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

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Google is Free: Moral Evaluations of Intergroup Curiosity

Mosley, A. J., & Solomon, L. H. (2023).
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0(0).


Two experiments investigated how evaluations of intergroup curiosity differed depending on whether people placed responsibility for their learning on themselves or on outgroup members. In Study 1, participants (n = 340; 51% White-American, 49% Black-American) evaluated White actors who were curious about Black culture and placed responsibility on outgroup members to teach versus on themselves to learn. Both Black and White participants rated the latter actors as more moral, and perceptions of effort mediated this effect. A follow-up preregistered study (n = 513; 75% White-American) asked whether perceptions of greater effort cause greater perceptions of moral goodness. Replicating Study 1, participants rated actors as more moral when they placed responsibility on themselves versus others. Participants also rated actors as more moral when they exerted high versus low effort. These results clarify when and why participants view curiosity as morally good and help to strengthen bridges between work on curiosity, moral cognition, and intergroup relations.

Here is my summary:

The researchers found that people evaluate intergroup curiosity more favorably when they perceive that the curious individual is placing responsibility on themselves to learn rather than on the outgroup to teach. The researchers also found that perceptions of effort mediate this effect, such that people view curious individuals who exert greater effort as more moral. These findings suggest that people view intergroup curiosity as more morally good when they perceive that the curious individual is taking responsibility for their own learning and is putting in the effort to understand the outgroup.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Market Cognition: How Exchange Norms Alter Social Experience

Zaki, J., Neumann, E., & Baltiansky, D. (2021).
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 
30(3), 236–241.


Market exchange and the ideologies that accompany it pervade human social interaction. How does this affect people’s beliefs about themselves, each other, and human nature? Here we describe market cognition as social inferences and behaviors that are intensified by market contexts. We focus on prosociality and two countervailing ways in which market cognition can affect it. On the one hand, marketplaces incentivize individuals to behave prosocially in order to be chosen as exchange partners—thereby generalizing cooperation and trust beyond group boundaries. On the other hand, markets encourage a view of people as self-interested and can thus taint people’s interpretation of prosocial actions and erode more communal forms of cooperation. We close by considering how market cognition can become self-fulfilling, altering relationships, communities, and cultural norms.

Background: Market exchange is a ubiquitous feature of modern life, and it has been argued that this can have a profound impact on our social cognition.

Research question: The authors of this article investigated how market norms and beliefs can alter our social inferences and behaviors.

Conclusions: The authors concluded that market cognition can have a self-fulfilling prophecy effect. When we believe that others are self-interested, we are more likely to act selfishly ourselves. This can then lead others to believe that we are self-interested, and so on.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Perceptions of Harm and Benefit Predict Judgments of Cultural Appropriation

Mosley, A. J., Heiphetz, L., et al. (2023).
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 


What factors underlie judgments of cultural appropriation? In two studies, participants read 157 scenarios involving actors using cultural products or elements of racial/ethnic groups to which they did not belong. Participants evaluated scenarios on seven dimensions (perceived cultural appropriation, harm to the community from which the cultural object originated, racism, profit to actors, extent to which cultural objects represent a source of pride for source communities, benefits to actors, and celebration), while the type of cultural object and the out-group associated with the object being appropriated varied. Using both the scenario and the participant as the units of analysis, perceived cultural appropriation was most strongly associated with perceived greater harm to the source community. We discuss broader implications for integrating research on inequality and moral psychology. Findings also have translational implications for educators and activists interested in increasing awareness about cultural appropriation.

General Discussion

People disagree about what constitutes cultural appropriation (Garcia Navaro, 2021). Prior research has indicated that prototypical cases of cultural appropriation include dominant-group members (e.g., White people) using cultural products stemming from subordinated groups (e.g., Black people; Katzarska-Miller et al., 2020; Mosley & Biernat, 2020). Minority group members’ use of dominant-group cultural products (termed “cultural dominance” by Rogers, 2006) is less likely to receive that label. However, even in prototypical cases, considerable variability in perceptions exists across actions (Mosley & Biernat, 2020). Furthermore, some perceivers—especially highly racially identified White Americans—view Black actors’ use of White cultural products as equally or more appropriative than White actors’ use of Black cultural products (Mosley et al., 2022).

These studies build on extant work by examining how features of out-group cultural use might contribute to construals of appropriation. We created a large set of scenarios, extending beyond the case of White–Black relations to include a greater diversity of racial groups (Native American, Hispanic, and Asian cultures). In all three studies, scenario-level analyses indicated that actions perceived to cause harm to the source community were also likely to be seen as appropriative, and those actions perceived to bring benefits to actors were less likely to be seen as appropriative. The strong connection between perceived source community harm and judgments of cultural appropriation corroborates research on the importance of harm to morally relevant judgments (Gray et al., 2014; Rozin & Royzman, 2001). At the same time, scenarios perceived to benefit actors—at least among the particular set of scenarios used here—were those that elicited a lower appropriation essence. However, at the level of individual perceivers, actor benefit (along with actor profit and some other measures) positively predicted appropriation perceptions. Perceiving benefit to an actor may contribute to a sense that the action is problematic to the source community (i.e., appropriative). Our findings are akin to findings on smoking and life expectancy: At the aggregate level, countries with higher rates of cigarette consumption have longer population life expectancies, but at the individual level, the more one smokes, the lower their life expectancy (Krause & Saunders, 2010). Scenarios that bring more benefit to actors are judged less appropriative, but individuals who see actor benefit in scenarios view them as more appropriative.

In all studies, participants perceived actions as more appropriative when White actors engaged with cultural products from Black communities, rather than the reverse pattern. This provides further evidence that the prototypical perpetrator of cultural appropriation is a high-status group member (Mosley & Biernat, 2020), where high-status actors have greater power and resources to exploit, marginalize, and cause harm to low-status source communities (Rogers, 2006).

Perhaps surprisingly, perceived appropriation and perceived celebration were positively correlated. Appropriation and celebration might be conceptualized as alternative, opposing construals of the same event. But this positive correlation may attest to the ambiguity, subjectivity, and disagreement about perceiving cultural appropriation: The same action may be construed as appropriative and (not or) celebratory. However, these construals were nonetheless distinct: Appropriation was positively correlated with perceived racism and harm, but celebration was negatively correlated with these factors.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Undervaluing the Positive Impact of Kindness Starts Early

Echelbarger, M., & Epley, N. (2023, April 4).


Prosociality can create social connections that increase well-being among both givers and recipients, yet concerns about how another person might respond can make people reluctant to act prosocially. Existing research suggests these concerns may be miscalibrated such that people underestimate the positive impact their prosociality will have on recipients. Understanding when miscalibrated expectations emerge in development is critical for understanding when misplaced cognitive barriers might discourage social engagement, and for understanding when interventions to build relationships could begin. Two experiments asking children (aged 8-17, Experiment 1; aged 4-7, Experiment 2) and adults to perform the same random act of kindness for another person document that both groups significantly underestimate how “big” the act of kindness will seem to recipients, and how positive their act will make recipients feel. Participants significantly undervalued the positive impact of prosociality across ages. Miscalibrated psychological barriers to social connection may emerge early in life.

Public Significance Statement:

Prosociality tends to increase well-being among those performing the prosocial action as well as among those receiving the action.And yet, people may be somewhat reluctant to act prosocially out of concerns about how another person might respond.In two experiments involving children (4-7 years old), adolescents (8-17 years old), and adults, we find that people’s concerns tend to be systematically miscalibrated such that they underestimate how positively others will respond to their prosocial act. The degree of miscalibration is not moderated by age. This suggests that miscalibrated social cognition could make people overly reluctant to behave prosocially, that miscalibrated expectations emerge early in development, and that overcoming these social cognitive barriers could potentially increase well-being across the lifespan.

General Discussion

Positive social connections are critical for happiness and health among children, adolescents, and adults alike, and yet reaching out to connect with others can sometimes be hindered by concerns about how a recipient might respond. A growing body of recent research indicates that people consistently underestimate how positively prosocial actions will make a recipient feel, meaning that social cognition may create a misplaced barrier to social connection(Epley et al., 2022). Two experiments using a novel kindness procedure indicated that miscalibrated expectations arise early in development. In our experiments, children as young as 4-7years along with adults underestimated how much their recipient would value their prosocial act and feel positive afterwards. Psychological barriers to prosocial behavior appear to emerge early and persist into adulthood.

This may seem somewhat surprising given that experience with prosociality would presumably calibrate expectations. However, people can learn from their experience only when they have experience to learn from. Expectations that encourage avoidance may keep people from having the very experiences that would calibrate their expectations(Epley et al., 2022). In addition, people may not recognize the positive impact they have had on another person even after going through an interaction with them. Strangers who have just had a conversation tend to underestimate how much their partner actually liked them (Boothby et al., 2018), another social cognitive bias that has recently been documented in young children over age 5 as well (but not among 4-year-olds; Wolf et al., 2021). These results suggest that even if the givers in our experiments had been able to interact with their recipient while performing their act of kindness, they may still not have been able to recognize how positive recipients felt. Future research should examine how people do, or do not, learn from their experiences in ways that could maintain miscalibrated social expectations, and also examine outcomes across a range of other prosocial acts and among a larger sample of children and adolescents than we studied here.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Produced and counterfactual effort contribute to responsibility attributions in collaborative tasks

Xiang, Y., Landy, J., et al. (2023, March 8). 


How do people judge responsibility in collaborative tasks? Past work has proposed a number of metrics that people may use to attribute blame and credit to others, such as effort, competence, and force. Some theories consider only the produced effort or force (individuals are more responsible if they produce more effort or force), whereas others consider counterfactuals (individuals are more responsible if some alternative behavior on their or their collaborator's part could have altered the outcome). Across four experiments (N = 717), we found that participants’ judgments are best described by a model that considers both produced and counterfactual effort. This finding generalized to an independent validation data set (N = 99). Our results thus support a dual-factor theory of responsibility attribution in collaborative tasks.

General discussion

Responsibility for the outcomes of collaborations is often distributed unevenly. For example, the lead author on a project may get the bulk of the credit for a scientific discovery, the head of a company may  shoulder the blame for a failed product, and the lazier of two friends may get the greater share of blame  for failing to lift a couch.  However, past work has provided conflicting accounts of the computations that drive responsibility attributions in collaborative tasks.  Here, we compared each of these accounts against human responsibility attributions in a simple collaborative task where two agents attempted to lift a box together.  We contrasted seven models that predict responsibility judgments based on metrics proposed in past work, comprising three production-style models (Force, Strength, Effort), three counterfactual-style models (Focal-agent-only, Non-focal-agent-only, Both-agent), and one Ensemble model that combines the best-fitting production- and counterfactual-style models.  Experiment 1a and Experiment 1b showed that theEffort model and the Both-agent counterfactual model capture the data best among the production-style models and the counterfactual-style models, respectively.  However, neither provided a fully adequate fit on their own.  We then showed that predictions derived from the average of these two models (i.e., the Ensemble model) outperform all other models, suggesting that responsibility judgments are likely a combination of production-style reasoning and counterfactual reasoning.  Further evidence came from analyses performed on individual participants, which revealed that he Ensemble model explained more participants’ data than any other model.  These findings were subsequently supported by Experiment 2a and Experiment 2b, which replicated the results when additional force information was shown to the participants, and by Experiment 3, which validated the model predictions with a broader range of stimuli.

Summary: Effort exerted by each member & counterfactual thinking play a crucial role in attributing responsibility for success or failure in collaborative tasks. This study suggests that higher effort leads to more responsibility for success, while lower effort leads to more responsibility for failure.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Intersectional implicit bias: Evidence for asymmetrically compounding bias and the predominance of target gender

Connor, P., Weeks, M., et al. (2023).
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
124(1), 22–48.


Little is known about implicit evaluations of complex, multiply categorizable social targets. Across five studies (N = 5,204), we investigated implicit evaluations of targets varying in race, gender, social class, and age. Overall, the largest and most consistent evaluative bias was pro-women/anti-men bias, followed by smaller but nonetheless consistent pro-upper-class/anti-lower-class biases. By contrast, we observed less consistent effects of targets’ race, no effects of targets’ age, and no consistent interactions between target-level categories. An integrative data analysis highlighted a number of moderating factors, but a stable pro-women/anti-men and pro-upper-class/anti-lower-class bias across demographic groups. Overall, these results suggest that implicit biases compound across multiple categories asymmetrically, with a dominant category (here, gender) largely driving evaluations, and ancillary categories (here, social class and race) exerting relatively smaller additional effects. We discuss potential implications of this work for understanding how implicit biases operate in real-world social settings. 

General Discussion

Implicit bias is central to the study of social cognition. Given that people are multiply categorizable, understanding the influences of such intersectionality upon implicit bias is likely to be vital for understanding its effects in everyday social contexts. In the present research, we examined implicit evaluations of multiply categorizable social targets, testing two competing theories about intersectional intergroup bias. We also developed and tested the reliability of a novel method of measuring and modelling implicit bias at the level of individual targets.

In Study 1 we observed implicit evaluations of Black and White males to be driven solely by targets' social class with bias favoring upper-class over lower-class targets. In Study 2, we measured implicit evaluations of targets varying in race, gender, social class, and age, and found results to be primarily driven by a specific positive bias favoring upper-class female targets. In Study 3, we used similarly intersectional targets, and explored the impact of portraying targets in full-body versus upper body photographs on implicit evaluations. Here, we observed effects of targets’ race, with Asian and White targets evaluated more positively than Black targets, and of targets’ social class, with upper-class targets evaluated more positively than lower-class targets (though only when targets were displayed in full-body presentation). Most striking, however, was the dominant effect of target gender, with positive/negative evaluations of female/male targets accounting for the majority of variance in implicit bias.

In Study 4 we tested the generalizability of these results by recruiting representative samples of US adults, and measuring implicit evaluations not just via ST-IATs, but also via EPTs and AMPs. Across all measures, we observed target gender to be the largest driver of implicit evaluations, though its dominance was less pronounced in EPTs and AMPs than in ST-IATs. We also again observed effects of targets’ social class and race, though the effect of race was inconsistent across tasks, with participants displaying anti-Black bias in the ST-IAT, pro-Asian bias in the EPT, and anti-White bias in the AMP. Finally, in Study 5 we conducted an integrative data analysis to test a number of potential moderating factors. Results showed that while all groups of participants displayed pro-female implicit gender bias and pro-upper-class implicit social class bias, both biases were stronger among women than men. Results also showed the effect of race varied across racial groups, with Asians displaying a preference for Asian over White and Black targets, Black participants displaying a preference for Asian and Black targets over White targets, Latinos displaying a preference for Asian over Black targets, and Whites displaying no significant racial bias.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Parents’ Political Ideology Predicts How Their Children Punish

Leshin, R. A., Yudkin, D. A., Van Bavel, J. J., 
Kunkel, L., & Rhodes, M. (2022). 
Psychological Science


From an early age, children are willing to pay a personal cost to punish others for violations that do not affect them directly. Various motivations underlie such “costly punishment”: People may punish to enforce cooperative norms (amplifying punishment of in-groups) or to express anger at perpetrators (amplifying punishment of out-groups). Thus, group-related values and attitudes (e.g., how much one values fairness or feels out-group hostility) likely shape the development of group-related punishment. The present experiments (N = 269, ages 3−8 from across the United States) tested whether children’s punishment varies according to their parents’ political ideology—a possible proxy for the value systems transmitted to children intergenerationally. As hypothesized, parents’ self-reported political ideology predicted variation in the punishment behavior of their children. Specifically, parental conservatism was associated with children’s punishment of out-group members, and parental liberalism was associated with children’s punishment of in-group members. These findings demonstrate how differences in group-related ideologies shape punishment across generations.


The present findings suggest that political ideology shapes punishment across development. Counter to previous findings among adults (King & Maruga, 2009), parental conservatism (vs. liberalism) was not related to increased punishment overall. And counter to previous developmental research on belief transmission (Gelman et al., 2004), our patterns did not strengthen with age. Rather, we found that across development, the link between ideology and punishment hinged on group membership. Parental conservatism was associated with children’s punishment of out-groups, whereas parental liberalism was associated with children’s punishment of in-groups. Our findings add rich insights to our understanding of how costly punishment functions in group contexts and provide new evidence of the powerful transmission of belief systems across generations.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Towards a Social Psychology of Cynicism

Neumann, E., & Zaki, j. (2022, September 13).


Cynicism is the attitude that people are primarily motivated by self-interest. It tracks numerous negative outcomes, and yet many people are cynical. To understand this “cynicism paradox,” we review and call for more social psychological work on how cynicism spreads, with implications for how we might slow it down.

The Cynicism Paradox

Out of almost 8,000 respondents from 41 countries, many agree that “powerful people tend to exploit others” or that “kind-hearted people usually suffer losses”. This indicates widespread cynicism, the attitude that people are primarily motivated by self-interest, often accompanied by emotions such as contempt, anger, and distress, and antagonistic interactions with others. What explains such cynicism? Perhaps it reflects a realistic perception of the suffering caused by human self-interest. But workin social psychology regularly demonstrates that attitudes are not always perfect  mirrors of reality.  We will argue  that  people  often  overestimate self-interest,  create  it through their expectations, or overstate their own to not appear naïve. Cynicism rises when people witness self-interest, but social psychology –so far relatively quiet on the topic –can explain why they get trapped in this worldview even when it stops tracking reality.

Cynicism is related, but not reducible to, a lack of trust. Trust is often defined as accepting vulnerability based on positive expectations of others. Generalized trust implies a general tendency to  have  positive  expectations  of  others,  and  shares  with  cynicism  the  tendency  to  judge  the character of a whole group of people. But cynicism is more than reduced positive expectations.It entails a strongly negative view of human nature. The intensity of cynicism’s hostility further differentiates it from mere generalized distrust. Finally, while people can trust and distrust others’ competence,  integrity,  and  predictability,  cynicism  usually  focuses  on  judgments  of  moral character.  This  differentiates  cynicism  from  mere  pessimism,  which  encompasses  any  negative beliefs about the future, moral or non-moral alike. 

Direct applications to psychotherapy.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Sleep loss leads to the withdrawal of human helping across individuals, groups, and large-scale societies

Ben Simon E, Vallat R, Rossi A, Walker MP (2022) 
PLoS Biol 20(8): e3001733.


Humans help each other. This fundamental feature of homo sapiens has been one of the most powerful forces sculpting the advent of modern civilizations. But what determines whether humans choose to help one another? Across 3 replicating studies, here, we demonstrate that sleep loss represents one previously unrecognized factor dictating whether humans choose to help each other, observed at 3 different scales (within individuals, across individuals, and across societies). First, at an individual level, 1 night of sleep loss triggers the withdrawal of help from one individual to another. Moreover, fMRI findings revealed that the withdrawal of human helping is associated with deactivation of key nodes within the social cognition brain network that facilitates prosociality. Second, at a group level, ecological night-to-night reductions in sleep across several nights predict corresponding next-day reductions in the choice to help others during day-to-day interactions. Third, at a large-scale national level, we demonstrate that 1 h of lost sleep opportunity, inflicted by the transition to Daylight Saving Time, reduces real-world altruistic helping through the act of donation giving, established through the analysis of over 3 million charitable donations. Therefore, inadequate sleep represents a significant influential force determining whether humans choose to help one another, observable across micro- and macroscopic levels of civilized interaction. The implications of this effect may be non-trivial when considering the essentiality of human helping in the maintenance of cooperative, civil society, combined with the reported decline in sufficient sleep in many first-world nations.

From the Discussion section

Taken together, findings across all 3 studies establish insufficient sleep (both quantity and quality) as a degrading force influencing whether or not humans wish to help each other, and do indeed, choose to help each other (through real-world altruistic acts), observable at 3 different societal scales: within individuals, across individuals, and at a nationwide level.

Study 1 established not only the causal impact of sleep loss on the basic desire to help another human being, but further characterised the central underlying brain mechanism associated with this altered phenotype of diminished helping. Specifically, sleep loss significantly and selectively reduced activity throughout key nodes of the social cognition brain network (see Fig 1B) normally associated with prosociality, including perspective taking of others’ mental state, their emotions, and their personal needs. Therefore, impairment of this neural system caused by a lack of sleep represents one novel pathway explaining the associated withdrawal of helping desire and the decisional act to offer such help.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Psychological Origins of Conspiracy Theory Beliefs: Big Events with Small Causes Amplify Conspiratorial Thinking

Vonasch, A., Dore, N., & Felicite, J.
(2022, January 20). 


Three studies supported a new model of conspiracy theory belief: People are most likely to believe conspiracy theories that explain big, socially important events with smaller, intuitively unappealing official explanations. Two experiments (N = 577) used vignettes about fictional conspiracy theories and measured online participants’ beliefs in the official causes of the events and the corresponding conspiracy theories. We experimentally manipulated the size of the event and its official cause. Larger events and small official causes decreased belief in the official cause and this mediated increased belief in the conspiracy theory, even after controlling for individual differences in paranoia and distrust. Study 3 established external validity and generalizability by coding the 78 most popular conspiracy theories on Reddit. Nearly all (96.7%) popular conspiracy theories explain big, socially important events with smaller, intuitively unappealing official explanations. By contrast, events not producing conspiracy theories often have bigger explanations.

General Discussion

Three studies supported the HOSE (heuristic of sufficient explanation) of conspiracy theory belief. Nearly all popular conspiracy theories sampled were about major events with small official causes deemed too small to sufficiently explain the event. Two experiments involving invented conspiracy theories supported the proposed causal mechanism. People were less likely to believe the official explanation was true because it was relatively small and the event was relatively big. People’s beliefs in the conspiracy theory were mediated by their disbelief in the official explanation. Thus, one reason people believe conspiracy theories is because they offer a bigger explanation for a seemingly implausibly large effect of a small cause.

HOSE helps explain why certain conspiracy theories become popular but others do not. Like evolutionarily fit genes are especially likely to spread to subsequent generations, ideas (memes) with certain qualities are most likely to spread and thus become popular (Dawkins, 1976). HOSE explains that conspiracy theories spread widely because people are strongly motivated to learn an explanation for important events (Douglas, et al., 2017; 2019), and are usually unsatisfied with counterintuitively small explanations that seem insufficient to explain things. Conspiracy theories are typically inspired by events that people perceive to be larger than their causes could plausibly produce. Some conspiracy theories may be inevitable because small causes do sometimes counterintuitively cause big events: via the exponential spread of a microscopic virus or the interconnected, chaotic nature of events like the flap of a butterfly’s wings changing weather across the world (Gleick, 2008). Therefore, itmay be impossible to prevent all conspiracy theories from developing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Surprisingly Happy to Have Helped: Underestimating Prosociality Creates a Misplaced Barrier to Asking for Help

Zhao, X., & Epley, N. (2022).
Psychological Science.


Performing acts of kindness increases well-being, yet people can be reluctant to ask for help that would enable others’ kindness. We suggest that people may be overly reluctant because of miscalibrated expectations about others’ prosocial motivation, underestimating how positively others will feel when asked for help. A pretest identified that interest in asking for help was correlated with expectations of how helpers would think and feel, but a series of scenarios, recalled experiences, and live interactions among adult participants in the United States (total N = 2,118) indicated that those needing help consistently underestimated others’ willingness to help, underestimated how positively helpers would feel, and overestimated how inconvenienced helpers would feel. These miscalibrated expectations stemmed from underestimating helpers’ prosocial motivation while overestimating compliance motivation. This research highlights a limitation of construing help-seeking through a lens of compliance by scholars and laypeople alike. Undervaluing prosociality could create a misplaced barrier to asking for help when needed.

From the Discussion section

Prosocial actions, such as performing random acts of kindness, tend to improve well-being for both those who perform prosocial acts as well as for those who receive them. Indeed, those who performed a random act of kindness in our experiments reported feeling significantly more positive than they normally do, and two of the experiments confirmed that performers felt better than participants who were not given the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness. Another found that people performing acts of kindness felt more positive after being kind than they reported feeling at the beginning of the experiment. Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own well-being; it enhanced it.

Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in prosocial activities that people may not take. We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients. People’s choices are often guided by either an implicit or explicit calculation of expected value (Becker, 1993). Underestimating how positive a recipient would feel after even a small act of kindness could lead people to engage in prosocial actions less often than might be optimal for both their own and others’ well-being.

Across a variety of different actions, in many different contexts, performers systematically perceived their random act of kindness to be a more minor action than recipients perceived it to be and systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel afterward. Performers were not confused, of course, that recipients would feel good about their experience. In all cases performers expected recipients to feel more positive than they normally do. Nevertheless, performers were still systematically miscalibrated as recipients felt even better than expected.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

No convincing evidence outgroups are denied uniquely human characteristics: Distinguishing intergroup preference from trait-based dehumanization

F. E. Enock, J. C. Flavell. et al. (2021).
Volume 212, July 2021, 104682


According to the dual model, outgroup members can be dehumanized by being thought to possess uniquely and characteristically human traits to a lesser extent than ingroup members. However, previous research on this topic has tended to investigate the attribution of human traits that are socially desirable in nature such as warmth, civility and rationality. As a result, it has not yet been possible to determine whether this form of dehumanization is distinct from intergroup preference and stereotyping. We first establish that participants associate undesirable (e.g., corrupt, jealous) as well as desirable (e.g., open-minded, generous) traits with humans. We then go on to show that participants tend to attribute desirable human traits more strongly to ingroup members but undesirable human traits more strongly to outgroup members. This pattern holds across three different intergroup contexts for which dehumanization effects have previously been reported: political opponents, immigrants and criminals. Taken together, these studies cast doubt on the claim that a trait-based account of representing others as ‘less human’ holds value in the study of intergroup bias.


•  The dual model predicts outgroups are attributed human traits to a lesser extent.

•  To date, predominantly desirable traits have been investigated, creating a confound.

•  We test attributions of desirable and undesirable human traits to social groups.

•  Attributions of undesirable human traits were stronger for outgroups than ingroups.

•  We find no support for the predictions of the dual model of dehumanization.

From the General Discussion

The dual model argues that there are two sense of humanness: human uniqueness and human nature. Uniquely human traits can be summarised as civility, refinement, moral sensibility, rationality, and maturity. Human nature traits can be summarised as emotional responsiveness, interpersonal warmth, cognitive openness, agency, and depth (Haslam, 2006). However, the traits that supposedly characterise ‘humanness’ within this model are broadly socially desirable (Over, 2020a; Over, 2020b). We showed that people also associate some undesirable traits with the concept ‘human’. As well as considering humans to be refined and cultured, people also consider humans to be corrupt, selfish and cruel.

Results from our pretest provided us with grounds for re-examining predictions made by the dual model of dehumanization about the nature of intergroup bias in trait attributions. The dual model account holds that lesser attribution of human specific traits to outgroup members represents a psychological process of dehumanization that is separable from ingroup preference. However, as the human specific attributes summarised by the model are positive and socially desirable, it is possible that previous findings are better explained in terms of ingroup preference, the process of attributing positive qualities to ingroup members to a greater extent than to outgroup members.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Distinct neurocomputational mechanisms support informational and socially normative conformity

Mahmoodi A, Nili H, et al.
(2022) PLoS Biol 20(3): e3001565. 


A change of mind in response to social influence could be driven by informational conformity to increase accuracy, or by normative conformity to comply with social norms such as reciprocity. Disentangling the behavioural, cognitive, and neurobiological underpinnings of informational and normative conformity have proven elusive. Here, participants underwent fMRI while performing a perceptual task that involved both advice-taking and advice-giving to human and computer partners. The concurrent inclusion of 2 different social roles and 2 different social partners revealed distinct behavioural and neural markers for informational and normative conformity. Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) BOLD response tracked informational conformity towards both human and computer but tracked normative conformity only when interacting with humans. A network of brain areas (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and temporoparietal junction (TPJ)) that tracked normative conformity increased their functional coupling with the dACC when interacting with humans. These findings enable differentiating the neural mechanisms by which different types of conformity shape social changes of mind.


A key feature of adaptive behavioural control is our ability to change our mind as new evidence comes to light. Previous research has identified dACC as a neural substrate for changes of mind in both nonsocial situations, such as when receiving additional evidence pertaining to a previously made decision, and social situations, such as when weighing up one’s own decision against the recommendation of an advisor. However, unlike the nonsocial case, the role of dACC in social changes of mind can be driven by different, and often competing, factors that are specific to the social nature of the interaction. In particular, a social change of mind may be driven by a motivation to be correct, i.e., informational influence. Alternatively, a social change of mind may be driven by reasons unrelated to accuracy—such as social acceptance—a process called normative influence. To date, studies on the neural basis of social changes of mind have not disentangled these processes. It has therefore been unclear how the brain tracks and combines informational and normative factors.

Here, we leveraged a recently developed experimental framework that separates humans’ trial-by-trial conformity into informational and normative components to unpack the neural basis of social changes of mind. On each trial, participants first made a perceptual estimate and reported their confidence in it. In support of our task rationale, we found that, while participants’ changes of mind were affected by confidence (i.e., informational) in both human and computer settings, they were only affected by the need to reciprocate influence (i.e., normative) specifically in the human–human setting. It should be noted that participants’ perception of their partners’ accuracy is also an important factor in social change of mind (we tend to change our mind towards the more accurate participants). 

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Little Good Goes an Unexpectedly Long Way: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Kindness on Recipients

Kumar, A., & Epley, N. 
(2021, November 15). 


Performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but we find that givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients. In both field and laboratory settings (Experiments 1a-2b), those performing a random act of kindness predicted how positive recipients would feel and recipients reported how they actually felt. From giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a park to giving away a gift in the lab, those performing a random act of kindness consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel, thinking their act was of less value than recipients perceived it to be. Givers’ miscalibrated expectations are driven partly by an egocentric bias in evaluations of the act itself (Experiment 3). Whereas recipients’ positive reactions are enhanced by the warmth conveyed in a kind act, givers’ expectations are relatively insensitive to the warmth conveyed in their action. Underestimating the positive impact of a random act of kindness also leads givers to underestimate the behavioral consequences their prosociality will produce in recipients through indirect reciprocity (Experiment 4). We suggest that givers’ miscalibrated expectations matter because they can create a barrier to engaging in prosocial actions more often in everyday life (Experiments 5a-5b), to the detriment of people’s own wellbeing, to others’ wellbeing, and to civil society.

General Discussion

Prosocial actions, such as performing random acts of kindness, tend to improve wellbeing for both those who perform prosocial acts as well as for those who receive them.  Indeed, those who performed a random act of kindness in our experiments reported feeling significantly more positive than they normally do, and two of the experiments confirmed that performers felt better than participants who were not given the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness. Another found that performers of acts of kindness felt more positive after being kind than they reported feeling at the beginning of the experiment.Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own wellbeing; it enhanced it.  Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in these sorts of prosocial activities that people do not seem to take.  We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients.  People’s choices are often guided by either an implicit or explicit calculation of expected value (Becker, 1993).  Underestimating how positive a recipient would feel after even a small act of kindness could lead people to engage in prosocial actions less often than might be optimal for both their own and others’ wellbeing.

Across many different actions, with many different participants, and in many different contexts, performers systematically perceived their random act of kindness to be a more minor action than recipients perceived it to be, and also systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel afterwards.Performers were not confused, of course, that recipients would feel good about their experience.  In all cases performers expected recipients to feel more positive than they normally do.  Nevertheless, performers were still systematically miscalibrated as recipients felt even better than expected.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Hidden wisdom or pseudo-profound bullshit? The effect of speaker admirability

Kara-Yakoubian, et al.
(2021, October 28).


How do people reason in response to ambiguous messages shared by admirable individuals? Using behavioral markers and self-report questionnaires, in two experiments (N = 571) we examined the influence of speakers’ admirability on meaning-seeking and wise reasoning in response to pseudo-profound bullshit. In both studies, statements that sounded superficially impressive but lacked intent to communicate meaning generated meaning-seeking, but only when delivered by high admirability speakers (e.g., the Dalai Lama) as compared to low admirability speakers (e.g., Kim Kardashian). The effect of speakers’ admirability on meaning-seeking was unique to pseudo-profound bullshit statements and was absent for mundane (Study 1) and motivational (Study 2) statements. In Study 2, participants also engaged in wiser reasoning for pseudo-profound bullshit (vs. motivational) statements and did more so when speakers were high in admirability. These effects occurred independently of the amount of time spent on statements or the complexity of participants’ reflections. It appears that pseudo-profound bullshit can promote epistemic reflection and certain aspects of wisdom, when associated with an admirable speaker.

From the General Discussion

Pseudo-profound language represents a type of misinformation (Čavojová et al., 2019b; Littrell et al., 2021; Pennycook & Rand, 2019a) where ambiguity reigns. Our findings suggest that source admirability could play an important role in the cognitive processing of ambiguous misinformation, including fake news (Pennycook & Rand, 2020) and euphemistic language (Walker et al., 2021). For instance, in the case of fake news, people may be more inclined to engage in epistemic reflection if the source of an article is highly admirable. However, we also observed that statements from high (vs. low) admirability sources were judged as more profound and were better liked. Extended to misinformation, a combination of greater perceived profundity, liking, and acquired meaning could potentially facilitate the sharing of ambiguous fake news content throughout social networks. Increased reflective thinking (as measured by the CRT) has also been linked to greater discernment on social media, with individuals who score higher on the CRT being less likely to believe fake news stories and share this type of content (Mosleh et al., 2021; Pennycook & Rand, 2019a). Perhaps, people might engage in more epistemic reflection if the source of an article is highly admirable, which may in turn predict a decrease in the sharing behaviour of fake news. Similarly, people may be more inclined to engage in epistemic reflection for euphemistic language, such as the term “enhanced interrogation” used in replacement of “torture,” and conclude that this type of language means something other than what it refers to, if used by a more admirable (compared to a less admirable) individual.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Impact of Leader Dominance on Employees’ Zero-Sum Mindset and Helping Behavior

Kakkar, H and Sivanathan, N (2021) 
Journal of Applied Psychology


Leaders strive to encourage helping behaviors among employees, as it positively affects both organizational and team effectiveness. However, the manner in which a leader influences others can unintentionally limit this desired behavior. Drawing on social learning theory, we contend that a leader’s tendency to influence others via dominance could decrease employees’ interpersonal helping. Dominant leaders, who influence others by being assertive and competitive, shape their subordinates’ cognitive schema of success based on zero-sum thinking. Employees with a zero-sum mindset are more likely to believe that they can only make progress at the expense of others. We further propose that this zero-sum mindset results in less interpersonal helping among subordinates. We test our hypotheses by employing different operationalizations of our key variables in eight studies of which four are reported in the manuscript and another four in supplementary information (SI) across a combined sample of 147,780 observations. These studies include a large archival study, experiments with both laboratory and online samples, and a time-lagged field study with employees from 50 different teams. Overall, this research highlights the unintended consequences that dominant leaders have on their followers’ helping behavior by increasing their zero-sum mindset.

From the Discussion

Second, and relatedly, our results uncover the unintentional effects that leaders can have on employees’ cognitions and behaviors. These findings reflect broader observations made by social learning theorists that “job descriptions, rules, and policies are more likely to be interpreted from watching what others do than following written directives” (Davis & Luthans, 1980, p. 284). In this way, our research reveals a more subtle way in which dominant leaders by altering employees’ cognitions of success may reduce helping behavior among team members, which could eventually affect team performance. Given the beneficial effects of employee prosocial behavior on a team’s bottom line, it is entirely possible that dominant leaders may actually want their subordinates to participate in discretionary helping behaviors—in which case, they are inadvertently undermining their own aims by fostering a zero-sum mindset.

Third, the literature on dominance and prestige has typically argued that followers copy, emulate, and look up to leaders associated with prestige rather than dominance. In contrast to this, our findings offer a more nuanced understanding of this point by revealing how dominant leaders can influence employees’ cognitions and how this can trickle down to critical employee behaviors. Thus, subordinates of dominant leaders do engage in emulating their leaders but the process underlying this emulation is cognitive and less intentional.

Monday, November 8, 2021

What the mind is

B. F. Malle
Nature - Human Behaviour
Originally published 26 Aug 21

Humans have a conception of what the mind is. This conception takes mind to be a set of capacities, such as the ability to be proud or feel sad, to remember or to plan. Such a multifaceted conception allows people to ascribe mind in varying degrees to humans, animals, robots or any other entity1,2. However, systematic research on this conception of mind has so far been limited to Western populations. A study by Weisman and colleagues3 published in Nature Human Behaviour now provides compelling evidence for some cross-cultural universals in the human understanding of what the mind is, as well as revealing intercultural variation.


As with all new findings, readers must be alert and cautious in the conclusions they draw. We may not conclude with certainty that these are the three definitive dimensions of human mind perception, because the 23 mental capacities featured in the study were not exhaustive; in particular, they did not encompass two important domains — morality and social cognition. Moral capacities are central to social relations, person perception and identity; likewise, people care deeply about the capacity to empathize and understand others’ thoughts and feelings. Yet the present study lacked items to capture these domains. When items for moral and social–cognitive capacities have been included in past US studies, they formed a strong separate dimension, while emotions shifted toward the Experience dimension. 

Incorporating moral–social capacities in future studies may strengthen the authors’ findings. Morality and social cognition are credible candidates for cultural universals, so their inclusion could make cross-cultural stability of mind perception even more decisive. Moreover, inclusion of these important mental capacities might clarify one noteworthy cultural divergence in the data: the fact that adults in Ghana and Vanuatu combined the emotional and perceptual-cognitive dimensions. Without the contrast to social–moral capacities, emotion and cognition might have been similar enough to move toward each other. Including social–moral capacities in future studies could provide a contrasting and dividing line, which would pull emotion and cognition apart. The results might, potentially, be even more consistent across cultures.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Intergroup preference, not dehumanization, explains social biases in emotion attribution

F. Enoch, S. P. Tipper, & H. Over
Volume 216, November 2021, 104865


Psychological models can only help improve intergroup relations if they accurately characterise the mechanisms underlying social biases. The claim that outgroups suffer dehumanization is near ubiquitous in the social sciences. We challenge the most prominent psychological model of dehumanization - infrahumanization theory - which holds outgroup members are subtly dehumanized by being denied human emotions. We examine the theory across seven intergroup contexts in thirteen pre-registered and highly powered experiments (N = 1690). We find outgroup members are not denied uniquely human emotions relative to ingroup members. Rather, they are ascribed prosocial emotions to a lesser extent but antisocial emotions to a greater extent. Apparent evidence for infrahumanization is better explained by ingroup preference, outgroup derogation and stereotyping. Infrahumanization theory may obscure more than it reveals about intergroup bias.


• Infrahumanization theory predicts outgroups are often denied uniquely human emotions.

• However, to date, antisocial uniquely human emotions have not been investigated.

• We test attributions of prosocial and antisocial emotions to social groups.

• Attributions of antisocial human emotions were stronger for outgroups than ingroups.

• We find no support for the predictions of infrahumanization theory.

From the General Discussion

Our results dovetail with recent empirical work that challenges the predictions made by Haslam's (2006) dual model of dehumanization (Enock et al., 2021). This research showed that when undesirable human-specific characteristics (such as ‘corrupt’ and ‘selfish’) are included in overall measures of humanness, there is no evidence for either animalistic or mechanistic dehumanization of outgroups as characterised by the dual model. Rather, desirable human qualities are more strongly attributed to ingroup members and undesirable human qualities to outgroup members. The present work extends these findings by further demonstrating the importance of considering sociality confounds when measuring psychological processes of ‘dehumanization’, this time through another highly prominent framework within the field.

During the review process, it was put to us that because dimensions of valence and sociality correlate highly in our pretest, the two constructs are “indistinguishable”, thus rendering our critique obsolete. We believe this represents a misunderstanding. Height and weight are strongly positively correlated, yet they are distinct constructs. Similarly, even though emotions that are generally perceived as prosocial may also perceived as positive to experience, and emotions that are generally perceived as antisocial may also be perceived as negative to experience, the two constructs are clearly conceptually distinct. While sadness is negative to experience, it is not inherently antisocial in character. Schadenfreude on the other hand is, by definition, positive to experience but antisocial in character.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Towards a computational theory of social groups: A finite set of cognitive primitives for representing any and all social groups in the context of conflict

Pietraszewski, D. (2021). 
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-62. 


We don't yet have adequate theories of what the human mind is representing when it represents a social group. Worse still, many people think we do. This mistaken belief is a consequence of the state of play: Until now, researchers have relied on their own intuitions to link up the concept social group on the one hand, and the results of particular studies or models on the other. While necessary, this reliance on intuition has been purchased at considerable cost. When looked at soberly, existing theories of social groups are either (i) literal, but not remotely adequate (such as models built atop economic games), or (ii) simply metaphorical (typically a subsumption or containment metaphor). Intuition is filling in the gaps of an explicit theory. This paper presents a computational theory of what, literally, a group representation is in the context of conflict: it is the assignment of agents to specific roles within a small number of triadic interaction types. This “mental definition” of a group paves the way for a computational theory of social groups—in that it provides a theory of what exactly the information-processing problem of representing and reasoning about a group is. For psychologists, this paper offers a different way to conceptualize and study groups, and suggests that a non-tautological definition of a social group is possible. For cognitive scientists, this paper provides a computational benchmark against which natural and artificial intelligences can be held.

Summary and Conclusion

Despite an enormous literature on groups and group dynamics, little attention has been paid to explicit computational theories of how the mind represents and reasons about groups. The goal of this paper has been, in a conceptual, non-technical manner, to propose a simple but non-trivial framework for starting to ask questions about the nature of the underlying representations that make the phenomenon of social groups possible—all described at the level of information processing. This computational theory, when combined with many more such theories—and followed by extensive task analyses and empirical investigations—will eventually contribute to a full accounting of the information-processing required to represent, reason about, and act in accordance with group representations.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Binding Moral Values Gain Importance in the Presence of Close Others

Yudkin, D. A., et al. (2019, April 12). 


A key function of morality is to regulate social behavior. Research suggests moral values may be divided into two types: binding values, which govern behavior in groups, and individualizing values, which promote personal rights and freedoms. Because people tend to mentally activate concepts in situations in which they may prove useful, the importance they afford moral values may vary according to whom they are with in the moment. In particular, because binding values help regulate communal behavior, people may afford these values more importance when in the presence of close (versus distant) others. Five studies test and support this hypothesis. First, we use a custom smartphone application to repeatedly record participants’ (n = 1,166) current social context and the importance they afforded moral values. Results show people rate moral values as more important when in the presence of close others, and this effect is stronger for binding than individualizing values—an effect that replicates in a large preregistered online sample (n = 2,016). A lab study (n = 390) and two preregistered online experiments (n = 580 and n = 752) provides convergent evidence that people afford binding, but not individualizing, values more importance when in the real or imagined presence of close others. Our results suggest people selectively activate different moral values according to the demands of the situation, and show how the mere presence of others can affect moral thinking.


Centuries of thought in moral philosophy suggest that the purpose of moral values is to regulate social behavior. However, the psychology underlying this process remains underspecified. Here we show that the mere presence of close others increases the importance people afford binding moral values. By contrast, individualizing values are not reliably associated with relational context. In other words, people appear to selectively activate those moral values most relevant to their current social situation. This “moral activation” may play a functional role by helping people to abide by the relevant moral values in a given relational context and monitor adherence to those values in others. 

Our results are consistent with the view that different values play different functional roles in social life. Past research contrasts the values that encourage cohesion in groups and relationships with those that emphasize individual rights and freedoms10.Because violations to individualizing values may be considered wrong regardless of where and when they occur, the importance people ascribe to them may be unaffected by who they are with. By contrast, because binding values concern the moral duties conferred by specific social relationships, they may be particularly subject to social influence.