Monday, September 18, 2017

The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy

The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Baland Jalal. Front. Psychol., 19 September 2017 |

Abstract: The old dogma has always been that the most complex aspects of human emotions are driven by culture; Germans and English are thought to be straight-laced whereas Italians and Indians are effusive. Yet in the last two decades there has been a growing realization that even though culture plays a major role in the final expression of human nature, there must be a basic scaffolding specified by genes. While this is recognized to be true for simple emotions like anger, fear, and joy, the relevance of evolutionary arguments for more complex nuances of emotion have been inadequately explored. In this paper, we consider envy or jealousy as an example; the feeling evoked when someone is better off than you. Our approach is broadly consistent with traditional evolutionary psychology (EP) approaches, but takes it further by exploring the complexity and functional logic of the emotion – and the precise social triggers that elicit them – by using deliberately farfetched, and contrived “thought experiments” that the subject is asked to participate in. When common sense (e.g., we should be jealous of Bill Gates – not of our slightly richer neighbor) appears to contradict observed behavior (i.e., we are more envious of our neighbor) the paradox can often be resolved by evolutionary considerations which predict the latter. Many – but not all – EP approaches fail because evolution and common sense do not make contradictory predictions. Finally, we briefly raise the possibility that gaining deeper insight into the evolutionary origins of certain undesirable emotions or behaviors can help shake them off, and may therefore have therapeutic utility. Such an approach would complement current therapies (such as cognitive behavior therapies, psychoanalysis, psychopharmacologies, and hypnotherapy), rather than negate them.

(3) Let us say I were to prove by brain scans or some other reliable measure (e.g., mood/affect inventory) that (A) the Dalai Lama was vastly happier on some abstract, but very real, scale than (B) someone (say Hugh Heffner) who has limitless access to attractive women. Who are you more envious of?

Most men are more envious of the latter (9 out of 9 males we surveyed chose B). In other words, you are more jealous of what the other person has access to (in relation to what you desire), than of the final overall state of joy and happiness. This is true even though common sense might dictate the opposite. Put differently, evolution has programmed into you an emotion (jealousy) that is triggered by certain very specific “releasers” or social cues; it is largely insensitive to what the other person’s final state of happiness is. The final state of happiness is too abstract to have evolved as a trigger of envy or jealousy.

For similar reasons, if you are starving it makes more sense that you would be more jealous (at least temporarily) of someone enjoying a fine meal than someone having sex with a beautiful woman or man. If you are only slightly hungry, however, you might pick sex. This is because there is an unconscious metric in your brain that computes the probability of finding food in the near future vs. finding a nubile, available mate; and of the urgency of your need for food over the urgency of mating. If you are starving to death and have one last fling, you have only that single mating opportunity whereas if you eat and live you will have plenty of mating opportunities in the future.

Higher USA State Resident Neuroticism Is Associated With Lower State Volunteering Rates

Higher USA State Resident Neuroticism Is Associated With Lower State Volunteering Rates. Stewart McCann. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,

Abstract: Highly neurotic persons have dispositional characteristics that tend to precipitate social anxiety that discourages formal volunteering. With the 50 American states as analytical units, Study 1 found that state resident neuroticism correlated highly (r = -.55) with state volunteering rates and accounted for another 26.8% of the volunteering rate variance with selected state demographics controlled. Study 2 replicated Study 1 during another period and extended the association to college student, senior, secular, and religious volunteering rates. Study 3 showed state resident percentages engaged in other social behaviors involving more familiarity and fewer demands than formal volunteering related to state volunteering rates but not to neuroticism. In Study 4, state resident neuroticism largely accounted statistically for relations between state volunteering rates and state population density, collectivism, social capital, Republican preference, and well-being. This research is the first to show that state resident neuroticism is a potent predictor of state volunteering rates.

Outrage-inducing content appears to be more prevalent and potent online than offline

Moral outrage in the digital age. M. J. Crockett. Nature Human Behaviour (2017). doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0213-3

Moral outrage is a powerful  emotion that motivates people to shame and punish wrongdoers. Moralistic punishment can be a force for good, increasing cooperation by holding bad actors accountable. But punishment also has a dark side — it can exacerbate social conflict by dehumanizing others  and escalating into destructive feuds.

Moral outrage is at least as old as civilization itself, but civilization is rapidly changing in the face of new technologies. Worldwide, more than a billion people now spend at least an hour a day on social media, and moral outrage is all the rage online. In recent years, viral online shaming has cost
companies millions, candidates elections, and individuals their careers overnight.

As digital media infiltrates our social lives, it is crucial that we understand how this technology might transform the expression of moral outrage and its social consequences. Here, I describe a simple psychological framework for tackling this question (Fig. 1). Moral outrage is triggered by stimuli that call attention to moral norm violations. These stimuli evoke a range of emotional and behavioural responses that vary in their costs and constraints. Finally, expressing outrage leads to a variety of personal and social outcomes. This framework reveals that digital media may exacerbate the expression of moral outrage by inflating its triggering stimuli, reducing some of its costs and amplifying many of its personal benefits.

If moral outrage is a fire, is the internet like gasoline? Technology companies have argued that their products provide neutral platforms for social behaviours but do not change those behaviours. This is an empirical question that behavioural scientists should address, because its answer has ethical and regulatory implications.

The framework proposed here offers a set of testable hypotheses about the impact of digital media on the expression of moral outrage and its social consequences. Digital media may promote the expression of moral outrage by magnifying its triggers, reducing its personal costs and amplifying its personal benefits. At the same time, online social networks may diminish the social benefits of outrage by reducing the likelihood that norm-enforcing messages reach their targets, and could even impose new social costs by increasing polarization.

Preliminary data support the framework’s predictions, showing that outrage-inducing content appears to be more prevalent and potent online than offline. Future studies should investigate the extent to which digital media platforms intensify moral emotions, promote habit formation, suppress productive social discourse, and change the nature of moral outrage itself. There are vast troves of data that are directly pertinent to these questions, but not all of it is publicly available. These data can and should be used to understand how new technologies might transform ancient social emotions from a force for collective good into a tool for collective self-destruction.

Cognitive Resources in the Service of Identity Expression

An Expressive Utility Account of Partisan Cue Receptivity: Cognitive Resources in the Service of Identity Expression. Yphtach Lelkes, Ariel Malka, and Bert N. Bakker.

Abstract: What motivates citizens to rely on partisan cues when forming political judgments? Extant literature offers two perspectives on this matter: an optimistic view that reliance on cues serves to enable adequate decision making when cognitive resources are low, and a pessimistic view that reliance on cues serves to channel cognitive resources to the goal of expressing valued political identities. In the present research we seek to further understanding of the relative importance of these two motives. We find that individuals low in cognitive resources are not more likely to follow partisan cues than are individuals high in cognitive resources. Furthermore, we find the highest level of cue receptivity is observed for those individuals who have both a strong social identification with their party and high cognitive resources. This suggests that partisan cue receptivity more often involves a harnessing of cognitive resources for the goal of identity expression.

Keywords: Partisan Cues, Social Identity, Cognitive Reflection, Motivated Reasoning

This work complements and extends two recent projects on the role of reflection on political reasoning. First, Arceneaux and Vander Wielen (2017) argue that those who are the least likely to be affectively attached to issues or parties and the most likely to be reflective exhibit behavior most akin to democratic ideals. In particular, these low affect/high reflection citizens are less likely to conform to elite cues than those who are high in affect and low in reflection. This is because these citizens combine relative weak emotional attachments to party-consistent issue positions with a relatively strong tendency to engage in effortful reasoning that could override emotional intuitions. As our strength of party identity measures affective attachment to a party (Huddy et al., 2015), the present work investigates the effect of high affect/high reflection on political reasoning, and our results are in line with Arceneaux and Vander Wielen (2017) untested predictions which they suggest for future research. Specifically, strong cognitive resources combined with an emotional attachment to partisanship seems to lead to toeing the party line. Second, Groenendyk (2013) argues that cognitive resources are required to defend one’s partisan identity–one reason partisan identities may remain stable among those high in cognitive resources is because they are able to rationalize changing attitude structures. The present findings reinforce that perspective as well.