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 Social Behavior. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Behavior. Show all posts

Thursday, December 30, 2021

When Helping Is Risky: The Behavioral and Neurobiological Trade-off of Social and Risk Preferences

Gross, J., Faber, N. S., et al.  (2021).
Psychological Science, 32(11), 1842–1855.


Helping other people can entail risks for the helper. For example, when treating infectious patients, medical volunteers risk their own health. In such situations, decisions to help should depend on the individual’s valuation of others’ well-being (social preferences) and the degree of personal risk the individual finds acceptable (risk preferences). We investigated how these distinct preferences are psychologically and neurobiologically integrated when helping is risky. We used incentivized decision-making tasks (Study 1; N = 292 adults) and manipulated dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain by administering methylphenidate, atomoxetine, or a placebo (Study 2; N = 154 adults). We found that social and risk preferences are independent drivers of risky helping. Methylphenidate increased risky helping by selectively altering risk preferences rather than social preferences. Atomoxetine influenced neither risk preferences nor social preferences and did not affect risky helping. This suggests that methylphenidate-altered dopamine concentrations affect helping decisions that entail a risk to the helper.

From the Discussion

From a practical perspective, both methylphenidate (sold under the trade name Ritalin) and atomoxetine (sold under the trade name Strattera) are prescription drugs used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and are regularly used off-label by people who aim to enhance their cognitive performance (Maier et al., 2018). Thus, our results have implications for the ethics of and policy for the use of psychostimulants. Indeed, the Global Drug Survey taken in 2015 and 2017 revealed that 3.2% and 6.6% of respondents, respectively, reported using psychostimulants such as methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement (Maier et al., 2018). Both in the professional ethical debate as well as in the general public, concerns about the medical safety and the fairness of such cognitive enhancements are discussed (Faber et al., 2016). However, our finding that methylphenidate alters helping behavior through increased risk seeking demonstrates that substances aimed at changing cognitive functioning can also influence social behavior. Such “social” side effects of cognitive enhancement (whether deemed positive or negative) are currently unknown to both users and administrators and thus do not receive much attention in the societal debate about psychostimulant use (Faulmüller et al., 2013).

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Negativity Spreads More than Positivity on Twitter after both Positive and Negative Political Situations

Schöne, J., Parkinson, B., & Goldenberg, A. 
(2021, January 2). 


What type of emotional language spreads further in political discourses on social media? Previous research has focused on situations that primarily elicited negative emotions, showing that negative language tended to spread further. The current project addressed the gap introduced when looking only at negative situations by comparing the spread of emotional language in response to both predominantly positive and negative political situations. In Study 1, we examined the spread of emotional language among tweets related to the winning and losing parties in the 2016 US elections, finding that increased negativity (but not positivity) predicted content sharing in both situations. In Study 2, we compared the spread of emotional language in two separate situations: the celebration of the US Supreme Court approval of same-sex marriage (positive), and the Ferguson Unrest (negative), finding again that negativity spread further. These results shed light on the nature of political discourse and engagement.

General Discussion

The goal of the project was to investigate what types of emotional language spread further in response to negative and positive political situations. In Studies 1 (same situation) and 2 (separate situations),we examined the spread of emotional language in response to negative and positive situations. Results from both of our studies suggested that negative language tended to spread further both in negative and positive situations. Analysis of political affiliation in both studies indicated that the users that produced the negative language in the political celebrations were ingroup members (conservatives in Study 1 and liberals in Study 2). Analysis of negative content produced in celebrations shows that negative language was mainly used to describe hardships or past obstacles. Combined, these two studies shed light on the nature of political engagement online. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation

Joseph Henrich and Michael Muthukrishna
Annual Review of Psychology 2021 72:1, 207-240


Humans are an ultrasocial species. This sociality, however, cannot be fully explained by the canonical approaches found in evolutionary biology, psychology, or economics. Understanding our unique social psychology requires accounting not only for the breadth and intensity of human cooperation but also for the variation found across societies, over history, and among behavioral domains. Here, we introduce an expanded evolutionary approach that considers how genetic and cultural evolution, and their interaction, may have shaped both the reliably developing features of our minds and the well-documented differences in cultural psychologies around the globe. We review the major evolutionary mechanisms that have been proposed to explain human cooperation, including kinship, reciprocity, reputation, signaling, and punishment; we discuss key culture–gene coevolutionary hypotheses, such as those surrounding self-domestication and norm psychology; and we consider the role of religions and marriage systems. Empirically, we synthesize experimental and observational evidence from studies of children and adults from diverse societies with research among nonhuman primates.

From the Discussion

Understanding the origins and psychology of human cooperation is an exciting and rapidly developing enterprise. Those interested in engaging with this grand question should consider three elements of this endeavor: (1) theoretical frameworks, (2) diverse methods, and (3) history. To the first, the extended evolutionary framework we described comes with a rich body of theories and hypotheses as well as tools for developing new theories, about both human nature and cultural psychology. We encourage psychologists to take the formal theory seriously and learn to read the primary literature (McElreath & Boyd 2007). Second, the nature of human cooperation demands cross-cultural, comparative and developmental approaches that integrate experiments, observation, and ethnography. Haphazard cross-country cyber sampling is less efficient than systematic tests with populations based on theoretical predictions. Finally, the evidence makes it clear that as norms evolve over time, so does our psychology; historical differences can tell us a lot about contemporary psychological patterns. This means that researchers need to think about psychology from a historical perspective and begin to devise ways to bring history and psychology together (Muthukrishna et al. 2020).

Friday, August 23, 2019

Moral Grandstanding

Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke
Philosophy & Public Affairs
First published: 27 December 2016

Here is an excerpt:

We suspect that most people would agree that grandstanding is annoying. We think that it is also morally problematic. In our view, the vast majority of moral grandstanding is bad, and, in general, one should not grandstand. We will adduce some reasons for this view shortly, but we should make a few preliminary points.

First, we will not argue that grandstanding should never be done. We are open to the possibility that there are circumstances in which either an instance of grandstanding possesses no bad‐making features or, even if an instance does have bad‐making features, the option of not grandstanding will be even worse.

Second, we will not claim that people who grandstand are bad people in virtue of engaging in grandstanding. We all have flaws that are on occasion revealed in the public square. Engaging in grandstanding is not obviously worse than many other flaws, and a propensity to grandstand is not indefeasible evidence that someone lacks good character.

Third, although we do believe that grandstanding is typically bad and should not be done, we are not prescribing any particular social enforcement mechanisms to deal with it. Presently, our concerns are the nature of grandstanding and its moral status. It does not follow, at least in any straightforward way, that people should intervene in public moral discourse to discourage others from grandstanding, or to blame them for grandstanding.

The info is here.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Social physics

Despite the vagaries of free will and circumstance, human behaviour in bulk is far more predictable than we like to imagine

Ian Stewart
Originally posted July 9, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Polling organisations use a variety of methods to try to minimise these sources of error. Many of these methods are mathematical, but psychological and other factors also come into consideration. Most of us know of stories where polls have confidently indicated the wrong result, and it seems to be happening more often. Special factors are sometimes invoked to ‘explain’ why, such as a sudden late swing in opinion, or people deliberately lying to make the opposition think it’s going to win and become complacent. Nevertheless, when performed competently, polling has a fairly good track-record overall. It provides a useful tool for reducing uncertainty. Exit polls, where people are asked whom they voted for soon after they cast their vote, are often very accurate, giving the correct result long before the official vote count reveals it, and can’t influence the result.

Today, the term ‘social physics’ has acquired a less metaphorical meaning. Rapid progress in information technology has led to the ‘big data’ revolution, in which gigantic quantities of information can be obtained and processed. Patterns of human behaviour can be extracted from records of credit-card purchases, telephone calls and emails. Words suddenly becoming more common on social media, such as ‘demagogue’ during the 2016 US presidential election, can be clues to hot political issues.

The mathematical challenge is to find effective ways to extract meaningful patterns from masses of unstructured information, and many new methods.

The info is here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Escape the echo chamber

By C Thi Nguyen
Originally posted April 9, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Epistemic bubbles also threaten us with a second danger: excessive self-confidence. In a bubble, we will encounter exaggerated amounts of agreement and suppressed levels of disagreement. We’re vulnerable because, in general, we actually have very good reason to pay attention to whether other people agree or disagree with us. Looking to others for corroboration is a basic method for checking whether one has reasoned well or badly. This is why we might do our homework in study groups, and have different laboratories repeat experiments. But not all forms of corroboration are meaningful. Ludwig Wittgenstein says: imagine looking through a stack of identical newspapers and treating each next newspaper headline as yet another reason to increase your confidence. This is obviously a mistake. The fact that The New York Times reports something is a reason to believe it, but any extra copies of The New York Times that you encounter shouldn’t add any extra evidence.

But outright copies aren’t the only problem here. Suppose that I believe that the Paleo diet is the greatest diet of all time. I assemble a Facebook group called ‘Great Health Facts!’ and fill it only with people who already believe that Paleo is the best diet. The fact that everybody in that group agrees with me about Paleo shouldn’t increase my confidence level one bit. They’re not mere copies – they actually might have reached their conclusions independently – but their agreement can be entirely explained by my method of selection. The group’s unanimity is simply an echo of my selection criterion. It’s easy to forget how carefully pre-screened the members are, how epistemically groomed social media circles might be.

The information is here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Distinct Brain Areas involved in Anger versus Punishment during Social Interactions

Olga M. Klimecki, David Sander & Patrik Vuilleumier
Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 10556 (2018)


Although anger and aggression can have wide-ranging consequences for social interactions, there is sparse knowledge as to which brain activations underlie the feelings of anger and the regulation of related punishment behaviors. To address these issues, we studied brain activity while participants played an economic interaction paradigm called Inequality Game (IG). The current study confirms that the IG elicits anger through the competitive behavior of an unfair (versus fair) other and promotes punishment behavior. Critically, when participants see the face of the unfair other, self-reported anger is parametrically related to activations in temporal areas and amygdala – regions typically associated with mentalizing and emotion processing, respectively. During anger provocation, activations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area important for regulating emotions, predicted the inhibition of later punishment behavior. When participants subsequently engaged in behavioral decisions for the unfair versus fair other, increased activations were observed in regions involved in behavioral adjustment and social cognition, comprising posterior cingulate cortex, temporal cortex, and precuneus. These data point to a distinction of brain activations related to angry feelings and the control of subsequent behavioral choices. Furthermore, they show a contribution of prefrontal control mechanisms during anger provocation to the inhibition of later punishment.

The research is here.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Are We Really as Awful as We Act Online?

Agustin Fuentes
National Geographic Magazine
Originally published in August 2018

Here is an excerpt:

This process has deep evolutionary roots and gives humans what we call a shared reality. The connection between minds and experiences enables us to share space and work together effectively, more so than most other beings. It’s in part how we’ve become such a successful species.

But the “who” that constitutes “whom we meet” in this system has been changing. Today the who can include more virtual, social media friends than physical ones; more information absorbed via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram than in physical social experiences; and more pronouncements from ad-sponsored 24-hour news outlets than from conversations with other human beings.

We live in complicated societies structured around political and economic processes that generate massive inequality and disconnection between us. This division alone leads to a plethora of prejudices and blind spots that segregate people. The ways we socially interact, especially via social media, are multiplying exactly at a time when we are increasingly divided. What may be the consequences?

Historically, we have maintained harmony by displaying compassion and geniality, and by fostering connectedness when we get together. Anonymity and the lack of face-to-face interaction on social media platforms remove a crucial part of the equation of human sociality—and that opens the door to more frequent, and severe, displays of aggression. Being an antagonizer, especially to those you don’t have to confront face-to-face, is easier now than it’s ever been. If there are no repercussions for it, that encourages the growth of aggression, incivility, and just plain meanness on social media platforms.

The information is here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Have our tribes become more important than our country?

Jonathan Rauch
The Washington Post
Originally published February 16, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Moreover, tribalism is a dynamic force, not a static one. It exacerbates itself by making every group feel endangered by the others, inducing all to circle their wagons still more tightly. “Today, no group in America feels comfortably dominant,” Chua writes. “The Left believes that right-wing tribalism — bigotry, racism — is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism — identity politics, political correctness — is tearing the country apart. They are both right.” I wish I could disagree.

Remedies? Chua sees hopeful signs. Psychological research shows that tribalism can be countered and overcome by teamwork: by projects that join individuals in a common task on an equal footing. One such task, it turns out, can be to reduce tribalism. In other words, with conscious effort, humans can break the tribal spiral, and many are trying. “You’d never know it from cable news or social media,” Chua writes, “but all over the country there are signs of people trying to cross divides and break out of their political tribes.”

She lists examples, and I can add my own. My involvement with the Better Angels project, a grass-roots depolarization movement that is gaining traction in communities across the country, has convinced me that millions of Americans are hungry for conciliation and willing to work for it. Last summer, at a Better Angels workshop in Virginia, I watched as eight Trump supporters and eight Hillary Clinton supporters participated in a day of structured interactions.

The article is here.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Machine Theory of Mind

Neil C. Rabinowitz, F. Perbet, H. F. Song, C. Zhang, S.M. Ali Eslami, M. Botvinick
Artificial Intelligence
Submitted February 2018


Theory of mind (ToM; Premack & Woodruff, 1978) broadly refers to humans' ability to represent the mental states of others, including their desires, beliefs, and intentions. We propose to train a machine to build such models too. We design a Theory of Mind neural network -- a ToMnet -- which uses meta-learning to build models of the agents it encounters, from observations of their behaviour alone. Through this process, it acquires a strong prior model for agents' behaviour, as well as the ability to bootstrap to richer predictions about agents' characteristics and mental states using only a small number of behavioural observations. We apply the ToMnet to agents behaving in simple gridworld environments, showing that it learns to model random, algorithmic, and deep reinforcement learning agents from varied populations, and that it passes classic ToM tasks such as the "Sally-Anne" test (Wimmer & Perner, 1983; Baron-Cohen et al., 1985) of recognising that others can hold false beliefs about the world. We argue that this system -- which autonomously learns how to model other agents in its world -- is an important step forward for developing multi-agent AI systems, for building intermediating technology for machine-human interaction, and for advancing the progress on interpretable AI.

The research is here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Phenomenon of ‘Bud Sex’ Between Straight Rural Men

Jesse Singal
Originally posted December 18, 2016

A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.


Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”...

The article is here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why we pretend to know things, explained by a cognitive scientist

Sean Illing
Originally posted November 3, 2017

Why do people pretend to know things? Why does confidence so often scale with ignorance? Steven Sloman, a professor of cognitive science at Brown University, has some compelling answers to these questions.

“We're biased to preserve our sense of rightness,” he told me, “and we have to be.”

The author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, Sloman’s research focuses on judgment, decision-making, and reasoning. He’s especially interested in what’s called “the illusion of explanatory depth.” This is how cognitive scientists refer to our tendency to overestimate our understanding of how the world works.

We do this, Sloman says, because of our reliance on other minds.

“The decisions we make, the attitudes we form, the judgments we make, depend very much on what other people are thinking,” he said.

If the people around us are wrong about something, there’s a good chance we will be too. Proximity to truth compounds in the same way.

In this interview, Sloman and I talk about the problem of unjustified belief. I ask him about the political implications of his research, and if he thinks the rise of “fake news” and “alternative facts” has amplified our cognitive biases.

The interview/article is here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Differential inter-subject correlation of brain activity when kinship is a variable in moral dilemma

Mareike Bacha-Trams, Enrico Glerean, Robin Dunbar, Juha M. Lahnakoski, and others
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 14244


Previous behavioural studies have shown that humans act more altruistically towards kin. Whether and how knowledge of genetic relatedness translates into differential neurocognitive evaluation of observed social interactions has remained an open question. Here, we investigated how the human brain is engaged when viewing a moral dilemma between genetic vs. non-genetic sisters. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, a movie was shown, depicting refusal of organ donation between two sisters, with subjects guided to believe the sisters were related either genetically or by adoption. Although 90% of the subjects self-reported that genetic relationship was not relevant, their brain activity told a different story. Comparing correlations of brain activity across all subject pairs between the two viewing conditions, we found significantly stronger inter-subject correlations in insula, cingulate, medial and lateral prefrontal, superior temporal, and superior parietal cortices, when the subjects believed that the sisters were genetically related. Cognitive functions previously associated with these areas include moral and emotional conflict regulation, decision making, and mentalizing, suggesting more similar engagement of such functions when observing refusal of altruism from a genetic sister. Our results show that mere knowledge of a genetic relationship between interacting persons robustly modulates social cognition of the perceiver.

The article is here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

‘But you can’t do that!’ Why immoral actions seem impossible

Jonathan Phillips
Originally posted September 29, 2017

Suppose that you’re on the way to the airport to catch a flight, but your car breaks down. Some of the actions you immediately consider are obvious: you might try to call a friend, look for a taxi, or book a later flight. If those don’t work out, you might consider something more far-fetched, such as finding public transportation or getting the tow-truck driver to tow you to the airport. But here’s a possibility that would likely never come to mind: you could take a taxi but not pay for it when you get to the airport. Why wouldn’t you think of this? After all, it’s a pretty sure-fire way to get to the airport on time, and it’s definitely cheaper than having your car towed.

One natural answer is that you don’t consider this possibility because you’re a morally good person who wouldn’t actually do that. But there are at least two reasons why this doesn’t seem like a compelling answer to the question, even if you are morally good. The first is that, though being a good person would explain why you wouldn’t actually do this, it doesn’t seem to explain why you wouldn’t have been able to come up with this as a solution in the first place. After all, your good moral character doesn’t stop you from admitting that it is a way of getting to the airport, even if you wouldn’t go through with it. And the second reason is that it seems equally likely that you wouldn’t have come up with this possibility for someone else in the same situation – even someone whom you didn’t know was morally good.

So what does explain why we don’t consider the possibility of taking a taxi but not paying? Here’s a radically different suggestion: before I mentioned it, you didn’t think it was even possible to do that. This explanation probably strikes you as too strong, but the key to it is that I’m not arguing that you think it’s impossible now, I’m arguing that you didn’t think it was possible before I proposed it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Facts Don’t Change People’s Minds. Here’s What Does

Ozan Varol
Originally posted September 6, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The mind doesn’t follow the facts. Facts, as John Adams put it, are stubborn things, but our minds are even more stubborn. Doubt isn’t always resolved in the face of facts for even the most enlightened among us, however credible and convincing those facts might be.

As a result of the well-documented confirmation bias, we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking.

We believe in alternative facts if they support our pre-existing beliefs. Aggressively mediocre corporate executives remain in office because we interpret the evidence to confirm the accuracy of our initial hiring decision. Doctors continue to preach the ills of dietary fat despite emerging research to the contrary.

If you have any doubts about the power of the confirmation bias, think back to the last time you Googled a question. Did you meticulously read each link to get a broad objective picture? Or did you simply skim through the links looking for the page that confirms what you already believed was true? And let’s face it, you’ll always find that page, especially if you’re willing to click through to Page 12 on the Google search results.

The article is here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds

Elizabeth Kolbert
The New Yorker
Originally published February 27, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morality (Book Chapter)

Jonathan Haidt and Selin Kesebir
Handbook of Social Psychology. (2010) 3:III:22.

Here is a portion of the conclusion:

 The goal of this chapter was to offer an account of what morality really is, where it came from, how it works, and why McDougall was right to urge social psychologists to make morality one of their fundamental concerns. The chapter used a simple narrative device to make its literature review more intuitively compelling: It told the history of moral psychology as a fall followed by redemption. (This is one of several narrative forms that people spontaneously use when telling the stories of their lives [McAdams, 2006]). To create the sense of a fall, the chapter began by praising the ancients and their virtue - based ethics; it praised some early sociologists and psychologists (e.g., McDougall, Freud, and Durkheim) who had “ thick ” emotional and sociological conceptions of morality; and it praised Darwin for his belief that intergroup competition contributed to the evolution of morality. The chapter then suggested that moral psychology lost these perspectives in the twentieth century as many psychologists followed philosophers and other social scientists in embracing rationalism and methodological individualism. Morality came to be studied primarily as a set of beliefs and cognitive abilities, located in the heads of individuals, which helped individuals to solve quandaries about helping and hurting other individuals. In this narrative, evolutionary theory also lost something important (while gaining much else) when it focused on morality as a set of strategies, coded into the genes of individuals, that helped individuals optimize their decisions about cooperation and defection when interacting with strangers. Both of these losses or “ narrowings ” led many theorists to think that altruistic acts performed toward strangers are the quintessence of morality.

The book chapter is here.

This chapter is an excellent summary for students or those beginning to read on moral psychology.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Third-party punishment as a costly signal of trustworthiness

Jillian J. Jordan, Moshe Hoffman, Paul Bloom & David G. Rand
Originally published February 25, 2016

Third-party punishment (TPP), in which unaffected observers punish selfishness, promotes cooperation by deterring defection. But why should individuals choose to bear the costs of punishing? We present a game theoretic model of TPP as a costly signal of trustworthiness. Our model is based on individual differences in the costs and/or benefits of being trustworthy. We argue that individuals for whom trustworthiness is payoff-maximizing will find TPP to be less net costly (for example, because mechanisms that incentivize some individuals to be trustworthy also create benefits for deterring selfishness via TPP). We show that because of this relationship, it can be advantageous for individuals to punish selfishness in order to signal that they are not selfish themselves. We then empirically validate our model using economic game experiments. We show that TPP is indeed a signal of trustworthiness: third-party punishers are trusted more, and actually behave in a more trustworthy way, than non-punishers. Furthermore, as predicted by our model, introducing a more informative signal—the opportunity to help directly—attenuates these signalling effects. When potential punishers have the chance to help, they are less likely to punish, and punishment is perceived as, and actually is, a weaker signal of trustworthiness. Costly helping, in contrast, is a strong and highly used signal even when TPP is also possible. Together, our model and experiments provide a formal reputational account of TPP, and demonstrate how the costs of punishing may be recouped by the long-run benefits of signalling one’s trustworthiness.

The letter can be found here.

What’s the Point of Moral Outrage?

By Jillian Jordan, Paul Bloom, Moshe Hoffman and David Rand
The New York Times - Sunday Review
Originally published February 26, 2016

Human beings have an appetite for moral outrage. You see this in public life — in the condemnation of Donald J. Trump for vowing to bar Muslims from the United States, or of Hillary Clinton for her close involvement with Wall Street, to pick two ready examples — and you see this in personal life, where we criticize friends, colleagues and neighbors who behave badly.

Why do we get so mad, even when the offense in question does not concern us directly? The answer seems obvious: We denounce wrongdoers because we value fairness and justice, because we want the world to be a better place. Our indignation appears selfless in nature.

And it often is — at least on a conscious level. But in a paper published Thursday in the journal Nature, we present evidence that the roots of this outrage are, in part, self-serving. We suggest that expressing moral outrage can serve as a form of personal advertisement: People who invest time and effort in condemning those who behave badly are trusted more.

The article is here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

When are Do-Gooders Treated Badly? Legitimate Power, Role Expectations, and Reactions to Moral Objection in Organizations.

Wellman, Ned; Mayer, David M.; Ong, Madeline; DeRue, D. Scott
Journal of Applied Psychology, Feb 15 , 2016


Organization members who engage in “moral objection” by taking a principled stand against ethically questionable activities help to prevent such activities from persisting. Unfortunately, research suggests that they also may be perceived as less warm (i.e., pleasant, nice) than members who comply with ethically questionable procedures. In this article, we draw on role theory to explore how legitimate power influences observers’ responses to moral objection. We argue that individuals expect those high in legitimate power to engage in moral objection, but expect those low in legitimate power to comply with ethically questionable practices. We further propose that these contrasting role expectations influence the extent to which moral objectors are perceived as warm and subjected to social sanctions (i.e., insults, pressure, unfriendly behavior). We test our predictions with 3 experiments. Study 1, which draws on participants’ prior workplace experiences, supports the first section of our mediated moderation model in which the negative association between an actor’s moral objection (vs. compliance) and observers’ warmth perceptions is weaker when the actor is high rather than low in legitimate power and this effect is mediated by observers’ met role expectations. Study 2, an online experiment featuring a biased hiring task, reveals that the warmth perceptions fostered by the Behavior × Legitimate Power interaction influence observers’ social sanctioning intentions. Finally, Study 3, a laboratory experiment which exposes participants to unethical behavior in a virtual team task, replicates Study 2’s findings and extends the results to actual as well as intended social sanctions.

The article is here.