Friday, May 17, 2019

Some species share foundational social cognitive mechanisms with humans, like ascription of mental states that require simultaneously representing one's own & another's conflicting motives or views

Theory of mind in animals: Current and future directions. Christopher Krupenye, Josep Call. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, May 17 2019.

Abstract: Theory of mind (ToM; a.k.a., mind‐reading, mentalizing, mental‐state attribution, and perspective‐taking) is the ability to ascribe mental states, such as desires and beliefs, to others, and it is central to the unique forms of communication, cooperation, and culture that define our species. As a result, for 40 years, researchers have endeavored to determine whether ToM is itself unique to humans. Investigations in other species (e.g., apes, monkeys, corvids) are essential to understand the mechanistic underpinnings and evolutionary origins of this capacity across taxa, including humans. We review the literature on ToM in nonhuman animals, suggesting that some species share foundational social cognitive mechanisms with humans. We focus principally on innovations of the last decade and pressing directions for future work. Underexplored types of social cognition have been targeted, including ascription of mental states, such as desires and beliefs, that require simultaneously representing one's own and another's conflicting motives or views of the world. Ongoing efforts probe the motivational facets of ToM, how flexibly animals can recruit social cognitive skills across cooperative and competitive settings, and appropriate motivational contexts for comparative inquiry. Finally, novel methodological and empirical approaches have brought new species (e.g., lemurs, dogs) into the lab, implemented critical controls to elucidate underlying mechanisms, and contributed powerful new techniques (e.g., looking‐time, eye‐tracking) that open the door to unexplored approaches for studying animal minds. These innovations in cognition, motivation, and method promise fruitful progress in the years to come, in understanding the nature and origin of ToM in humans and other species.

Sexual orientation differences in the self-esteem of men and women: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Bridge, L., Smith, P., & Rimes, K. A. (2019). Sexual orientation differences in the self-esteem of men and women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, May 2019.

Abstract: Sexual minority individuals experience higher rates of mental health problems than heterosexual people. It has been suggested that minority stress explains this disparity, partly by elevating rates of general psychological risk factors such as low self-esteem. This study investigated self-esteem in sexual minority people compared with heterosexual people through a systematic review and meta-analysis. A systematic search of four databases was conducted. Observational studies comparing self-esteem in sexual minority and heterosexual men and women separately were included. A qualitative synthesis and random effects meta-analysis were conducted. Potential moderators were explored using subgroup analyses of age, sexual minority orientation, and sample type. Thirty-two eligible studies were identified; 25 compared self-esteem in men and 19 in women. Most studies used the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) to measure self-esteem. Compared with heterosexual men and women, there was significantly lower self-esteem in sexual minority men (SMD = −0.33, 95% CI [−0.44, −0.23]) and women (SMD = −0.20, 95% CI [−0.29, −0.11]). This difference appeared to be moderated by sample type: There was preliminary evidence for more robust differences in men and bisexual individuals. Findings are consistent with the suggestion that self-esteem is lower in sexual minorities than in heterosexual individuals. However, caution is required in drawing firm conclusions due to methodological limitations of the included studies. Self-esteem is a potential target for intervention to prevent psychological disorders in this population

Mortality salience effects (death reminders lead to ingroup-bias and defensive protection of one’s worldview) have been claimed to be a fundamental human motivator; the authors couldn't replicate MS

Sætrevik, Bjørn, and Hallgeir Sjåstad. 2019. “A Pre-registered Attempt to Replicate the Mortality Salience Effect in Traditional and Novel Measures.” PsyArXiv. May 17. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Mortality salience (MS) effects, in which death reminders lead to ingroup-bias and defensive protection of one’s worldview, have been claimed to be a fundamental human motivator and to be supported in a number of studies. However, empirical support draws mainly from a single task in a single cultural setting, where research robustness and transparency are difficult to evaluate. We wanted to replicate the MS effect in an additional cultural setting (Norway), using both a traditional essay measure of patriotism, a novel measure of a culturally relevant essay about democratic values in the aftermath of a terror attack, and a novel measure of pro-social behaviour. We also included checks of whether the MS manipulation had effects on Stroop processing and psychophysiology. Despite our best efforts, the study failed to replicate the MS effect, both as direct and the conceptual replication. The results on the pro-social measure provided suggestive evidence for increased generosity to non-family members and charity. Surprisingly, we failed to find a significant MS effect on processing speed of social or death related words and on psychophysiological responses. Despite being a relatively small study (n = 100), it indicates that the large MS effect reported in the published literature may be more difficult to reproduce than previously assumed, that it does not transfer easily to other domains, and that if it exist, it might not have a straightforward cognitive mechanism. In future research, the combination of high-powered and pre-registered experiments is needed to detect or reject the MS effect with greater certainty.

We still have no "tests to determine which people have superior lie production abilities"

Personality traits of a good liar: A systematic review of the literature. Monica Semrad, Bridie Scott-Parker, Michael Nagel. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 147, 1 September 2019, Pages 306-316.

Abstract: Although deception is used by many high-risk occupations, including military leaders, lawyers and politicians, there are currently no selection tests to determine which people have superior lie production abilities for these roles. The lack of selection tests is particularly crucial in the high-risk covert roles of undercover operations and human source management within policing. This paper uses the PRISMA systematic review technique to summarise and synthesis the extant literature examining deception theories and lie production. This paper also examines the relationship between lie production and Emotional Intelligence, and the personality traits of the Dark Triad and the HEXACO, to elucidate the characteristics of good liars. The scant research published within this field has been conducted with a variety of experimental designs and dependent variables. Generally, results indicate that the traits, skills and abilities behind sender demeanour, such as believability and honesty, may be fundamental to lie production ability. These characteristics could be considered in selection testing for to identify people with the ability to deceive effectively.

Attitudes Toward Cognitive Enhancement: More likely to support the use of cognitive enhancement by others than by themselves, and more by employees than by students or athletes

Attitudes Toward Cognitive Enhancement: The Role of Metaphor and Context. Erin C. Conrad, Stacey Humphries & Anjan Chatterjee. AJOB Neuroscience, Volume 10, 2019 - Issue 1, Pages 35-47. May 9 2019.

Abstract: The widespread use of stimulants among healthy individuals to improve cognition has received growing attention; however, public attitudes toward this practice are not well understood. We determined the effect of framing metaphors and context of use on public opinion toward cognitive enhancement. We recruited 3,727 participants from the United States to complete three surveys using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk between April and July 2017. Participants read vignettes describing an individual using cognitive enhancement, varying framing metaphors (fuel versus steroid), and context of use (athletes versus students versus employees). The main outcome measure was the difference in respondent-assigned level of acceptability of the use of cognitive enhancement by others and by themselves between the contrasting vignettes. Participants were more likely to support the use of cognitive enhancement by others than by themselves and more when the use of enhancement by others was framed with a fuel metaphor than with a steroid metaphor. Metaphoric framing did not affect participants’ attitudes toward their own use. Participants supported the use of enhancement by employees more than by students or athletes. These results are discussed in relation to existing ethical and policy literature.

Keywords: cognitive enhancement, neuroethics, cosmetic neurology, neurology, cognitive neuroscience, nootropics

The body-related afferent signals that subserve body ownership (“this body is mine”) might have a key role in human sense of agency (“this action is due to my own will”); body ownership helps building up motor consciousness

The Role of Body-Related Afferent Signals in Human Sense of Agency. Maria Pyasik, Tiziano Furlanetto, Lorenzo Pia. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience, May 16, 2019.

Abstract: At present, most of the neurocognitive models of human sense of agency (ie, “this action is due to my own will”) have been traditionally rooted in a variety of internal efferent signals arising within the motor system. However, recent neuroscientific evidence has suggested that also the body-related afferent signals that subserve body ownership (ie, “this body is mine”) might have a key role in this process. Accordingly, in the present review paper, we briefly examined the literature investigating how and to what extent body ownership contributes to building up human motor consciousness. Evidence suggests that, if required by the context, body ownership per se can act on agency attribution (ie, independently from efferent signals). Hence, a unitary and coherent subjective experience of willed actions (ie, “this willed action is being realized by my own body”) requires both awareness of being an agent and of owning the body.

Keywords: Bodily self, body ownership, sense of agency, afferent signals, efferent signals

When we achieve willed actions, we do not feel as though those acts simply happen to us, we strongly sense to be in charge. Such subjective experience of authorship is known as sense of agency.1 In other words, we are aware of intending, initiating, and controlling our volitional movements (so-called “body agency”),2 as well as their consequences in the external world (“external agency”),2 and this awareness is vital for survival. Indeed, perceiving to be an agent allows distinguishing actions that are self-generated from those that are generated by others. This, in turn, contributes to the key signature of human nature, that is, the phenomenological experience of self-consciousness.3


It is worth emphasizing, however, that whenever we successfully achieve volitional actions, we feel not only being in control of our movements and their consequences but also that those movements are being executed through our own body (body agency). For instance, if I am thirsty and I quickly get a glass of water, I experience that my own body is moving toward the glass. In the absence of any movement, such an embodied and enduring sense of being aware of our own body, termed body ownership,16 is known to be rooted in multisensory integration. In other words, it arises whenever the body-related afferent sensory signals (ie, visual, tactile, proprioceptive, kinesthetic, auditory, etc) that constantly reach our body are integrated in both spatial and temporal terms. For example, if someone else caresses my arm, I experience that body part as my own because I see and I feel the touches at the same time and in the same place. All in all, the stronger the spatiotemporal congruency among these signals, the higher the feeling of body ownership.17–20 It is thought that in the human brain, body ownership is underpinned by the activity of a network including premotor areas, the occipitotemporal cortex, the primary/secondary somatosensory areas, and the anterior insula.18,21–23

Capitalizing on the above-mentioned considerations, it follows that the coherence, the richness, and the completeness of human subjective experience of being the agent of a given voluntary action necessarily requires both awareness of controlling the actions and awareness of owning the body that achieves them. However, whether, how, and to what extent body ownership has a role in building up such experiences is an issue that only very recently has come to the forefront of the scientific investigations. For these reasons, in this article, we aimed at reviewing all studies that, in one way or another, investigated the possible role of body ownership in building up the sense of agency over the body movements.

[...] In summary, this first set of studies showed that if an external object that is perceived as part of one’s own body moves together with the participant’s body, an illusory sense of agency over the movements of that object arises. This does not happen if the moving external object is not perceived as part of one’s own body.


Another evidence came from a study employing the full-body illusion showing that when a virtual embodied avatar was walking repeatedly along a route, while the participant remained still, an illusion of walking occurred.40 This did not happen when the avatar was not embodied. It is also worth noting that highly automated actions, as walking, are thought to prime the movements and intentions to move in advance. In summary, this second set of studies showed that, if participants’ motor representations (eg, motor intentions, motor imagery or motor plan) match the movements of an external object perceived as part of one’s own body, an illusion of agency arises. This does not happen if the moving external object is not perceived as part of one’s own body.


To sum up, here we reviewed evidence supporting the idea that body ownership does have a role in human sense of agency, specifically body agency. The review shows that being aware of one’s own body has a role per se in building and maintaining the sense of agency, namely it can act on agency attribution in the absence of any efferent signals, such as motor intentions and feedforward predictions, and causes preceding effects and so on. First, it is worth noticing that giving any role to body ownership is not trivial but, rather, consistent with human nature. Indeed, our actions are achieved mainly through the physical body,50 and the body is a prerequisite for any successful interaction with the environment.51 Indeed, it is already known that body ownership affects motor control, allowing to estimate limb positions,52 to tune motor commands,53 and to adjust errors.54 Hence, discovering its role also within motor consciousness would not be surprising. Here, we suggest that the signals that give rise to body ownership might have a key role in sense of agency by acting on agency attribution in the absence of any efferent signals. How is it possible to reconcile in a concrete manner this idea with the current neurocognitive model of the sense of agency? As already mentioned, the classical motor control model of sense of agency states that the experience of being an agent arises from the comparison between predicted and actual outcomes.4,7-10 This, in turn, means that action preparation is a necessary condition to have any experience of being an agent. We put forward the idea that under some circumstances, only seeing the own body moving would be enough to activate the neurocognitive processes subserving action preparation. At this point, the feeling of agency over that specific given act would be triggered. Such a process could be exemplified by the inference: “since this is my body part, any action performed by it would be intended by me.” Furthermore, in dynamic conditions, that is when we actually achieve the willed actions, body ownership would provide additional signals to the efferent motor-related signals and would contribute to the subjective experience of being an agent. Within this view, sense of agency is conceived as a very flexible neurocognitive mechanism. Indeed, it is rooted in the dynamic and optimal integration among efferent and afferent signals. Any given source of information would be weighted according to the specificity of the context and the actual availability of signals.55

We have to emphasize that the present review did not aim to investigate the interactions between human body ownership and sense of agency but, rather, it focused on the role of the former in the construction of the latter. Therefore, this article cannot provide an exhaustive picture of the complex interplay between the two senses, and future studies in this direction should allow gaining key hints to understand human bodily self-consciousness.

In rodents: Probing learning by omitting reinforcement (treats) uncovers latent knowledge & identifies context -not “smartness”- as the major source of individual variability

Dissociating task acquisition from expression during learning reveals latent knowledge. Kishore V. Kuchibhotla et al. Nature Communications, May 2019.

Abstract: Performance on cognitive tasks during learning is used to measure knowledge, yet it remains controversial since such testing is susceptible to contextual factors. To what extent does performance during learning depend on the testing context, rather than underlying knowledge? We trained mice, rats and ferrets on a range of tasks to examine how testing context impacts the acquisition of knowledge versus its expression. We interleaved reinforced trials with probe trials in which we omitted reinforcement. Across tasks, each animal species performed remarkably better in probe trials during learning and inter-animal variability was strikingly reduced. Reinforcement feedback is thus critical for learning-related behavioral improvements but, paradoxically masks the expression of underlying knowledge. We capture these results with a network model in which learning occurs during reinforced trials while context modulates only the read-out parameters. Probing learning by omitting reinforcement thus uncovers latent knowledge and identifies context -not “smartness”- as the major source of individual variability.

Popular version -- Study: Treats Might Mask Animal Intelligence. Chanapa Tantibanchachai. News Releases, May 14, 2019.

Rewards are necessary for learning, but may actually mask true knowledge, finds a new Johns Hopkins University study with rodents and ferrets.

The findings, published May 14 in Nature Communications, show a distinction between knowledge and performance, and provide insight into how environment can affect the two.

“Most learning research focuses on how humans and other animals learn ‘content’ or knowledge. Here, we suggest that there are two parallel learning processes: one for content and one for context, or environment. If we can separate how these two pathways work, perhaps we can find ways to improve performance,” says Kishore Kuchibhotla, an assistant professor in The Johns Hopkins University’s department of psychological and brain sciences and the study’s lead author.

While researchers have known that the presence of reinforcement, or reward, can change how animals behave, it’s been unclear exactly how rewards affect learning versus performance.

An example of the difference between learning and performance, Kuchibhotla explains, is the difference between a student studying and knowing the answers at home, and a student demonstrating that knowledge on a test at school.

“What we know at any given time can be different than what we show; the ability to access that knowledge in the right environment is what we’re interested in,” he says.

To investigate what animals know in hopes of better understanding learning, Kuchibhotla and the research team trained mice, rats and ferrets on a series of tasks, and measured how accurately they performed the tasks with and without rewards.

For the first experiment, the team trained mice to lick for water through a lick tube after hearing one tone, and to not lick after hearing a different, unrewarded tone. It takes mice two weeks to learn this in the presence of the water reward. At a time point early in learning, around days 3-5, the mice performed the task at chance levels (about 50%) when the lick tube/reward was present. When the team removed the lick tube entirely on these early days, however, the mice performed the task at more than 90% accuracy. The mice, therefore, seemed to understand the task many days before they expressed knowledge in the presence of a reward.

Masculine/feminine colors, toys, & objects as more suited for boys/girls or both & boys/girls playing with gender counter-stereotypic toys: The older boys sanctioned counter stereotypical behavior more often than accepted it

Boys Just Don’t! Gender Stereotyping and Sanctioning of Counter-Stereotypical Behavior in Preschoolers. Milica M. Skočajić et al. Sex Roles, May 15 2019.

Abstract: Although children start to adopt gender stereotypes by the age of three, there is less evidence about how early they start to sanction other children’s counter-stereotypical behaviors. The present study explored the two processes in a single design, comparing younger/older preschool boys and girls and using a two-task procedure involving (a) categorization of pictures of masculine/feminine colors, toys, and objects as more suited for boys/girls or both and (b) descriptions and evaluations of boys/girls playing with gender counter-stereotypic toys. One hundred Serbian children aged 3–4 or 6–7 years-old, balanced by gender, were individually interviewed. Although all three sets of stimuli were stereotyped, toys were stereotyped more often than colors and objects. Overall stereotyping, as well as stereotyping of colors and toys, was more frequent in the older group. Gender differences were more complex, showing some gender x age interactions wherein boys stereotyped masculine stimuli more often than girls did; the older boys, but not the other groups, sanctioned counter stereotypical behavior more often than accepted it; and boys’ behaviors were sanctioned more often than girls’. Finally, stereotyping and sanctioning were strongly positively related. Our study shows that, at early preschool ages, children are not only aware of gender norms, but also ready to sanction peers violating them. Boys seem to be more likely to stereotype, particularly the masculine stimuli, and be sanctioned for not conforming to stereotypes. The findings can help educators and media identify groups that need to be empowered to explore behaviors beyond gender-prescribed roles.

Keywords: Gender role Gender-stereotypes Counter-stereotypical Sanctions Preschool Child development

The Social Price of Constant Connectivity: Smartphones Impose Subtle Costs on Well-Being

The Social Price of Constant Connectivity: Smartphones Impose Subtle Costs on Well-Being. Kostadin Kushlev, Ryan Dwyer, Elizabeth W. Dunn. Current Directions in Psychological Science, May 16, 2019.

Abstract: Smartphones provide people with a variety of benefits, but they may also impose subtle social costs. We propose that being constantly connected undercuts the emotional benefits of face-to-face social interactions in two ways. First, smartphone use may diminish the emotional benefits of ongoing social interactions by preventing us from giving our full attention to friends and family in our immediate social environment. Second, smartphones may lead people to miss out on the emotional benefits of casual social interactions by supplanting such interactions altogether. Across field experiments and experience-sampling studies, we find that smartphones consistently interfere with the emotional benefits people could otherwise reap from their broader social environment. We also find that the costs of smartphone use are fairly subtle, contrary to proclamations in the popular press that smartphones are ruining our social lives. By highlighting how smartphones affect the benefits we derive from our broader social environment, this work provides a foundation for building theory and research on the consequences of mobile technology for human well-being.

Keywords: subjective well-being, social interactions, smartphones, cyberpsychology, mobile computing

The Frozen Effect: Objects in motion are more aesthetically appealing than objects frozen in time

The Frozen Effect: Objects in motion are more aesthetically appealing than objects frozen in time. Malerie G. McDowell, Jason Haberman. PLOS, May 16, 2019.

Abstract: Videos of moving faces are more flattering than static images of the same face, a phenomenon dubbed the Frozen Face Effect. This may reflect an aesthetic preference for faces viewed in a more ecological context than still photographs. In the current set of experiments, we sought to determine whether this effect is unique to facial processing, or if motion confers an aesthetic benefit to other stimulus categories as well, such as bodies and objects—that is, a more generalized ‘Frozen Effect’ (FE). If motion were the critical factor in the FE, we would expect the video of a body or object in motion to be significantly more appealing than when seen in individual, static frames. To examine this, we asked participants to rate sets of videos of bodies and objects in motion along with the still frames constituting each video. Extending the original FFE, we found that participants rated videos as significantly more flattering than each video’s corresponding still images, regardless of stimulus domain, suggesting that the FFE generalizes well beyond face perception. Interestingly, the magnitude of the FE increased with the predictability of stimulus movement. Our results suggest that observers prefer bodies and objects in motion over the same information presented in static form, and the more predictable the motion, the stronger the preference. Motion imbues objects and bodies with greater aesthetic appeal, which has implications for how one might choose to portray oneself in various social media platforms.