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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A justification-suppression model of the expression and experience of prejudice

Crandall, C. S., & Eshleman, A. (2003).
Psychological bulletin, 129(3), 414–446.


The authors propose a justification-suppression model (JSM), which characterizes the processes that lead to prejudice expression and the experience of one's own prejudice. They suggest that "genuine" prejudices are not directly expressed but are restrained by beliefs, values, and norms that suppress them. Prejudices are expressed when justifications (e.g., attributions, ideologies, stereotypes) release suppressed prejudices. The same process accounts for which prejudices are accepted into the self-concept The JSM is used to organize the prejudice literature, and many empirical findings are recharacterized as factors affecting suppression or justification, rather than directly affecting genuine prejudice. The authors discuss the implications of the JSM for several topics, including prejudice measurement, ambivalence, and the distinction between prejudice and its expression.

This is an oldie, but goodie!!  Here is my summary:

This article is about prejudice and the factors that influence its expression. The authors propose a justification-suppression model (JSM) to explain how prejudice is expressed. The JSM suggests that people have genuine prejudices that are not directly expressed. Instead, these prejudices are suppressed by people’s beliefs, values, and norms. Prejudice is expressed when justifications (e.g., attributions, ideologies, stereotypes) release suppressed prejudices.

The authors also discuss the implications of the JSM for prejudice measurement, ambivalence, and the distinction between prejudice and its expression.

Here are some key takeaways from the article:
  • Prejudice is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by a variety of factors, including individual beliefs, values, and norms, as well as social and cultural contexts.
  • People may have genuine prejudices that they do not directly express. These prejudices may be suppressed by people’s beliefs, values, and norms.
  • Prejudice is expressed when justifications (e.g., attributions, ideologies, stereotypes) release suppressed prejudices.
  • The JSM can be used to explain a wide range of findings on prejudice, including prejudice measurement, ambivalence, and the distinction between prejudice and its expression.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

How social identity tunes moral cognition

Van Bavel, J. J., Packer, D.,  et al.
PsyArXiv.com (2022, November 18). 


In this chapter, we move beyond the treatment of intuition and reason as competing systems and outline how social contexts, and especially social identities, allow people to flexibly “tune” their cognitive reactions to moral contexts—a process we refer to as ‘moral tuning’. Collective identities—identities based on shared group memberships—significantly influence judgments and decisions of many kinds, including in the moral domain. We explain why social identities influence all aspects of moral cognition, including processes traditionally classified as intuition and reasoning. We then explain how social identities tune preferences and goals, expectations, and what outcomes care about. Finally, we propose directions for future research in moral psychology.

Social Identities Tune Preferences and Goals

Morally-relevant situations often involve conflicts between choices about which the interests of different parties are in tension. Moral transgressions typically involve an agent putting their own desires ahead of the interests, needs, or rights of others, thus causing them harm (e.g., Gray et al., 2012), whereas acts worthy of moral praise usually involve an agent sacrificing self-interest for the sake of someone else’s or the greater good. Value-computation frameworks of cooperation model how much people weigh the interests of different parties (e.g., their own versus others’) in terms of social preferences (see Van Bavel et al., 2022). Social preference parameters can, for example, capture individual differences in how much people prioritize their own outcomes over others’ (e.g., pro-selfs versus pro-socials as indexed by social value orientation; Balliet et al., 2009). These preferences, along with social norms, inform the computations that underlie decisions to engage in selfish or pro-social behavior (Hackel, Wills &Van Bavel, 2020).

We argue that social identity also influences social preferences, such that people tend to care more about outcomes incurred by in-group than out-group members (Tajfel & Turner, 1979;Van Bavel & Packer, 2021). For instance, highly identified group members appear to experience vicarious reward when they observe in-group (but not out-group) members experiencing positiveoutcomes, as indexed by activity in ventral striatum, a brain region implicated in hedonic reward (Hackel et al., 2017). Intergroup competition may exacerbate differences in concern for in-group versus out-group targets, causing people to feel empathy when in-group targets experience negative outcomes, but schadenfreude (pleasure in others’ pain) when out-group members experience these same events (Cikara et al., 2014). Shared social identities can also lead people to put collective interests ahead of their own individual interests in social dilemmas. For instance, making collective identities salient causes selfish individuals to contribute more to theirgroup than when these same people were reminded of their individual self (De Cremer & Van Vugt, 1999). This shift in behavior was not necessarily because they were less selfish, but rather because their sense of self had shifted from the individual to the collective level.



For centuries, philosophers and scientists have debated the role of emotional intuition and reason in moral judgment. Thanks to theoretical and methodological developments over the past few decades, we believe it is time to move beyond these debates. We argue that social identity can tune the intuitions and reasoning processes that underlie moral cognition (Van Bavel et al., 2015). Extensive research has found that social identities have a significant influence on social and moral judgment and decision-making (Oakes et al., 1994; Van Bavel & Packer, 2021). This approach offers an important complement to other theories of moral psychology and suggests a powerful way to shift moral judgments and decisions—by changing identities and norms, rather than hearts and minds.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Interaction between games give rise to the evolution of moral norms of cooperation

Salahshour M (2022)
PLoS Comput Biol 18(9): e1010429.


In many biological populations, such as human groups, individuals face a complex strategic setting, where they need to make strategic decisions over a diverse set of issues and their behavior in one strategic context can affect their decisions in another. This raises the question of how the interaction between different strategic contexts affects individuals’ strategic choices and social norms? To address this question, I introduce a framework where individuals play two games with different structures and decide upon their strategy in a second game based on their knowledge of their opponent’s strategy in the first game. I consider both multistage games, where the same opponents play the two games consecutively, and reputation-based model, where individuals play their two games with different opponents but receive information about their opponent’s strategy. By considering a case where the first game is a social dilemma, I show that when the second game is a coordination or anti-coordination game, the Nash equilibrium of the coupled game can be decomposed into two classes, a defective equilibrium which is composed of two simple equilibrium of the two games, and a cooperative equilibrium, in which coupling between the two games emerge and sustain cooperation in the social dilemma. For the existence of the cooperative equilibrium, the cost of cooperation should be smaller than a value determined by the structure of the second game. Investigation of the evolutionary dynamics shows that a cooperative fixed point exists when the second game belongs to coordination or anti-coordination class in a mixed population. However, the basin of attraction of the cooperative fixed point is much smaller for the coordination class, and this fixed point disappears in a structured population. When the second game belongs to the anti-coordination class, the system possesses a spontaneous symmetry-breaking phase transition above which the symmetry between cooperation and defection breaks. A set of cooperation supporting moral norms emerges according to which cooperation stands out as a valuable trait. Notably, the moral system also brings a more efficient allocation of resources in the second game. This observation suggests a moral system has two different roles: Promotion of cooperation, which is against individuals’ self-interest but beneficial for the population, and promotion of organization and order, which is at both the population’s and the individual’s self-interest. Interestingly, the latter acts like a Trojan horse: Once established out of individuals’ self-interest, it brings the former with itself. Importantly, the fact that the evolution of moral norms depends only on the cost of cooperation and is independent of the benefit of cooperation implies that moral norms can be harmful and incur a pure collective cost, yet they are just as effective in promoting order and organization. Finally, the model predicts that recognition noise can have a surprisingly positive effect on the evolution of moral norms and facilitates cooperation in the Snow Drift game in structured populations.

Author summary

How do moral norms spontaneously evolve in the presence of selfish incentives? An answer to this question is provided by the observation that moral systems have two distinct functions: Besides encouraging self-sacrificing cooperation, they also bring organization and order into the societies. In contrast to the former, which is costly for the individuals but beneficial for the group, the latter is beneficial for both the group and the individuals. A simple evolutionary model suggests this latter aspect is what makes a moral system evolve based on the individuals’ self-interest. However, a moral system behaves like a Trojan horse: Once established out of the individuals’ self-interest to promote order and organization, it also brings self-sacrificing cooperation.

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.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Content of Our Character

Brown, Teneille R.
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3665288


The rules of evidence assume that jurors can ignore most character evidence, but the data are clear. Jurors simply cannot *not* make character inferences. We are so driven to use character to assess blame, that we will spontaneously infer traits based on whatever limited information is available. In fact, within just 0.1 seconds of meeting someone, we have already decided if we think they are intelligent, trustworthy, likable, or kind--based just on the person’s face. This is a completely unregulated source of evidence, and yet it predicts teaching evaluations, electoral success, and even sentencing decisions. Given the pervasive and unintentional nature of “spontaneous trait inferences” (STIs), they are not susceptible to mitigation through jury instructions. However, recognizing that witnesses will be viewed as more or less trustworthy based just on their face, the rules of evidence must permit more character evidence, rather than less. This article harnesses undisputed findings from social psychology to propose a reversal of the ban on character evidence, in favor of a strong presumption against admissibility for immoral traits only. This removes a great deal from the rule’s crosshairs and re-tethers it to its normative roots. My proposal does not rely on the gossamer thin distinction between propensity and non-propensity uses, because once jurors hear about past act evidence, they will subconsciously draw an impermissible character inference. However, in some cases this might not be unfairly prejudicial, and may even be necessary for justice. The critical contribution of this article is that while shielding jurors from character evidence has noble origins, it also has unintended, negative consequences. When jurors cannot hear about how someone acted in the past, they will instead rely on immutable facial features—connected to racist, sexist and classist stereotypes—to draw character inferences that are even more inaccurate and unfair.

Here is a section

Moral Character Impacts Ratings of Intent

Previous models of intentionality held that for an act to be considered intentional, three things had to be present. The actor must have believed that an action would result in a particular outcome, desired this outcome, and had full awareness of his behavior. Research now challenges this account, “showing that individuals attribute intentions to others even (and largely) in the absence of these components.”  Even where an actor could not have acted otherwise, and thus was coerced to kill, study participants found the actor to be more morally responsible for an act if he “identified” with it, meaning that he desired the compelled outcome. These findings do not fit with our typical model of blame, which requires freedom to act in order to assign responsibility.  However, they make sense if we adopt a character-based approach to
blame. We are quick to infer a bad character and intent when there is very little evidence of it.  

An example of this is the hindsight bias called the “praise-blame asymmetry,” where people blame actors for accidental bad outcomes that they caused but did not intend, but do not praise people for accidental good outcomes that they likewise caused but did not intend. The classic example is the CEO who considers a development project that will increase profits. The CEO is agnostic to the project’s environmental effects and gives it the go-ahead. If the project’s outcome turns out to harm the environment, people say the CEO intended the bad outcome and they blame him for it. However, if instead the project turns out to benefit the environment, the CEO receives no praise. Our folk conception of intentionality is tied to morality and aversion to negative outcomes. If a foreseen outcome is negative, people will attribute intentionality to the decision-maker, but not if the foreseen outcome is positive; the overattribution of intent only seems to cut one way. Mens rea ascriptions are “sensitive to moral valence . . . . If the outcome is negative, foreknowledge standardly suffices for people to ascribe intentionality.” This effect has been found not just in laypeople, but also in French judges. If an action is considered immoral, then our emotional reaction to it can bias mental state ascriptions.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

An existential threat to humanity: Democracy’s decline

Kaushik Basu
Japan Times
Originally posted 24 DEC 21

Here are two excerpts:

Most people do not appreciate the extent to which civilizations depend on pillars of norms and conventions. Some of these have evolved organically over time, while others required deliberation and collective action. If one of the pillars buckles, a civilization could well collapse.


When a vast majority of a country’s population is ready to rebel, as seemed to be the case in Belarus in the summer of 2020, and the leader has limited capacity to suppress the uprising, how can he or she prevail?

To address this question, I developed an allegory I call the “Incarceration Game.” Some 1 million citizens of a particular country want to join a rebellion to overthrow the tyrannical leader who can catch and jail at most 100 rebels. With such a low probability of being caught, each person is ready to take to the streets. The leader’s situation looks hopeless.

Suppose he nonetheless announces that he will incarcerate the 100 oldest people who join the uprising. At first sight, it appears that this will not stop the rebellion, because the vast number of young people will have no reason to abandon it. But, if people’s ages are common knowledge, the outcome will be different. After the leader’s announcement, the 100 oldest people will not join the revolt, because the pain of certain incarceration is too great even for a good cause. Knowing this, the next 100 oldest people also will not take part in the revolution, and nor will the 100 oldest people after them. By induction, no one will. The streets will be empty.

Authoritarian rulers’ intentional or unwitting use of such an approach may help to explain why earlier revolts crumbled when on the verge of success. To demonstrate this empirically in history or in recent cases, like that of Belarus or Myanmar, will require data that we do not have yet. The incarceration game is a purely logical conjecture. What it does, importantly, is to remind us that toppling a dictator requires a strategy to foil such a tactic. Good intentions alone are not sufficient; the upholding of democracy needs a strategy based on sound analysis.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The globalizability of temporal discounting

Ruggeri, K., Panin, A., et al. (2021, October 1). 


Economic inequality is associated with extreme rates of temporal discounting, which is a behavioral pattern where individuals choose smaller, immediate financial gains over larger, delayed gains. Such patterns may feed into rising global inequality, yet it is unclear if they are a function of choice preferences or norms, or rather absence of sufficient resources to meet immediate needs. It is also not clear if these reflect true differences in choice patterns between income groups. We test temporal discounting and five intertemporal choice anomalies using local currencies and value standards in 61 countries. Across a diverse sample of 13,629 participants, we found highly consistent rates of choice anomalies. Individuals with lower incomes were not significantly different, but economic inequality and broader financial circumstances impact population choice patterns.

Technical Abstract

Economic inequality is associated with extreme rates of temporal discounting, which is a behavioral pattern  where  individuals  choose  smaller,  immediate  financial  gains  over larger, delayed gains. Such patterns may feed into rising global inequality, yet it is unclear if  they are a function of choice preferences or norms, or rather absence of sufficient resources to meet immediate needs. It is also not clear if these reflect true differences in choice  patterns  between  income  groups.  We  test  temporal  discounting and  five intertemporal choice anomalies using local currencies and value standards in 61 countries. Across a diverse sample of 13,629 participants, we found highly consistent rates choice anomalies. Individuals with lower incomes were not significantly different, but economic inequality and broader financial circumstances impact population choice patterns.

Bottom line: This research refutes the perspective that low-income individuals are poor decision-makers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why Empathy Is Not a Reliable Source of Information in Moral Decision Making

Decety, J. (2021).
Current Directions in Psychological Science. 


Although empathy drives prosocial behaviors, it is not always a reliable source of information in moral decision making. In this essay, I integrate evolutionary theory, behavioral economics, psychology, and social neuroscience to demonstrate why and how empathy is unconsciously and rapidly modulated by various social signals and situational factors. This theoretical framework explains why decision making that relies solely on empathy is not ideal and can, at times, erode ethical values. This perspective has social and societal implications and can be used to reduce cognitive biases and guide moral decisions.

From the Conclusion

Empathy can encourage overvaluing some people and ignoring others, and privileging one over many. Reasoning is therefore essential to filter and evaluate emotional responses that guide moral decisions. Understanding the ultimate causes and proximate mechanisms of empathy allows characterization of the kinds of signals that are prioritized and identification of situational factors that exacerbate empathic failure. Together, this knowledge is useful at a theoretical level, and additionally provides practical information about how to reframe situations to activate alternative evolved systems in ways that promote normative moral conduct compatible with current societal aspirations. This conceptual framework advances current understanding of the role of empathy in moral decision making and may inform efforts to correct personal biases. Becoming aware of one’s biases is not the most effective way to manage and mitigate them, but empathy is not something that can be ignored. It has an adaptive biological function, after all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Moral Inversion of the Republican Party

Peter Wehner
The Atlantic
Originally posted 4 Feb 20

Here are two excerpts:

So how did the Republican Party end up in this dark place?

It’s complex, but surely part of the explanation rests with the base of the party, which today is composed of a significant number of people who are militant, inflamed, and tribalistic. They are populist, anti-institutional, and filled with grievances. They very nearly view politics as the war of all against all. And in far too many cases, they have entered a world of make-believe. That doesn’t describe the whole of the Republican Party’s grassroots movement, of course, but it describes a disturbingly large portion of it, and Republicans who hope to rebuild the party will get nowhere unless and until they acknowledge this. (Why the base has become radicalized is itself a tangled story.)

The base’s movement toward extremism preceded Trump, and inevitably complicated life for Republican lawmakers; they were understandably wary of speaking out in ways that would alienate their supporters, that would catalyze a primary challenge and might well cost them a general election. But that fear and reticence in the age of Trump—a man willing to cross any line, violate any standard, dehumanize any opponent—produced a catastrophe. In some significant respects, the GOP is a party that has been morally inverted.


Republicans can’t erase the past four years; with rare exceptions they were, to varying degrees, complicit in the Trump legacy—the lies, the lawlessness, the brutality of our politics, the wounds to our country. But there is the opportunity for Republicans in a post-Trump era to forge a different path, one that again places morality at the center of politics. Republicans can choose to live within the truth rather than within the lie, to stand for simple decency, to play a role in building a state that is reasonably humane and just. This starts with its political leadership, which needs to break some terribly bad habits, including thinking one thing and saying another. It starts with the courage to confront the maliciousness in its ranks rather than cater to it.

I don’t know if Republicans are up to the task right now, and I certainly understand those who doubt it. But there are plenty of people willing to help them try.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The MAD Model of Moral Contagion: The role of motivation, attention and design in the spread of moralized content online

Brady WJ, Crockett MJ, Van Bavel JJ.
Perspect Psychol Sci. 2020;1745691620917336.


With over 3 billion users, online social networks represent an important venue for moral and political discourse and have been used to organize political revolutions, influence elections, and raise awareness of social issues. These examples rely on a common process in order to be effective: the ability to engage users and spread moralized content through online networks. Here, we review evidence that expressions of moral emotion play an important role in the spread of moralized content (a phenomenon we call ‘moral contagion’). Next, we propose a psychological model to explain moral contagion. The ‘MAD’ model of moral contagion argues that people have group identity-based motivations to share moral-emotional content; that such content is especially likely to capture our attention; and that the design of social media platforms amplifies our natural motivational and cognitive tendencies to spread such content. We review each component of the model (as well as interactions between components) and raise several novel, testable hypotheses that can spark progress on the scientific investigation of civic engagement and activism, political polarization, propaganda and disinformation, and other moralized behaviors in the digital age.

A copy of the research can be found here.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Dark Side of Morality: Group Polarization and Moral Epistemology

Marcus Arvan
Originally published on 12 Dec 19


This paper shows that philosophers and laypeople commonly conceptualize moral truths as discoverable through intuition, argument, or some other process. It then argues that three empirically-supported theories of group polarization suggest that this Discovery Model of morality likely plays a substantial role in causing polarization—a phenomenon known to produce a wide variety of disturbing social effects, including increasing prejudice, selfishness, divisiveness, mistrust, and violence. This paper then uses the same three empirical theories to argue that an alternative Negotiation Model of morality—according to which moral truths are instead created by negotiation—promises to not only mitigate polarization but perhaps even foster its opposite: a progressive willingness to “work across the aisle to settle contentious moral issues cooperatively. Finally, I outline avenues for further empirical and philosophical research.


Laypeople  and  philosophers  tend  to  treat  moral  truths  as discoverable  through  intuition, argument,  or  other cognitive  or  affective  process. However,  we  have  seen that  there  are strong theoretical   reasons—based   on   three   empirically-supported   theories   of   group polarization—to believe this Discovery Model of morality is a likely cause of polarization: a social-psychological phenomenon known to have a wide variety of disturbing social effects. We then saw that there are complementary theoretical reasons to believe that an alternative, Negotiation  Model of  morality  might  not  only  mitigate  polarization  but  actually  foster  its opposite: an increasing willingness for to work together to arrive at compromises on moral controversies. While   this   paper   does   not prove   the   existence   of   the   hypothesized relationships   between   the   Discovery   Model,  Negotiation   Model,   and   polarization,   it demonstrates that there are ample theoretical reasons to believe that such relationships are likely and worthy of further empirical and philosophical research.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Dark Psychology of Social Networks

Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 2019

Her are two excerpts:

Human beings evolved to gossip, preen, manipulate, and ostracize. We are easily lured into this new gladiatorial circus, even when we know that it can make us cruel and shallow. As the Yale psychologist Molly Crockett has argued, the normal forces that might stop us from joining an outrage mob—such as time to reflect and cool off, or feelings of empathy for a person being humiliated—are attenuated when we can’t see the person’s face, and when we are asked, many times a day, to take a side by publicly “liking” the condemnation.

In other words, social media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into Madison’s nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant while their public sociometer displays how far their creations have traveled.


Twitter also made a key change in 2009, adding the “Retweet” button. Until then, users had to copy and paste older tweets into their status updates, a small obstacle that required a few seconds of thought and attention. The Retweet button essentially enabled the frictionless spread of content. A single click could pass someone else’s tweet on to all of your followers—and let you share in the credit for contagious content. In 2012, Facebook offered its own version of the retweet, the “Share” button, to its fastest-growing audience: smartphone users.

Chris Wetherell was one of the engineers who created the Retweet button for Twitter. He admitted to BuzzFeed earlier this year that he now regrets it. As Wetherell watched the first Twitter mobs use his new tool, he thought to himself: “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”

The coup de grâce came in 2012 and 2013, when Upworthy and other sites began to capitalize on this new feature set, pioneering the art of testing headlines across dozens of variations to find the version that generated the highest click-through rate. This was the beginning of “You won’t believe …” articles and their ilk, paired with images tested and selected to make us click impulsively. These articles were not usually intended to cause outrage (the founders of Upworthy were more interested in uplift). But the strategy’s success ensured the spread of headline testing, and with it emotional story-packaging, through new and old media alike; outrageous, morally freighted headlines proliferated in the following years.

The info is here.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Can Science Explain Morality?

Charles Glenn
National Review
Originally published May 2, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Useful as these studies can be, however, they leave us with a diminished sense of the moral weight of human personhood. Right and wrong, good and evil, and so forth are human constructs that derive from human evolutionary history, the cognitive architecture of human language, neurochemistry and neuroanatomy, and contingent human interests. Thus the fundamental source of morality is not outside human experience and biology. There are no real rights, duties, or valuable things out in the world. The nature and quality of moral attitudes — thinking, feeling, or believing that something is either moral or immoral — can be explained psychologically and culturally.

That is, good and evil have no anchor in the basic structure and significance of our existence (indeed, existence itself has no significance) but are entirely contingent. This leaves us in a vacuum of purpose, one that we can easily see reflected in the hedonistic confusion of contemporary culture. “Are there really things we should and shouldn’t do beyond what would best serve our interests and preferences?” we might well ask. “Are some things valuable in an objective sense, beyond what we happen to want or care about?”

The information is here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Vortex

Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian
Originally posted November 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

I realise you don’t need me to tell you that something has gone badly wrong with how we discuss controversial topics online. Fake news is rampant; facts don’t seem to change the minds of those in thrall to falsehood; confirmation bias drives people to seek out only the information that bolsters their views, while dismissing whatever challenges them. (In the final three months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to one analysis by Buzzfeed, the top 20 fake stories were shared more online than the top 20 real ones: to a terrifying extent, news is now more fake than not.) Yet, to be honest, I’d always assumed that the problem rested solely on the shoulders of other, stupider, nastier people. If you’re not the kind of person who makes death threats, or uses misogynistic slurs, or thinks Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager ran a child sex ring from a Washington pizzeria – if you’re a basically decent and undeluded sort, in other words – it’s easy to assume you’re doing nothing wrong.

But this, I am reluctantly beginning to understand, is self-flattery. One important feature of being trapped in the Vortex, it turns out, is the way it looks like everyone else is trapped in the Vortex, enslaved by their anger and delusions, obsessed with point-scoring and insult-hurling instead of with establishing the facts – whereas you’re just speaking truth to power. Yet in reality, when it comes to the divisive, depressing, energy-sapping nightmare that is modern online political debate, it’s like the old line about road congestion: you’re not “stuck in traffic”. You are the traffic.

The article is here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process: Publisher won’t retract two papers, despite university’s request

Alison McCook
Retraction Watch
Originally published August 4, 2017

Jens Förster, a high-profile social psychologist, has agreed to retract multiple papers following an institutional investigation — but has also fought to keep some papers intact. Recently, one publisher agreed with his appeal, and announced it would not retract two of his papers, despite the recommendation of his former employer.

Last month, the American Psychological Association (APA) announced it would not retract two papers co-authored by Förster, which the University of Amsterdam had recommended for retraction in May, 2015. The APA had followed the university’s advice last year and retracted two other papers, which Förster had agreed to as part of a settlement with the German Society for Psychology (DGPs). But after multiple appeals by Förster and his co-authors, the publisher has decided to retain the papers as part of the scientific record.

The information is here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Only Way Is Ethics: Why Good People do Bad Thing and How To Stop Us



In social psychology we have this thing called the ‘fundamental attribution error.’ It refers
to the fact that when people see somebody do something unusual, their first reaction
is to assume that the act expressed the person’s internal values or personality (“he’s such
a crook!”), and underestimate the power of external factors and pressures. So, when we
hear about a company brought down by an ethics scandal, we immediately search for
the culprits, the bad actors, the bad apples. We can almost always find them, fire them,
maybe indict them, and move on… to the next scandal.

Sometimes a scandal is caused by one psychopath or sleazebag in the C-suite. But
usually not. If you really want to understand the causes of cheating, risky and unethical
behavior within complex organizations, you have to get past this attributional error
and examine the barrel, not just the apples in the barrel. You have to learn some social
psychology, which is like putting on a pair of magic glasses that let you see social
forces and cognitive biases in action.

Once you see how profoundly we are all shaped by local organizational culture, and how
clueless we often are about the real causes behind our actions, you can begin to work
with human psychology, adapt your processes to it, and obtain far better results.
Mind Gym shines a spotlight on this challenge in this whitepaper. A great deal of their
evidence shows that having ethics pays, yet most organizations focus on compliance,
rather than on ethics. Mind Gym offers you a set of tools and a framework to begin
diagnosing your own organization. And they offer concrete advice for improvement.
It is crucial that your organization is aligned on ethics at all levels – you may not see
results from just changing one or two processes. If you want to run a great organization
that employees are proud to work for, and that customers buy from with high trust, then
you should consider making an all-out commitment to ethics. You should consider
doing ethical systems design.

The White Paper can be downloaded here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

How The Morality Of ‘Star Trek’ Could Help Today’s Chaotic World

By Karli Bendlin
The Huffington Post
Originally published July 20, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Gene Roddenberry’s original concept for the show focused on both a Western outer space adventure and a political agenda grounded in equality. The series touched on many social issues, including race relations, feminism and gender identity; themes that carried over into the film franchise.

For example, the episode “The Outcast” took a look at gender and sexual identity when the crew came in contact with a race that had no assigned gender. The episode was intended to draw attention to the discussion of LGBT rights, a topic still considered taboo in mainstream culture. “Star Trek Beyond” will feature the franchise’s first openly gay character, a move that producer J.J. Abrams said Roddenberry would have applauded.

“One of the many things I admire about [Roddenberry] was … how he was so about inclusivity, and I can’t imagine that he would not have wanted one of these characters, if he had been allowed ― which, of course, he would never have been allowed to in that era ― [to] have them be gay,” Abrams told HuffPost in a recent interview.

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Researchers can change the outcome of studies just by being white

By Nikhil Sonnad
Originally posted October 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The implication is that every aspect of a study matters. Decision research has been criticized for attempting to explain all of human behavior based mainly on studies of undergraduates in rich democracies. That has led to repeating such research in other parts of the world, as the chart above shows. But that might not be enough.

“Behavioral studies that offer ‘cultural’ or other contextual explanations for variation in generosity should be taken with a grain of salt, unless we are confident that such differences aren’t driven by simpler explanations such as who was in the room at the time,” said Bilal Murtaza Siddiqi, an economist at the World Bank and one of the paper’s co-authors.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cultural evolution: integrating psychology, evolution and culture

Alex Mesoudi
Current Opinion in Psychology 2016, 7:17–22


Cultural evolution represents a body of theory and findings premised on the notions that, (i), human cultural change constitutes a Darwinian evolutionary process that shares key characteristics with (but is not identical in details to) genetic evolution; (ii), this second evolutionary process has been instrumental in our species’ dramatic ecological success by allowing the rapid, open-ended generation and accumulation of technology, social institutions, knowledge systems and behavioural practices far beyond the complexity of other species’ socially learned behaviour; and (iii), our psychology permits, and has been shaped by, this cultural evolutionary process, for example, through socio-cognitive mechanisms such as imitation, teaching and intentionality that support high-fidelity social learning, and biases governing from whom and what we learn.


  • Humans have colonised and transformed every terrestrial environment on the planet.
  • This ecological success can be attributed to our capacity for cultural evolution.
  • High fidelity social learning allows the preservation/accumulation of cultural traits.
  • Learning biases govern who people learn from and what they learn.
  • These biases scale up to explain larger patterns of cultural diversity and stability.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Moral Panic: Who Benefits From Public Fear?

By Scott Bohn
Psychology Today Blog
Originally published July 20, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Moral panics arise when distorted mass media campaigns are used to create fear, reinforce stereotypes and exacerbate pre-existing divisions in the world, often based on race, ethnicity and social class.

Additionally, moral panics have three distinguishing characteristics.  First, there is a focused attention on the behavior, whether real or imagined, of certain individuals or groups that are transformed into what Cohen referred to as “folk devils” by the mass media. This is accomplished when the media strip these folk devils of all favorable characteristics and apply exclusively negative ones.

Second, there is a gap between the concern over a condition and the objective threat it poses. Typically, the objective threat is far less than popularly perceived due to how it is presented by authorities.

Third, there is a great deal of fluctuation over time in the level of concern over a condition. The typical pattern begins with the discovery of the threat, followed by a rapid rise and then peak in public concern, which then subsequently, and often abruptly, subsides.

Finally, public hysteria over a perceived problem often results in the passing of legislation that is highly punitive, unnecessary, and serves to justify the agendas of those in positions of power and authority.

The entire article is here.