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Showing posts with label Prosocial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prosocial. Show all posts

Monday, November 13, 2023

Prosociality should be a public health priority

Kubzansky, L.D., Epel, E.S. & Davidson, R.J. 
Nat Hum Behav (2023).


Hopelessness and despair threaten health and longevity. We urgently need strategies to counteract these effects and improve population health. Prosociality contributes to better mental and physical health for individuals, and for the communities in which they live. We propose that prosociality should be a public health priority.


The COVID-19 pandemic produced high levels of stress, loneliness, and mental health problems, magnifying global trends in health disparities.1 Hopelessness and despair are growing problems particularly in the U.S. The sharp increase in rates of poor mental health is problematic in its own right, but poor mental health also contributes to greater morbidity and mortality. Without action, we will see steep declines in global population health and related costs to society. An approach that is “more of the same” is insufficient to stem the cascading effects of emotional ill-being. Something new is desperately needed.

To this point, recent work called on the discipline of psychiatry to contribute more meaningfully to the deaths of despair framework (i.e., conceptualizing rises in suicide, drug poisoning and alcoholic liver disease as due to misery of difficult social and economic circumstances).2 Recognizing that simply expanding mental health services cannot address the problem, the authors noted the importance of population-level prevention and targeting macro-level causes for intervention. This requires identifying upstream factors causally related to these deaths. However, factors explaining population health trends are poorly delineated and focus on risks and deficits (e.g., adverse childhood experiences, unemployment). A ‘deficit-based’ approach has limits as the absence of a risk factor does not inevitably indicate presence of a protective asset; we also need an ‘assetbased’ approach to understanding more comprehensively the forces that shape good health and buffer harmful effects of stress and adversity.

My take:

Prosociality refers to positive behaviors and beliefs that benefit others. It is a broad concept that encompasses many different qualities, such as altruism, trust, reciprocity, compassion, and empathy.

Research has shown that prosociality has a number of benefits for both individuals and communities. For individuals, prosociality can lead to improved mental and physical health, greater life satisfaction, and stronger social relationships. For communities, prosociality can lead to increased trust and cooperation, reduced crime rates, and improved overall well-being.

The authors of the article argue that prosociality should be a public health priority. They point out that prosociality can help to address a number of major public health challenges, such as loneliness, social isolation, and mental illness. They also argue that prosociality can help to build stronger communities and create a more just and equitable society.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Prosociality Paradox: How Miscalibrated Social Cognition Creates a Misplaced Barrier to Prosocial Action

Epley, N., Kumar, A., Dungan, J., &
Echelbarger, M. (2023).
Current Directions in Psychological Science,
32(1), 33–41. 


Behaving prosocially can increase well-being among both those performing a prosocial act and those receiving it, and yet people may experience some reluctance to engage in direct prosocial actions. We review emerging evidence suggesting that miscalibrated social cognition may create a psychological barrier that keeps people from behaving as prosocially as would be optimal for both their own and others’ well-being. Across a variety of interpersonal behaviors, those performing prosocial actions tend to underestimate how positively their recipients will respond. These miscalibrated expectations stem partly from a divergence in perspectives, such that prosocial actors attend relatively more to the competence of their actions, whereas recipients attend relatively more to the warmth conveyed. Failing to fully appreciate the positive impact of prosociality on others may keep people from behaving more prosocially in their daily lives, to the detriment of both their own and others’ well-being.

Undervaluing Prosociality

It may not be accidental that William James (1896/1920) named “the craving to be appreciated” as “the deepest principle in human nature” only after receiving a gift of appreciation that he described as “the first time anyone ever treated me so kindly.” “I now perceive one immense omission in my [Principles of Psychology],” he wrote regarding the importance of appreciation. “I left it out altogether . . . because I had never had it gratified till now” (p. 33).

James does not seem to be unique in failing to recognize the positive impact that appreciation can have on recipients. In one experiment (Kumar & Epley, 2018, Experiment 1), MBA students thought of a person they felt grateful to, but to whom they had not yet expressed their appreciation. The students, whom we refer to as expressers, wrote a gratitude letter to this person and then reported how they expected the recipient would feel upon receiving it: how surprised the recipient would be to receive the letter, how surprised the recipient would be about the content, how negative or positive the recipient would feel, and how awkward the recipient would feel. Expressers willing to do so then provided recipients’ email addresses so the recipients could be contacted to report how they actually felt receiving their letter. Although expressers recognized that the recipients would feel positive, they did not recognize just how positive the recipients would feel: Expressers underestimated how surprised the recipients would be to receive the letter, how surprised the recipients would be by its content, and how positive the recipients would feel, whereas they overestimated how awkward the recipients would feel. Table 1 shows the robustness of these results across an additional published experiment and 17 subsequent replications (see Fig. 1 for overall results; full details are available at OSF: osf.io/7wndj/). Expressing gratitude has a reliably more positive impact on recipients than expressers expect.


How much people genuinely care about others has been debated for centuries. In summarizing the purely selfish viewpoint endorsed by another author, Thomas Jefferson (1854/2011) wrote, “I gather from his other works that he adopts the principle of Hobbes, that justice is founded in contract solely, and does not result from the construction of man.” Jefferson felt differently: “I believe, on the contrary, that it is instinct, and innate, that the moral sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, seeing, or hearing . . . that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another” (p. 39).

Such debates will never be settled by simply observing human behavior because prosociality is not simply produced by automatic “instinct” or “innate” disposition, but rather can be produced by complicated social cognition (Miller, 1999). Jefferson’s belief that people feel “pleasure in doing good to another” is now well supported by empirical evidence. However, the evidence we reviewed here suggests that people may avoid experiencing this pleasure not because they do not want to be good to others, but because they underestimate just how positively others will react to the good being done to them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Young children show negative emotions after failing to help others

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


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

General discussion

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

The influence of observation

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Too Good to be Liked? When and How Prosocial Others are Disliked

Boileau, L. L. A., Grüning, D. J., & Bless, H. (2021).
Frontiers in Psychology, 12.


Outstandingly prosocial individuals may not always be valued and admired, but sometimes depreciated and rejected. While prior research has mainly focused on devaluation of highly competent or successful individuals, comparable research in the domain of prosociality is scarce. The present research suggests two mechanisms why devaluation of extreme prosocial individuals may occur: they may (a) constitute very high comparison standards for observers, and may (b) be perceived as communal narcissists. Two experiments test these assumptions. We confronted participants with an extreme prosocial or an ordinary control target and manipulated comparative aspects of the situation (salient vs. non-salient comparison, Experiment 1), and narcissistic aspects of the target (showing off vs. being modest, Experiment 2). Consistent with our assumptions, the extreme prosocial target was liked less than the control target, and even more so when the comparison situation was salient (Experiment 1), and when the target showed off with her good deeds (Experiment 2). Implications that prosociality does not always breed more liking are discussed.

General Discussion

The present research demonstrates that individuals who perform an outstanding degree of prosocial behaviors may be devaluated—due to their prosocial behaviors. Specifically, across two experiments, the prosocial target was liked less than the control target. This consistent pattern is unlikely to be due to participants' perception that the displayed behaviors did not unambiguously reflect prosocial behavior: When explicitly evaluating prosociality, the prosocial target was clearly perceived as prosocial (and more so than the control target). The finding that prosocial behaviors may decrease rather than increase liking seems rather surprising at first glance. Past research suggests that liking and perceptions of prosociality in others are in fact very highly correlated (Imhoff and Koch, 2017). However, the observed devaluation is in line with prior empirical research suggesting that superior prosocial others are indeed sometimes devaluated through rejection and dislike (Fisher et al., 1982; Herrmann et al., 2008; Parks and Stone, 2010; Pleasant and Barclay, 2018).

The present research goes beyond prior research that has similarly demonstrated a possible disliking of prosocial targets by suggesting and investigating two possible underlying processes. Thus, it responds to the call that mediating mechanisms for the dislike of very prosocial targets are yet to be investigated (Parks et al., 2013).

First, the reduced liking of the prosocial target was more pronounced when comparisons between the target and the observers were induced by the information that observers would first evaluate the target and then themselves on the very same items. Eliciting such a comparison expectation increased disliking of the prosocial target. Presumably, in this situation, the extremely prosocial target constituted a very high comparison standard, and this high standard would have negative consequences for participants' evaluations of themselves (Mussweiler, 2003; Bless and Schwarz, 2010; Morina, 2021). This conclusion extends indirect evidence by Parks and Stone (2010) by providing an experimental manipulation of the assumed comparison component.

Second, as predicted, the dislike of the prosocial target was increased when perceptions of communal narcissism (Gebauer et al., 2012; Nehrlich et al., 2019) were elicited by informing participants that the target actively sought to let others know about her prosocial behaviors. This finding suggests that a target's prosocial behavior will not turn into more liking but backfire when that target is perceived as someone who exerts “excessive self-enhancement” in the domain of prosociality and who is showing off with her good deeds (Rentzsch and Gebauer, 2019; p. 1373).

Monday, January 16, 2023

The origins of human prosociality: Cultural group selection in the workplace and the laboratory

Francois, P., Fujiwara, T., & van Ypersele, T. (2018).
Science Advances, 4(9).


Human prosociality toward non-kin is ubiquitous and almost unique in the animal kingdom. It remains poorly understood, although a proliferation of theories has arisen to explain it. We present evidence from survey data and laboratory treatment of experimental subjects that is consistent with a set of theories based on group-level selection of cultural norms favoring prosociality. In particular, increases in competition increase trust levels of individuals who (i) work in firms facing more competition, (ii) live in states where competition increases, (iii) move to more competitive industries, and (iv) are placed into groups facing higher competition in a laboratory experiment. The findings provide support for cultural group selection as a contributor to human prosociality.


There is considerable experimental evidence, referenced earlier, supporting the conclusion that people are conditional cooperators: They condition actions based on their beliefs regarding prevailing norms of behavior. They cooperate if they believe their partners are also likely to do so, and they are unlikely to act cooperatively if they believe that others will not.

The environment in which people interact shapes both the social and economic returns to following cooperative norms. For instance, many aspects of groups within the work environment will determine whether cooperation can be an equilibrium in behavior among group members or whether it is strictly dominated by more selfish actions. Competition across firms can play two distinct roles in affecting this. First, there is a static equilibrium effect, which arises from competition altering rewards from cooperative versus selfish behavior, even without changing the distribution of firms. Competition across firms punishes individual free-riding behavior and rewards cooperative behavior. In the absence of competitive threats, members of groups can readily shirk without serious payoff consequences for their firm. This is not so if a firm faces an existential threat. Less markedly, even if a firm is not close to the brink of survival, more intense market competition renders firm-level payoffs more responsive to the efforts of group members. With intense competition, the deleterious effects of shirking are magnified by large loss of market share, revenues, and, in turn, lower group-level payoffs. Without competition, attendant declines in quality or efficiency arising from poor performance have weaker, and perhaps nonexistent, payoff consequences. These effects on individuals are likely to be small in large firms where any specific worker’s actions are unlikely to be pivotal. However, it is possible that employees overestimate the impact of their actions or instinctively respond to competition with more prosocial attitudes, even in large teams.

Competition across firms does not typically lead to a unique equilibrium in social norms but, if intense enough, can sustain a cooperative group norm. Depending on the setting, multiple different cooperative group equilibria differentiated by the level of costly effort can also be sustained. For example, if individuals are complementary in production, then an individual believing co-workers to all be shirkers and thus unable to produce a viable product will similarly also choose to exert low effort. An equilibrium where no one voluntarily contributes to cooperative tasks is sustained, and such a workplace looks to have noncooperative norms. In contrast, with the same complementary production process, and a workplace where all other workers are believed to be contributing high effort, a single worker will optimally choose to exert high effort as well to ensure viable output. In that case, a cooperative norm is sustained. When payoffs are continuous in both the quality of the product and the intensity of the competition, then the degree of cooperative effort that can be sustained can be continuously increasing in the intensity of market competition across firms. We have formalized this in an economic model that we include in the Supplementary Materials.

Competition’s first effect is thus to make it possible, but not necessary, for group-level cooperative norms to arise as equilibria. The literature has shown that there are many other ways to stabilize cooperative norms as equilibria, such as institutional punishment, third-party punishment, or reputations. Cross-group competition may also enhance these other well-studied mechanisms for generating cooperative norm equilibria, but with or without these factors, it has a general effect of tilting the set of equilibria toward those featuring cooperative norms.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Prosocial correlates of transformative experiences at secular multi-day mass gatherings

Yudkin, D.A., Prosser, A.M.B., Heller, S.M. et al. 
Nat Commun 13, 2600 (2022).


Humans have long sought experiences that transcend or change their sense of self. By weakening boundaries between the self and others, such transformative experiences may lead to enduring changes in moral orientation. Here we investigated the psychological nature and prosocial correlates of transformative experiences by studying participants before (n = 600), during (n = 1217), 0–4 weeks after (n = 1866), and 6 months after (n = 710) they attended a variety of secular, multi-day mass gatherings in the US and UK. Observations at 6 field studies and 22 online followup studies spanning 5 years showed that self-reported transformative experiences at mass gatherings were common, increased over time, and were characterized by feelings of universal connectedness and new perceptions of others. Participants’ circle of moral regard expanded with every passing day onsite—an effect partially mediated by transformative experience and feelings of universal connectedness. Generosity was remarkably high across sites but did not change over time. Immediately and 6 months following event attendance, self-reported transformative experience persisted and predicted both generosity (directly) and moral expansion (indirectly). These findings highlight the prosocial qualities of transformative experiences at secular mass gatherings and suggest such experiences may be associated with lasting changes in moral orientation.


Stories of profound personal transformation have long captured the human imagination, yet such experiences are difficult to recreate in the laboratory. Here, we adopted a lab-in-the-field approach to study transformative experiences as they were occurring at several secular multiday mass gatherings in the US and UK. Self-reports of such experiences at these events were common, increased over time, and endured at least six months following attendance. The most prevalent qualities of transformative experience were prosocial in nature and were correlated with increased feelings of connectedness between the self and all human beings. Consistent with these reports, participants showed an expanded moral circle with every passing day, an effect partially mediated by feelings of universal connectedness and transformative experience. Meanwhile, we observed high levels of generosity at mass gatherings, but generosity onsite did not increase over time and was unrelated to the transformative experience. These effects were robust to controlling for expectations and desires for transformative experience as well as substance use, and were consistent across mass gatherings with market economies as well as gift economies. In the weeks and months following event attendance, transformative experience directly predicted generosity and indirectly predicted moral expansion via universal connectedness.

Our results build upon and extend past work on collective effervescence and prosocial behavior, which suggests that mass gatherings played a functional role in human evolution by increasing people’s willingness to make personal sacrifices on behalf of the group. Some research suggests such prosocial behavior is psychologically mediated by experiences of personal transformation, yet thus far research on the prosocial correlates of transformative experiences has mainly relied upon retrospective approaches, which are subject to the limitations of autobiographical memory. Here, in order to better understand how such experiences may be associated with prosocial change, we examined the qualities of transformative experiences as they occurred, and measured their association with prosocial behavior. We found that reports of such experiences did indeed increase over time, and were correlated with an expanded circle of moral regard. This shows not only that such experiences are associated with changes in moral orientation, but also that, in certain contexts at least, such changes may be characterized by feelings of universal moral inclusion.

Friday, March 25, 2022

How development and culture shape intuitions about prosocial obligations

Marshall, J., Gollwitzer, A., et al. (2022).
Journal of experimental psychology. 
General, 10.1037/xge0001136. 
Advance online publication.


Do children, like most adults, believe that only kin and close others are obligated to help one another? In two studies (total N = 1140), we examined whether children (∼5- to ∼10-yos) and adults across five different societies consider social relationship when ascribing prosocial obligations. Contrary to the view that such discriminations are a natural default in human reasoning, younger children in the United States (Studies 1 and 2) and across cultures (Study 2) generally judged everyone-parents, friends, and strangers-as obligated to help someone in need. Older children and adults, on the other hand, tended to exhibit more discriminant judgments. They considered parents more obligated to help than friends followed by strangers-although this effect was stronger in some cultures than others. Our findings suggest that children's initial sense of prosocial obligation in social-relational contexts starts out broad and generally becomes more selective over the course of development.

From the General Discussion

Other than urban versus rural, our cross-cultural samples varied on a variety of dimensions, including (but not limited to) Westernization, collectivism versus individualism, and SES. Again, because of our samples do not vary systematically on any of these dimensions, we cannot directly examine the role of certain cultural factors in the development of prosocial obligation judgments. But we do suspect that variation in societal values related to collectivism and individualism may shape children’s emerging sense of prosocial obligation. This proposal is motivated by the finding that participants in more collectivistic societies(Japan, India, Uganda) exhibited broader senses of obligation than  those  in  more  individualistic societies (Germany,  United  States) (see Hofstede, 2011; Rarick et al., 2013).

How would collectivism and individualism shape the development of our sense of obligation?After all, collectivism in a theoretical sense tends to emphasize obligations to the group—not  necessarily to  strangers  (e.g.,  Brewer  &  Chen,  2007). It is possible, however,  that participants across societies view strangers in our stimuli as part of the cultural in-group. After all, the  characters in the stimuli are all the  same  ethnicity and also presumably live in the  same community. The variance in responses we find, then, might be variance in the degree to which they consider individuals obligated to help in-group strangers—and this in turn, may depend on cultural values, such as collectivism. Future research is best suited to address this question by examining how  group  membership  and  social relationship  independently  impact the development of obligation judgments across societies.

Regardless of which societal values ultimately impact children’s sense of obligation, the findings raise the question of how this process occurs during childhood.Adults and trusted others may explicitly or implicitly teach children about societal values either via testimony or observation(e.g., Maccoby, 2007; Pratty & Hardy, 2014; see Dahl, 2019 for a useful review). Through this process, children may then absorb this information, which ultimately alters children’s obligation judgments. Alternatively, and in line with more of a Piagetian constructivist view(Piaget, 1932), children may update  their  beliefs  about  obligation through  exploring how  individuals  in  their community act toward one another and eliciting information about obligation from others (Dahl et al., 2018; Turiel, 2015, 1983).We hope future research will investigate these questions in greater detail. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Survival of the Friendliest: Homo sapiens Evolved via Selection for Prosociality

Brian Hare
Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2017.68:155-186.


The challenge of studying human cognitive evolution is identifying unique features of our intelligence while explaining the processes by which they arose. Comparisons with nonhuman apes point to our early-emerging cooperative-communicative abilities as crucial to the evolution of all forms of human cultural cognition, including language. The human self-domestication hypothesis proposes that these early-emerging social skills evolved when natural selection favored increased in-group prosociality over aggression in late human evolution. As a by-product of this selection, humans are predicted to show traits of the domestication syndrome observed in other domestic animals. In reviewing comparative, developmental, neurobiological, and paleoanthropological research, compelling evidence emerges for the predicted relationship between unique human mentalizing abilities, tolerance, and the domestication syndrome in humans. This synthesis includes a review of the first a priori test of the self-domestication hypothesis as well as predictions for future tests.

A pdf can be downloaded from here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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

Elissa Strauss
Originally posted 3 April 20

Here is an excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The info is here.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Folk standards of sound judgment: Rationality vs. Reasonableness

Igor Grossman and others
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited on 10 Jan 20


Normative theories of judgment either focus on rationality – decontextualized preference maximization, or reasonableness – the pragmatic balance of preferences and socially-conscious norms. Despite centuries of work on such concepts, a critical question appears overlooked: How do people’s intuitions and behavior align with the concepts of rationality from game theory and reasonableness from legal scholarship? We show that laypeople view rationality as abstract and preference-maximizing, simultaneously viewing reasonableness as social-context-sensitive and socially-conscious, as evidenced in spontaneous descriptions, social perceptions, and linguistic analyses of the terms in cultural products (news, soap operas, legal opinions, and Google books). Further, experiments among North Americans and Pakistani bankers, street merchants, and samples engaging in exchange (vs. market-) economy show that rationality and reasonableness lead people to different conclusions about what constitutes good judgment in Dictator Games, Commons Dilemma and Prisoner’s Dilemma: Lay rationality is reductionist and instrumental, whereas reasonableness integrates preferences with particulars and moral concerns.

The research is here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Asymmetrical genetic attributions for prosocial versus antisocial behaviour

Matthew S. Lebowitz, Kathryn Tabb &
Paul S. Appelbaum
Nature Human Behaviour (2019)


Genetic explanations of human behaviour are increasingly common. While genetic attributions for behaviour are often considered relevant for assessing blameworthiness, it has not yet been established whether judgements about blameworthiness can themselves impact genetic attributions. Across six studies, participants read about individuals engaging in prosocial or antisocial behaviour, and rated the extent to which they believed that genetics played a role in causing the behaviour. Antisocial behaviour was consistently rated as less genetically influenced than prosocial behaviour. This was true regardless of whether genetic explanations were explicitly provided or refuted. Mediation analyses suggested that this asymmetry may stem from people’s motivating desire to hold wrongdoers responsible for their actions. These findings suggest that those who seek to study or make use of genetic explanations’ influence on evaluations of, for example, antisocial behaviour should consider whether such explanations are accepted in the first place, given the possibility of motivated causal reasoning.

The research is here.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Moral identity relates to the neural processing of third-party moral behavior

Carolina Pletti, Jean Decety, & Markus Paulus
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience


Moral identity, or moral self, is the degree to which being moral is important to a person’s self-concept. It is hypothesized to be the “missing link” between moral judgment and moral action. However, its cognitive and psychophysiological mechanisms are still subject to debate. In this study, we used Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) to examine whether the moral self concept is related to how people process prosocial and antisocial actions. To this end, participants’ implicit and explicit moral self-concept was assessed. We examined whether individual differences in moral identity relate to differences in early, automatic processes (i.e. EPN, N2) or late, cognitively controlled processes (i.e. LPP) while observing prosocial and antisocial situations. Results show that a higher implicit moral self was related to a lower EPN amplitude for prosocial scenarios. In addition, an enhanced explicit moral self was related to a lower N2 amplitude for prosocial scenarios. The findings demonstrate that the moral self affects the neural processing of morally relevant stimuli during third-party evaluations. They support theoretical considerations that the moral self already affects (early) processing of moral information.

Here is the conclusion:

Taken together, notwithstanding some limitations, this study provides novel insights into the
nature of the moral self. Importantly, the results suggest that the moral self concept influences the
early processing of morally relevant contexts. Moreover, the implicit and the explicit moral self
concepts have different neural correlates, influencing respectively early and intermediate processing
stages. Overall, the findings inform theoretical approaches on how the moral self informs social
information processing (Lapsley & Narvaez, 2004).

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Are groups more competitive, more selfish-rational or more prosocial bargainers?

UlrikeVollstädt & RobertBöhm
Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Available online 14 December 2018


Often, it is rather groups than individuals that make decisions. In previous experiments, groups have frequently been shown to act differently from individuals in several ways. It has been claimed that inter-group interactions may be (1) more competitive, (2) more selfish-rational, or (3) more prosocial than inter-individual interactions. While some of these observed differences may be due to differences in the experimental setups, it is still not clear which of the three kinds of behavior is prevailing as they have hardly been distinguishable in previous experiments. We use Rubinstein’s alternating offers bargaining game to compare inter-individual with inter-group behavior since it allows separating the predictions of competitive, selfish-rational and prosocial behavior. We find that groups are, on average, more selfish-rational bargainers than individuals, in particular when being in a weak as opposed to a strong position.

From the Conclusion section:

From these four results, we could infer that groups are not more competitive than individuals since being more competitive would mean making higher first round demands and needing more rounds than individuals in both discount factor combinations. Nevertheless, it was not clear
whether the observed behavior was more rational or more prosocial.

A pdf can be downloaded here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

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

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


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

The research is here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Is Pulling the Lever Sexy? Deontology as a Downstream Cue to Long-Term Mate Quality

Mitch Brown and Donald Sacco
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships
November 2017


Deontological and utilitarian moral decisions have unique communicative functions within the context of group living. Deontology more strongly communicates prosocial intentions, fostering greater perceptions of trust and desirability in general affiliative contexts. This general trustworthiness may extend to perceptions of fidelity in romantic relationships, leading to perceptions of deontological persons as better long-term mates, relative to utilitarians. In two studies, participants indicated desirability of both deontologists and utilitarians in long- and short-term mating contexts. In Study 1 (n = 102), women perceived a deontological man as more interested in long-term bonds, more desirable for long-term mating, and less prone to infidelity, relative to a utilitarian man. However, utilitarian men were undesirable as short-term mates. Study 2 (n = 112) had both men and women rate opposite sex targets’ desirability after learning of their moral decisions in a trolley problem. We replicated women’s preference for deontological men as long-term mates. Interestingly, both men and women reporting personal deontological motives were particularly sensitive to deontology communicating long-term desirability and fidelity, which could be a product of the general affiliative signal from deontology. Thus, one’s moral basis for decision-making, particularly deontologically-motivated moral decisions, may communicate traits valuable in long-term mating contexts.

The research is here.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Enforcement of Moral Boundaries Promotes Cooperation and Prosocial Behavior in Groups

Brent Simpson, Robb Willer & Ashley Harrell
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 42844 (2017)


The threat of free-riding makes the marshalling of cooperation from group members a fundamental challenge of social life. Where classical social science theory saw the enforcement of moral boundaries as a critical way by which group members regulate one another’s self-interest and build cooperation, moral judgments have most often been studied as processes internal to individuals. Here we investigate how the interpersonal expression of positive and negative moral judgments encourages cooperation in groups and prosocial behavior between group members. In a laboratory experiment, groups whose members could make moral judgments achieved greater cooperation than groups with no capacity to sanction, levels comparable to those of groups featuring costly material sanctions. In addition, members of moral judgment groups subsequently showed more interpersonal trust, trustworthiness, and generosity than all other groups. These findings extend prior work on peer enforcement, highlighting how the enforcement of moral boundaries offers an efficient solution to cooperation problems and promotes prosocial behavior between group members.

The article is here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Are Kantians Better Social Partners? People Making Deontological Judgments are Perceived to Be More Prosocial than They Actually are

Capraro, Valerio and Sippel, Jonathan and Zhao, Bonan and others
(January 25, 2017).


Why do people make deontological decisions, although they often lead to overall unfavorable outcomes? One account is receiving considerable attention: deontological judgments may signal commitment to prosociality and thus may increase people's chances of being selected as social partners --- which carries obvious long-term benefits. Here we test this framework by experimentally exploring whether people making deontological judgments are expected to be more prosocial than those making consequentialist judgments and whether they are actually so. We use two ways of identifying deontological choices. In a first set of three studies, we use a single moral dilemma whose consequentialist course of action requires a strong violation of Kant's practical imperative that humans should never be used solely as a mere means. In a second set of two studies, we use two moral dilemmas: one whose consequentialist course of action requires no violation of the practical imperative, and one whose consequentialist course of action requires a strong violation of the practical imperative; and we focus on people changing decision when passing from the former dilemma to the latter one, thereby revealing a strong reluctance to violate Kant's imperative. Using economic games, we take three measures of prosociality: trustworthiness, altruism, and cooperation. Our results procure converging evidence for a perception bias according to which people making deontological choices are believed to be more prosocial than those making consequentialist choices, but actually they are not so. Thus, these results provide a piece of evidence against the assumption that deontological judgments signal commitment to prosociality.

The article is here.