Monday, June 17, 2019

Political differences in free will are largely explicable through differing desires to blame, rather than reflecting some genuine disagreement about the metaphysics of human freedom

Everett, Jim A. C., Cory J. Clark, Peter Meindl, Jamie B. Luguri, Brian D. Earp, Peter Ditto, Jesse Graham, et al. 2019. “Political Differences in Free Will Are Driven by Differences in Moralization.” PsyArXiv. June 17. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: In fourteen studies, we tested whether political conservatives’ stronger free will beliefs are driven by stronger and broader tendencies to moralize, and thus a greater motivation to assign responsibility. In Study 1 (meta-analysis of five studies, n = 308,499) we show that conservatives have stronger tendencies to moralize than liberals, even for moralization measures containing zero political content (e.g., moral badness ratings of faces and personality traits). In Study 2, show that conservatives report higher free will belief, and this is mediated by the belief that people should be held morally responsible for their bad behaviour (n = 14,707). In Study 3, we show that political conservatism is associated with higher attributions of free will for specific events. Turning to experimental manipulations of our hypothesis, we show that when conservatives and liberals see an action as equally wrong there is no difference in free will attributions (Study 4); that when conservatives see an action as less wrong than liberals, they attribute less free will (Study 5); and that specific perceptions of wrongness mediate the relationship between political ideology and free will attributions (Study 6a and 6b). Finally, we show that political conservatives and liberals even differentially attribute free will for the same action depending on who performed it (Studies 7a-d). Together, our results suggest political differences in free will are largely explicable through motivated reasoning and differing desires to blame, rather than reflecting some genuine disagreement about the metaphysical nature of human freedom. Higher free will beliefs among conservatives may be explained by conservatives’ tendency to moralize, which strengthens motivation to justify blame with stronger belief in free will and personal accountability.

Liberals and conservatives characteristically view the relationship between the
individual and society in different terms. Whereas liberal (i.e. left-wing) ideology has often
focused on the role of social institutions and other external forces in shaping individual
behavior, conservative (i.e. right wing) thinking tends to emphasize the importance of
personal responsibility (Eidelman, Crandall, Goodman, & Blanchar, 2012; Jost, Nosek, &
Gosling, 2008; Skitka, Mullen, Griffin, Hutchinson, & Chamberlin, 2002; Skitka & Tetlock,
1992, 1993). According to the conservative view, individuals should take responsibility for
the course of their own lives and refrain from expecting others to solve their problems. In
addition to being explicitly championed by prominent conservative leaders (Cameron, 2010;
Reagan, 1968; Thatcher, 1981), a focus on personal responsibility seems to pervade the
thinking of everyday conservatives as well (Carey & Paulhus, 2013). Research has shown
that conservatives are more likely than liberals to make dispositional attributions of
responsibility in a number of key areas, including poverty (Zucker & Weiner, 1993),
unemployment (Feather, 1985), obesity (Crandall, 1994), and even intelligence (Skitka et al.,

In addition to judging that others are more responsible for their actions, recent
research by Carey and Paulhus (2013) has suggested that conservatives also believe that
others have more free will. Political conservatism is not merely associated with thinking that
others are more responsible for their specific actions, but also with thinking that they have
more autonomous control over their behavior in general. Across three studies, Carey and
Paulhus (2013) found that belief in free will was associated with traditional conservative
attitudes as well as with an increased importance attached to the three ‘conservative’ moral
foundations (loyalty, authority, sanctity). Why might this be so?
We suggest that the relationship between political orientation and free will belief
might be parsimoniously explained by motivated social cognition. This hypothesis is derived
from two areas of research. First, recent research has demonstrated that free will beliefs are
motivated by desires to punish others (Clark et al., 2014) and to justify holding them morally
responsible (Clark, Baumeister, & Ditto, 2017), which recently has been replicated and
confirmed in meta-analyses (Clark, Winegard, & Shariff, 2019). Second, political
conservatives have a tendency to moralize a wider scope of actions than their liberal
counterparts (Graham et al., 2013; Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009; Graham et al., 2011).
Combining these two areas of research, we suggest that conservatives report greater belief in
free will and attribute more free will to people than do liberals because conservatives
recognize a wider spectrum of transgressions for which moral responsibility must be assigned
and moral blame attributed.

Motivated Beliefs in Free Will
What do we mean by “free will?” In this paper, we draw on an understanding of free
will that has both been articulated by philosophers and seems to track the intuitions of laypeople.
In line with previous empirical work in this area, we use the term “free will” to refer
to an autonomous choice of action that a person performs in the absence of substantial
internal and external constraints (Baumeister & Monroe, 2014; Paulhus & Carey, 2011),
where this ability to choose renders one morally responsible for their actions (Nichols, 2007;
Nichols & Knobe, 2007). Free will, in other words, can be understood as responsibility -
making autonomy. Note that the concept of free will distinct from the concept of attributions
in social psychology (e.g. Skitka et al., 2002; Zucker & Weiner, 1993), and this can broadly
be related to the philosophical distinction between reasons and causes. Attributions are
reasons, and help answer the question of what the reason is for why a person performed a
given action. In social psychology, work on attribution has focused on two main kinds of
reasons: dispositional attributions (the person did it because of the kind of person they are);
and situational attributions (the person did it because of the situation they were placed in). In
contrast, the concept of free will relates to causes, which can partially include reasons but
also ultimate level causal factors (e.g. it was determined by genes). To illustrate: it is
perfectly plausible to say that someone stole something because they are a selfish person (a
dispositional attribution), but that because their selfishness was genetically determined (an
attribution of free will), they did not have free and thus were not personally responsible.

Assuming this definition of free will of responsibility-making autonomy, what would
it mean for belief in free will to be “motivated,” as we suggested? Motivated social cognition
refers to the well-documented tendency for desired conclusions to organize judgment
processes in a top-down fashion that favors evidence for the conclusions people prefer (Ditto,
Pizarro, & Tannenbaum, 2009). When reasoning about the world, people often act more like
intuitive lawyers than intuitive scientists, such that their desired beliefs influence their actual
beliefs (Baumeister & Newman, 1994; Haidt, 2001, 2012). In moral reasoning, desires to
blame and to hold individuals morally responsible compel people to produce rational
explanations that would justify their moral judgments (Alicke, 2000; Clark, Chen, & Ditto,
2015). Indeed, a growing body of research has demonstrated that the desire to hold
individuals morally accountable for their immoral behaviors can lead to motivated judgments
that such immoral behaviors are intended, under the agent’s control, and freely chosen
(Alicke, 1992, 2000; Alicke, Rose, & Bloom, 2011; Clark et al., 2014; Clark, Bauman,
Kamble, & Knowles, 2017; Clark, Winegard, & Baumeister, 2019; Cushman, Knobe, &
Sinnott-Armstrong, 2008; Hamlin & Baron, 2014; Knobe, 2003; Knobe & Fraser, 2008;
Leslie, Knobe, & Cohen, 2006; Phillips & Knobe, 2009).

But how might belief in free will, specifically, be seen as a form of motivated social
cognition? Across five studies, Clark et al. (2014) used a range of methods – experimental,
correlational, and archival – to test the hypothesis that a key motivation underlying belief in
human free will is the desire to hold others morally responsible for their behavior. For
example, telling students that a fellow classmate had cheated on a recent exam increased
belief in free will on a standard measure of global free will belief; and countries with higher
homicide rates were also found to express higher levels of free will belief. Clark et al (2014)
concluded that free will belief is not an abstract, invariant phenomenon, but is rather driven,
at least in part, by a motivated desire to hold others morally responsible for their wrongful
behaviors, the strength of which varies across time and situation.

The focus on wrongful behaviors may have a straightforward explanation. Put simply,
across a broad range of psychological phenomena, “bad is stronger than good” (Baumeister,
Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001, p. 1), meaning that people tend to notice, and give
greater weight to, negative actions and outcomes than positive ones. For example, research
has repeatedly shown a praise-blame asymmetry in judgments of intentional action: people
are more inclined to say that a behavior with negative side-effects was performed
intentionally than an identical action with positive side-effects (Knobe, 2003; Pettit & Knobe,
2009). Motivated judgments of others’ behavior are most pronounced in – and perhaps even
driven by – cases in which the behavior is seen as harmful (Alicke, Buckingham, Zell, &
Davis, 2008). All else being equal, the desire to blame another for bad behavior is more
potent than the desire to praise another for their good behavior (Clark, Shniderman,
Baumeister, Luguri, & Ditto, 2018). As Baumeister et al. (2001) note, while a general
explanation for this effect is hard to come by given its inherent generality across a broad
range of psychological phenomena, it is likely that a tendency to pay greater attention to bad
actions and outcomes than good ones will have been evolutionarily adaptive because survival
often requires more urgent attention to possible bad outcomes (e.g. a predator behind you)
than possible good outcomes (e.g. a berry bush behind you).

Sexual risk-taking when sexually aroused

Sexual risk-taking when sexually aroused. Courtney L. Crosby, Cindy M. Meston, David M. Buss. Human Behavior and Evolution Society 31st annual meeting. Boston 2019.

Abstract: Sexual arousal is a motivational state that prioritizes mating opportunities and minimizes perceived risks associated with sex. Due to gender asymmetries in evolved sexual psychology, sexual arousal may differentially motivate men and women. Arousal is predicted to motivate men to achieve copulation, whereas women are predicted to remain highly discriminating about sexual partner choice even while aroused. Previous studies show that men are more likely to endorse engaging in morally questionable behaviors and view contraceptives as less important when sexually aroused. However, these underpowered studies have typically only examined arousal in men. We extended previous research by including women and men in a study of experimentally-induced sexual arousal’s effect on perceived willingness to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Preliminary analyses revealed that 1) there was a significant difference in levels of arousal between experimental and control conditions, but no differences in levels of arousal between sex; and 2) that men were more likely to endorse participation in risky sexual behaviors regardless of condition, but sexual arousal did not mediate perceived willingness to engage in these behaviors. Discussion centers on hypothesis refinement and future directions for research on the relationship between sexual arousal and sexual risk-taking.