Sunday, April 28, 2019

The positivity bias in future thinking serves a self-enhancement function and this bias likely represents a similar underlying motivational mechanism across different domains of future thinking, whether episodic or semantic

My future is brighter than yours: the positivity bias in episodic future thinking and future self-images. Sinué Salgado, Dorthe Berntsen. Psychological Research, April 29 2019.

Abstract: Numerous studies on episodic future thinking have demonstrated that individuals perceive their future as more positive and idyllic than their past. It has been suggested that this positivity bias might serve a self-enhancement function. Yet, conflicting findings and lack of systematic studies on the generalizability of the phenomenon leave this interpretation uncertain. We provide the first systematic examination of the positivity bias across different domains and tasks of future thinking. First, we use the same tasks in two different domains of future thinking, representing an episodic (events) and a semantic dimension (self-images), respectively. Second, we use two different measures of positivity bias (i.e., frequency of positive versus negative instances and their distance from present). Third, we contrast each measure in each domain for events/self-images related to self versus an acquaintance. Experiments 1 and 2 showed a strong, general tendency for the generation of positive future events/self-images, but most pronounced for self, relative to an acquaintance. Experiments 3 and 4 demonstrated that positive future events/self-images were dated closer to present, whereas negative ones were pushed further into the future, but only for self and not for an acquaintance. Our results support the idea that the positivity bias in future thinking serves a self-enhancement function and that this bias likely represents a similar underlying motivational mechanism across different domains of future thinking, whether episodic or semantic. The findings add to our understanding of the motivational functions served by different forms of future thoughts in relation to the self.

Exposure to conspiracy theories about Jewish people promotes prejudice which spreads across groups (towards a number of secondary outgroups like Asians, Arabs, Americans, Irish, Australians)

Exposure to intergroup conspiracy theories promotes prejudice which spreads across groups. Daniel Jolley, Rose Meleady, Karen M. Douglas. British Journal of Psychology, March 13 2019.

Abstract: This research experimentally examined the effects of exposure to intergroup conspiracy theories on prejudice and discrimination. Study 1 (N = 166) demonstrated that exposure to conspiracy theories concerning immigrants to Britain from the European Union (vs. anti‐conspiracy material or a control) exacerbated prejudice towards this group. Study 2 (N = 173) found the same effect in a different intergroup context – exposure to conspiracy theories about Jewish people (vs. anti‐conspiracy material or a control) increased prejudice towards this group and reduced participants’ willingness to vote for a Jewish political candidate. Finally, Study 3 (N = 114) demonstrated that exposure to conspiracy theories about Jewish people not only increased prejudice towards this group but was indirectly associated with increased prejudice towards a number of secondary outgroups (e.g., Asians, Arabs, Americans, Irish, Australians). The current research suggests that conspiracy theories may have potentially damaging and widespread consequences for intergroup relations.


Conspiracy theories explain the ultimate causes of significant events as the secret actions of malevolent groups, who cover up information to suit their own interests (e.g., Douglas, Sutton, & Cichocka, 2017; Goertzel, 1994; McCauley & Jacques, 1979). For example, popular conspiracy theories propose that climate change is a hoax orchestrated by the world's scientists to secure research funding, that Diana, Princess of Wales, was murdered by members of the British government, and that Jewish people have a controlling and sinister influence over world affairs. A growing body of research suggests that conspiracy theories are popular (Oliver & Wood, 2014), that they are associated with a variety of psychological traits (e.g., Abalakina‐Paap, Stephan, Craig, & Gregory, 1999; Swami, Chamorro‐Premuzic, & Furnham, 2010), and that they have important political, social, and health‐related consequences (e.g., Jolley & Douglas, 2014a,b). In the current research, we focus on the consequences of conspiracy theories for relations between groups. We argue that exposure to intergroup conspiracy theories may be damaging not just because they serve to increase prejudice and discrimination towards the implicated group, but because this prejudice then has the potential to spread across multiple social outgroups.

The psychology of conspiracy theories

In recent years, psychologists have made significant progress in understanding why people believe conspiracy theories (see Douglas et al., 2017). Specifically, it seems that people often believe conspiracy theories in an effort to gain an accurate and consistent understanding of the world. For example, findings show that factors such as the need for cognitive closure (Marchlewska, Cichocka, & Kossowska, 2018), uncertainty (van Prooijen & Jostmann, 2013), and the tendency to search for patterns (van Prooijen, Douglas, & De Inocencio, 2018) are all associated with heightened conspiracy belief. Conspiracy theories, therefore, appear to provide answers when people want to know the truth about important events.

Research suggests that people might also believe conspiracy theories in an attempt to meet their personal needs for security and control. Along this vein, research has shown that people turn to conspiracy theories when they are anxious (Grzesiak‐Feldman, 2013), feel powerless (Abalakina‐Paap et al., 1999; van Prooijen & Acker, 2015; Whitson & Galinsky, 2008), or lack socio‐political control (Bruder, Haffke, Neave, Nouripanah, & Imhoff, 2013). Conspiracy theories may therefore allow people to feel that they are restoring a sense of control and security – they provide a means to reject information from officialdom and also allow people to feel that they possess an alternative account.

Finally, research suggests that there are also important social reasons to believe conspiracy theories. For instance, research has shown that conspiracy theories appeal more to narcissists (Cichocka, Marchlewska, & Golec de Zavala, 2016) and ‘losers’ of political processes (Uscinski & Parent, 2014), who are both arguably motivated to defend or restore their sense of self‐esteem or feeling of group worth. There is, therefore, a growing body of literature highlighting the psychological needs that appear to drive conspiracy belief (Douglas et al., 2017).
Consequences of conspiracy theories

Less is known about the consequences of conspiracy theories. Emerging findings suggests that conspiracy theories might have potentially serious social and political outcomes. For example, HIV‐related conspiracy beliefs amongst African American communities have been found to be associated with negative attitudes towards contraceptives and safe‐sex practices (e.g., Bogart & Thorburn, 2006; Hoyt et al., 2012). There is also evidence that exposure to conspiracy theories influences civic engagement. Specifically, Jolley and Douglas (2014a,b see also Douglas, Sutton, Jolley, & Wood, 2015) found that exposure to conspiracy theories makes people feel less inclined to vote, less inclined to reduce their carbon footprint, and less inclined towards vaccination. Also, conspiracy theories in the workplace have been linked with reduced job satisfaction and increased turnover intentions (Douglas & Leite, 2017; see also Van Prooijen & de Vries, 2016).

In the present research, we focus specifically on the consequences of conspiracy theories for intergroup relations. Initial findings hint at the negative consequences of exposure to conspiracy theories in this domain. For instance, in recent correlational research, belief in conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of the world has been found to be associated with anti‐Semitic attitudes (e.g., Golec de Zavala & Cichocka, 2012; Kofta & Sędek, 2005). Similarly, Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, and Wójcik (2013) reported that conspiracy stereotypes of Jewish people – which refer to social schemas of groups that typically view group members with ill intentions – are a strong predictor of discrimination towards Jewish people (e.g., favouring policies that prevent Jewish people from buying Polish land, see also Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010). These findings point to an association between conspiracy beliefs and prejudice towards an alleged conspiring outgroup.

The present research employed an experimental design to investigate the causal impact of conspiracy theories on intergroup prejudice. Correlational results cannot rule out the possibility that effects exist only because people who harbour high levels of prejudice are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories about the implicated group. Indeed, believing in conspiracy theories could be an avenue to express prejudice towards other social groups and help maintain self‐esteem (c.f. Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). On the other hand, it is plausible that exposure to conspiracy theories may increase prejudice towards the implicated group. Intergroup threat theory posits that threats to the ingroup promote negative evaluations of outgroups (Stephan & Stephan, 2000). A distinction can be made between realistic threat (perceived threat to ingroup welfare) and symbolic threat (perceived threat to ingroup values). The link between both types of threat and prejudice is well established. Conspiracy theories typify the outgroup as a collective conspirator that threatens the majority group's welfare or values (see Campion‐Vincent, 2005; Moscovici, 1987). Accordingly, the present research sought to explore the potential for exposure to outgroup conspiracy narratives to increase self‐reported prejudice towards these groups.

We also sought to extend the existing literature by examining whether the effects of conspiracy theories on intergroup attitudes extend beyond the group implicated in the conspiracy, to increase prejudice towards other, uninvolved outgroups. Attitudes towards particular objects can generalize to other related objects (e.g., Fazio, Eiser, & Shook, 2004; Walther, 2002). In the intergroup relations literature, research demonstrates that the attitudinal consequences of our encounters with outgroup members can generalize to the outgroup as a whole, and from there to other, secondary outgroups. This effect is known as a secondary transfer effect (Pettigrew, 2009). Positive contact with immigrants, for instance, has been shown to produce secondary reductions in prejudice towards homosexual people and homeless people (Pettigrew, 2009). Similarly, contact between Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland has been shown to improve attitudes not just towards the religious outgroup, but also towards racial minority groups (Tausch et al., 2010). Effects emerge via a process of attitude generalization in which intergroup contact improves attitudes towards the primary outgroup, and these more positive attitudes then generalize to other, uninvolved outgroups (Pettigrew, 2009; Tausch et al., 2010). Emerging findings suggest that such attitude generalization effects also occur for negative intergroup encounters (Brylka, Jasinskaja‐Lahti, & Mähönen, 2016; Harwood, Paolini, Joyce, Rubin, & Arroyo, 2011).

When applied to the domain of conspiracy theories, we may observe a similar process in which exposure to conspiracy theories regarding one outgroup not only increases prejudice towards this group but this prejudice then spreads also towards other, uninvolved outgroups. Some initial correlational research provides initial support for this idea. For example, Kofta and Sędek (2005) found that conspiracy stereotypes of Jewish people were a strong predictor of prejudices held towards Jewish, German, and Russian people. Swami (2012) also observed in a Malay sample that belief in Jewish conspiracy theories was negatively associated with attitudes towards Chinese people. However, as discussed by Swami (2012), it has been suggested that Jewish conspiracy theories in Malaysia reflect displaced resentment of Chinese people (Burhanuddin, 2007; Hadler, 2004; Siegel, 2000); thus, the reported link with Jewish conspiracy theories may be a mask for anti‐Chinese prejudice. The novelty of our approach lies in our experimental method, allowing us to isolate the causal impact of exposure to conspiracy theories relating to a given outgroup on prejudice towards both this outgroup and other, uninvolved outgroups.

Empirical examination of the replicability of associations between brain structure and psychological variables

Empirical examination of the replicability of associations between brain structure and psychological variables. Shahrzad Kharabian Masouleh et al. eLife 2019;8:e43464 doi: 10.7554/eLife.43464.

Abstract: Linking interindividual differences in psychological phenotype to variations in brain structure is an old dream for psychology and a crucial question for cognitive neurosciences. Yet, replicability of the previously-reported ‘structural brain behavior’ (SBB)-associations has been questioned, recently. Here, we conducted an empirical investigation, assessing replicability of SBB among heathy adults. For a wide range of psychological measures, the replicability of associations with gray matter volume was assessed. Our results revealed that among healthy individuals 1) finding an association between performance at standard psychological tests and brain morphology is relatively unlikely 2) significant associations, found using an exploratory approach, have overestimated effect sizes and 3) can hardly be replicated in an independent sample. After considering factors such as sample size and comparing our findings with more replicable SBB-associations in a clinical cohort and replicable associations between brain structure and non-psychological phenotype, we discuss the potential causes and consequences of these findings.

eLife digest

All human brains share the same basic structure. But no two brains are exactly alike. Brain scans can reveal differences between people in the organization and activity of individual brain regions. Studies have suggested that these differences give rise to variation in personality, intelligence and even political preferences. But recent attempts to replicate some of these findings have failed, questioning the existence of such a direct link, specifically between brain structure and human behavior. This had led some disagreements whether there is a general replication crisis in psychology, or if the replication studies themselves are flawed.

Kharabian Masouleh et al. have now used brain scans from hundreds of healthy volunteers from an already available dataset to try to resolve the issue. The volunteers had previously completed several psychological tests. These measured cognitive and behavioral aspects such as attention, memory, anxiety and personality traits. Kharabian Masouleh et al. performed more than 10,000 analyzes on their dataset to look for relationships between brain structure and psychological traits. But the results revealed very few statistically significant relationships. Moreover, the relationships that were identified proved difficult to replicate in independent samples.

By contrast, the same analyzes demonstrated robust links between brain structure and memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease. They also showed connections between brain structure and non-psychological traits, such as age. This confirms that the analysis techniques do work. So why did the new study find so few relationships between brain structure and psychological traits, when so many links have been reported previously? One possibility is publication bias. Researchers and journals may be more likely to publish positive findings than negative ones.

Another factor could be that that most studies use too few participants to be able to reliably detect relationships between brain structure and behavior, and that studies with 200 to 300 participants are still too small. Therefore, future studies should use samples with many hundreds of participants, or more. This will be possible if more groups make their data available for others to analyze. Researchers and journals must also be more willing to publish negative findings. This will help provide an accurate view of relationships between brain structure and behavior.

Gérard Araud, french Ambassador to the US, who is retiring: Why should you defend Montenegro? And what Trump is doing with China should have been done before

The French Ambassador Is Retiring Today. Here’s What He Really Thinks About Washington. Yara Baoumi. The Atlantic, Apr 19 2019.
Gérard Araud says that Trump is right about trade. Kushner is “extremely smart” but has “no guts.” And John Bolton’s not so bad, actually.

He also had a warning to anyone who assumes it will be “business as usual” once America’s Trump fever breaks. The idea that the Trump presidency is some sort of accident, he says, is a fantasy.


I don’t think that anything irreparable is happening in the U.S. I don’t know what would have happened in France if Marine Le Pen had been elected, because our institutions are much weaker.

Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

These are the questions which are being put on the table in a brutal and a bit primitive way by Trump, but they are real questions.