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 Well-being. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Well-being. Show all posts

Sunday, May 12, 2024

How patients experience respect in healthcare: findings from a qualitative study among multicultural women living with HIV

Fernandez, S.B., Ahmad, A., Beach, M.C. et al.
BMC Med Ethics 25, 39 (2024).


Respect is essential to providing high quality healthcare, particularly for groups that are historically marginalized and stigmatized. While ethical principles taught to health professionals focus on patient autonomy as the object of respect for persons, limited studies explore patients’ views of respect. The purpose of this study was to explore the perspectives of a multiculturally diverse group of low-income women living with HIV (WLH) regarding their experience of respect from their medical physicians.

We analyzed 57 semi-structured interviews conducted at HIV case management sites in South Florida as part of a larger qualitative study that explored practices facilitating retention and adherence in care. Women were eligible to participate if they identified as African American (n = 28), Hispanic/Latina (n = 22), or Haitian (n = 7). They were asked to describe instances when they were treated with respect by their medical physicians. Interviews were conducted by a fluent research interviewer in either English, Spanish, or Haitian Creole, depending on participant’s language preference. Transcripts were translated, back-translated and reviewed in entirety for any statements or comments about “respect.” After independent coding by 3 investigators, we used a consensual thematic analysis approach to determine themes.

Results from this study grouped into two overarching classifications: respect manifested in physicians’ orientation towards the patient (i.e., interpersonal behaviors in interactions) and respect in medical professionalism (i.e., clinic procedures and practices). Four main themes emerged regarding respect in provider’s orientation towards the patient: being treated as a person, treated as an equal, treated without blame or prejudice, and treated with concern/emotional support. Two main themes emerged regarding respect as evidenced in medical professionalism: physician availability and considerations of privacy.

Findings suggest a more robust conception of what ‘respect for persons’ entails in medical ethics for a diverse group of low-income women living with HIV. Findings have implications for broadening areas of focus of future bioethics education, training, and research to include components of interpersonal relationship development, communication, and clinic procedures. We suggest these areas of training may increase respectful medical care experiences and potentially serve to influence persistent and known social and structural determinants of health through provider interactions and health care delivery.

Here is my summary:

The study explored how multicultural women living with HIV experience respectful treatment in healthcare settings.  Researchers found that these women define respect in healthcare as feeling like a person, not just a disease statistic, and being treated as an equal partner in their care. This includes being listened to, having their questions answered, and being involved in decision-making.  The study also highlighted the importance of providers avoiding judgment and blame, and showing concern for the emotional well-being of patients.

Friday, December 29, 2023

A Hybrid Account of Harm

Unruh, C. F. (2022).
Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 1–14.


When does a state of affairs constitute a harm to someone? Comparative accounts say that being worse off constitutes harm. The temporal version of the comparative account is seldom taken seriously, due to apparently fatal counterexamples. I defend the temporal version against these counterexamples, and show that it is in fact more plausible than the prominent counterfactual version of the account. Non-comparative accounts say that being badly off constitutes harm. However, neither the temporal comparative account nor the non-comparative account can correctly classify all harms. I argue that we should combine them into a hybrid account of harm. The hybrid account is extensionally adequate and presents a unified view on the nature of harm.

Here's my take:

Charlotte Unruh proposes a new way of thinking about harm. Unruh argues that neither the traditional comparative account nor the non-comparative account of harm can adequately explain all cases of harm. The comparative account says that harm consists in being worse off than one would have been had some event not occurred. The non-comparative account says that harm consists in being in a bad state, regardless of how one would have fared otherwise.

Unruh proposes a hybrid account of harm that combines elements of both the comparative and non-comparative accounts. She says that an agent suffers harm if and only if either (i) the agent suffers ill-being or (ii) the agent's well-being is lower than it was before. This hybrid account is able to explain cases of harm that cannot be explained by either the comparative or non-comparative account alone. For example, the hybrid account explains why it is harmful to prevent someone from achieving a good that they would have otherwise achieved, even if the person is still in a good state overall.

Unruh's hybrid account of harm has a number of advantages over other accounts of harm. It is extensionally adequate, meaning that it correctly classifies all cases of harm as harmful and all cases of non-harm as non-harmful. It is also normatively plausible, meaning that it accords with our intuitions about what counts as harm. Additionally, the hybrid account is able to explain a number of different phenomena related to harm, such as the severity of harm, the distribution of harm, and the compensation for harm.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

We Can't Compete With AI Girlfriends

Freya India
Originally published 14 September 23

Here isn an excerpt:

Of course most people are talking about what this means for men, given they make up the vast majority of users. Many worry about a worsening loneliness crisis, a further decline in sex rates, and ultimately the emergence of “a new generation of incels” who depend on and even verbally abuse their virtual girlfriends. Which is all very concerning. But I wonder, if AI girlfriends really do become as pervasive as online porn, what this will mean for girls and young women? Who feel they need to compete with this?

Most obvious to me is the ramping up of already unrealistic beauty standards. I know conservatives often get frustrated with feminists calling everything unattainable, and I agree they can go too far — but still, it’s hard to deny that the pressure to look perfect today is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. And I don’t think that’s necessarily pressure from men but I do very much think it’s pressure from a network of profit-driven industries that take what men like and mangle it into an impossible ideal. Until the pressure isn’t just to be pretty but filtered, edited and surgically enhanced to perfection. Until the most lusted after women in our culture look like virtual avatars. And until even the most beautiful among us start to be seen as average.

Now add to all that a world of fully customisable AI girlfriends, each with flawless avatar faces and cartoonish body proportions. Eva AI’s Dream Girl Builder, for example, allows users to personalise every feature of their virtual girlfriend, from face style to butt size. Which could clearly be unhealthy for men who already have warped expectations. But it’s also unhealthy for a generation of girls already hating how they look, suffering with facial and body dysmorphia, and seeking cosmetic surgery in record numbers. Already many girls feel as if they are in constant competition with hyper-sexualised Instagram influencers and infinitely accessible porn stars. Now the next generation will grow up not just with all that but knowing the boys they like can build and sext their ideal woman, and feeling as if they must constantly modify themselves to compete. I find that tragic.


The article discusses the growing trend of AI girlfriends and the potential dangers associated with their proliferation. It mentions that various startups are creating romantic chatbots capable of explicit conversations and sexual content, with millions of users downloading such apps. While much of the concern focuses on the impact on men, the article also highlights the negative consequences this trend may have on women, particularly in terms of unrealistic beauty standards and emotional expectations. The author expresses concerns about young girls feeling pressured to compete with AI girlfriends and the potential harm to self-esteem and body image. The article raises questions about the impact of AI girlfriends on real relationships and emotional intimacy, particularly among younger generations. It concludes with a glimmer of hope that people may eventually reject the artificial in favor of authentic human interactions.

The article raises valid concerns about the proliferation of AI girlfriends and their potential societal impacts. It is indeed troubling to think about the unrealistic beauty and emotional standards that these apps may reinforce, especially among young girls and women. The pressure to conform to these virtual ideals can undoubtedly have damaging effects on self-esteem and mental well-being.

The article also highlights concerns about the potential substitution of real emotional intimacy with AI companions, particularly among a generation that is already grappling with social anxieties and less real-world human interaction. This raises important questions about the long-term consequences of such technologies on relationships and societal dynamics.

However, the article's glimmer of optimism suggests that people may eventually realize the value of authentic, imperfect human interactions. This point is essential, as it underscores the potential for a societal shift away from excessive reliance on AI and towards more genuine connections.

In conclusion, while AI girlfriends may offer convenience and instant gratification, they also pose significant risks to societal norms and emotional well-being. It is crucial for individuals and society as a whole to remain mindful of these potential consequences and prioritize real human connections and authenticity.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Characterizing empathy and compassion using computational linguistic analysis

Yaden, D. B., Giorgi, S., et al. (2023). 
Emotion. Advance online publication.


Many scholars have proposed that feeling what we believe others are feeling—often known as “empathy”—is essential for other-regarding sentiments and plays an important role in our moral lives. Caring for and about others (without necessarily sharing their feelings)—often known as “compassion”—is also frequently discussed as a relevant force for prosocial motivation and action. Here, we explore the relationship between empathy and compassion using the methods of computational linguistics. Analyses of 2,356,916 Facebook posts suggest that individuals (N = 2,781) high in empathy use different language than those high in compassion, after accounting for shared variance between these constructs. Empathic people, controlling for compassion, often use self-focused language and write about negative feelings, social isolation, and feeling overwhelmed. Compassionate people, controlling for empathy, often use other-focused language and write about positive feelings and social connections. In addition, high empathy without compassion is related to negative health outcomes, while high compassion without empathy is related to positive health outcomes, positive lifestyle choices, and charitable giving. Such findings favor an approach to moral motivation that is grounded in compassion rather than empathy.

From the General Discussion

Linguistic topics related to compassion (without empathy) and empathy (without compassion) show clear relationships with four of the five personality factors. Topics related to compassion without empathy are marked by higher conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Empathy without compassion topics are more associated with introversion and are also moderately associated with neuroticism and lower conscientiousness.  The association of low emotional stability and conscientiousness is also in line with prior research that found “distress,”a construct with important parallels to empathy, being associated with fleeing from a helping situation (Batson et al., 1987) and with lower helping(Jordan et al., 2016;Schroeder et al., 1988; Twenge et al., 2007; and others).

In sum, it appears that compassion without empathy and empathy without compassion are at least somewhat distinct and have unique predictive validity in personality, health, and prosocial behavior.  While the mechanisms through which these different relationships occur remain unknown, some previous work bears on this issue.  As mentioned, other work has found that merely focusing on others resulted in more intentions to help others (Bloom, 2017;Davis,1983;Jordan et al., 2016), which helps to explain the relationship between the more other-focused compassion and donation behavior that we observed.

In sum, high empathy without compassion is related to negative health outcomes, while high compassion without empathy is related to positive health outcomes. These findings suggest that compassion may be a more important factor for moral motivation than empathy.  Too much empathy may be overwhelming for high quality care.  Care about feelings, don't absorb the sharing of feelings.

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.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Take your ethics and shove it! Narcissists' angry responses to ethical leadership

Fox, F. R., Smith, M. B., & Webster, B. D. (2023). 
Personality and Individual Differences, 204, 112032.


Evoking the agentic model of narcissism, the present study contributes to understanding the nuanced responses to ethical leadership that result from the non-normative, dark personality trait of narcissism. We draw from affective events theory to understand why narcissists respond to ethical leadership with feelings of anger, which then results in withdrawal behaviors. We establish internal validity by testing our model via an experimental design. Next, we establish external validity by testing our theoretical model in a field study of university employees. Together, results from the studies suggest anger mediates the positive relationship between narcissism and withdrawal under conditions of high ethical leadership. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

From the Introduction:

Ethical leaders model socially acceptable behavior that is prosocial in nature while matching an individual moral-compass with the good of the group (Brown et al., 2005). Ethical leadership is defined as exalting the moral person (i.e., being an ethical example, fair treatment) and the moral manager (i.e., encourage normative behavior, discourage unethical behavior), and has been shown to be related to several beneficial organizational outcomes (Den Hartog, 2015; Mayer et al., 2012). The construct of ethical leadership is not only based on moral/ethical principles, but overtly promoting normative communally beneficial ideals and establishing guidelines for acceptable behavior (Bedi et al., 2016; Brown et al., 2005). Ethical leaders cultivate a reputation founded upon doing the right thing, treating others fairly, and thinking about the common good.

As a contextual factor, ethical leadership presents a situation where employees are presented with expectations and clear standards for normative behavior. Indeed, ethical leaders, by their behavior, convey what behavior is expected, rewarded, and punished (Brown et al., 2005). In other words, ethical leaders set the standard for behavior in the organization and are effective at establishing fair and transparent processes for rewarding performance. Consequently, ethical leadership has been shown to be positively related to task performance and citizenship behavior and negatively related to deviant behaviors (Peng & Kim, 2020).

This research examines how narcissistic individuals respond to ethical leadership, which is characterized by fairness, transparency, and concern for the well-being of employees. The study found that narcissistic individuals are more likely to respond with anger and hostility to ethical leadership compared to non-narcissistic individuals. The researchers suggest that this may be due to the fact that narcissists prioritize their own self-interests and are less concerned with the well-being of others. Ethical leadership, which promotes the well-being of employees, may therefore be perceived as a threat to their self-interests, leading to a negative response.

The study also found that when narcissists were in a leadership position, they were less likely to engage in ethical leadership behaviors themselves. This suggests that narcissistic individuals may not only be resistant to ethical leadership but may also be less likely to exhibit these behaviors themselves. The findings of this research have important implications for organizations and their leaders, as they highlight the challenges of promoting ethical leadership in the presence of narcissistic individuals.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

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

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


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

Undervaluing Prosociality

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

How and Why People Want to Be More Moral

Sun, J., Wilt, J. A., et al. (2022, October 13).


What types of moral improvements do people wish to make? Do they hope to become more good, or less bad? Do they wish to be more caring? More honest? More loyal? And why exactly do they want to become more moral? Presumably, most people want to improve their morality because this would benefit others, but is this in fact their primary motivation? Here, we begin to investigate these questions. Across two large, preregistered studies (N = 1,818), participants provided open-ended descriptions of one change they could make in order to become more moral; they then reported their beliefs about and motives for this change. In both studies, people most frequently expressed desires to improve their compassion and more often framed their moral improvement goals in terms of amplifying good behaviors than curbing bad ones. The strongest predictor of moral motivation was the extent to which people believed that making the change would have positive consequences for their own well-being. Together, these studies provide rich descriptive insights into how ordinary people want to be more moral, and show that they are particularly motivated to do so for their own sake.

From the General Discussion section

Self-Interest is a KeyMotivation for Moral Improvement

What motivates people to be more moral? From the perspective that the function of morality is to suppress selfishness for the benefit of others (Haidt & Kesebir, 2010; Wolf, 1982), we might expect people to believe that moral improvements would primarily benefit others (rather than themselves). By a similar logic, people should also primarily want to be more moral for the sake of others (rather than for their own sake).

Surprisingly, however, this was not overwhelmingly the case. Instead, across both studies, participants were approximately equally split between those who believed that others would benefit the most and those who believed that they themselves would benefit the most(with the exception of compassion; see Figure S2). The finding that people perceive some personal benefits to becoming more moral has been demonstrated in recent research (Sun & Berman, in prep). In light of evidence that moral people tend to be happier (Sun et al., in prep) and that the presence of moral struggles predicts symptoms of depression and anxiety (Exline et al., 2014), such beliefs might also be somewhat accurate.  However, it is unclear why people believe that becoming more moral would benefit themselves more than it would others. Speculatively, one possibility is that people can more vividly imagine the impacts of their own actions on their own well-being, whereas they are much more uncertain about how their actions would affect others—especially when the impacts might be spread across many beneficiaries.

However, it is also possible that this finding only applies to self-selected moral improvements, rather than the universe of all possible moral improvements. That is, when asked what they could do to become more moral, people might more readily think of improvements that would improve their own well-being to a greater extent than the well-being of others. But, if we were to ask people to predict who would benefit the most from various moral improvements that were selected by researchers, people may be less likely to believe that it would be themselves. Future research should systematically study people’s evaluations of how various moral improvements would impact their own and others’ well-being.

Similarly, when explicitly asked for whose sake they were most motivated to make their moral improvement, almost half of the participants admitted that they were most motivated to change for their own sake (rather than for the sake of others).  However, when predicting motivation from both the expected well-being consequences for the self and the well-being consequences for others, we found that people’s perceptions of personal well-being consequences was a significantly stronger predictor in both studies.  In other words, if anything, people are relatively more motivated to make moral improvements for their own sake than for the sake of others.  This is consistent with the findings of another study which examined people’s interest in changing a variety of moral and nonmoral traits, and showed that people are particularly interested in improving the traits that they believed would make them relatively happier (Sun & Berman, in prep). Here, it is striking that personal fulfilment remains the most important motivator of personal improvement even exclusively in the moral domain.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Wealth redistribution promotes happiness

R. J. Dwyer and E. W. Dunn
PNAS, 119 (46) e2211123119
November 7, 2022


We took advantage of a unique experiment, in which anonymous donors gave US$10,000 to each of 200 recipients in seven countries. By comparing cash recipients with a control group that did not receive money, this preregistered experiment provides causal evidence that cash transfers substantially increase happiness across a diverse global sample. These gains were greatest for recipients who had the least: Those in lower-income countries gained three times more happiness than those in higher-income countries. Our data provide the clearest evidence to date that private citizens can improve net global happiness through voluntary redistribution to those with less.


How much happiness could be gained if the world’s wealth were distributed more equally? Despite decades of research investigating the relationship between money and happiness, no experimental work has quantified this effect for people across the global economic spectrum. We estimated the total gain in happiness generated when a pair of high-net-worth donors redistributed US$2 million of their wealth in $10,000 cash transfers to 200 people. Our preregistered analyses offer causal evidence that cash transfers substantially increase happiness among economically diverse individuals around the world. Recipients in lower-income countries exhibited happiness gains three times larger than those in higher-income countries. Still, the cash provided detectable benefits for people with household incomes up to $123,000.

From the Discussion section

This study provides causal evidence that cash transfers substantially increase happiness across a diverse sample spanning the global socioeconomic spectrum. By redistributing their wealth, two donors generated substantial happiness gains for others. These gains were greatest for recipients who had the least: Those in lower-income countries gained three times more happiness than those in higher-income countries, and those making $10k a year gained twice as much happiness as those making $100k. Still, the cash provided detectable benefits for people with household incomes up to $123k. Given that 99% of individuals earn less than this amount, these findings suggest that cash transfers could benefit the vast majority of the world’s population.

Of course, some caution is necessary in interpreting these findings, given that the study did not include nationally representative samples and focused on a limited time period. Although all participants were English-speaking Twitter users who were relatively liberal-leaning and well-educated, this sample was more economically diverse than any previous cash-transfer studies, enabling us to estimate the happiness benefits across a wide range of incomes. That said, our finding that cash transfers improved SWB—but less so for people with higher incomes—is consistent with the law of diminishing marginal utility in economics and with large-scale studies documenting the concave relationship between income and self-reported happiness.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

What Makes a Great Life?

Jon Clifton
Originally posted 22 SEPT 22

While many things contribute to a great life, Gallup finds five aspects that all people have in common: their work, finances, physical health, communities, and relationships with family and friends. If you are excelling in each of these elements of wellbeing, you are highly likely to be thriving in life.


Gallup's research as well as research by the global community of wellbeing practitioners has produced hundreds, if not thousands, of discoveries.

One of the most famous discoveries is the U-curve of happiness, which shows how age is associated with wellbeing. Young people rate their lives high, and so do older people. But middle-aged people rate their lives the lowest. This trend holds every year in almost every country in the world. It is nicknamed the "U-curve" of happiness because when you look at the graph, it looks like a "U." Some jokingly say that the chart is smiling.

Some discoveries are astonishing; others feel like they reveal a "blandly sophomoric secret," as George Gallup referred to some of his longevity findings. For example, you could argue that the U-curve of happiness simply quantifies conventional wisdom -- that people have midlife crises.

Here are a few of the discoveries that are truly compelling:
  • People who love their jobs do not hate Mondays.
  • Education-related debt can cause an emotional scar that remains even after you pay off the debt.
  • Volunteering is not just good for the people you are helping; it is also good for you.
  • Exercising is better at eliminating fatigue than prescription drugs.
  • Loneliness can double your risk of dying from heart disease.
We could list every insight ever produced from this research and encourage leaders to work on all of them. Instead, we took another approach. Using all these insights from across the industry combined with our surveys and analysis, we created the five elements of wellbeing. And our ongoing global research confirms that the five elements of wellbeing are significant drivers of a great life everywhere.

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.

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.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Evaluating Tradeoffs between Autonomy and Wellbeing in Supported Decision Making

Veit, W., Earp, B.D., Browning, H., Savulescu, J.
American Journal of Bioethics 

A core challenge for contemporary bioethics is how to address the tension between respecting an individual’s autonomy and promoting their wellbeing when these ideals seem to come into conflict (Notini  et  al.  2020).  This  tension  is  often  reflected  in  discussions  of  the  ethical  status  of guardianship and other surrogate decision-making regimes for individuals with different kinds or degrees of cognitive ability and (hence) decision-making capacity (Earp and Grunt-Mejer 2021), specifically when these capacities are regarded as diminished or impaired along certain dimensions (or with respect to certain domains). The notion or practice of guardianship, wherein a guardian is legally appointed to make decisions on behalf of someone with different/diminished capacities, has been particularly controversial. For example, many people see guardianship as unjust, taking too  much  decisional  authority  away  from  the  person  under  the  guardian’s  care  (often  due  to prejudiced attitudes, as when people with certain disabilities are wrongly assumed to lack decision-making capacity); and as too rigid, for example, in making a blanket judgment about someone’s (lack of) capacity, thereby preventing them from making decisions even in areas where they have the requisite abilities (Glen 2015).

It is  against  this  backdrop that  Peterson,  Karlawish, and  Largent (2021) offer  a  useful philosophical framework for the notion of ‘supported decision-making’ as a compelling alternative for  individuals  with  ‘dynamic  impairments’  (i.e.,  non-static  or  domain-variant  perceived mpairments  in  decision-making  capacity).  In  a  similar spirit,  we  have  previously  argued  that bioethics would benefit from a more case-sensitive rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to issues of cognitive diversity (Veit et al. 2020; Chapman and Veit 2020). We therefore agree with most of the authors’ defence of supported decision-making, as this approach allows for case- and context-sensitivity. We also agree with the authors that the categorical condemnation of guardianships  or  similar  arrangements  is  not  justified,  as  this  precludes  such  sensitivity.  For instance, as the authors note, if a patient is in a permanent unaware/unresponsive state – i.e., with no  current  or  foreseeable  decision-making  capacity  or  ability  to  exercise  autonomy  –  then  a guardianship-like regime may be the most appropriate means of promoting this person’s interests. A similar point can be made in relation to debates about intended human enhancement of embryos and children.  Although some critics  claim that  such interventions  violate the autonomy  of the enhanced person, proponents may argue that respect for autonomy and consent do not apply in certain cases, for example, when dealing with embryos (see Veit 2018); alternatively, they may argue that interventions to enhance the (future) autonomy of a currently pre-autonomous (or partially autonomous) being can be justified on an enhancement framework without falling prey to such objections (see Earp 2019, Maslen et al. 2014). 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Robots, Ethics, and Intimacy: The Need for Scientific Research

Borenstein J., Arkin R. 
(2019) Philosophical Studies Series, 
vol 134. Springer, Cham. 


Intimate relationships between robots and human beings may begin to form in the near future. Market forces, customer demand, and other factors may drive the creation of various forms of robots to which humans may form strong emotional attachments. Yet prior to the technology becoming fully actualized, numerous ethical, legal, and social issues must be addressed. This could be accomplished in part by establishing a rigorous scientific research agenda in the realm of intimate robotics, the aim of which would be to explore what effects the technology may have on users and on society more generally. Our goal is not to resolve whether the development of intimate robots is ethically appropriate. Rather, we contend that if such robots are going to be designed, then an obligation emerges to prevent harm that the technology could cause.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Does civility pay?

Porath, C. L., & Gerbasi, A. (2015). 
Organizational Dynamics, 44(4), 281–286.


Being nice may bring you friends, but does it help or harm you in your career? After all, research by Timothy Judge and colleagues shows a negative relationship between a person’s agreeableness and income. Research by Amy Cuddy has shown that warm people are perceived to be less competent, which is likely to have negative career implications. People who buck social rules by treating people rudely and getting away with it tend to garner power. If you are civil you may be perceived as weak, and ignored or taken advantage. Being kind or considerate may be hazardous to your self-esteem, goal achievement, influence, career, and income.  Over the last two decades we have studied the costs of incivility–—and the benefits of civility. We’ve polled tens of thousands of workers across industries around the world about how they’re treated on the job and the effects. The costs of incivility are enormous. Organizations and their employees would be much more likely to thrive if employees treated each other respectfully.  Many see civility as an investment and are skeptical about the potential returns. Porath surveyed of hundreds across organizations spanning more than 17 industries and found that a quarter believe that they will be less leader-like, and nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they’re nice at work. Nearly half think that is better to flex your muscles to garner power.  In network studies of a biotechnology firm and international MBAs, along with surveys, and experiments, we address whether civility pays. In this article we discuss our findings and propose recommendations for leaders and organizations.



Civility pays. It is a potent behavior you want to master to enhance your influence and effectiveness. It is unique in the sense that it elicits both warmth and competence–—the two characteristics that account for over 90 percent of positive impressions. By being respectful you enhance–—not deter–—career opportunities and effectiveness.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

AI and the Ethical Conundrum: How organizations can build ethically robust AI systems and gain trust

Capgemini Research Institute

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, our reliance on AI has skyrocketed. Today more than ever before, we look to AI to help us limit physical interactions, predict the next wave of the pandemic, disinfect our healthcare facilities and even deliver our food. But can we trust it?

In the latest report from the Capgemini Research Institute – AI and the Ethical Conundrum: How organizations can build ethically robust AI systems and gain trust – we surveyed over 800 organizations and 2,900 consumers to get a picture of the state of ethics in AI today. We wanted to understand what organizations can do to move to AI systems that are ethical by design, how they can benefit from doing so, and the consequences if they don’t. We found that while customers are becoming more trusting of AI-enabled interactions, organizations’ progress in ethical dimensions is underwhelming. And this is dangerous because once violated, trust can be difficult to rebuild.

Ethically sound AI requires a strong foundation of leadership, governance, and internal practices around audits, training, and operationalization of ethics. Building on this foundation, organizations have to:
  1. Clearly outline the intended purpose of AI systems and assess their overall potential impact
  2. Proactively deploy AI to achieve sustainability goals
  3. Embed diversity and inclusion principles proactively throughout the lifecycle of AI systems for advancing fairness
  4. Enhance transparency with the help of technology tools, humanize the AI experience and ensure human oversight of AI systems
  5. Ensure technological robustness of AI systems
  6. Empower customers with privacy controls to put them in charge of AI interactions.
For more information on ethics in AI, download the report.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Political is Personal: Daily Politics as a Chronic Stressor

Feinberg, M., Ford, et al.
(2020, September 19).


Politics and its controversies have permeated everyday life, but the daily impact of politics is largely unknown. Here, we conceptualize politics as a chronic stressor with important consequences for people’s daily lives. We used longitudinal, daily-diary methods to track U.S. participants as they experienced daily political events across two weeks (Study 1: N=198, observations=2,167) and, separately, across three weeks (Study 2: N=811, observations=12,790) to explore how daily political events permeate people’s lives and how they cope with this influence of politics. In both studies, daily political events consistently evoked negative emotions, which corresponded to worse psychological and physical well-being, but also increased motivation to take political action (e.g., volunteer, protest) aimed at changing the political system that evoked these emotions in the first place. Understandably, people frequently tried to regulate their politics-induced emotions; and successfully regulating these emotions using cognitive strategies (reappraisal and distraction) predicted greater well-being, but also weaker motivation to take action. Although people can protect themselves from the emotional impact of politics, frequently-used regulation strategies appear to come with a trade-off between well being and action. To examine whether an alternative approach to one’s emotions could avoid this trade-off, we measured emotional acceptance in Study 2 (i.e., accepting one’s emotions without trying to change them) and found that successful acceptance predicted greater daily well-being but no impairment to political action. Overall, this research highlights how politics can be a chronic stressor in people’s daily lives, underscoring the far-reaching influence politicians have beyond the formal powers endowed unto them.


In all, our research bridges political psychology and affective science theory and methods, and highlights how these distinct literatures can intersect to answer important, unexplored questions. Our findings show that the political is very much personal–a pattern with powerful consequences for people’s daily lives. More generally, by demonstrating how political events personally impact the average citizen, including their psychological and physical health, our study reveals the far-reaching impact politicians have, beyond the formal powers endowed unto them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Machine learning uncovers the most robust self-report predictors of relationship quality across 43 longitudinal couples studies

S. Joel and others
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 
Aug 2020, 117 (32) 19061-19071
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1917036117


Given the powerful implications of relationship quality for health and well-being, a central mission of relationship science is explaining why some romantic relationships thrive more than others. This large-scale project used machine learning (i.e., Random Forests) to 1) quantify the extent to which relationship quality is predictable and 2) identify which constructs reliably predict relationship quality. Across 43 dyadic longitudinal datasets from 29 laboratories, the top relationship-specific predictors of relationship quality were perceived-partner commitment, appreciation, sexual satisfaction, perceived-partner satisfaction, and conflict. The top individual-difference predictors were life satisfaction, negative affect, depression, attachment avoidance, and attachment anxiety. Overall, relationship-specific variables predicted up to 45% of variance at baseline, and up to 18% of variance at the end of each study. Individual differences also performed well (21% and 12%, respectively). Actor-reported variables (i.e., own relationship-specific and individual-difference variables) predicted two to four times more variance than partner-reported variables (i.e., the partner’s ratings on those variables). Importantly, individual differences and partner reports had no predictive effects beyond actor-reported relationship-specific variables alone. These findings imply that the sum of all individual differences and partner experiences exert their influence on relationship quality via a person’s own relationship-specific experiences, and effects due to moderation by individual differences and moderation by partner-reports may be quite small. Finally, relationship-quality change (i.e., increases or decreases in relationship quality over the course of a study) was largely unpredictable from any combination of self-report variables. This collective effort should guide future models of relationships.


What predicts how happy people are with their romantic relationships? Relationship science—an interdisciplinary field spanning psychology, sociology, economics, family studies, and communication—has identified hundreds of variables that purportedly shape romantic relationship quality. The current project used machine learning to directly quantify and compare the predictive power of many such variables among 11,196 romantic couples. People’s own judgments about the relationship itself—such as how satisfied and committed they perceived their partners to be, and how appreciative they felt toward their partners—explained approximately 45% of their current satisfaction. The partner’s judgments did not add information, nor did either person’s personalities or traits. Furthermore, none of these variables could predict whose relationship quality would increase versus decrease over time.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Moral Determinants of Health

Donald M. Berwick
Originally posted 12 June 20

Here is an excerpt:

How do humans invest in their own vitality and longevity? The answer seems illogical. In wealthy nations, science points to social causes, but most economic investments are nowhere near those causes. Vast, expensive repair shops (such as medical centers and emergency services) are hard at work, but minimal facilities are available to prevent the damage. In the US at the moment, 40 million people are hungry, almost 600 000 are homeless, 2.3 million are in prisons and jails with minimal health services (70% of whom experience mental illness or substance abuse), 40 million live in poverty, 40% of elders live in loneliness, and public transport in cities is decaying. Today, everywhere, as the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests make clear yet again, deep structural racism continues its chronic, destructive work. In recent weeks, people in their streets across the US, many moved perhaps by the “moral law within,” have been protesting against vast, cruel, and seemingly endless racial prejudice and inequality.

Decades of research on the true causes of ill health, a long series of pedigreed reports, and voices of public health advocacy have not changed this underinvestment in actual human well-being. Two possible sources of funds seem logically possible: either (a) raise taxes to allow governments to improve social determinants, or (b) shift some substantial fraction of health expenditures from an overbuilt, high-priced, wasteful, and frankly confiscatory system of hospitals and specialty care toward addressing social determinants instead. Either is logically possible, but neither is politically possible, at least not so far.

Neither will happen unless and until an attack on racism and other social determinants of health is motivated by an embrace of the moral determinants of health, including, most crucially, a strong sense of social solidarity in the US. “Solidarity” would mean that individuals in the US legitimately and properly can depend on each other for helping to secure the basic circumstances of healthy lives, no less than they depend legitimately on each other to secure the nation’s defense. If that were the moral imperative, government—the primary expression of shared responsibility—would defend and improve health just as energetically as it defends territorial integrity.

The info is here.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Universal basic income seems to improve employment and well-being

Donna Lu
New Scientist
Originally post 6 May 20

The world’s most robust study of universal basic income has concluded that it boosts recipients’ mental and financial well-being, as well as modestly improving employment.

Finland ran a two-year universal basic income study in 2017 and 2018, during which the government gave 2000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 monthly payments with no strings attached.

The payments of €560 per month weren’t means tested and were unconditional, so they weren’t reduced if an individual got a job or later had a pay rise. The study was nationwide and selected recipients weren’t able to opt out, because the test was written into legislation.

Minna Ylikännö at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland announced the findings in Helsinki today via livestream.

The study compared the employment and well-being of basic income recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits.

Between November 2017 and October 2018, people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits.

There was a greater increase in employment for people in families with children, as well as those whose first language wasn’t Finnish or Swedish – but the researchers aren’t yet sure why.

When surveyed, people who received universal basic income instead of regular unemployment benefits reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future.

The info is here.