Monday, March 25, 2019

Is the Putative Mirror Neuron System Associated with Empathy? Only weakly... Too much hype, as we already knew

Bekkali, Soukayna, George J. Youssef, Peter H. Donaldson, Natalia Albein-Urios, Christian Hyde, and Peter G. Enticott. 2019. “Is the Putative Mirror Neuron System Associated with Empathy? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” PsyArXiv. March 20. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Theoretical perspectives suggest that the mirror neuron system (MNS) is an important neurobiological contributor to empathy, but empirical support is mixed. Here, we adopt a summary model for empathy, consisting of motor, emotional, and cognitive components of empathy. This review provides an overview of existing empirical studies investigating the relationship between putative MNS activity and empathy in healthy populations. 52 studies were identified that investigated the association between the MNS and at least one domain of empathy, representing data from 1044 participants. Our results suggests that emotional and cognitive empathy are moderately correlated with MNS activity, while motor empathy showed no relationship. Results varied across techniques used to acquire MNS activity (TMS, EEG, and fMRI). Overall, results provide some evidence for a relationship between the MNS and empathy. Our findings also highlight methodological variability in study design as an important factor in understanding this relationship. We discuss limitations regarding these methodological variations and important implications for clinical and community translations, as well as suggestions for future research.

Vulgarization: There Is Only Weak Evidence That Mirror Neurons Underlie Human Empathy – New Review And Meta-Analysis. Christian Jarrett. The British Psychological Society Research Digest, March 25, 2019.

People have a tendency to ‘shoot the messenger,’ deeming innocent bearers of bad news unlikeable; it is unique to the (innocent) messenger, & not mere bystanders; & distinct from merely receiving information that one disagrees with

John, Leslie, Hayley Blunden, and Heidi Liu. "Shooting the Messenger." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming).

Abstract: Eleven experiments provide evidence that people have a tendency to ‘shoot the messenger,’ deeming innocent bearers of bad news unlikeable. In a pre-registered lab experiment, participants rated messengers who delivered bad news from a random drawing asrelatively unlikeable (Study 1). A second set of studies points to the specificity of the effect: Study 2A shows that it is unique to the (innocent) messenger, and not mere bystanders. Study 2B shows that it is distinct from merely receiving information that one disagrees with. We suggest that people’s tendency to deem bearers of bad news as unlikeable stems in part from their desire to make sense of chance processes. Consistent with this account, receiving bad news activates the desire to sense-make (Study 3A), and in turn, activating this desire enhances the tendency to dislike bearers of bad news (Study 3B). Next, stemming from the idea that unexpected outcomesheighten the desire to sense-make, Study 4 shows that when bad news is unexpected, messenger dislike is pronounced. Finally, consistent with the notion that people fulfill the desire to sense-make by attributing agency to entities adjacent to chance events, messenger dislike is correlated with the belief that the messenger had malevolent motives (Studies 5A, 5B, & 5C). Studies 6A & 6B go further, manipulating messenger motives independently from news valence to suggest its causal role in our process account: the tendency to dislike bearers of bad news is mitigated when recipients are made aware of the benevolence of the messenger’s motives.

Keywords:judgment,communication, sense-making, attribution, disclosure

Surprisingly many highly educated individuals are prone to attribute a stage magician's feats to genuine psychic powers, despite knowing of trickery

From 2018: Magic Performances – When Explained in Psychic Terms by University Students. Lise Lesaffre, Gustav Kuhn, Ahmad Abu-Akel, D├ęborah Rochat and Christine Mohr. Front. Psychol., Nov 6 2018.

Abstract: Paranormal beliefs (PBs), such as the belief in the soul, or in extrasensory perception, are common in the general population. While there is information regarding what these beliefs correlate with (e.g., cognitive biases, personality styles), there is little information regarding the causal direction between these beliefs and their correlates. To investigate the formation of beliefs, we use an experimental design, in which PBs and belief-associated cognitive biases are assessed before and after a central event: a magic performance (see also Mohr et al., 2018). In the current paper, we report a series of studies investigating the “paranormal potential” of magic performances (Study 1, N = 49; Study 2, N = 89; Study 3, N = 123). We investigated (i) which magic performances resulted in paranormal explanations, and (ii) whether PBs and a belief-associated cognitive bias (i.e., repetition avoidance) became enhanced after the performance. Repetition avoidance was assessed using a random number generation task. After the performance, participants rated to what extent the magic performance could be explained in psychic (paranormal), conjuring, or religious terms. We found that conjuring explanations were negatively associated with religious and psychic explanations, whereas religious and psychic explanations were positively associated. Enhanced repetition avoidance correlated with higher PBs ahead of the performance. We also observed a significant increase in psychic explanations and a drop in conjuring explanations when performances involved powerful psychic routines (e.g., the performer contacted the dead). While the experimentally induced enhancement of psychic explanations is promising, future studies should account for potential variables that might explain absent framing and before–after effects (e.g., emotion, attention). Such effects are essential to understand the formation and manipulation of belief.

Vulgarization: Experiencing the impossible

54–58% of Google search snippets amplify partisanship, likely because of journalistic practice: It uses terms & quotes from partisan politicians in the introduction (& meta-data) of articles (favored by the summarization algorithm)

Auditing the Partisanship of Google Search Snippets. Desheng Hu et al. To be presented in THE International World Wide Web Conference 2019.

Abstract: The text snippets presented in web search results provide userswith a slice of page content that they can quickly scan to help in-form their click decisions. However, little is known about how thesesnippets are generated or how they relate to a user’s search query. Motivated by the growing body of evidence suggesting that searchengine rankings can influence undecided voters, we conducted an algorithm audit of the political partisanship of Google Search snip-pets relative to the webpages they are extracted from. To accomplish this, we constructed lexicon of partisan cues to measure partisan-ship and construct a set of left- and right-leaning search queries.Then, we collected a large dataset of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) by running our partisan queries and their autocompletesuggestions on Google Search. After using our lexicon to score themachine-coded partisanship of snippets and webpages, we found that Google Search’s snippets generally amplify partisanship, and that this effect is robust across different types of webpages, query topics, and partisan (left- and right-leaning) queries.

• We present the first large-scale analysis of machine-codedpartisanship in Google Search snippets, covering 4,570 political queries and their autocomplete suggestions.
• We audit the behavior of Google Search’s document summarization algorithm, and find that snippets tend to be drawn from text that is near the beginning of webpages. We further observe that the algorithm leverages visible text and textual meta-data (such as alt-text on images) from webpages.
• Overall, we find that 54–58% of snippets amplify partisanship, depending on the fraction of our lexicon that is used for scoring, i.e., the snippets contain stronger partisan cues on average than the corresponding webpage they were synthesized from. This finding remains consistent across SERPs from left- and right-leaning queries and pages with and with-out structured meta-data that may influence Google Search’s document summarization algorithm [28, 29].
• Surprisingly, we find that 19–24% of snippets have inverse partisanship than the corresponding webpage.
• We identify 31 websites where Google Search consistently produces snippets that differ from the underlying webpagesin terms of the machine-coded partisanship, with high statistical significance. These websites include prominent news and social media services.

We believe that it is highly unlikely that Google has intentionallyengineered their document summarization algorithm to amplify partisan cues. Instead, a more likely explanation for our findingsis that journalistic practice encourages the use of partisan terms and quotes from partisan politicians in the introduction (and meta-data) of articles, which are also the types of text favored by the summarization algorithm.

It is unlikely that Google has intentionally engineered their document summarization algorithm to amplify partisan cues. Instead, a more likely explanation for our findings is that journalistic practice encourages the use of partisan terms and quotes from partisan politicians in the introduction (and meta-data) of articles, which are also the types of text favored by the summarization algorithm.

From 2017: Factors involving extramarital affairs among married adults in Bangladesh

From 2017: Factors involving extramarital affairs among married adults in Bangladesh. Yasmin Jaha et al. International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, May 2017.

Abstract: Extramarital affairs have become a common occurrence in modern society. Many studies have pointed to the lack of variety in a relationship as a contributing factor related to divorce and extramarital affairs. This study wants to explore the reasons behind developing the extramarital affair in married adults. The study is based upon the information gathered through scanning newspapers, journals, books, and browsing the Internet and all related papers which were published from 1980 to 2016. However, there is a limited data on the specific topic. After reviewing literatures, we found some common factors that might be responsible for extramarital affairs. Based on that we have made some recommendations for lowering this devastating situation. From this study, we expect that the stakeholders and policy makers can develop some new thoughts and strategies to let down this overwhelming condition. 

Keywords: Extramarital affair, Married adults, Bangladesh

Check also Have Humans Evolved to Be Cheaters? Is it something general? Have other monogamous species did the same?


After reviewing, we think these factors can be accountable for extramarital relationship for Bangladesh and as well as other developing countries.

It is the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law we considered as marriage.57 Formally arranged marriage goes through various experiences, thus requires careful handling of all the situations with patience and good understanding with related people which often become hampered.58 Another thing is people who marry in their early 20s would most likely have achieved some level of stability and social standing by their mid-30s. An interesting phenomenon is the deprivation of teenage relationship experience.59 This perceived feeling makes an individual careless enough to fall into an extramarital affair.58

Sex is perhaps one of the most important reasons, and it is an amalgamation of love and passion between two people. After a certain period, sex can become monotonous and if there is a lack of desire, passion, and romance in the relationship, then it may drive the person to seek it with someone else. Individuals with less selfcontrol and deeper dissatisfaction of sexual desire have the common reason of intense sexual addiction to opposite sex as a fact of searching for extramarital relationship.58

Married for the wrong reasons
Many people enter marriage for the wrong reasons like pressures from family and society. After a point, many people agree to marriage without even getting to know each other. High priority in searching always the best for himself or herself by an individual is another potential factor of causing extramarital relationship. Regardless of the justification, even after being married, this poor tendency often creates emptiness to fill up which the individuals immediately get attracted to another person
meeting their expectation and ultimately their previous relationship ends up.58

Becoming parents
Newcomer parents experience rapid but practical changes in terms of pursuing responsibilities, changes in precedence order, time sharing, etc. The new environment requires tremendous efforts from the mother. Hence, incidences can be found where the male person may have perceived feeling of deprivation with less attention in terms of importance and can be driven to the involvement in extramarital affair in case of less consideration from the women.58

Physical dissatisfaction
It is the most penetrating issue for married persons’ involvement in extramarital affair since fulfillment of sexual satisfaction remains as a key phenomenon to sustain physical relationship. Lack of sexual satisfaction ultimately causes expectation gap and married female were found highly sensitive to this issue in several previous studies. The same things can happen in case of male persons in terms of their desire to fulfill sexual discontent through making a new affair and procuring a more responsive partner.58

Career advancement
Discord regarding the question of career and financial establishment is another pathetic reason but reality. It hampers economic solvency of a married couple and intensifies mismanagement of family finance issues triggering the onset of a continuous wrangling. After the effect of this volatile situation surely does not help the mutual cognitive understanding, as it constantly pressurizes the financial stability of the married couple. Long term impact of this issue creates acute scenario with severe conflict of intrinsic remorse and loyalty.58

Need for excitement
Human instinct is quite immeasurable, diversified, and it is impossible to fathom and predict the nature and depth of any desire. A result of which is the outbreak of an extramarital affair through searching for the opportunity of removing boredom, exhaustion as well as for recreation.58

No common interests
The role of negotiation and respect for each other’s choice has no alternative to sustain peaceful coexistence in pursuing the conjugal life responsibilities. Any failure to recognize this fact and doing accordingly cause distortion the mutual interest and a sharp cut down in the personal time spending which can lead towards development of an extramarital affair after a certain period of time.58

Self-esteem problems
Perceived recognition about self-esteem and cognition about individual’s own behavioral aptitude requires balance to maintain sound level of personal judgment. The apparent deprivation of being less or least loved by own husband or wife is a powerful phenomenon and can be easily driven by the feeling of deprivation of companionship and love from partner. Psychological deprivation is not an abstract phenomenon. Therefore, it is not possible to improve mental condition without positive conscience of the individual to overcome the threat of extramarital affair involvement.60

Social network
The anonymity and easy availability of online dating now result in many more spouses looking for love outside marriage.61 In accordance with a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), for the last five (5) years, an astonishing scenario has been observed by the nation’s 81% top divorce attorneys claiming that the easy availability of individual identity and contact in social media is the key promoter behind the rapid increase in divorce rate. Here Facebook remains as the undisputed pioneer with an awful 66% contribution to the online divorce evidence, according to the original source. Like Facebook, there are so many social websites where married persons can express themselves and seek for an extramarital relation.62 

Other issues
Other factors instigating individual tendency of searching for compassionate love are as follows: i) opportunity to live together even after being committed in a marriage; ii) midlife crisis as a period of psychological stress occurring in middle age (this shapes individual thought to be triggered by a physical, occupational, or domestic event); iii) concerns related to natural deterioration of physical condition (this can cause significant and sometimes unwanted accidental changes in life).60

Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses

Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses. Tim Caro et al. PLOS, February 20, 2019.

Abstract: Averting attack by biting flies is increasingly regarded as the evolutionary driver of zebra stripes, although the precise mechanism by which stripes ameliorate attack by ectoparasites is unknown. We examined the behaviour of tabanids (horse flies) in the vicinity of captive plains zebras and uniformly coloured domestic horses living on a horse farm in Britain. Observations showed that fewer tabanids landed on zebras than on horses per unit time, although rates of tabanid circling around or briefly touching zebra and horse pelage did not differ. In an experiment in which horses sequentially wore cloth coats of different colours, those wearing a striped pattern suffered far lower rates of tabanid touching and landing on coats than the same horses wearing black or white, yet there were no differences in attack rates to their naked heads. In separate, detailed video analyses, tabanids approached zebras faster and failed to decelerate before contacting zebras, and proportionately more tabanids simply touched rather than landed on zebra pelage in comparison to horses. Taken together, these findings indicate that, up close, striped surfaces prevented flies from making a controlled landing but did not influence tabanid behaviour at a distance. To counteract flies, zebras swished their tails and ran away from fly nuisance whereas horses showed higher rates of skin twitching. As a consequence of zebras’ striping, very few tabanids successfully landed on zebras and, as a result of zebras’ changeable behaviour, few stayed a long time, or probed for blood.



The function of zebra stripes has been a source of scientific interest for over 150 years generating many hypotheses including camouflage, confusion of predators, signaling to conspecifics, thermoregulation and avoidance of biting flies [1] but contemporary data show that only one stands up to careful scrutiny [24]. Briefly, regarding camouflage, zebra stripes are difficult for lion Panthera leo and spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta predators to resolve at any great distance making crypsis against mammalian predators an unlikely benefit [5]. Regarding confusion of predators, zebras do not have the sort of striping pattern that aids in confusion [6] and African lions take zebra prey disproportionately more than expected suggesting an absence of confusion effect [7]. Regarding social benefits, rates of grooming and patterns of association are no greater in striped equids than in unstriped equids [3]. Finally, there are no thermoregulatory benefits to striping based on controlled experiments using water drums [4], infrared photography of free-living herbivores [3] and logical argument in regards to flank striping [8].
Instead, there is an emerging consensus among biologists that the primary function of contrasting black and white stripes on the three species of zebras is to thwart attack from tabanids, and possibly glossinids, stomoxys and other biting muscoids based on laboratory and field experiments with striped materials [3, 912] and on comparative evidence [13]. In Africa where zebras live, tabanids carry diseases fatal to zebras including trypanosomiasis, equine infectious anemia, African horse sickness and equine influenza [14] and zebras are particularly susceptible to infection because their thin pelage allows biting flies to probe successfully with their mouthparts [13]. The exact mechanism by which stripes prevent flies from obtaining a blood meal is less well understood, however. Flies may fail to detect a zebra from a distance, or from close up, either as a result of misinterpreting optic flow as they approach [15], by interfering with cues that promote a landing response [9, 16], or even by disrupting the polarization signature of their host [12]. Unfortunately, detailed observations of biting flies in the vicinity of live zebras have so far been unavailable but such information would help elucidate the stage at which stripes exert an effect on host seeking by biting flies.
In this study we compare several measures of behaviour of wild tabanid horse flies around captive zebras and domestic horses living in the same habitat using direct observations and video footage. We also compare the behaviour of tabanids around horses wearing differently coloured cloth coats, report on the duration of time that tabanids spend on equids with different coloured pelage, and compare the behaviour of horses and zebras in response to biting fly annoyance.


In summary, multiple lines of evidence indicate that stripes prevent effective landing by tabanids once they are in the vicinity of the host but did not prevent them approaching from a distance. In addition, zebras appear to use behavioural means to prevent tabanids spending time on them through constant tail swishing and even running away. As a consequence of both of these morphological and behavioural defenses, very few tabanids are able to probe for a zebra blood meal as evidenced by our data.
Three additional but more speculative points may be made in closing. First, we found that rates at which tabanids circled and touched a single grey horse were lower than for zebras although landing rates did not differ significantly (Table Ba-c in S1 File). This was in contrast to comparisons between zebras and horses of other colours where circling and touching rates did not differ but where zebras enjoyed fewer landings per unit time. More work on grey pelage in relation to fly annoyance is clearly needed because stripes will appear grey from a distance to flies (Text A in S1 File).
Second, we found that there was no difference in rates at which tabanids moved across the surface of striped or uniform coats. Since black and white stripes give off different heat loads during the day [3032], they could possibly confuse a tabanid if it tried to locate a capillary by thermal sensitivity (although we have no evidence that they do this). If stripes did prevent a tabanid from locating a capillary we might expect greater rates of searching zebra pelage but this was not the case.
Third, extremely high rates of tail flicking were seen in the zebra/wild ass hybrid at Dundry (Text B in S1 File) similar to that observed in African wild asses at the Tierpark Zoo (table 5.3 in [3]) suggesting that tail flicking may in part be a species-specific trait. Striping is also a species specific trait and also under partial genetic control (as witnessed by mother-offspring striping similarities, for example, TC pers obs). Therefore both morphological and behavioural anti-parasite defense strategies appear to be under strong selection in zebras.

People are often characterized as poor savers; an attentional asymmetry away from money-saved relative to money-earned, potentially contributes to decreased everyday salience and future wealth

From 2018: Differential temporal salience of earning and saving. Kesong Hu, Eve De Rosa & Adam K. Anderson. Nature Communications, volume 9, Article number: 2843 (2018).

Abstract: People are often characterized as poor savers. Here we examined whether cues associated with earning and saving have differential salience for attention and action. We first modeled earning and saving after positive and negative variants of monetary reinforcement, i.e., gains versus avoiding loss. Despite their equivalent absolute magnitude in a monetary incentive task, colors predicting saving were judged to appear after those that predicted earning in a temporal-order judgment task. This saving posteriority effect also occurred when savings were framed as earnings that come slightly later. Colors predicting savings, whether they acquired either negative or positive value, persisted in their posteriority. An attentional asymmetry away from money-saved relative to money-earned, potentially contributes to decreased everyday salience and future wealth.


In the parable of the ant and the grasshopper, the ant’s assiduous collection of food, saving for the winter, contrasts with the grasshopper’s pursuits of immediate gratification. Cast more as grasshopper than ant, humans are often characterized as poor savers. This reputation may be well earned, in particular in America. According to a 2016 analysis of the Federal Reserve’s 2013 survey of consumer finances, the median American working-age couple has saved only $5000 for retirement with 43% of working-age families estimated to have no retirement savings at all1. On a long downward trend, the personal savings rate (expressed as a percentage of disposable personal income, DPI), dropped to <3% of DPI at the close of 20172. Contrasting with a near 96% employment rate, we have ant-like work ethic, yet earnings are rarely converted into savings.

Here we assess, in the context of monetary reinforcement, whether earning and saving reflect an asymmetry in value-derived attention3,4,5, asking whether the attentional scales are tipped in one’s favor. The way we attend has important interactions with value, perception, decision making, and ultimately behavior3. To assess their comparative behavioral and attentional salience, we considered two potential conceptual models for the distinction between earning and saving. First, we modeled earning and saving after positive and negative reinforcement, i.e., gains versus avoiding losses. Second, we considered earning and saving as variants of positive reinforcement in which gains accumulate at the same rate, but differ according to a conceptual framing of manifesting immediately or a short time later.

Inspired by language, one meaning of “to save” is to avoid loss. Saving may represent an aversion to losing one’s earnings. The assessment of gains and losses is central to our most basic physiological needs and drives6. There are evident asymmetries in the weight we place on gains and losses, with potential losses having an incommensurate influence when people evaluate identical outcomes7. In field experiments, monetary incentives framed as losses (“avoid losing A by doing B”) increases factory workers’ productivity relative to those as gains (“gain A by doing B”)8. Such loss aversion has received empirical support from a variety of studies9,10,11,12, and when directly experienced, losses outweigh gains13. Loss aversion is related to biases such as the endowment effect14 and the status quo bias15, suggesting that individuals should place greater value on savings they have already earned. But quite to the contrary, poor saving behavior16 suggests loss aversion is likely not at work in limited savings. One must be motivated to accrue savings before being concerned about losing them.

Loss aversion and related biases are thought to reflect the asymmetric weighting of punishment and reward17. Losses are punishing, resulting in an exaggerated avoidance response, biasing both decisions and the amount of attention devoted to them17,18. While the act of avoiding loss is the removal of punishment, and thus is reinforcing19. Motivation to earn versus save may, more directly, be a comparison of positive and negative variants of reinforcement20, comparing earnings with the avoidance of losing one’s earnings. Positive and negative reinforcement refer to increasing the likelihood of a behavior with the addition or subtraction of an outcome, not their positive or negative utility for an individual. Positive and negative reinforcement have been shown to similarly recruit the reward system, suggesting that both have positive utility21. Nevertheless, they may have asymmetric motivational power12. Psychologically, and in our daily experience, individuals believe they are paid for their performance rather than arranging conditions to avoid moneyless periods of time22. Savings, in this context, should motivate individuals to avoid being without money. Earning and saving should then align with different concerns. Moreover, individuals can differently experience pleasure or utility according to their promotion versus prevention orientation23, through either promoting desired versus preventing undesired outcomes.

On the other hand, the meaning of “to save” could be understood in terms of expected utility in the future, hence currently inaccessible. In line with this, efforts to avoid moneyless periods of time highlight the importance of temporal perspectives on one’s earnings. Maintaining an orientation toward saving may result in temporal discounting of today’s earnings in the future24. Discounting of future value is captured by individuals who prefer $5 now compared to $10 three months from now25,26. Participants often make choices of smaller but immediate rewards relative to rewards that are larger but delayed. Such temporal or delay discounting is also considered a marker of impulsive behavior, assessing the degree to which the subjective value of an offering decreases as a function of delay in its delivery27. While the rate of discounting depends on the individual, it is a fundamental to the representation of value, observed in human and nonhuman animals28. Temporal distance of saving for the future may also modulate value representations such that they are more abstract29. This may cognitively distance individuals from the reality of the undesirable outcomes of not saving, i.e., extended moneyless periods of time. Saving in these contexts reflects an orientation toward the future, as well as the limits of imagination on behavior30. Accordingly, while earning may reflect the here and now, savings may reflect earnings as a discounted and abstract future.

Whether earning and saving reflect varieties of reinforcement or differentially reflect temporal discounting, they involve making a choice between options31. Our nervous system is confronted, at each moment, by choices in terms of where to invest or allocate its resources in the currency of attention3,32. By paying attention, an individual is able to impact the salience33 and value34 of sensory events. While unpleasant events typically evoke relatively stronger changes in affect and attention in both perceptual and decision studies9,12,17,18,35,36, gains also play a similar role3,4,37,38,39. Importantly, value not only alters attention, but attention is also central to value, with attention-boosting34 and inattention-reducing value40. Attention can both follow and influence preference41, predicting consumer choice42. Thus, the choice to what we attend is central to value and behavior17,18,43. While multiple studies have characterized value-derived attention3,4,5, much less is known about how different variants of reinforcement and temporal framing regulate attention. Here we examined how earning and saving, according to different models, regulate the paying of attention. If earning and savings represent differential concerns to the individual, then this should be reflected in attentional choice, having an asymmetric regulatory influence on salience and awareness.

Mirroring how value is scaled relative to time44, time is also scaled relative to attention. Attention shapes not only what is perceived but also when45. Attention can warp the judgment of temporal order, with attended events appearing to occur before non-attended events, called “prior entry”46,47. Similarly, individuals attend to more immediate events and outcomes than those in the more distant future29, and this asymmetry in attention may modulate temporal discounting48. We took advantage of how attention can influence judgments of temporal order to examine how individuals perceive events predicting earning and saving. Just as how individuals may put off saving due to decreased salience and relative inattention, monetarily reinforced colors associated with savings may be less attentionally salient and appear to come later. As a model for earnings and savings, we first examined the power of positive (gains) and negative (avoiding losses) monetary reinforcement of color patches and the relationship between action and attentional salience (experiments 1a–c). In a further study (experiment 2), through distinct temporal framings of positive reinforcement, we modeled earning and saving after gains that come immediately versus gains to come later (i.e., saving for future).

Figure 1 illustrates the core tasks and the example colored circle used as stimuli. Participants started with value reinforcement trials, where equiluminant colors (red, blue, or yellow) were 100% reinforced, or received no reinforcement, for fast and accurate color discriminations. One color was associated with “earning,” gaining 30 cents, and another associated with “saving,” avoiding loss of 30 cents. The task was sufficiently easy to enable reinforcement on the majority trials, whereby earning would increase one’s balance and saving would preserve those earnings. Participants received their performance-based earnings at the end of the experiment. Color-reinforcement associations were counterbalanced across participants. The temporal-order judgment (TOJ) task required participants to judge which of the side-by-side colored stimuli appeared first, when presented in varying temporal proximity (8–98 ms). TOJ trials were pseudo-randomly intermixed with value reinforcement trials to ensure that any acquired salience for colors was maintained throughout. Similar to indifference points in temporal discounting to establish value25,26, we estimated the participant’s point of subjective simultaneity (PSS), which indicates the estimated time interval to perceive the two stimuli as arriving simultaneously, i.e., 50%47,49,50,51.
Fig. 1
Fig. 1

Illustration of the display sequences and target stimuli examples. a Monetary reinforcement task. Exp. 1a involved a color discrimination (red, blue, and yellow), while Exp. 1b and 1c involved a gap side (left and right) discrimination. After response, participants were informed about gain or loss, together with the total cash bonus accrued (in white). b Temporal-order judgment task. Following fixation, colored circles were presented either on the left or on the right side of the fixation followed by a second different color circle, which appeared on the opposite side after a variable SOA (8, 18, 38, 68, and 98 ms). Participants were required to indicate which color (Exp 1a) or which side (Exp 1b and 1c) appeared first
Full size image

Despite their equivalent absolute magnitude in a monetary incentive task, we find that saving results in less behavioral salience and decreased payout. In a temporal-order task, saving-associated color cues are also judged to appear after those that predict earning, consistent with the decreased attentional salience of saving. This saving temporal posteriority effect generalizes to when saving is framed as earnings that come slightly later. Across studies, saving-associated cues persisted in their relative inattention whether the cues acquire negative or positive valence. Thus, saving posteriority is not simply explained by acquired affective value. We conclude that decreased attentional salience related to money-saved relative to money-earned is a fundamental information-processing bias. That saving has less moment-to-moment attention attracting potential may contribute to reduced saving behavior. Attentional interventions to enhance the everyday salience of saving may be gainfully employed to improve saving behavior.