Friday, March 16, 2018

Low subjective SES was related to increased aggression, and subjective SES was not negatively related to trait and state measures of prosociality

Does Low (vs. High) Subjective Socioeconomic Status Increase Both Prosociality and Aggression? Tobias Greitemeyer and Christina Sagioglou. Social Psychology (2018), 49, pp. 76-87.

Abstract. Previous research has shown that people of low subjective socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to experience compassion and provide help to others than people of high SES. However, low subjective SES also appears to be related to more hostile and aggressive responding. Given that prosociality is typically an antagonist of aggression, we examined whether low subjective SES individuals could be indeed more prosocial and antisocial. Five studies –two correlational, three experimental– found that low subjective SES was related to increased aggression. In contrast, subjective SES was not negatively related to trait and state measures of prosociality.

Keywords: socioeconomic status, aggression, prosocial behavior, empathy, social class

Decreased cognitive and motivational bias –cognitive ability, cognitive curiosity, and melancholy and introversion– predicted better social psychological skill

Social Psychological Skill and Its Correlates. Anton Gollwitzer and John A. Bargh. Social Psychology (2018), 49, pp. 88-102.

Abstract. In six studies (N = 1,143), we investigated social psychological skill – lay individuals’ skill at predicting social psychological phenomena (e.g., social loafing, attribution effects). Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated reliable individual differences in social psychological skill. In Studies 2, 3, and 4, attributes associated with decreased cognitive and motivational bias – cognitive ability, cognitive curiosity, and melancholy and introversion – predicted social psychological skill. Studies 4 and 5 confirmed that social psychological skill is distinct from other skills (e.g., test-taking skills, intuitive physics), and relates directly to reduced motivational bias (i.e., self-deception). In Study 6, social psychological skill related to appreciating the situational causes of another individual’s behavior – reduced fundamental attribution error. Theoretical and applied implications are considered.

Keywords: social psychological skill, predicting social psychological phenomena, motivational bias, cognitive bias, generalized person perception

For women, coitus alone is insufficient for triggering orgasm, puzzling researchers who expect orgasm to be an outcome of procreative intercourse. We examine the evolutionary role for prosociality that such unreliability of orgasm at coitus might have played in human evolution

Kennedy J, Pavličev M. Female orgasm and the emergence of prosocial empathy: An evo-devo perspective. J Exp Zool (Mol Dev Evol). 2018;1–10.

Abstract: In human females, direct or indirect stimulation of the clitoris plays a central role in reaching orgasm. A majority of women report that penetrative coitus alone is insufficient for triggering orgasm, puzzling researchers who expect orgasm to be an outcome of procreative intercourse. In the present paper, we turn our attention to the evolutionary role that such unreliability of orgasm at coitus might have played in human evolution. We emphasize that we do not thereby attempt an explanation of its origin, but its potential evolutionary effect. The present proposal suggests that the variable female orgasm, the position of the clitoris remote from the vagina, and the mismatch of the male refractory period with the female capacity for multiple orgasms, may have contributed to the evolution of human prosocial qualities.

Prosocial empathy as discussed here is an essential feature of human social life and includes the quality sometimes called intersubjectivity or mind-reading. Related to theory of mind in psychology, this is the ability of individuals to know with some accuracy what another person is thinking and how they feel. The ability seems to function differently from ordinary objective inference from perception; intersubjectivity is a low-latency process that allows nearly instantaneous understanding of others. Although it is difficult to assess intersubjectivity in nonhuman species, there is evidence that some other species are capable of it to some degree (e.g., deWaal, 2010).

The present thesis is that the anatomical separation of orgasm from the reproductive function in humans may have led to the emergence of a new kind of prosocial empathy or intersubjectivity. The fact that coitus alone is reliably sufficient for the male's but not the female's orgasm set the stage for a selection criterion where females preferred to mate with males who had a particular kind of social insight, motivation, and self-discipline that enabled them to elicit orgasm. The preferred male would have been one showing an active interest in his partner's experience; he would have the interpersonal sensitivity to identify what “works” sexually and to adjust his behavior in response to her responding, and the motivation and self-discipline to defer his own ejaculation until she had reached orgasm.We are proposing that a cluster of empathic prosocial tendencies may have come to dominance in the human species as a consequence of this sexual selection process.

That is not to say that this is the only path leading to modern human eusociality; the ability to understand how others think and feel would have introduced advantages across the range of social behaviors that helped the species overcome several fitness challenges. In the long run, we would expect the effect of human sexual asymmetry to integrate into a comprehensive schema of human sociality, as several types of selective pressures converged to produce themodern human.

A recent approach to understanding intersubjective empathy has emerged from the discovery of mirror neurons (Di Pellegrino, Fadiga, Fogassi, Gallese,&Rizzolatti, 1992), which respond when a subject performs a behavior and also sympathetically when the subject observes another individual perform that same behavior. Iacobonni (2009) has argued that neural mirroring answers the question of how humans can have access and understanding of others’ minds. According to this view, intersubjectivity ormind-reading emerges from a real-time mental simulation of the other person's behavior, with the subject literally feeling what it is like to be the other person. This simultaneous simulation can support social collaboration and interaction at a level unknown to species lacking the ability. A population of individuals sympathetically tuned to one another may produce a “shared manifold” (Gallese, 2003) comprising a communal empathic understanding of selves and others.

Mirror neuron research provoked great initial interest, which has been followed by the current phase of caution and skeptical enthusiasm asmore thorough knowledge is gained about the function of these specialized neurons in humans. Whether mirror neurons are found to be the mechanism for it or not, the concept of real-time simulation of others has suggested a new way of looking at social empathy. Citing mirror neuron research in apes and humans, deWaal (2010) emphasizes that human mind-reading abilities are continuous with those of other species. Attributing intersubjective empathy to other apes as well as humans, de Waal (2010) points to the importance of “body-mapping,” of identifying one's body with another's, where an individual can feel in their own body what the other person is experiencing in theirs. In de Waal's narrative, empathy and self-awareness are linked, and are not unique to human beings; he demonstrates the existence of empathy in elephants, dolphins, and apes, and notes that among these species it is comparable to empathy in humans.

Does anyone have the right to sex?

Does anyone have the right to sex?Amia Srinivasan. London Review of Books, Vol. 40 No. 6 · 22 March 2018pages 5-10.

On 23 May 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college dropout, became the world’s most famous ‘incel’ – involuntary celibate. The term can, in theory, be applied to both men and women, but in practice it picks out not sexless men in general, but a certain kind of sexless man: the kind who is convinced he is owed sex, and is enraged by the women who deprive him of it. Rodger stabbed to death his two housemates, Weihan Wang and Cheng Hong, and a friend, George Chen, as they entered his apartment on Seville Road in Isla Vista, California. Three hours later he drove to the Alpha Phi sorority house near the campus of UC Santa Barbara. He shot three women on the lawn, killing two of them, Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss. Rodger then went on a drive-by shooting spree through Isla Vista, killing Christopher Michaels-Martinez, also a student at UCSB, with a single bullet to the chest inside a Deli Mart, and wounding 14 others. He eventually crashed his BMW coupé at an intersection. He was found dead by the police, having shot himself in the head.
In the hours between murdering three men in his apartment and driving to Alpha Phi, Rodger went to Starbucks, ordered coffee, and uploaded a video, ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’, to his YouTube channel. He also emailed a 107,000-word memoir-manifesto, ‘My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger’, to a group of people including his parents, his therapist, former schoolteachers and childhood friends. Together these two documents detail the massacre to come and Rodger’s motivation. ‘All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life,’ he explains at the beginning of ‘My Twisted World’, ‘but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.’
He goes on to describe his privileged and happy early childhood in England – Rodger was the son of a successful British filmmaker – followed by his privileged and unhappy adolescence in Los Angeles as a short, bad-at-sports, shy, weird, friendless kid, desperate to be cool. He writes of dyeing his hair blond (Rodger was half-white and half-Malaysian; blond people were ‘so much more beautiful’); of finding ‘sanctuary’ in Halo and World of Warcraft; being shoved by a pretty girl at summer camp (‘That was the first experience of female cruelty I endured, and it traumatised me to no end’); becoming incensed by the sex lives of his peers (‘How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half-white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves’); dropping out of successive schools and then community college; and fantasising about a political order in which he ruled the world and sex was outlawed (‘All women must be quarantined like the plague they are’). The necessary result of all this, Rodger said, was his ‘War on Women’, in the course of which he would ‘punish all females’ for the crime of depriving him of sex. He would target the Alpha Phi sorority, ‘the hottest sorority of UCSB’, because it contained ‘the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender … hot, beautiful blonde girls … spoiled, heartless, wicked bitches’. He would show everyone that he was ‘the superior one, the true alpha male’.
Late in 2017, the online discussion forum Reddit closed down its 40,000-member ‘Incel’ support group, for ‘people who lack romantic relationships and sex’. Reddit took the action after introducing a new policy of prohibiting content that ‘encourages, glorifies, incites or calls for violence’. What had started out as a support group for the lonely and sexually isolated had become a forum whose users not only raged against women and the ‘noncels’ and ‘normies’ who get to sleep with them, but also frequently advocated rape. A second incel Reddit group, ‘Truecels’, was also banned following the site’s policy change. Its sidebar read: ‘No encouraging or inciting violence, or other illegal activities such as rape. But of course it is OK to say, for example, that rape should have a lighter punishment or even that it should be legalised and that slutty women deserve rape.’
Soon after Rodger’s killings, incels took to the manosphere to explain that women (and feminism) were in the end responsible for what had happened. Had one of those ‘wicked bitches’ just fucked Elliot Rodger he wouldn’t have had to kill anyone. (Nikolas Cruz, who gunned down 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, vowed in a comment on a YouTube video that ‘Elliot Rodger will not be forgotten.’) Feminist commentators were quick to point out what should have been obvious: that no woman was obligated to have sex with Rodger; that his sense of sexual entitlement was a case-study in patriarchal ideology; that his actions were a predictable if extreme response to the thwarting of that entitlement. They could have added that feminism, far from being Rodger’s enemy, may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made him feel – as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy – inadequate. His manifesto reveals that it was overwhelmingly boys, not girls, who bullied him: who pushed him into lockers, called him a loser, made fun of him for his virginity. But it was the girls who deprived him of sex, and the girls, therefore, who had to be destroyed.
Could it also be said that Rodger’s unfuckability was a symptom of the internalisation of patriarchal norms of men’s sexual attractiveness on the part of women? The answer to that question is complicated by two things. First, Rodger was a creep, and it was at least partly his insistence on his own aesthetic, moral and racial superiority, and whatever it was in him that made him capable of stabbing his housemates and his friend a total of 134 times, not his failure to meet the demands of heteromasculinity, that kept women away. Second, plenty of non-homicidal nerdy guys get laid. Indeed part of the injustice of patriarchy, something unnoticed by incels and other ‘men’s rights activists’, is the way it makes even supposedly unattractive categories of men attractive: geeks, nerds, effete men, old men, men with ‘dad bods’. Meanwhile there are sexy schoolgirls and sexy teachers, manic pixie dreamgirls and Milfs, but they’re all taut-bodied and hot, minor variations on the same normative paradigm. (Can we imagine GQ carrying an article celebrating ‘mom bod’?)
That said, it’s true that the kind of women Rodger wanted to have sex with – hot sorority blondes – don’t as a rule date men like Rodger, even the non-creepy, non-homicidal ones, at least not until they make their fortune in Silicon Valley. It’s also true that this has something to do with the rigid gender norms enforced by patriarchy: alpha females want alpha males. And it’s true that Rodger’s desires – his erotic fixation on the ‘spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut’– are themselves a function of patriarchy, as is the way the ‘hot blonde slut’ becomes a metonym for all women. (Many in the manosphere gleefully pointed out that Rodger didn’t even succeed in killing the women he lusted after, as if in final confirmation of his ‘omega’ sexual status: Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss were non ‘hot blondes’ from Delta Delta Delta who just happened to be standing outside the Alpha Phi house.) Feminist commentary on Elliot Rodger and the incel phenomenon more broadly has said much about male sexual entitlement, objectification and violence. But so far it has said little about desire: men’s desire, women’s desire, and the ideological shaping of both.
It used to be the case that if you wanted a political critique of desire, feminism was where you would turn. A few decades ago feminists were nearly alone in thinking about the way sexual desire – its objects and expressions, fetishes and fantasies – is shaped by oppression. (Frantz Fanon and Edward Said’s discussions of the erotics of racial and colonial oppression are important exceptions.) Beginning in the late 1970s, Catharine MacKinnon demanded that we abandon the Freudian view of sexual desire as ‘an innate primary natural prepolitical unconditioned drive divided along the biological gender line’ and recognise that sex under patriarchy is inherently violent; that ‘hostility and contempt, or arousal of master to slave, together with awe and vulnerability, or arousal of slave to master’ are its constitutive emotions. For the radical feminists who shared MacKinnon’s view, the terms and texture of sex were set by patriarchal domination – and embodied in, and sustained by, pornography. (In Robin Morgan’s words, ‘Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice.’) That there were women who seemed capable of achieving pleasure under these conditions was a sign of how bad things were. For some the solution lay in the self-disciplining of desire demanded by political lesbianism. But perhaps even lesbian sex offered no decisive escape: as MacKinnon suggested, sex under male supremacy might well be ‘so gender marked that it carries dominance and submission with it, no matter the gender of its participants’.
Some feminists in the 1980s and 1990s pushed back against the radical critique of sex advanced by MacKinnon and other anti-porn feminists. They insisted on the possibility of genuine sexual pleasure under patriarchy, and the importance of allowing women the freedom to pursue it. MacKinnon disparaged such ‘pro-sex’ feminists for confusing accommodation with freedom, and for buying into the idea that ‘women do just need a good fuck.’ To be fair, MacKinnon’s pro-sex adversaries weren’t arguing that women needed a good fuck – though some came uncomfortably close to suggesting that MacKinnon did. Instead they insisted that women were entitled to sex free of guilt, including heterosexual sex, if they wanted it. In ‘Lust Horizons: Is the Women’s Movement Pro-Sex?’, the essay that inaugurated sex-positive feminism, Ellen Willis set out the basic case against the MacKinnonite critique of sex: that it not only denied women the right to sexual pleasure, but also reinforced the ‘neo-Victorian’ idea that men desire sex while women merely put up with it, an idea whose ‘chief social function’, Willis said, was to curtail women’s autonomy in areas outside the bedroom (or the alleyway). Anti-porn feminism, Willis wrote, asked ‘women to accept a spurious moral superiority as a substitute for sexual pleasure, and curbs on men’s sexual freedom as a substitute for real power’.
Since Willis, the case for pro-sex feminism has been buttressed by feminism’s turn towards intersectionality. Thinking about how patriarchal oppression is inflected by race and class – patriarchy doesn’t express itself uniformly, and cannot be understood independently of other systems of oppression – has made feminists reluctant to prescribe universal policies, including universal sexual policies. Demands for equal access to the workplace will be more resonant for white, middle-class women who have been forced to stay home than it will be for the black and working-class women who have always been expected to labour alongside men. Similarly, sexual self-objectification may mean one thing for a woman who, by virtue of her whiteness, is already taken to be a paradigm of female beauty, but quite another thing for a black or brown woman, or a trans woman. The turn towards intersectionality has also made feminists uncomfortable with thinking in terms of false consciousness: that’s to say, with the idea that women often act against their own interests, even when they take themselves to be doing what they wanted to do. The important thing now is to take women at their word. If a woman says she enjoys working in porn, or being paid to have sex with men, or engaging in rape fantasies, or wearing stilettos – and even that she doesn’t just enjoy these things but finds them emancipatory, part of her feminist praxis – then we are required, as feminists, to trust her. This is not merely an epistemic claim: that a woman’s saying something about her own experience gives us strong, if not indefeasible, reason to think it true. It is also, or perhaps primarily, an ethical claim: a feminism that trades too freely in notions of self-deception is a feminism that risks dominating the subjects it wants to liberate.
The case made by Willis in ‘Lust Horizons’ has so far proved the enduring one. Since the 1980s, the wind has been behind a feminism which takes desire for the most part as given – your desire takes the shape that it takes – and which insists that acting on that desire is morally constrained only by the boundaries of consent. Sex is no longer morally problematic or unproblematic: it is instead merely wanted or unwanted. In this sense, the norms of sex are like the norms of capitalist free exchange. What matters is not what conditions give rise to the dynamics of supply and demand – why some people need to sell their labour while others buy it – but only that both buyer and seller have agreed to the transfer. It would be too easy, though, to say that sex positivity represents the co-option of feminism by liberalism. Generations of feminists and gay and lesbian activists have fought hard to free sex from shame, stigma, coercion, abuse and unwanted pain. It has been essential to this project to stress that there are limits to what can be understood about sex from the outside, that sexual acts can have private meanings that cannot be grasped from a public perspective, that there are times when we must take it on trust that a particular instance of sex is OK, even when we can’t imagine how it could be. Thus feminism finds itself not only questioning the liberal distinction between the public and the private, but also insisting on it.
Yet it would be disingenuous to make nothing of the convergence, however unintentional, between sex positivity and liberalism in their shared reluctance to interrogate the formation of our desires. Third and fourth-wave feminists are right to say, for example, that sex work is work, and can be better work than the menial labour undertaken by most women. And they are right to say that what sex workers need are legal and material protections, safety and security, not rescue or rehabilitation. But to understand what sort of work sex work is – just what physical and psychical acts are being bought and sold, and why it is overwhelmingly women who do it, and overwhelmingly men who pay for it – surely we have to say something about the political formation of male desire. And surely there will be similar things to say about other forms of women’s work: teaching, nursing, caring, mothering. To say that sex work is ‘just work’ is to forget that all work – men’s work, women’s work – is never just work: it is also sexed.
Willis concludes ‘Lust Horizons’ by saying that for her it is ‘axiomatic that consenting partners have a right to their sexual proclivities, and that authoritarian moralism has no place’ in feminism. And yet, she goes on, ‘a truly radical movement must look … beyond the right to choose, and keep focusing on the fundamental questions. Why do we choose what we choose? What would we choose if we had a real choice?’ This is an extraordinary reversal on Willis’s part, which often goes unnoticed even by those familiar with the contours of the sex wars. After laying out the ethical case for taking our sexual preferences, whatever they may be, as fixed points, protected from moral inquisition, Willis tells us that a ‘truly radical’ feminism would ask precisely the question that gives rise to ‘authoritarian moralism’: what would women’s sexual choices look like if we were not merely ‘negotiating’, but really free? One might feel that Willis has given with one hand and taken away with the other. But really she has given with both. Here, she tells us, is the task of feminism: to treat as axiomatic our free sexual choices, while also seeing why, as MacKinnon has always said, such choices, under patriarchy, are rarely free. What I am suggesting is that, in our rush to do the former, feminists risk forgetting to do the latter.
When we see consent as the sole constraint on OK sex, we are pushed towards a naturalisation of sexual preference in which the rape fantasy becomes a primordial rather than a political fact. But not only the rape fantasy. Consider the supreme fuckability of ‘hot blonde sluts’ and East Asian women, the comparative unfuckability of black women and Asian men, the fetishisation and fear of black male sexuality, the sexual disgust expressed towards disabled, trans and fat bodies. These too are political facts, which a truly intersectional feminism should demand that we take seriously. But the sex-positive gaze, unmoored from Willis’s call to ambivalence, threatens to neutralise these facts, treating them as pre-political givens. In other words, the sex-positive gaze risks covering not only for misogyny, but for racism, ableism, transphobia, and every other oppressive system that makes its way into the bedroom through the seemingly innocuous mechanism of ‘personal preference’.
‘The beautiful torsos on Grindr are mostly Asian men hiding their faces,’ a gay friend of mine says. The next day I see on Facebook that Grindr has started a web series called ‘What the Flip?’ In its first three-minute episode, a beautiful, blue-haired East Asian guy and a well-groomed, good-looking white guy trade Grindr profiles. The results are predictably grim. The white guy, now using the Asian guy’s profile, is hardly approached, and when he is it’s by men announcing that they’re ‘Rice Queens’ and like Asian men for being ‘good at bottoming’. When he ignores their messages, abuse is hurled at him. The Asian guy’s inbox, meanwhile, is inundated with admirers. Talking about it afterwards, the white guy expresses his shock, the Asian guy cheerful resignation. ‘You’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but you’re going to be somebody’s,’ the white guy offers, feebly, before they hug it out. In the next episode, a ripped Ryan Gosling-type switches profiles with a pretty-faced chubby guy. In episode three a fem guy trades with a masc guy. The results are as one would expect.
The obvious irony of ‘What the Flip?’ is that Grindr, by its nature, encourages its users to divide the world into those who are and those who are not viable sexual objects according to crude markers of identity – to think in terms of sexual ‘deal-breakers’ and ‘requirements’. In so doing, Grindr simply deepens the discriminatory grooves along which our sexual desires already move. But online dating – and especially the abstracted interfaces of Tinder and Grindr, which distil attraction down to the essentials: face, height, weight, age, race, witty tagline – has arguably taken what is worst about the current state of sexuality and institutionalised it on our screens.
A presupposition of ‘What the Flip?’ is that this is a peculiarly gay problem: that the gay male community is too superficial, too body-fascist, too judgy. The gay men in my life say this sort of thing all the time; they all feel bad about it, perpetrators and victims alike (most see themselves as both). I’m unconvinced. Can we imagine predominantly straight dating apps like OKCupid or Tinder creating a web series that encouraged the straight ‘community’ to confront its sexual racism or fatphobia? If that is an unlikely prospect, and I think it is, it’s hardly because straight people aren’t body fascists or sexual racists. It’s because straight people – or, I should say, white, able-bodied cis straight people – aren’t much in the habit of thinking there’s anything wrong with how they have sex. By contrast, gay men – even the beautiful, white, rich, able-bodied ones – know that who we have sex with, and how, is a political question.
There are of course real risks associated with subjecting our sexual preferences to political scrutiny. We want feminism to be able to interrogate the grounds of desire, but without slut-shaming, prudery or self-denial: without telling individual women that they don’t really know what they want, or can’t enjoy what they do in fact want, within the bounds of consent. Some feminists think this is impossible, that any openness to desire-critique will inevitably lead to authoritarian moralism. (We can think of such feminists as making the case for a kind of ‘sex positivity of fear’, just as Judith Shklar once made the case for a ‘liberalism of fear’ – that is, a liberalism motivated by a fear of authoritarian alternatives.) But there is a risk too that repoliticising desire will encourage a discourse of sexual entitlement. Talk of people who are unjustly sexually marginalised or excluded can pave the way to the thought that these people have a right to sex, a right that is being violated by those who refuse to have sex with them. That view is galling: no one is under an obligation to have sex with anyone else. This too is axiomatic. And this, of course, is what Elliot Rodger, like the legions of angry incels who celebrate him as a martyr, refused to see. On the now defunct Reddit group, a post titled ‘It should be legal for incels to rape women’ explained that ‘No starving man should have to go to prison for stealing food, and no sexually starved man should have to go to prison for raping a woman.’ It is a sickening false equivalence, which reveals the violent misconception at the heart of patriarchy. Some men are excluded from the sexual sphere for politically suspect reasons – including, perhaps, some of the men driven to vent their despair on anonymous forums – but the moment their unhappiness is transmuted into a rage at the women ‘denying’ them sex, rather than at the systems that shape desire (their own and others’), they have crossed a line into something morally ugly and confused.
In her shrewd essay ‘Men Explain Lolita to Me’, Rebecca Solnit reminds us that ‘you don’t get to have sex with someone unless they want to have sex with you,’ just as ‘you don’t get to share someone’s sandwich unless they want to share their sandwich with you.’ Not getting a bite of someone’s sandwich is ‘not a form of oppression, either’, Solnit says. But the analogy complicates as much as it elucidates. Suppose your child came home from primary school and told you that the other children share their sandwiches with each other, but not with her. And suppose further that your child is brown, or fat, or disabled, or doesn’t speak English very well, and that you suspect that this is the reason for her exclusion from the sandwich-sharing. Suddenly it hardly seems sufficient to say that none of the other children is obligated to share with your child, true as that might be.
Sex is not a sandwich. While your child does not want to be shared with out of pity – just as no one really wants a mercy fuck, and certainly not from a racist or a transphobe – we wouldn’t think it coercive were the teacher to encourage the other students to share with your daughter, or were they to institute an equal sharing policy. But a state that made analogous interventions in the sexual preference and practices of its citizens – that encouraged us to ‘share’ sex equally – would probably be thought grossly authoritarian. (The utopian socialist Charles Fourier proposed a guaranteed ‘sexual minimum’, akin to a guaranteed basic income, for every man and woman, regardless of age or infirmity; only with sexual deprivation eliminated, Fourier thought, could romantic relationships be truly free. This social service would be provided by an ‘amorous nobility’ who, Fourier said, ‘know how to subordinate love to the dictates of honour’.) Of course, it matters just what those interventions would look like: disability activists, for example, have long called for more inclusive sex education in schools, and many would welcome regulation that ensured diversity in advertising and the media. But to think that such measures would be enough to alter our sexual desires, to free them entirely from the grooves of discrimination, is naive. And whereas you can quite reasonably demand that a group of children share their sandwiches inclusively, you just can’t do the same with sex. What works in one case will not work in the other. Sex isn’t a sandwich, and it isn’t really like anything else either. There is nothing else so riven with politics and yet so inviolably personal. For better or worse, we must find a way to take sex on its own terms.
The difficulties I have been discussing are currently posed in the most vexed form within feminism by the experience of trans women. Trans women often face sexual exclusion from lesbian cis women who at the same time claim to take them seriously as women. This phenomenon was named the ‘cotton ceiling’ – ‘cotton’ as in underwear – by the trans porn actress and activist Drew DeVeaux. The phenomenon is real, but, as many trans women have noted, the phrase itself is unfortunate. While the ‘glass ceiling’ implies the violation of a woman’s right to advance on the basis of her work, the ‘cotton ceiling’ describes a lack of access to what no one is obligated to give (though DeVeaux has since claimed that the ‘cotton’ refers to the trans woman’s underwear, not the underwear of the cis lesbian who doesn’t want to have sex with her). Yet simply to say to a trans woman, or a disabled woman, or an Asian man, ‘No one is required to have sex with you,’ is to skate over something crucial. There is no entitlement to sex, and everyone is entitled to want what they want, but personal preferences – no dicks, no fems, no fats, no blacks, no arabs, no rice no spice, masc-for-masc – are never just personal.
In a recent piece for n+1, the feminist and trans theorist Andrea Long Chu argued that the trans experience, contrary to how we have become accustomed to think of it, ‘expresses not the truth of an identity but the force of a desire’. Being trans, she says, is ‘a matter not of who one is, but of what one wants’. She goes on:
I transitioned for gossip and compliments, lipstick and mascara, for crying at the movies, for being someone’s girlfriend, for letting her pay the check or carry my bags, for the benevolent chauvinism of bank tellers and cable guys, for the telephonic intimacy of long-distance female friendship, for fixing my make-up in the bathroom flanked like Christ by a sinner on each side, for sex toys, for feeling hot, for getting hit on by butches, for that secret knowledge of which dykes to watch out for, for Daisy Dukes, bikini tops, and all the dresses, and, my god, for the breasts. But now you begin to see the problem with desire: we rarely want the things we should.
This declaration, as Chu is well aware, threatens to bolster the argument made by anti-trans feminists: that trans women equate, and conflate, womanhood with the trappings of traditional femininity, thereby strengthening the hand of patriarchy. Chu’s response is not to insist, as many trans women do, that being trans is about identity rather than desire: about already being a woman, rather than wanting to become a woman. (Once one recognises that trans women are women, complaints about their ‘excessive femininity’ – one doesn’t hear so many complaints about the ‘excessive femininity’ of cis women – begin to look invidious.) Instead, Chu insists that ‘nothing good comes of forcing desire to conform to political principle,’ including desire for the very things that are the symptoms of women’s oppression: Daisy Dukes, bikini tops and ‘benevolent chauvinism’. She takes this to be ‘the true lesson of political lesbianism as a failed project’. What we need, in other words, is to fully exorcise the radical feminist ambition to develop a political critique of sex.
The argument cuts both ways. If all desire must be immune from political critique, then so must the desires that exclude and marginalise trans women: not just erotic desires for certain kinds of body, but the desire not to share womanhood itself with the ‘wrong’ kinds of woman. The dichotomy between identity and desire, as Chu suggests, is surely a false one; and in any case the rights of trans people should not rest on it, any more than the rights of gay people should rest on the idea that homosexuality is innate rather than chosen (a matter of who gay people are rather than what they want). But a feminism that totally abjures the political critique of desire is a feminism with little to say about the injustices of exclusion and misrecognition suffered by the women who arguably need feminism the most.
The question, then, is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion. It is striking, though unsurprising, that while men tend to respond to sexual marginalisation with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, women who experience sexual marginalisation typically respond with talk not of entitlement but empowerment. Or, insofar as they do speak of entitlement, it is entitlement to respect, not to other people’s bodies. That said, the radical self-love movements among black, fat and disabled women do ask us to treat our sexual preferences as less than perfectly fixed. ‘Black is beautiful’ and ‘Big is beautiful’ are not just slogans of empowerment, but proposals for a revaluation of our values. Lindy West describes studying photographs of fat women and asking herself what it would be to see these bodies – bodies that previously filled her with shame and self-loathing – as objectively beautiful. This, she says, isn’t a theoretical issue, but a perceptual one: a way of looking at certain bodies – one’s own and others’ – sidelong, inviting and coaxing a gestalt-shift from revulsion to admiration. The question posed by radical self-love movements is not whether there is a right to sex (there isn’t), but whether there is a duty to transfigure, as best we can, our desires.
To take this question seriously requires that we recognise that the very idea of fixed sexual preference is political, not metaphysical. As a matter of good politics, we treat the preferences of others as sacred: we are rightly wary of speaking of what people really want, or what some idealised version of them would want. That way, we know, authoritarianism lies. This is true, most of all, in sex, where invocations of real or ideal desires have long been used as a cover for the rape of women and gay men. But the fact is that our sexual preferences can and do alter, sometimes under the operation of our own wills – not automatically, but not impossibly either. What’s more, sexual desire doesn’t always neatly conform to our own sense of it, as generations of gay men and women can attest. Desire can take us by surprise, leading us somewhere we hadn’t imagined we would ever go, or towards someone we never thought we would lust after, or love. In the very best cases, the cases that perhaps ground our best hope, desire can cut against what politics has chosen for us, and choose for itself.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Romantic relationships, college student alcohol use, and negative consequences of drinking

Romantic relationships, college student alcohol use, and negative consequences of drinking. Daphne E. Pedersen, Kimberly P. Pithey. The Social Science Journal,

•    Men and women undergraduates in committed dating relationships are less likely to report alcohol use leading to drunkenness, or drinking with the intention of getting drunk.
•    Undergraduate women in committed relationships experience fewer negative alcohol-related consequences than single women.
•    Undergraduate men in committed relationships experience less alcohol-related regret than single men.
•    For undergraduate men and women, being in a committed dating relationship was not significantly associated with drinking frequency.

Abstract: This study examined whether being in a romantic relationship is associated with undergraduates’ alcohol use and negative consequences of drinking. Alcohol use was operationalized to include amount and frequency of drinking, binge drinking, and drunkenness. Negative consequences included: having a hangover, missing a class, getting behind in school work, doing something that was later regretted, forgetting where the student was or what they did, having unplanned sex, and getting hurt or injured. Data came from an online survey distributed to Midwestern undergraduate students (N = 572), with analyses conducted separately for men and women. Results indicated that being in a committed relationship generally served as a protective factor against drunkenness, but did not reduce frequency of drinking or binge drinking. Whereas romantically committed men were only less likely to report doing something that was later regretted, women in romantic relationships were less likely to experience all negative consequences of drinking considered here.

Keywords: Alcohol consequences; Alcohol use; Binge drinking; College dating; College drinking; Drinking consequences; Romantic relationships

Publication bias and the canonization of false facts (2017)

Publication bias and the canonization of false facts. Silas Boye Nissen, Tali Magidson, Kevin Gross, Carl T Bergstrom. eLife Sciences, 2016,

Abstract: Science is facing a “replication crisis” in which many experimental findings cannot bereplicated and are likely to be false. Does this imply that many scientific facts are false as well? To find out, we explore the process by which a claim becomes fact. We model the community’s confidence in a claim as a Markov process with successive published results shifting the degree of belief. Publication bias in favor of positive findings influences the distribution of published results. We findthat unless a sufficient fraction of negative results are published, false claims frequently can become canonized as fact. Data-dredging, p-hacking, and similar behaviors exacerbate the problem. Should negative results become easier to publish as a claim approaches acceptance as a fact, however, true and false claims would be more readily distinguished. To the degree that the model reflects the real world, there may be serious concerns about the validity of purported facts in some disciplines.

Check also Raising awareness for the replication crisis in clinical psychology by focusing on inconsistencies in psychotherapy research: how much can we rely on published findings from efficacy trials? Michael P. Hengartner. Front. Psychol. 2018

Also Replication in experimental economics: A historical and quantitative approach focused on public good game experiments. Nicolas Vallois, Dorian Jullien. GREDEG Working Paper No. 2017-21. 2017.

And Psychology's Renaissance. Leif D. Nelson, Joseph P. Simmons, and Uri Simonsohn. Annual Review of Psychology, forthcoming.

Replication in experimental economics: Not good

Replication in experimental economics: A historical and quantitative approach focused on public good game experiments. Nicolas Vallois, Dorian Jullien. GREDEG Working Paper No. 2017-21. 2017.

Abstract : We propose a historical perspective on replication in experimental economics focused on public good games. Our intended contribution is twofold: in terms of method and in terms of object. Methodologically, we blend traditional qualitative history of economics with a less traditional quantitative approach using basic econometric tools to detect unnoticed historical patterns of replication. In terms of our object, we highlight a type of replication that we call " baseline replication ", which is not present in explicit methodological discussions, yet central in the specificity of experimental economics regarding replication in economics.

The goal of this paper was to propose a historical perspective on the practice of replication in experimental economics. Explicit methodological discussions of replication in economics highlight several meanings of \replication". However none of these meanings correspond to the most widely practiced type of replication in experimental economics, which we called "baseline replication": that similar baseline conditions in different experiments have to yield similar results.

We proposed a quantitative approach to highlight the historical dynamics of replication in public good games experiments. We found that results in baseline conditions converge over time, which suggests that baseline replications are effective over time, but they also decline over time, which suggests a counter-intuitive (i.e., non-stable) notion of replication. We prefer to interpret our results as a sign of the standardization of experimental practice over time which favors internal validity, rather than a sign of scientic progress towards a \true" baseline result in PG games. We hope that our blend of qualitative and quantitative approach to history of recent economics can motivate discussions with economists, both regarding our econometric method and our empirical results. In terms of further work, our results suggest that  finding a measure of standardization of experimental protocols can provide an interesting variable to study long-term patterns in experimental economics. Finally, baseline replication in other types of experiments than PG games could be studied.

Age difference between parents influences parity and number of sons

Kuna B, Galbarczyk A, Klimek M, Nenko I, Jasienska G. Age difference between parents influences parity and number of sons. Am J Hum Biol. 2018;e23095.


Objectives: Among couples, women usually prefer slightly older men, and men tend to choose much younger partners. Age difference between partners has been shown to influence their parity; however, results of previous studies are inconsistent. This study analyzed relationships between husband and wife age difference and their total number of children, and number of daughters and sons in a contemporary, rural Polish population.

Methods: Demographic and reproductive data were collected from 384 postmenopausal women from rural Poland who were married only once. Regression models were used to evaluate the impact of the age gap between partners on total number of children and on number of daughters and sons. Women's age, age at marriage (as an indicator of reproductive value), and years of education were used in analyzes as potential confounders.

Results: There was an inverted U-shape association between parental age difference and number of children and also the number of sons. The highest number of children and sons was observed when men were approximately 6.5 years older than their wives. There was no significant relationship between parental age difference and number of daughters.

Conclusions: Age difference between partners is important for reproductive success (with younger wives having higher reproductive potential) and is also related to number of sons. Older husbands might provide more resources for the family, thus facilitating production of well-nourished male offspring. Future research should evaluate not only number of children but also their biological condition, health, and lifetime achievements in relation to the age difference between their parents.

Self-Perceived Mate Value, Facial Attractiveness, and Mate Preferences: Do Desirable Men Want It All?

Self-Perceived Mate Value, Facial Attractiveness, and Mate Preferences: Do Desirable Men Want It All? Steven Arnocky. Evolutionary Psychology,

Abstract: Ten years ago, Buss and Shackelford demonstrated that high mate value (i.e., physically attractive) women held more discerning mate preferences relative to lower mate value women. Since then, researchers have begun to consider the equally important role of men’s sexual selectivity in human mate choice. Yet, little research has focused on whether high mate value men are similarly choosy in their mate preferences. In a sample of 139 undergraduate men, relationships between self-perceived mate value as well as female-rated facial attractiveness were examined in relation to men’s expressed mate preferences. Results showed that self-perceived mate value was unrelated to men’s facial attractiveness as rated by women. Men who believed they were of high mate value were more likely than lower mate value men to prefer to marry at a younger age; to have a spouse who was younger than them; and to have a partner who was sociable, ambitious, high in social status, with good financial prospects, a desire for children, health, good looks, and mutual attraction. Objective male facial attractiveness was generally unrelated to heightened mate preferences, with the exception of heightened preference for similar religious background and good physical health. Findings suggest that men who perceive themselves as high in overall mate value are selective in their mate choice in a manner similar to high mate value women.

Keywords: mate value, mate preferences, facial attractiveness, individual differences, long-term mating

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The gender gap on public opinion towards genetically modified foods

The gender gap on public opinion towards genetically modified foods. Laurel Elder, Steven Greene, Mary Kate Lizotte. The Social Science Journal,

Abstract: Ever since genetically modified (GM) foods were introduced into the food supply in the 1990s they have provoked debate and concern. The number of GM foods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and offered on supermarket shelves has steadily grown at the same time that public wariness about the safety of GM foods has increased. Studies within the scientific literature show a strikingly large gender gap in attitudes towards GM foods with women consistently more skeptical than men. However, there have been few efforts to understand the determinants of the gender gap on GM foods within the political science literature. This study employs a 2014 Pew Research Center survey on science issues to test several possible explanations for the gender gap in attitudes towards GM foods rooted in the different life experiences of women and men. The results show that while being a parent predicts more skeptical views about genetically modified foods overall it does not explain the gender gap in attitudes. In contrast, knowledge about science and having confidence in science do play a significant role in mediating the gender gap. By exploring the robust and pervasive gender gap on the issue of GM foods, this study sheds light on the fundamentally different ways men and women approach political issues.

Keywords: Gender gap; Public opinion; Genetically modified foods; Parent gap; Attitudes about science

Check also What lies beneath? Fear vs. disgust as affective predictors of absolutist opposition to genetically modified food and other new technologies. Edward Royzman, Corey Cusimano, and Robert F. Leeman. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 12, No. 5, September 2017, pp. 466-480.

We find no relationship between other personality traits, personality judgment accuracy and face memory. Individual differences in detecting personality traits do not relate to their face memory abilities

Satchell, Liam, Josh P Davis, Eglantine Julle-Danière, Nina Tupper, and Paul Marshman 2018. “Super-recognising Kernels of Truth? Exploring the Relationship Between Personality, Person Judgment Accuracy and Face Recognition.”. PsyArXiv. March 14.


Research has shown that individuals can recognise personality traits from photographs of others’ faces. It is suggested that this is possible as faces contain a biometric ‘kernel of truth’ for personality traits. If biometric facial features facilitate person judgments, then those adept at face memory (super-recognisers) could show heightened ability at recognising personality traits. This study evaluates the links between face memory accuracy and trait judgment accuracy. We investigated the relationship between participants’ face memory, Big Five personality traits and their accuracy in judging the Big Five personality traits (from 50 self-selected photographs of unknown individuals) in a sample of 792 individuals. We replicated previous findings that participant extraversion relates to face memory ability. We find no relationship between other personality traits, personality judgment accuracy and face memory. Individual differences in detecting personality traits do not relate to their face memory abilities. We do replicate the relationship between extraversion and face memory ability in the largest sample to date. This suggests that super-recognising faces and traits are domain-specific abilities. If surveillance operators are expected to detect impending incidents, then our findings would suggest that this is something that super-recognisers would need training in.

Why sexual activity: Men prefer physical reasons and women more often expressing emotional and insecurity reasons

Wyverkens E, Dewitte M, Deschepper E, et al. YSEX? A Replication Study in Different Age Groups. The Journal of Sexual Medicine 2018;XX:XXX–XXX.


Introduction: 10 years ago, Meston and Buss (Arch Sex Behav 2007;36:477–507) identified 237 reasons for having sex. Since then, only a few studies have built on the analyses of differences in sexual motivation.

Aim: To replicate the YSEX? in a broader sample of women and men of different ages.

Methods: Women and men younger than 18 (n = 141), 18 to 22 (n = 1,039), 22 to 55 (n = 2,804), and at least 55 (n = 667) years old completed an online survey about their reasons for engaging in sex during the past year.

Main Outcome Measures: The YSEX? inventory was assessed to measure sexual motivation. The taxonomy consists of 4 main factors (physical, goal attainment, emotional, insecurity) and 13 subfactors.

Results: 4,655 participants took part in the survey. The top 5 primary reasons for engaging in sex were identical across age groups and sexes. However, results also showed that the pattern of motivations for sex significantly differed depending on the age and sex of the participant. Older participants reported significantly less physical and utilitarian reasons than younger participants. Young adult men (18–22 years) were particularly motivated to have sex for emotional reasons of love and commitment. Women in this age group engaged more often in sex to express their emotions than older women. Significant sex differences were found, with men preferring physical reasons and women more often expressing emotional and insecurity reasons, except for the group of adolescents.

Conclusions: Our study shows that most people are driven by the pleasure of sex. With aging, the physical driving force and sexual satisfaction significantly decrease, although sex remains important throughout life. The findings support a biopsychosocial approach to the understanding of people’s sexual motivation. Evolutionary differences might explain some of our findings, as might shifting cultural norms.

Key Words: Sexual Motivation; Age; Gender; Generations; Biopsychosocial; Men’s Sexual Desire

Is Fertility After the Demographic Transition Maladaptive?

Is Fertility After the Demographic Transition Maladaptive? Rosemary L. Hopcroft. Journal of Biosocial Science,

Summary: Fitness is always relative to the fitness of others in the group or breeding population. Even in very low-fertility societies, individual fitness as measured by the share of genes in subsequent generations may still be maximized. Further, sexual selection theory from evolutionary biology suggests that the relationship between status and fertility will differ for males and females. For this reason it is important to examine the relationship between status and fertility separately for males and females–something few demographic studies of fertility do. When male fertility is measured separately, high-status men (as measured by their wealth and personal income) have higher fertility than low-status men, even in very low-fertility societies, so individual males appear to be maximizing their fitness within the constraints posed by a modern society. Thus male fertility cannot be considered maladaptive. When female fertility is measured separately, in both very high- and very low-fertility societies, there is not much variance across women of different statuses in completed fertility. Only in societies currently changing rapidly (with falling fertility rates) is somewhat high variance across women of different statuses in completed fertility found. What is seen across all phases of the demographic transition appears to be a continuation of two somewhat different evolved human reproductive strategies–one male, one female–in changing social and material contexts. Whether contemporary female fertility is maladaptive remains an open question.

Check also Evolution and Human Reproduction. Martin Fieder and Susanne Huber. In Oxford Handbook of Evolution, Biology, and Society, edited by Rosemary L. Hopcroft. Mar 2018.

And: Cultural and reproductive success in industrial societies: Testing the relationship at the proximate and ultimate levels. Daniel Pérusse. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Volume 16, Issue 2, June 1993 , pp. 267-283.

Differences in nut-cracking efficiency between wild chimpanzee groups: Group belonging and conformity makes them to use inferior tools to be more prosocial

Costly culture: differences in nut-cracking efficiency between wild chimpanzee groups. Lydia V.Luncz et al. Animal Behaviour, Volume 137, March 2018, Pages 63-73.

•    Nut cracking efficiency differed between chimpanzee groups.
•    Group-specific tool selection led to differences in nut intake rates.
•    Neighbouring groups applied different strategies to open the nuts.
•    Stone hammers were more efficient than wooden hammers.

Abstract: Cultural diversity among social groups has recently been documented in multiple animal species. Investigations of the origin and spread of diverse behaviour at group level in wild-ranging animals have added valuable information on social learning mechanisms under natural conditions. Behavioural diversity has been especially informative in the case of dispersal, where the transfer of individuals between groups leads to a sudden exposure to unfamiliar behaviour. Little is known, however, about the underlying costs and benefits of cultural transmission in animals and humans alike, as efficiency of cultural variants is often difficult to measure. The chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, of the Taï National Park in Ivory Coast are known to exhibit a number of cultural differences between social groups, including hammer selection for nut cracking. This provides the unique opportunity to quantify the efficiency of cultural variants. We compared foraging speed and number of hits applied during nut-cracking events between three neighbouring chimpanzee groups. Our results showed significant differences in nut-cracking efficiency, caused by hammer material selection and differences in the applied power of impact per nut. Persistent behavioural coherence within the respective groups implies that immigrants adjust their behaviour to local nut-cracking techniques, even when individual foraging success might be compromised. This suggests that the benefit of belonging to a social group might outweigh the benefits of maximizing individual foraging efficiency. The differences in nut-cracking efficiency between chimpanzee groups add to the ever-growing body of cultural variants in wild chimpanzees and expand our knowledge of the importance of group belonging and conformity in wild chimpanzees.

The Effect of Primary Care Visits on Health Care Utilization: It doesn't control expenses in the medium and long run

The Effect of Primary Care Visits on Health Care Utilization: Findings from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Cathy J. Bradley, David Neumark, and Lauryn Saxe Walker. Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy No. 104, March 14 2018,

[C]ash incentives, which can be manipulated by policymakers, encourage the desired behavior of primary care provider (PCP) utilization, but they may also have unintended consequences for other types of health care utilization. Total spending increases during the initial six-month incentive period, but the increase generally is not statistically significant among most incentives groups during the second six-month period…

We conclude that although an initial PCP visit can be effectively incentivized, and although observation of subsequent visits suggests that a PCP relationship has been established, overall health care utilization may not be reduced and may even increase in the short run.

Pleasure: The Missing Link in the Regulation of Sleep

Pleasure: The Missing Link in the Regulation of Sleep. R.V. Rial et al. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,

•    Sleeping is pleasant, a fact that has been ignored by sleep scholars.
•    Pleasure is the long missing link in the regulation of sleep.
•    Dopamine links the brain rewarding system and the sleep–wake circuitry.
•    Sleep begins when the displeasure of continuing awake is excessive.
•    Sleep ends when sleeping is no longer pleasant.
•    Only mammals and birds are able to experience emotional sleep.


Although largely unrecognized by sleep scholars, sleeping is a pleasure. This report aims first, to fill the gap: sleep, like food, water and sex, is a primary reinforcer.

The levels of extracellular mesolimbic dopamine show circadian oscillations and mark the “wanting” for pro-homeostatic stimuli. Further, the dopamine levels decrease during waking and are replenished during sleep, in opposition to sleep propensity. The wanting of sleep, therefore, may explain the homeostatic and circadian regulation of sleep. Accordingly, sleep onset occurs when the displeasure of excessive waking is maximal, coinciding with the minimal levels of mesolimbic dopamine. Reciprocally, sleep ends after having replenished the limbic dopamine levels. Given the direct relation between waking and mesolimbic dopamine, sleep must serve primarily to gain an efficient waking.

Pleasant sleep (i.e. emotional sleep), can only exist in animals capable of feeling emotions. Therefore, although sleep-like states have been described in invertebrates and primitive vertebrates, the association sleep-pleasure clearly marks a difference between the sleep of homeothermic vertebrates and cool blooded animals.

Keywords: Brain rewarding system; Sleep; Dopamine; Pleasure; Sleep regulation; Sleep function; Emotional sleep

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trait-level happiness seeking, as well as direct manipulation of happiness seeking, consistently reveal reduced feelings of time availability while pursuing happiness

Vanishing time in the pursuit of happiness. Aekyoung Kim, Sam J. Maglio. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,

Abstract: Happiness can be conceptualized as a positive affective state or as a goal whose pursuit ironically pulls the pursuer away from achieving it (Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, & Savino in Emotion, 11(4), 807–815, 2011). But how do people think about time during this latter, never-ending pursuit of happiness? The present investigation asks how seeking happiness influences perceptions of time availability. Four studies demonstrated that trait-level happiness seeking (Study 1) as well as direct manipulation of happiness seeking (Studies 2, 3, and 4) consistently reveal the same pattern: reduced feelings of time availability while pursuing happiness. This negative effect on time availability is mitigated when happiness seems like it has been achieved (Study 2) or seems quick to achieve (Study 3). In addition, pursuing happiness can ultimately decrease happiness, in part, by reducing perceptions of time availability (Study 4), extending theories on happiness, goal pursuit, and perceptions of time.

Homosexual Behavior Between Male Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi)

Homosexual Behavior Between Male Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). Laura Busia et al. Archives of Sexual Behavior,

Abstract: Homosexual behavior is defined as genital contact or genital manipulation between same-sex individuals. In nonhuman primates, it may regulate social relationships by serving as a means of reconciliation, tension alleviation, or alliance formation. Grappling is a rare and complex behavior, which most frequently occurs between same-sex individuals of the genus Ateles and can include mutual manipulation of the genitalia. Here we report three cases of penile–anal intromission during grappling between wild male spider monkeys living in the natural protected area of Otoch Ma’ax Yetel Kooh, Mexico. In all the observed cases, the same adult male was the actor. To our knowledge, this is the first report of penile–anal intromission between males in any New World primate species.

Autonomous Vehicles Require Socio-Political Acceptance—An Empirical and Philosophical Perspective on the Problem of Moral Decision Making

Autonomous Vehicles Require Socio-Political Acceptance—An Empirical and Philosophical Perspective on the Problem of Moral Decision Making. Lasse T. Bergmann et al. Front. Behav. Neurosci., February 28 2018,

Abstract: Autonomous vehicles, though having enormous potential, face a number of challenges. As a computer system interacting with society on a large scale and human beings in particular, they will encounter situations, which require moral assessment. What will count as right behavior in such situations depends on which factors are considered to be both morally justified and socially acceptable. In an empirical study we investigated what factors people recognize as relevant in driving situations. The study put subjects in several “dilemma” situations, which were designed to isolate different and potentially relevant factors. Subjects showed a surprisingly high willingness to sacrifice themselves to save others, took the age of potential victims in a crash into consideration and were willing to swerve onto a sidewalk if this saved more lives. The empirical insights are intended to provide a starting point for a discussion, ultimately yielding societal agreement whereby the empirical insights should be balanced with philosophical considerations.

Ironically, the lower reported frequency of negative feedback may make it easier for recipients to dismiss such feedback as “just one person’s opinion”, thereby weakening its impact even more

Gallrein, A.-M. B., Bollich-Ziegler, K. L. and Leising, D. (), Interpersonal feedback in everyday life – Empirical studies in Germany and the United States. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2381

Abstract: The present research examines occurrences of interpersonal feedback in everyday life. Drawing upon retrospective self-reports from three student samples in Germany and the US, we investigate why, how, and with what effect such feedback is shared. We found that feedback was common, occurring mostly within stable interpersonal relationships, and that positive feedback was reported to occur more often than negative feedback. Positive and negative feedback was provided to achieve different goals (acknowledgement vs. behavioral change), and feedback senders perceived negative feedback as less successful than positive feedback. Negative feedback was withheld primarily when potential senders perceived it as futile or potentially dangerous for their relationship with the recipient. However, negative feedback that was shared was not seen as particularly harmful in that regard. We discuss potential barriers to feedback effectiveness, whether and how the exchange of interpersonal feedback in everyday life may be promoted, and make recommendations for future research.

Genes and Status Achievement

Genes and Status Achievement. François Nielsen. Oxford Handbook of Evolution, Biology, and Society, edited by Rosemary L. Hopcroft. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190299323.013.22

Abstract: A number of human traits that are predictive of socioeconomic success (e.g., intelligence, certain personality traits, and educational attainment) or reflective of success (e.g., occupational prestige and earnings) have been found to be substantially affected by individual genetic endowments; some outcomes, such as educational attainment, are also affected by the family environment, although usually to a lesser extent. The associations among status-related traits are themselves largely due to genetic causes. By reshuffling the genes of parents at each generation, sexual reproduction produces a regression of status-relevant traits of offspring toward the population mean—downward for high-status parents, upward for low-status parents—generating social mobility in an achievement-oriented society. Incorporating the quantitative genetic decomposition of trait variance into genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental sources into the classic sociological model of status achievement allows for a better understanding and measurement of central social stratification concepts, such as opportunity and ascription.

Keywords: social stratification, social mobility, inequality, genetic, socioeconomic success

Introduction: The Status Achievement Model

Since the 1960s, the dominant paradigm in studies of social stratification by sociologists and economists has been the status achievement model first proposed by Blau and Duncan (1967). The model represents various status-related outcomes—completion of formal education, first occupation, current occupation, and income—as arrayed in roughly successive stages along the life course (Blau and Duncan 1967). Later outcomes are represented as caused by earlier ones, with the most distal predictors of status consisting of socioeconomic characteristics of the family of origin, such as father’s education and occupation. The direct links among the various outcomes can be estimated from data as standardized regression coefficients. From the direct links, one can derive the indirect effect of a variable on a status outcome downstream in the causal flow. A typical status achievement model similar to that used by Blau and Duncan but estimated from more recent data is shown in Figure 15.1.
Genes and Status AchievementClick to view larger

Figure 15.1 A simple status achievement model. Numbers along straight arrows are standardized regression coefficients; numbers along curved arrows are correlations; and coefficients in parentheses are nonsignificant (p ≥ .05).

Source: Nielsen (2016).

Blau and Duncan (1967) drew three major substantive conclusions from their empirical analysis. First, direct effects of father’s occupation and father’s education on son’s occupation were small or nonsignificant, suggesting that there is little direct reproduction of social status. In Figure 15.1, for example, these effects are −.020 and .052, respectively, both nonsignificant. Second, there was a strong indirect effect of father’s occupation and father’s education on occupation through education, suggesting that education is a powerful mechanism of social reproduction. In Figure 15.1, the indirect effect of father’s education on respondent’s occupation was .452 × .520 = .235. Third, a large part of the total association between education and occupation was due to the indirect effect of residual factors of education, which are (by construction) independent (p. 306) of social origins, suggesting that achievement was influenced to a considerable extent by unmeasured personal motivations and abilities unrelated to parental socioeconomic status that could be conceptualized as merit. In Figure 15.1, the effect of residual factors on education is .881 (represented as the arrow pointing to respondent’s education and calculated as the square root of 1 − R2 for the regression of education on background measures) and the effect of education on occupation is .520, so the indirect effect of education residuals on occupation is .881 × .520 = .458, a large proportion of the bivariate correlation of .524 between education and occupation.

The third empirical pattern was particularly meaningful to Blau and Duncan (1967) because it appeared to reflect a major role of merit independent of social origins, as opposed to ascription at birth, in the determination of occupational status in modern industrial society. In a later publication, Duncan (1968) was able to estimate an expanded model including measures of mental ability (IQ), a putative component of the education residuals. He found strong effects of IQ on status achievement, which he took as confirming an important role of merit on mobility chances.

Later research found that other psychological traits affected achievement independently of the measured socioeconomic status of the family of origin. Noncognitive behavioral traits associated with achievement outcomes include perseverance, dependability, and consistency (Bowles and Gintis 1976); leadership, study habits, industriousness, and perseverance (Jencks 1979); the Big Five personality traits, especially conscientiousness and emotional stability (Barrick, Mount, and Judge 2001; Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, and Barrick 1999); and self-esteem and locus of control (Heckman and Rubinstein 2001; Heckman, Stixrud, and Urzua 2006).

There is relatively strong evidence that similar cognitive skills and noncognitive behavioral traits are key determinants of both educational and occupational outcomes (p. 307) (Farkas 2003). The considerable role of education residuals in occupational achievement had two implications that would slowly emerge in the literature. First, because unmeasured cognitive and noncognitive traits promoting educational attainment are also likely to enhance occupational success, residuals of these two outcomes are likely to be correlated. If this is the case, the estimated direct effect of education on occupation in the status achievement model is likely to be in part spurious (due to common causes) rather than causal. The causal language commonly used to interpret the associations among status-related outcomes as “effects” would then be misleading.

Second, the major role of individual psychological characteristics included in the education residuals, because they are unrelated by construction to measured family background, raises the question of the origin of these traits. They could be caused by other, unmeasured dimensions of the family environment. But they could also be a function of the individual’s genetic heritage. Duncan (1968) was well aware of the possibility that intelligence (measured by IQ) has a genetic origin. He viewed, in fact, possible influences of genes on ability as strengthening an interpretation of the role of education residuals as indicative of opportunity in an achievement-oriented society. The next section outlines the development of this idea.

Galton and His Legacy

Almost a century before Blau and Duncan (1967), polymath genius Francis Galton (1869) collected detailed genealogies of men who had attained “eminence” in a variety of fields. Galton’s data included judges, statesmen, military commanders, scientists, artists, and even oarsmen and wrestlers. In an insightful analysis well worth reading today, Galton found that among relatives of an eminent man, the numbers of men who are also eminent decline with the degree of relatedness: There were more eminent fathers, sons, and brothers than grandfathers, and the numbers among cousins and more distant relatives were smaller still. This pattern, found in all the fields of eminence, strongly suggested to him that eminence is hereditary. Galton also found a large number of remarkable women in the genealogies, which suggested to him that eminence is transmitted through mothers as well as fathers. He found evidence of assortative mating (homophily, or the tendency of like marrying like), which moved him to impugn the common stereotype of his days that “clever men marry silly women” (p. 324).

Galton (1869) found that in some fields, such as sciences and the arts, there are considerably more eminent men among sons than among brothers or fathers. He attributed this pattern to a stronger environmental effect of the family through example and encouragement—what we would call today “role modeling”—in some fields of achievement than in others.

Galton’s (1869) work predated current understanding of the laws of genetics, which emerged in the early 20th century from the combination of Gregor Mendel’s laws of particulate inheritance governing hereditary transmission of discrete traits (e.g., yellow (p. 308) or green color of peas) with Darwin’s theory of the evolution of continuous traits, that resulted in the modern evolutionary synthesis (Fisher 1918; Wright 1920).

The workhorse of the modern synthesis was the model proposed by Fisher (1918) for the determination of a continuous trait. The model assumes that the trait is polygenic—that is, determined by a large number of independent genetic and environmental causes, each of which has a small effect on the trait. The genetic causes of the trait sum up into an overall additive effect, commonly denoted as A.

In humans, who typically grow up in families, nongenetic influences on a trait such as height or IQ can be partitioned into environmental influences (called shared) that are common to all siblings, such as family socioeconomic status insofar as it affects nutrition levels and intellectual stimulation, and tend to make siblings similar on the trait, and environmental influences (called unshared) that are specific to an individual sibling, such as an accident or infectious disease that affects mental ability of one sibling and not others, and tend to make siblings different from each other. The combined effects of shared and unshared environmental causes are commonly denoted C and E, respectively. The unshared component E includes errors of measurement of the trait.

With this notation, the value y of a continuous trait can be written as y = aA + cC + eE, where the A, C, and E components are standardized (with mean 0 and standard deviation 1). When y is also standardized, and certain assumptions are satisfied, it can be shown that var(y) = a2 + c2 + e2 = 1, where a2, c2, and e2 denote the proportions of the variance in a trait due to additive effects of genes, the shared environment, and the unshared environment, respectively. (Purcell [2002] discusses the assumptions of the model and the consequences of violating them.)

The decomposition of y into the three components is called the ACE model. In humans, the variance components are estimated traditionally using so-called biometric methods based on designs involving relatives, most commonly pairs of identical and fraternal twins, or adopted children and their adoptive and biological parents. More recently developed molecular genetic methodologies provide alternative estimates of heritability using (sometimes very) large samples of unrelated individuals whose DNA has been sequenced (Chabris, Lee, Cesarini, Benjamin, and Laibson 2015). Heritability estimates are then derived from the associations between the presence of a genetic variant for a large number of genes and the measured value of the individual on the trait (Belsky and Israel 2014; Okbay et al. 2016). The classic twins design is based on a comparison of identical (monozygotic or MZ) and fraternal (dizygotic or DZ) twins raised together. MZ twins share all their genes, whereas DZ twins share only approximately half their genes (assuming random mating of parents). It can be shown that the correlations between twins on a trait are therefore rMZ = a2 + c2 for MZ twins and rDZ = ½a2 + c2 for DZ twins, so the variance components can be estimated with Falconer’s formulas as a2 = 2 × (rMZ − rDZ), c2 = 2 × rDZ − rMZ, and e2 = 1 − a2 − c2 (Falconer and Mackay 1996).

For example, in a sample of young adult twins in the United States, correlations for occupational education (average education of incumbents of an occupation, a measure of occupational status) are .547 for MZ twins and .258 for DZ twins (data discussed in Roos and Nielsen 2015). Applying Falconer’s formulas, a2 = 2 × (.547 − .258) = .578; (p. 309) c2 = 2 × .258 − .547 = −.031; and e2 = 1 − .578 − (−.031) = .453 (the small negative value for c2 is not statistically different from zero). Thus, sources of influences on occupational education of young adults appear largely genetic (58%) and nonshared environmental (45%), with little contribution of shared family influences.

Components of the variance in a trait have important substantive meanings in the context of social stratification and mobility. The additive genetic component a2 is called the heritability of the trait. It represents the proportion of the population variance in a trait that is contributed by all genetic sources of influence. As suggested by Duncan (1968), a larger role of genes in a trait measuring socioeconomic achievement indicates greater opportunity for individuals to achieve their native potential, high or low, and a lesser role of ascription based on status of the family of origin. Higher values of a2 thus indicate a more achievement-oriented society (Guo and Stearns 2002; Heath et al. 1985; Nielsen 2006).

The shared environment c2 represents the effects on a status-related outcome of all characteristics of the family or embedding social environment that tend to make siblings similar on the outcome; it includes effects of social class and of other factors such as ethnicity or the quality of local schools that tend to vary more between than within families. The shared environment component can be thought of as measuring the strength of ascription, or the degree to which status is socially reproduced (Conley 2008). From a policy-oriented viewpoint, c (the square root of c2) measures the potential effect on the trait (expressed in standard deviation units) of raising the quality of the family environment by one standard deviation. c2 thus reflects the extent of improvement on the trait achievable by an intervention modifying the environment within the existing range of environmental variation (Behrman and Taubman 1989; Rowe 1994; Taubman 1976). Highlighting in the previous sentence points to the fact that a low c2 should not be interpreted as a limit on environmental malleability of an outcome, because c2 does not include potential effects of environmental manipulations (e.g., effective but undiscovered or underutilized interventions) that are not currently contributing to population variation. In contrast with plant and animal breeding, where a2 is crucial in predicting success of artificial selection and the environment is largely under experimental control, social scientists also have a major interest in the size of c2, representing as it does a measure of social closure.

The unshared environment e2 represents the effects of all environmental influences that tend to make siblings different from each other, such as an accident, disease, parental preference, or an encounter with an inspiring role model that affects one sibling but not the other(s). e2 includes (but is not limited to) measurement error.

Genes and Environments in Status-Related Traits

I use the expression status-related trait or outcome to mean any measure, continuous or categorical, that either predicts or reflects status achievement of individuals. Over the (p. 310) life course, therefore, status-related outcomes range from measurement of IQ in childhood, through high school graduation and completion of formal education, to occupation, income, and subjective social status in adulthood.

Behavioral and social scientists have accumulated considerable research applying the ACE model to various human traits. Turkheimer (2000) summarized the results of that research with his “three laws of behavior genetics” (p. 160):

    1. All human behavioral traits are heritable.

    2. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes.

    3. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

In terms of the ACE decomposition, a2 ≠ 0, c2 < a2, and e2 ≫ 0 (see also Freese 2008). The three laws have been spectacularly confirmed in a massive meta-analysis of 2,748 twin studies of human traits published between 1958 and 2012 (Polderman et al. 2015).

Many status-related outcomes have been found to be affected by genes (Adkins and Guo 2008). Among predictors of educational and occupational achievements, intelligence (measured as IQ) has received the most attention. Abundant research based on twin or adoption studies has found substantial heritability of IQ. For example, the meta-analysis of a large number of studies by Devlin, Daniels, and Roeder (1997) found a2s in the 47–68% range (see also Plomin and Spinath 2004). However, studies summarized by these authors are dominated by studies of children because it is much easier to recruit and test samples of school-aged twins than samples of adults. More recent studies using molecular genetic technology have yielded similarly strong estimates of heritability and confirmed that intelligence is a highly polygenic trait (Davies et al. 2011; Martin et al. 2011).

Studies have documented a systematic pattern of change in the relative importance of genes and the shared environment for IQ during development, with heritability being contingent on age. A typical pattern is that exhibited by samples of Dutch twins varying in age from 5 to 50 years. At age 5 years, genes account for 20% and the shared environment for 55% of the variance in IQ. There is then a steady increase in the role of genes and decline in the role of the shared environment so that by age 12 genes account for more than 80% of the variance and the role of the shared environment dwindles to zero. From then on, heritability of IQ remains high (Bouchard and McGue 2003). The age dependence of the heritability of IQ implies that estimates from older studies of IQ largely based on children, such as the ones summarized by Devlin et al. (1997), were biased toward zero.

Among noncognitive traits potentially related to socioeconomic achievement, personality traits conscientiousness and emotional stability (absence of neuroticism) have shown consistent associations with job performance (Barrick et al. 2001). Bouchard and McGue (2003, p. 21, Table 5) report the average heritability in four recent studies to be 49% for conscientiousness and 48% for neuroticism. The role of the shared environment for these traits is not significantly different from zero. Adkins and Guo (2008) cite (p. 311) literature suggesting that mental and physical health, both predictors of achievement, have a strong genetic substrate. For example, they report heritabilities on the order of 37% for depression, 81% for schizophrenia, and approximately 30% for overall longevity.

Among educational outcomes, educational attainment, measured as highest degree earned or years of completed schooling, has been studied most extensively due to ease of measurement and the view that it serves as a proxy for intelligence (although an imperfect one, as the education–IQ correlation of only .56 in Table 15.2 suggests). A meta-analysis of the international literature found that the mean contribution of genes to educational attainment in twin studies is 40% and that of the shared environment 36% (Branigan, McCallum, and Freese 2013), a pattern confirmed in the meta-analysis of all human traits by Polderman et al. (2015), who found similarly high effects of the shared environment, besides education, only for traits related to conduct disorders and religion and spirituality. The important role of the shared environment in educational attainment is therefore unusual and cannot be readily explained by the effect of cognitive and noncognitive abilities, which may be “ingredients” of educational attainment, because the latter traits themselves have near zero shared environmental variance in adults (Bouchard and McGue 2003). Nielsen and Roos (2015) find a similar pattern in a large US sample of variously related siblings, and they suggest that the large c2 may be the result of a persistent role of family financial resources in educational attainment. Freese and Jao (2017) discuss alternative explanations of the phenomenon.

For income, Björklund, Jäntti, and Solon (2005) find moderate heritabilities in the range of 20–30% depending on the model, with shared environmental component typically less than 10%. These results suggest heritability of adult financial success is non-zero but low relative to other status-related outcomes.

Roos and Nielsen (2015) estimate the ACE model for 15 status-related outcomes over the life course for the same large sample of adolescent siblings first interviewed during adolescence and followed up until young adulthood (average age ~28 years). Results for outcomes roughly arranged in order of occurrence in the life course are shown in Table 15.1 and Figure 15.2. Estimated heritabilities range from small (9%) for home ownership to a high of 60% for college graduation. The shared environment is substantial for some outcomes, such as educational attainment (29%), college plans (23%), verbal IQ (22%), and some college (21%), but zero for personal earnings. In agreement with Turkheimer’s (2000) second law, the effect of genes (a2) is invariably higher than the effect of the family (c2).

Some of the more salient findings pertain to status-related outcomes that are more rarely analyzed in a behavior genetic perspective. Heritability of personal earnings (34%) is at the high end for that outcome measured in a single year (compare with Björklund et al. 2005), and the absence of shared environment effect (c2 = 0) may be surprising. Two measures of occupational prestige (occupational education and occupational wages) that are of special interest to sociologists show moderately high heritabilities (33% and 25%, respectively) but low effects of the shared environment (13% and 3%, respectively), especially in comparison with educational outcomes. The moderate heritability (31%) but low impact of the shared environment (2%) for subjective social (p. 312) status may be surprising because one would expect any cultural mechanism of intergenerational transmission of status to affect this subjective dimension most strongly.

Table 15.1 Variance Components Decomposition of Status-Related Outcomes






Verbal IQ










College plans





HS graduation





Some college





College graduation





Graduate school





Educational attainment





Occupational education





Occupational wages





Personal earnings





Household income





Household assets





Home ownership





Subjective social status





HS, high school; lcpos, approximate life course position.

Source: Data from Roos and Nielsen (2015).

Roos and Nielsen (2015) found systematic patterns in the genetic architecture of successive status-related outcomes over the life course that affected the overall impact of the family of origin on the outcome, from both genetic and environmental sources. First, both a2 and c2 tended to decrease, and e2 increase, with the position of an outcome later in the life course, resulting in a trend of declining family resemblance (which the authors measured as ½a2 + c2, the resemblance between ordinary siblings predicted by the ACE model, which they call familiality). The trend suggests that as individuals grow older, status-related outcomes become less affected by family influences (both genetic and shared environmental) and increasingly reflect idiosyncratic (nonshared) individual characteristics.
Genes and Status AchievementClick to view larger

Figure 15.2 Variance components decomposition of status-related outcomes.

Source: Data from Roos and Nielsen (2015).

Second, c2 represented a significantly greater proportion of family resemblance for outcomes related to the household and shared with a spouse or household partner (household income, household assets, and home ownership)—although family resemblance is typically low for these outcomes—than for individually defined outcomes such (p. 313) as personal earnings. This pattern may indicate a recrudescence of nongenetic shared influences of the family of origin on outcomes associated with (respondent’s own) family formation. See Roos and Nielsen (2015) for further discussion.

Gene–Environment Interactions

Scarr-Salapatek (1971) conjectured that the relative roles of genetic and shared environmental sources of intelligence and academic achievement would vary according to socioeconomic status of the family. In advantaged environments, genetic potential can be fully expressed so that heritability of mental ability will be high and the effect of the shared environment low. In deprived environments, expression of genes will be inhibited so that heritability will be lower and the impact of the shared environment greater. The conjecture has been called the Scarr–Rowe hypothesis of gene × socioeconomic status (SES) interaction (Tucker-Drobs and Bates 2016). In general interactions between genes and environment of this type are called G×E (Shanahan and Hofer 2005).

(p. 314) Significant moderation of genetic expression as a function of environment quality for intelligence has been documented in US studies, such as those by Rowe, Jacobsen, and Van den Oord (1999); Guo and Stearns (2002); and Turkheimer, Haley, Waldron, D’Onofrio, and Gottesman (2003). The latter study, for example, finds that for intelligence in young children in low SES environments, heritability is only 10%, with a strong impact of the shared environment (58%). In high SES environments, the pattern is reversed, with heritability at 72% and the shared environment at 15%.

Results such as those of Turkheimer et al. (2003) have captured the imagination of social scientists because they appear to reaffirm a central role for the social environment as opposed to biological endowment (Nisbett 2009). In the case of intelligence, however, the systematic review by Tucker-Drob and Bates (2016) finds mixed support for the Scarr–Rowe hypothesis. The authors find that low SES was associated with attenuated genetic influences on intelligence in studies conducted in the United States, but that the interaction was not significantly different from zero in non-US studies (conducted in western Europe and Australia). Tucker-Drob and Bates believe that G×E may be higher in the United States because of a more inegalitarian access to economic resources in the society. Even in US studies, however, the size of the interaction is typically less than that found by Turkheimer et al.

The mixed support for G×E in the case of IQ should be related to the high heritability of IQ in adulthood, which ensures that there is little room for any environmental effect. It does not mean that the G×E mechanism is not at work for status-attainment outcomes other than IQ, such as educational attainment, that have a substantial shared environment component in adulthood. Further studies might illuminate this issue.

The Scarr–Rowe hypothesis assumes that heritability increases monotonically as a function of social status. The simplest model is that heritability increases linearly with SES. A variant model is that starting from the most deprived environment, heritability at first increases rapidly as conditions improve and then more slowly once environmental conditions are above a “humane threshold” bounding the normal species range (Scarr 1992). Sociological literature suggests alternative hypotheses to the Scarr–Rowe conjecture of monotonically increasing gene expression with environment quality. In his conception of social mobility and the circulation of elites, Pareto (1909/1971) conjectured that the effect of innate qualities on success traces an inverted-U shape with family SES: In the lowest stratum of SES, environmental conditions are so impoverished that individuals are held back irrespective of innate talent; in the highest SES stratum, resources are so readily available that even individuals with low levels of ability are protected from downward mobility. It is in the middle stratum of SES that the effect of innate qualities is strongest, as resources are sufficiently abundant to allow talented individuals to rise but not sufficient to prevent downward mobility of the less able. Pareto’s model thus predicts that heritability is highest in the middle stratum and lower in both bottom and top strata, a curvilinear relationship of a2 with environmental resources.

Still another hypothesis is implied by Saunders (2010), who found that in modern Great Britain the only deviation from perfect meritocratic mobility was a tendency for those born in the upper occupational classes to experience downward mobility at a lower rate than that expected in a fully meritocratic society. The rate of upward mobility (p. 315) from lower to upper classes, however, was consistent with the meritocratic hypothesis. Saunders’ interpretation of the finding is that being born a member of the upper stratum has a greater effect on achieved status (in preventing downward mobility) than has being born to the working class (in preventing upward mobility). In terms of the ACE, this would imply that the shared environment c2 increases monotonically with family SES and, conversely, that the effect (a2) of genes on status achievement declines apace. Nielsen (2016) suggests that the predicted negative relationship between heritability of individual socioeconomic success and family SES might be called the Saunders or reverse Scarr–Rowe hypothesis. Studies of G×E for educational attainment would seem a promising strategy for future research because this adult outcome is characterized by a substantial shared environment component.

The theoretical significance of G×E has been greatly expanded in discussions by Adkins and Guo (2008) and Adkins and Vaisey (2009). These authors contend that parameters of the ACE models are macro-sociological concepts characterizing the nature of the stratification system in a society, with average heritability in a society measuring opportunity to reach one’s potential and, conversely, the shared environment representing social ascription and social closure. They conjecture that more open and egalitarian societies will exhibit greater heritability and smaller effects of the shared environment.

Heath et al. (1985) illustrate the way the ACE decomposition of the variance in status provides macrosocial indicators of fluidity of the social structure of a society. The authors compared resemblances in educational attainment between DZ and MZ twins in a large Norwegian sample to estimate the components of the ACE model for different birth cohorts, separately by sex. Comparing older (born 1915–1939) and younger (born 1950–1960) cohorts, they found that, for males, the effect of genes on educational attainment increased (from 18% to 76%) and the role of the shared environment correspondingly decreased (from 68% to 9%). Heath et al. interpret these changes in the ACE parameters as resulting from liberal policy reforms in Norway that made access to education more open.

For females during the same period, the role of genes in schooling also increased (from 28% to 46%), and the role of the shared environment decreased (from 61% to 43%), but not as much as for males. Heath et al. (1985) conclude that equality of opportunity, measured as the relative size of the genetic component, did not improve to the same extent for females as for males so that the role of family privilege in educational attainment, measured as the shared environment component, remained correspondingly greater for females (see also Branigan et al. 2013). These interpretations are consistent with the theoretical discussions of Adkins and Guo (2008) and Adkins and Vaisey (2009).

Interrelationships of Status-Related Outcomes

It has been known since at least the beginning of status achievement research that status-related outcomes over the life course are correlated with each other and with (p. 316) characteristics of the family background. Average correlations from a meta-analysis of a large number of independent studies by Strenze (2007, p. 412, Table 1, column p) are shown in Table 15.2. Average correlations of the three principal status outcomes in adulthood (measured after age 29 years) with intelligence (measured before age 19 years) are .56 for education, .45 for occupation, and .23 for income, suggesting that intelligence predicts income less well than it does education or occupation. A similar pattern holds for academic performance. Adult outcomes are explained almost equally well by background characteristics, especially when combined into an SES index, which is correlated .55 with education, .38 with occupation, and .09 with income. A general pattern is that income is more weakly associated with predictors than other outcomes.

Table 15.2 Correlations Between Three Principal Measures of Status and Predictorsa

Measure of Status





Intelligence (all studies)




Intelligence (best studies)




Father’s education




Mother’s education




Father’s occupation




Parental income




SES index




Academic performance




(a) Correlations shown are sample size weighted averages corrected for unreliability and dichotomization.

Source: Data from Strenze (2007, p. 412, Table 1, column p).

The classic status achievement model interprets associations among status-related outcomes in a causal perspective. Rowe (1994) has noted that causal interpretations are likely to be spurious because successive outcomes (e.g., education and occupation) may be associated due to unmeasured common causes such as ability and ambition, including genetic ones, rather than causally (Eckland 1979). As an alternative account, Rowe (1994) proposed a multivariate extension of the ACE model in which associations among outcomes are due not to direct causal effects but, rather, to effects of latent (i.e., unmeasured) environmental and genetic sources that may themselves be correlated (see also Petrill and Wilkerson 2000). Structural equation modeling (SEM) methodology permits estimating the proportions of the zero-order association (correlation) between any two status-related outcomes that are due to genetic, shared-environmental and unshared-environmental sources, respectively.

(p. 317) Nielsen (2006, 2016) describes a multivariate ACE model of the interrelationships among verbal IQ (VIQ), high school grades (GPA), and college plans (CPL) estimated from a large sample of adolescent sibling pairs living in the same household and related to different degrees (MZ twins, DZ twins, full siblings, half siblings, cousins, and nonrelated siblings). SEM methodology was used to compare the fit of a variety of models and test hypotheses concerning the structure of latent factors responsible for the observed relationships. The analytical strategy consisted in initially fitting a maximal model with as many latent A, C, and E factors as there are outcomes. These latent factors were assumed uncorrelated among each other and linked to the observed outcomes in a triangular pattern called a Cholesky factorization. The original model was then simplified through successive steps testing structural hypotheses such as whether several outcomes can be explained by the same latent factor or whether factors corresponding to different outcomes are uncorrelated. The model was finally rotated so that each outcome is a function of only one A, C, and E factor, and factors for a given latent source may be correlated. Among the findings were the following:

    1. Each of the outcomes was substantially affected by genes (a2 was 53% for VIQ, 67% for GPA, and 59% for CPL).

    2. Only VIQ was substantially affected by shared-environment sources (c2 was 14% for VIQ, 0 for GPA, and 3% for CPL).

    3. There were moderate correlations between genes affecting verbal IQ and GPA (.43) and GPA and college plans (.55); the correlation was lower for verbal IQ and college plans (.26), suggesting that genes affecting these two traits overlap only partially. The hypothesis that there is a single set of “ability genes” affecting all three outcomes was statistically rejected.

    4. The hypothesis that there is a single “privilege” dimension of the shared environment affecting all three outcomes could not be rejected.

    5. The associations among the three outcomes were largely the results of common genetic sources, as the proportion of the correlation due to genes was 70% for VIQ–CPL and 100% for both VIQ–GPA and GPA–CPL, with little contribution of either shared or nonshared environments.

Reports of large contributions of genetic sources to the association between status-related outcomes have become commonplace (Calvin et al. 2012; Marioni et al. 2014). Although much work remains to be done in that area, such findings contribute to the mounting evidence that the ostensibly “causal” links in the status achievement model are generated to a substantial extent by common genetic sources rather than environmental factors or direct causation. These findings suggest that much of career continuity (i.e., the tendency of most careers to trace a monotonic status trend, devoid of wild swings) has genetic origins.

One important limitation of the multivariate ACE is that it assumes associations among outcomes are entirely explained by latent factors. It is not possible to add direct causal links to the full ACE model (represented by its Cholesky factorization) because (p. 318) they would not be estimable. This is problematic in situations in which there are substantive reasons to expect a direct causal influence of one outcome on another. For example, in the model described previously, it would be reasonable to think that by providing the student with an external clue of his or her academic potential, GPA affects college plans directly and independently of abilities (which would perhaps disturbingly imply that deliberate manipulation of GPA by school officials might enhance or discourage college ambitions). As an important instance, much research in economics has focused on the effect of education on earnings because economists are interested in estimating the financial return to an additional year of education net of individual endowments (Ashenfelter and Krueger 1994; Behrman and Rosenzweig 1999; Miller, Mulvey, and Martin 2006).

Kohler, Behrman, and Schnittker (2011) have clarified the conditions under which causal effects of the type assumed in the classic status achievement model can be incorporated into the multivariate ACE. The authors show that a direct causal link can be estimated if sufficiently stringent assumptions are made. In the case of GPA → CPL, the most natural extra constraint would be that the unshared E components for GPA and CPL are uncorrelated—that is, idiosyncratic factors that affect the GPA of an individual sibling are uncorrelated with idiosyncratic factors affecting CPL for that sibling. If that assumption holds, the direct effect GPA → CPL can be estimated. Kohler et al. show convincing examples of application of the strategy, but the question whether it is plausible to assume uncorrelated unshared components for two status-related outcomes will likely arise in specific applications of the method.

Mobility Implications of the Role of Genes

The preceding discussion suggests that the traits that enhance socioeconomic success, such as intelligence and personality traits, are strongly influenced by genes. Thus, in a society with any degree of openness, individuals with favorable genes for these traits will tend to gravitate toward high-status positions so that social class of destination is determined in part by genes. This is the gist of Herrnstein’s (1973) syllogism, quoted by Rowe (1994, p. 141):

    1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and

    2. If success requires those abilities, and

    3. If earnings and prestige depend on success,

    4. Then social standing (which depends on earnings and prestige) will be based to some extent on inherited differences among people.

The syllogism can be extended in an obvious way from mental abilities to include the role of noncognitive traits that affect success.

(p. 319) The idea that social class might have a genetic basis generated strong negative reactions among the public and in academia. Herrnstein’s (1973) syllogism, and its later formulation in Herrnstein and Murray (1994), seemed to predict a dismal future in which society would be partitioned into residentially segregated and quasi-hereditary castes based on genes, a social arrangement all the more detestable because it could conceivably be morally justified on meritocratic grounds. However, Herrnstein’s scenario may have downplayed the potential role of a powerful mechanism of reproduction in preventing the hardening of social classes into ability-based hereditary castes: regression to the mean.

Human beings, as sexually reproducing organisms, do not produce clones of themselves. Instead, a couple produces offspring with whom parents each share a random 50% of their genes. For a continuous trait affected by many genes, each of which has a small effect (a “complex trait”), the parent–child correlation is rPC = ½a2 + c2—that is, half the heritability plus the shared environmental component—and the same correlation holds for other first-degree relatives such as ordinary (full) siblings. Thus, even for a perfectly heritable trait (with a2 = 1 and c2 = 0), the parent–child correlation due to genetic inheritance cannot be larger than .5.

The high heritabilities found for many traits may seem implausible or even scary because they seem to imply a strong, overwhelming genetic basis of “family resemblance.” Sociologists, like most people, base their intuition of family resemblance on the similarity of parents and offspring, and the similarity of ordinary siblings, with respect to visible outcomes such as college graduation. They know from their personal experience that children from a given family tend to be alike in obtaining college degrees. It seems natural to interpret the similarity in outcomes as resulting from similar expectations for siblings and their exposure to similar resources, role models, and encouragements. Invocation of a strong role of genes in college completion seems unnecessary and difficult to believe.

However, the shared environment plays a greater role in family resemblance than may at first appear. This is because for first-degree relatives such as ordinary siblings, who are genetically related at only 50%, the correlation on the trait involves the full contribution of the shared environment c2 but only half of the impact of genes denoted as a2. Therefore, the resemblance between ordinary siblings reflects the full contribution of the shared environment to trait variance but only half of the contribution of genes.

A concrete example is provided by the meta-analytic estimates of a2 = .40 and c2 = .36 for the variance components of educational attainment found by Branigan et al. (2013). In a population characterized by these parameters, the predicted correlation between ordinary siblings is rsibs = ½ × .40 + .36 = .56. Thus, the shared environment plays the major role in the resemblance of ordinary siblings (.36/.56 = 64%), and genetic factors play a relatively minor one (.20/.56 = 36%). An alternative interpretation is that shared environmental characteristics of the family induce a correlation of .36 between the educational attainments of siblings, while genetic factors induce an added .20. The role of genes, viewed in this way, might seem more plausible (and relatively nonthreatening), even for a social scientist convinced of the predominant importance of environmental (p. 320) factors. Genetic sources of variation in a trait are fully reflected only in the resemblance of identical twins, which, of course, can be astonishing. Most people, however, do not know more than a few pairs of identical twins—too few to ground their intuition about family resemblance.

The imperfect correlation between parent and child in a trait produces the phenomenon of regression to the mean, another discovery of Francis Galton (1886). Taking height (a highly heritable trait) as an example, regression to the mean implies that the height of offspring of tall parents will exhibit considerable scatter, with a mean in between the average height of the parents and the average height of the population. Conversely, the offspring of short parents will be taller on average than the parents but shorter than the population average.

The extent to which the average trait in the parents regresses to the mean in the offspring is a function of the heritability of the trait. Specifically, the offspring average on the trait is equal to the population mean plus the deviation of the parental average (called the midparent) from the population mean times the heritability (Falconer and Mckay 1996).1 Taking intelligence as an example, suppose an exceptionally intelligent couple has an average IQ of 130. Because IQ is distributed with mean 100 and standard deviation of 15, the midparent is 2 standard deviations above the mean, corresponding to the 98th percentile of the IQ scale. Assuming heritability is .6, the expected IQ of the offspring of the couple is 100 + .6 × 30 = 118, which corresponds to the 88th percentile of IQ, well above average but less exceptional than that of the parents. Actual IQ scores for the offspring will vary considerably around this expected value. Although highly successful couples with a disappointing child may discover regression to the mean with consternation, it is important to keep in mind that the phenomenon is symmetrical so that a below average couple will produce offspring with IQ higher than theirs on average.

If people chose their mate randomly, irrespective of the status-related traits of spouses, the average midparent over all couples would be equal to the population mean, and the average trait in the offspring would regress to the population mean in each generation. However, this does not happen due to assortative mating, or homophily, the tendency of spouses to choose partners similar to themselves. Homophily, measured as the correlation of the trait between spouses, tends to be high for status-related traits, such as intelligence (~.4) and education (~.6), in comparison with physical traits such as height and weight (~.2) (Plomin and Deary 2015). Assortative mating of parents on a trait results in an increase in the additive genetic variance of the trait in the offspring, relative to what it would be under random mating. The increase in variance occurs each generation until an asymptote is reached. For example, Jensen (1972, pp. 106–108), assuming heritability of .8 and spousal correlation of .6, calculates that without assortative mating, the standard deviation of IQ would decline from 15 to 12.9.

A crucial implication of the regression to the mean of a trait that promotes socioeconomic success is that biological inheritance by itself will produce considerable intergenerational mobility in the trait. Sexual reproduction ensures that there is a natural reshuffling of genes in each generation so that many individuals in the higher classes are born with abilities lower than those of their parents, and many in the lower classes are (p. 321) born with abilities higher than those of their parents. To the extent that socioeconomic achievement in a society is based on merit, biological inheritance will thus naturally induce a certain amount of social mobility, both downward and upward. Rowe (1994, p. 142) estimates that in industrialized societies, in each generation 30% of individuals move up from the class of their parents, 30% move down, and the rest remain in the class of origin. This conception corresponds to (with respect to political power) the “circulation of elites” of Pareto (1909/1971, 1917–1919/1965) and (with respect to intelligence and social status) approaches such as hinted at by Duncan (1968) and explicitly proposed by Burt (1961), Herrnstein (1973), Marks (2014), and Saunders (2010).

Ascriptive mechanisms can slow down the natural rate of intergenerational mobility caused by genetic regression to the mean. Although there is probably some degree of mobility in all societies, ascriptive mechanisms by which offspring of higher strata are protected from downward mobility while upward mobility of offspring of the lower strata is stunted can reduce overall mobility to near zero, as in extreme cases such as endogamous castes of traditional India or hereditary aristocracies of medieval Europe (Scarr-Salapatek 1971). The relative strength of ascriptive mechanisms related to unequal quality of rearing environments or deliberate social closure can be estimated at the societal level as the size of the shared environment component c2 (Conley 2008; Nielsen 2006).

The observed association between parent and child on a status-related outcome such as occupation or income has traditionally been used in social mobility research as a measure of social closure, or inverse measure of social fluidity, with a strong association implying a closed social structure in which ascription plays a paramount role and a weak association implying an open structure with more opportunities for achievement (Ganzeboom, Luijkx, and Treiman 1989; Solon 2008).

The quantitative genetic decomposition of the parent–offspring correlation together with the substantial role of genes documented for many status-related outcomes imply that intergenerational associations of status-related traits are ambiguous because a strong association may be due to high heritability of the trait—in which case it actually reflects high opportunities for achievement in a more open society—or to a high value of the shared family environment—in which case it does indeed reflect greater social closure (Eckland 1967). This implies that variance components a2 and c2 from the ACE decomposition of the trait variance, considered separately, are better measures of the degrees of opportunity and ascription, respectively, than the overall intergenerational association (Heath et al. 1985; Jencks and Tach 2006; Nielsen 2006).


Genetic inheritance play a central role in all aspects of social stratification and mobility.

Most status-related outcomes—individual characteristics predicting or reflecting socioeconomic success—are substantially affected by genes. Some outcomes, notably (p. 322) educational attainment, are also appreciably affected by circumstances of the family of origin (shared environment). There is evidence that the extent to which genes affect an outcome depends on the social context, particularly the availability of resources (gene–environment interaction).

Genetic inheritance plays an important role in career continuity, the serial correlation of status outcomes at successive stages of the life course, reflected in findings that associations among outcomes are often predominantly or entirely explained by effects of common genes on the outcomes but only in smaller measure by shared environmental effects.

Because parents individually transmit only one-half of their genes to the offspring, the mechanism of genetic inheritance ensures that levels of status-relevant traits of parents and offspring are imperfectly correlated. There is a regression to the mean in which the expected offspring level of a trait is in between the average levels of parents and the population mean.

In a society in which status achievement is related to any appreciable extent to individual qualities (“merit”), genetic inheritance will thus produce a degree of intergenerational mobility as individuals with low qualities born to higher strata will tend to move downward in status, whereas individuals with high qualities born to lower strata will tend to move upward. These movements tend to generate (and restore) an association between status-related qualities and social strata.

Components of the variance in a status-related outcome representing the relative effects of genes (heritability) versus the family environment of origin (shared environment) are direct measures of, respectively, the degree of opportunity versus the weight of social ascription facing individuals in a society. These measures are to be preferred to measures of overall intergenerational association that are ambiguous because they confound the two components.

Research is ongoing on all these issues, and much remains to be learned.

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(1.) Technically, parent–offspring resemblance is a function of narrow-sense heritability, which is the proportion of trait variance due to the additive effects of genes, excluding variance due to interaction of genes due to mechanisms of dominance or epistasis (Falconer and MacKay 1996). It appears that resemblance between relatives for a majority of continuous human traits is due to additive effects exclusively (Polderman et al. 2015).