline on science writer Chris Mooney’s piece about it in Grist:  “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.”

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.”

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.

The entire article is here.