Wednesday, November 13, 2019

People generally view others' “true selves” as good; however, people may show promiscuous condemnation and often judge acts as immoral when they are ambiguous

Promiscuous condemnation: People assume ambiguous actions are immoral. Neil Hester, B. Keith Payne, Kurt Gray. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 86, January 2020, 103910.

• Mixed evidence exists for whether people generally view others as good or evil.
• People generally view others' “true selves” as good.
• However, people may show promiscuous condemnation and often judge ambiguous acts as immoral.
• Nine experiments using ambiguous acts support promiscuous condemnation.
• We consider cognitive and functional reasons for promiscuous condemnation.

Abstract: Do people view others as good or evil? Although people generally cooperate with others and view others' “true selves” as intrinsically good, we suggest that they are likely to assume that the actions of others are evil—at least when they are ambiguous. Nine experiments provide support for promiscuous condemnation: the general tendency to assume that ambiguous actions are immoral. Both cognitive and functional arguments support the idea of promiscuous condemnation. Cognitively, dyadic completion suggests that when the mind perceives some elements of immorality (or harm), it cannot help but perceive other elements of immorality. Functionally, assuming that ambiguous actions are immoral helps people quickly identify potential harm and provide aid to others. In the first seven experiments, participants often judged neutral nonsense actions (e.g., “John pelled”) as immoral, especially when the context surrounding these nonsense actions included elements of immorality (e.g., intentionality and suffering). In the last two experiments, participants showed greater promiscuous condemnation under time pressure, suggesting an automatic tendency to assume immorality that people must effortfully control.

Keywords: Moral judgmentsSuspicionAmbiguityAltruismDual process models


1. Introduction

Morality often seems black and white. After all, most people agree that cheating, lying, and murder are wrong. Although this consensus suggests that judging others' actions is easy, real life is rife with ambiguous cases in which people's actions are unclear. Consider these examples:
A man walks behind a woman on a dark city street.
A girl screams in your neighbor's basement.
A teenager looks around with their hands in their pockets before leaving a store.

In each of these examples, the most likely explanation is relatively benign: A man and a woman are walking home from work and happen to live on the same block. A girl moves a box and discovers a cockroach. A surly teenager looks around for her friends. Despite these innocuous explanations, people may not be able to resist assuming something more nefarious—a nighttime predator, a kidnapping victim, or a shoplifter. Of course, these are only a few carefully selected examples, but we suggest that the human mind has a general tendency to jump to conclusions of immorality. When judging ambiguous actions—that is, actions that have unclear intents and/or outcomes—we propose that people demonstrate promiscuous condemnation and assume that these acts are immoral. Promiscuous condemnation is not only consistent with the functional and cognitive underpinnings of morality, but also provides perspective on an emerging idea that people view others as intrinsically good.

1.1. Do people view others as generally evil or good?

People have long disagreed about whether humans are generally evil or good. Advocating for “generally evil” was Thomas Hobbes, who wrote that people were intrinsically evil and that, without some absolute and authoritarian government, the life of man would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 1651, pp. i. xiii. 9). In contrast, Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that people were born good and instinctively compassionate (Rousseau, 1750). Social psychology long seemed to side with Hobbes, revealing the darker side of human nature. Humans show callous obedience to authority (Milgram, 1963) and easily form into combative groups that distrust each other (Sherif, 1961). Large groups of people fail to help others in need (Latané & Darley, 1968) and even supposedly good people ignore suffering when they are in a rush (Darley & Batson, 1973). Many people willingly express prejudice toward other races and religions (e.g., Allport, 1954), which in extreme cases has devastating consequences such as genocide and slavery.
The implicit negativity in early social psychological work was so strong that “positive psychology” arose explicitly as a counterpoint (Sheldon & King, 2001). Accordingly, recent work on the moral nature of humans has arced toward Rousseau. People often endorse that the “true self” of humans is good (De Freitas, Cikara, Grossmann, & Schlegel, 2017Newman, De Freitas, & Knobe, 2015). In situations involving cooperation, people appear motivated to act prosocially, even toward non-relatives; they contribute their resources to help others and sacrifice resources to punish wrongdoers (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003Fehr & Gächter, 2000Gintis, 2003Van Vugt & Van Lange, 2006). Of course, there are questions about how well these structured economic games translate to the real world. How do we square these tightly-controlled situations with real-world tragedies, such as when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager? Although Martin was simply walking to the store to get some Skittles, Zimmerman assumed that the hoodie-wearing student was engaging in criminal activity.
The Trayvon Martin case does not stand alone. Police often stop, frisk, and attack unarmed suspects who are acting innocently. One explanation for these assumptions of evil is prejudice: white people may just assume the worst when interacting with black people, and numerous other forms of prejudice may account for other cases. However, even within their own groups, people readily suspect others of cheating or lying given minimal evidence of infidelity (Shackelford & Buss, 1997) or deception (DePaulo et al., 2003). In these ambiguous situations, a mere cue suggesting foul play may be enough to invite assumptions of immorality.
The idea of promiscuous condemnation is that people are quick to assume that others are acting immorally. This idea might seem to contradict people's altruistic actions and belief that others are intrinsically good. However, judgments of the “true self” differ from judgments of individual acts. Even if people believe that others are generally virtuous and cooperative, individual acts might still seem suspicious. Furthermore, people's generous or penny-pinching decisions in economic games need not translate to real-world examples of immorality, such as murder, fraud, and abuse. These games are unambiguous and leave little room for one's partner to cause “harm” in the common sense. When people talk about moral decay, they likely refer to the spread of crime and the corruption of children, not uncooperative decisions in anonymous economic games.
People seem to have a rosy outlook on people's deep-seated goodness; and, people generally seem to trust and cooperate with others in economic games. However, as soon as people judge an ambiguous action that might be immoral based on contextual cues, we suggest that people assume wrongdoing—that is, show promiscuous condemnation. We draw on recent research and theory in morality to consider the contextual cues that might make an ambiguous action seem immoral.

1.2. Cognitive elements of morality

Moral psychologists have long debated what basic elements constitute moral judgment and how they combine with each other (Cushman, 2013Haidt, 2012Mikhail, 2007Schein & Gray, 2018). Though different theoretical perspectives disagree on some aspects of moral cognition, the influence of certain elements on moral judgments—such as intentional action and suffering—is relatively undisputed. Intentionally killing someone is murder, whereas accidentally killing them is manslaughter and elicits less blame (Cushman, 2008Malle, Guglielmo, & Monroe, 2014). Attempted assault is a crime, but successful assault elicits more blame and punishment because it actually causes physical suffering (Cushman, 2008Young & Saxe, 2010).
One theory of morality--the theory of dyadic morality--posits that people rely on a harm-based cogntive template when making moral judgments across diverse domains (Schein & Gray, 2018). This template is called the "moral dyad" because it involves two interacting people, an intentional actor (i.e., agent) causing damage to a suffering target(i.e., patient). Studies suggest that the moral dyad exerts a kind of cognitive gravity, such that the hint of immorality--through the implied presence of intention and/or suffering--leads people to infer the presence of other elements of immorality. This phenomena is called "dyadic completion" because people cognitively complete an incomplete dyad, seeing evidence of suffering when presented with intentional counternormative acts. This is why people see “victimless wrongs” such as defiling a holy book or watching animals as nevertheless having victims and causing suffering (especially under time pressure (Gray, Schein, & Ward, 2014). Another example of dyadic completion includes when someone with bad intentions (e.g., a drug dealer) is assigned greater causal responsibility for crashing into someone's car and causing them to suffer (Alicke, 2000). Also consistent with this idea is when, in the wake of suffering, people look for agents to blame, often turning to powerful entities such CEOs (Knobe, 2003) or God (Gray & Wegner, 2010).
Dyadic completion suggests that promiscuous condemnation should be appear more when more of these moral elements are present. As a bystander, it should seem more likely that an action is immoral if it is directed toward someone rather than performed alone? Likewise, people should assume more immorality when an action is done intentionally versus accidentally, and when an action seems to involve suffering versus not. Conversely, when people receive clear cues suggesting otherwise (e.g., the act is clearly performed alone or accidentally), we expect people to adjust their perceptions accordingly, only rarely judging these actions as immoral.

1.3. Differentiating between immorality and negativity

Manipulating these important elements of morality—the dyad (presence of both agent and patient), the agent's intention, and the patient's suffering—serves the key purpose of differentiating promiscuous condemnation from a more general “valence effect” in which people tend to rate ambiguous actions as negative instead of positive (see Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001). We expect large effects of these morality-specific elements on participants' judgments—effects that we would not expect if people tend to assume negativity more broadly. In particular, we expect people to mostly assume that accidental actions are not immoral in their responses, because immorality typically requires intention (Schein & Gray, 2018). Finding this effect would help differentiate between immorality and negativity as the “driving force”, as accidents can still be quite negative.
To further clarify that our effects pertain to judgments of immorality, we also include experiments that ask about the actor's positive and negative character traits. If ambiguous actions are simply seen as more negative, rather than more immoral, then these actions should have limited influence on participants' evaluations of character. However, if participants show promiscuous condemnation and assume immoral actions, then these actions should strongly influence their judgments of character, as moral character is a powerful driver of global evaluations (e.g., Goodwin, Piazza, & Rozin, 2014Uhlmann, Pizarro, & Diermeier, 2015).

1.4. The prosociality of promiscuous condemnation

At first glance, promiscuous condemnation appears to be an antisocial tendency: is it really fair to assume someone is acting immorally if he or she is parked in front of the neighbor's driveway or hanging out near the playground? In these situations, the base rate for immorality seems quite low: the strange car might just an unexpected visit from a friend, and the person at the playground might just be waiting for his wife and kids to arrive. However, showing promiscuous condemnation might actually be a prosocial tendency in these cases—not necessarily at odds with the altruistic cooperation and punishment observed in economic games (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003Fehr & Gächter, 2000). Promiscuous condemnation prepares bystanders to quickly provide aid if needed, preserving the well-being of family members, friends, and others (Schroeder, Penner, Dovidio, & Piliavin, 1995). Providing this aid not only protects others but also enhances one's own moral character, which is valuable for maintaining a good reputation (Brambilla & Leach, 2014Goodwin et al., 2014). Even when it is not feasible to provide help, quickly identifying immorality can make it easier to avoid guilt-by-association (Fortune & Newby-Clark, 2008Walther, 2002), also maintaining one's moral reputation.

Romantic partners who offer unique treatment are highly desired and people are willing to make significant sacrifices in partner attractiveness to receive unique treatment

One of a kind: The strong and complex preference for unique treatment from romantic partners. Lalin Anik, Ryan Hauser. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 86, January 2020, 103899.

Abstract: Individuals prefer romantic partners who universally treat others well (i.e., partners who exhibit trait-level generosity) and also prefer partners who treat them uniquely. Previous work supports both preferences, yet the literature has largely ignored what happens when these preferences conflict. In the present work, we compare these two preferences in romantic relationships by pitting people's preference for trait-level generosity from their partner against their preference for unique treatment from their partner. Across 10 studies, we observe a strong, multifaceted, and somewhat selfish preference for unique treatment that often overwhelms the preference for trait-level generosity. People generally want their partner to offer them relatively better treatment than they offer to others (e.g., their partner orders a larger bouquet for their birthday than for the neighbor's birthday). However, in specific domains and situations, individuals are satisfied with receiving treatment from their partner that is the same as—or slightly worse than—the treatment their partner offers to others, so long as the treatment is unique (e.g., their partner sends everyone a text containing a special inside joke). Further, using a conjoint-analysis approach novel to studying partner selection, we find that partners who offer unique treatment are highly desired and that people are willing to make significant sacrifices in partner attractiveness to receive unique treatment. This preference also impacts how people evaluate and interact with their romantic partners and how satisfied they feel with their relationships.

Specifically, Studies 1A–C suggest that individuals have a strong preference for unique treatment from their romantic partner that (a) extends above and beyond their preference for unique treatment from acquaintances and even close friends, and that (b) can foster a desire for their partner to offer objectively worse treatment to other people, even when equal treatment is possible. Then, using a conjoint-analysis approach novel to studying partner selection, we find that offering unique treatment is a highly desired partner dimension and that people are willing to make significant sacrifices in other aspects of partner attractiveness to receive unique treatment (Study 2).

We then attempt to unpack the type of “unique treatment” that individuals desire from their romantic partners. In Studies 3A–C, we try to decouple the preference for being treated uniquely well (i.e., receiving relatively better treatment) from the preference for being treated like a unique individual (i.e., receiving different treatment unique to oneself that is not necessarily better). We find that both preferences are at play in romantic relationships; in fact, individuals often prefer receiving objectively worse—but unique—treatment (e.g., a less-desirable birthday message [Study 3B] or a lower-quality gift [Study 3C] over superior treatment that their partner offers universally). We then show the consequences of desiring, offering, and receiving unique treatment: these preferences and behaviors significantly affect both the way couples interact on social media (Study 4) and the relationship satisfaction of real couples (Study 5). Finally, we demonstrate that the preference for unique treatment does not persist in the negative domain (Study 6), suggesting that there are boundary conditions to this preference.

12.1. Theoretical implications

First, we contribute to the literature on mate value judgments by revealing that people have a strong preference for unique treatment from romantic partners. Specifically, we take a sparsely examined relational perspective, which contrasts existing work on mate value (i.e., the classic perspective) that has focused almost exclusively on target effects (i.e., how others generally see a given person). Instead, we examine relationship effects (i.e., how someone views another person above and beyond their target and perceiver effects). As we compare this relational perspective with the classic view, we make a clear distinction between a person who treats everyone well—including the perceiver (target effect)—and a person who displays favorable treatment toward the perceiver over and above the treatment they offer others (relationship effect).

While there is ample past work suggesting (a) that individuals prefer romantic partners who exhibit trait-level generosity (i.e., are warm, kind, and affectionate in general) and (b) that receiving unique treatment is pleasurable and plays a significant role in close relationships, uniqueness has been greatly underemphasized in work on mate value judgments. By taking a relational perspective, we show that people make important tradeoffs between trait-level generosity and unique treatment. In practical terms, this means that when forced to choose between a partner who offers favorable treatment (e.g., is kind, warm, and generous) toward everyone and a partner who offers less-favorable treatment but is more exclusive with their treatment, people often prefer the latter.

Our work also supports previous work affirming that people have a strong desire to feel unique and different (Fromkin, 1972), especially in relationships (Finkenauer, Engels, Branje, & Meeus, 2004; Miller, 1990). Moreover, the evidence presented here suggests that this desire is even stronger than previously thought. The fact that people are willing to compromise their own treatment (Studies 3B and 3C), make significant tradeoffs in other partner criteria (Study 2), and even desire worse treatment for others (Studies 1A–C) in order to feel unique serves as a testament to the strength of this preference. Moreover, we find that unique treatment is positively associated with real relationship satisfaction (Study 5). These results support previous work positing compatibility (i.e., a unique connection with another) as an essential factor for forming satisfying relationships (e.g., Carter & Buckwalter, 2009; Sprecher, 2011). Further, we add that the desire to be treated uniquely only persists in the positive domain. When receiving negative treatment from their partner, people more often prefer to receive the same treatment as others (Study 6).

We also add to the literature on partner selection. While a large body of work has looked at the personality traits that people prefer in romantic partners and mates (Buss, 1989; Buss & Barnes, 1986; Gangestad & Simpson, 2000; Hill, 1945; Hoyt & Hudson, 1981; Hudson & Henze, 1969; McGinnis, 1958), this field has largely ignored the quality of treating one's partner differently than one treats others. As it turns out, offering unique treatment is one of the most highly sought-after partner dimensions, on par with essential personality traits such as honesty, trustworthiness, and having values similar to those of one's potential partner (Study 2). Furthermore, we offer a new methodological approach for studying partner selection: using a conjoint analysis featuring headshots and personality descriptions to pit personality traits against physical attractiveness. Through this method, we find that people are willing to make major sacrifices in partner attractiveness in order to be with someone who treats them uniquely.

Finally, we make a significant contribution by shedding light on what “uniqueness” means in the romantic domain and clarifying what type of unique treatment people desire from romantic partners. While much work suggests that individuals want special treatment from their partners (e.g., Carter & Buckwalter, 2009; Sprecher, 2011; Tidwell et al., 2013), it is not clear whether this treatment must be relatively better than the treatment others receive or just different from the treatment others receive. Our results show that both types of treatment are relevant. While people do enjoy when their partner treats them relatively better than others, they are often satisfied with being treated like a unique individual, even if the resulting treatment is objectively worse than other, universally offered treatments.

12.2. Practical implications

The degrees to which individuals desire, offer, and receive unique treatment affect how they interact with their romantic partners and feel about their relationships. While individuals are reasonably well calibrated to others' desire for unique treatment over non-unique treatment, they are not perfect forecasters. Specifically, people seem to underestimate the degree to which unique treatment would boost their partner's reply likelihood and overestimate the emotional benefit of supplying favorable treatment that was not unique (Study 4). A mentioned, these prediction errors could foster suboptimal communication habits and confusion about a partner's behavior—especially for partners without an established history. Furthermore, since people vary in the degree to which they desire unique treatment from their romantic partner, misunderstandings and conflict may arise if an individual's preference is not known or fully appreciated by their partner. Thus, in romantic relationships it is crucial for individuals to understand their partner's preferences surrounding unique treatment (including how much they desire such treatment), think about instances in their daily life where relative treatment is salient and could affect their partner (e.g., on social media), and take time to consider their own treatment preferences. If partners discuss these preferences and feelings openly, they can work to find compromises in their expectations of each other's behavior, and likely have healthier, more satisfying relationships as a result.

“Take care, honey!”: People are more anxious about their significant others' risk behavior than about their own

“Take care, honey!”: People are more anxious about their significant others' risk behavior than about their own. Mirjam Ghassemi, Katharina Bernecker, Veronika Brandstätter. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 86, January 2020, 103879.

Abstract: This research investigated people's affective reaction to and cognitive evaluation of risks taken by close others. Five experimental studies showed that individuals were more anxious when a significant other (e.g., their partner) intended to engage in behavior implying risk to health or safety than when they intended to engage in the same behavior themselves. This discrepancy did not emerge if the other was emotionally distant (e.g., an acquaintance), suggesting that the self-other discrepancy in anxiety is moderated by the quality of the relationship. Neither a perceived higher personal control, nor a perceived lower probability of encountering negative events, as suggested by research on self-other biases in risk assessment, accounted for the effect. However, it was partially mediated by individuals' tendency to imagine more severe consequences of others' (vs. own) risk behavior. Results are discussed with regard to their theoretical implications for the study of risk taking and close relationships.

7. General discussion

This series of studies points to the existence of a self-other discrepancy
in people's affective reaction to risk that has received little
attention to date. In five experimental studies involving hypothetical
risks, and in an event-sampling study in the field involving actual risk,
individuals reported more anxiety in response to a behavior implying
risk to health or safety when it was intended by a close other than when
it was intended by themselves. This discrepancy seems to be specific for
close relationships: Across studies, individuals expressed increased anxiety
about the risk behavior of a significant other (like the partner, a
family member, or close friend), but not the risk behavior of a distant
other (like an acquaintance). This result emerged equally for men and
women, speaking to the generalizability of the effect.
We tested several variables in their potential to account for the effect.
Neither self-other discrepancies in the perceived probability of
experiencing aversive consequences of risk, nor self-other discrepancies
in the capacity to exert control reliably mediated the effect. In fact,
there was only relatively weak evidence for self-other biases in risk
assessment in our studies. Already previous studies have pointed out
that the emergence of biases such as unrealistic comparative optimism
is tied to specific circumstances, for instance, that participants think of
a non-specified compared to a specified other, or that studies use a
particular type of answer scale (Lermer, Streicher, Sachs, & Frey, 2013).
Our studies methodologically deviated from studies on unrealistic
comparative optimism in an important way. Whereas these studies typically
ask participants to rate their probability of experiencing an
event relative to the probability of the average person of their gender
and age (Helweg-Larsen & Shepperd, 2001; Shepperd et al., 2013), our
participants either rated their own or another person's risk. Our findings
were highly consistent with those reported by Klein and Ferrer (2018),
who did not find self-other discrepancies in deliberate, but in affective
and experiential perceptions of risk.
In two studies, we assessed participants' deliberate perceptions of
the severity of consequences of engaging in risk, and did not find discrepancies
in appraisals made for self and others. However, when
asking participants to think of three consequences that might result
from taking the risk, participants stated less severe consequences for
their own (vs. others') risk taking. This difference partly explained their
increased anxiety about their significant other's risk taking. To note,
that individuals also thought of more severe consequences of a nonsignificant
other's than their own risk taking suggests that additional
factors need to be involved in explaining a discrepancy in anxiety that
emerges specifically between self and close others. A likely candidate
for this is the personal relevance of the others' outcomes, which varies
with closeness of the relationship. Thus, we assume the discrepancy in
anxiety to be driven by two factors: That more severe outcomes come to
mind for others' (vs. own) risk taking, and that these outcomes are affectively
How can the difference in results based on the way that severity of
consequences was measured be explained? It seems that when being
asked to think deliberately about the likelihood and severity of consequences,
people evaluate risk similarly for self and others. However,
when being asked to freely list three potential consequences, the ones
that come to mind when thinking about others' (vs. own) risk taking are
more severe. This might suggest that the ease of retrieving severe
consequences differs. This discrepancy between deliberate judgments
and intuitive responses reminds us of previous work pointing out that
risk can be apprehended in two different ways, one analytical and one
experiental (Slovic, Finucane, Peters, & MacGregor, 2004).
Notably, it is possible that thoughts of more severe consequences of
others' (vs. own) risk taking are a consequence, rather than a predictor
of higher anxiety; future studies need to clarify causality (Fiedler,
Harris, & Schott, 2018). What follows is the question why individuals
think of more aversive consequences for others' risk taking than for
their own. Though speculative at this point, one reason might be a
systematic difference in perspective; studies suggest that visualizing
action from a first-person perspective emphasizes agency and control to
a stronger extent than visualizing it from a third-person perspective
(Kokkinara, Kilteni, Blom, & Slater, 2016). Another reason might be
that participants are more aware of the benefits associated with their
own (vs. others') risk taking, and the resulting feeling of positivity
might interfere with thoughts of aversive consequences. Indeed, research
shows that people like to conclude that an action is not risky
when it seems beneficial to them, as they use their feeling of “goodness”
or “badness” as a heuristic for their judgment of risk (Finucane,
Alhakami, Slovic, & Johnson, 2000; Slovic et al., 2004). Both explanations
point to implicit, automatic processes, which are unlikely to
be accessible via participants' deliberate evaluations of risk.

7.1. Strengths, limitations, and future directions

A strength of these studies is their experimental design, precluding
that the hypothesized effect is based on individual differences (e.g., risk
taking propensity). A further strength concerns the fact that we verified
the effect across a range of health and safety risks. In future research, it
would be interesting to investigate affective reactions to other kinds of
risks. We do not expect that a discrepancy in affective reactions
emerges in response to all kinds of risks (e.g., social, financial), but this
is a question that needs to be answered empirically. Such investigations
would not only provide evidence on the scope of the effect, but would
also provide insight into its cause of occurrence.
Limitations of our studies are the use of single-item measures, the
reliance on non-representative samples with an over-proportion of
women, and the assessment of anxiety by means of self-report. Affective
states are highly subjective, pointing to the validity and relevance of
studying individuals' experience. However, this form of assessment can
be prone to bias, for instance, when individuals change their answer to
be consistent with societal norms or their ideal self (Van de Mortel,
2008). We tried to minimize these biases by controlling for trait social
desirability, which we did not find to have an effect, and by using between-
subjects designs, avoiding direct comparisons between self and
others. Nevertheless, future studies should complement self-reports by
physiological assessments or observer ratings of anxiety.
An endeavor for future research will be to investigate the implications
of the effect for close relationships. Our studies show that, as a
result of increased anxiety, individuals think that their significant other
should engage in the same risk less than they should themselves.
Starting from this, it would be worth investigating if and how the discrepancy
in anxiety influences the way dyads communicate in the
prospect of risk. When intending a behavior that contains risk, it might
often be the partner, parent, or best friend that expresses worry, or even
tries to convince the individual not to take the risk. Worry communicated
by a significant other may alert a person to existing threats
(Parkinson, Phiri, & Simons, 2012; Parkinson & Simons, 2012; Van
Kleef, 2009). Beyond a situational appraisal inherent in an affective
display, relational information is conveyed that might motivate the
acting person to behave with caution out of a sense of responsibility
(Parkinson & Simons, 2012). In this way, the effect might have a protective
function for close relationships. However, if the “worrier” later
intends to engage in risk him or herself, these differing standards may
likewise become a source of conflict.
Differing standards, or more specifically, people giving (good) advice
to others that they fail to live up to themselves, has been researched
under the term action hypocrisy (Howell, Sweeny, &
Shepperd, 2014). While the here studied effect might evoke interpersonal
behavior that looks like action hypocrisy, we assume the underlying
processes to differ. Action hypocrisy denotes a discrepancy
between advice giving and action in a context where action is a desirable
response. It results from varying psychological distance to own and
others' actions, and accordingly, the decision problem being construed
on different levels of abstraction. Due to higher psychological distance
to others' versus own actions, recommendations to others are to a
higher degree based on idealistic concerns (salient at a high-level
construal), while personal decisions are to a higher degree based on
pragmatic considerations (salient at a low-level construal). Two
predictions can be derived from this: First, intentions for distant (i.e.,
future vs. present) personal actions should, due to higher psychological
distance, be more similar to recommendations made to others. Second,
recommendations to close others should be more similar to personal
decisions than recommendations to distant others (Howell et al., 2014).
The second prediction stands in contrast to the here reported findings
that speak to a discrepancy between self and close, but not distant
others. Thus, different psychological processes seem to yield in the
observation that people's recommendations do not match their own
An applied context in which a gap between recommendations and
personal decisions as a result of differing levels in anxiety might be
particularly relevant to study is that of medical decision making. When
faced with an important medical decision, individuals typically turn to
their partner or close family members for consultation. Despite the
important role that companions play in health decisions, only few
studies have examined decision patterns made by patient-companionphysician
triads (Clayman & Morris, 2013; Laidsaar-Powell et al.,
2013). Based on our findings, it could be expected that companions
systematically favor less risky treatments (e.g., in terms of mortality
rate) than patients themselves (for a similar finding with physicians, see
Ubel, Angott, & Zikmund-Fisher, 2011).
To sum, this research adds an interpersonal perspective to the study
of risk that may contribute to our understanding of how people deal
with and affectively respond to risk. Further research is needed for a
complete understanding of the proccesses underlying the described
discrepancy in affective reaction towards own and close others' risk.
Based on the present findings, we suspect that people experiencing risk
differently for close others than for themselves may have implications
for the dynamics in close relationships.

No Compelling Evidence That Women with More Attractive Faces Show Stronger Preferences for Masculine Men

Docherty, Ciaran, Anthony J. Lee, Amanda Hahn, and Benedict C. Jones. 2019. “No Compelling Evidence That Women with More Attractive Faces Show Stronger Preferences for Masculine Men.” PsyArXiv. November 13. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Many researchers have suggested that more attractive women will show stronger preferences for masculine men, potentially because such women are better placed to offset the potential costs of choosing a masculine mate. Perhaps the most compelling evidence for this proposal has come from work reporting a positive association between third-party ratings of women’s facial attractiveness and women’s preference for masculinized versus feminized versions of men’s faces as hypothetical long-term partners. Because this finding was based on only a small sample of women (N = 35), we attempted to replicate this result in a much larger sample (N = 454). We found that women, on average, preferred masculinized versions of men’s faces to feminized versions and that this masculinity preference was slightly stronger when women assessed men’s attractiveness as short-term, rather than long-term, mates. However, we found no compelling evidence that women’s masculinity preferences were related to their own attractiveness. These results underline the importance of ensuring that studies of individual differences in mate preferences are adequately powered.


Trade-off theories of women’s preferences for masculine men propose that men displaying more masculine physical characteristics are more likely to be healthy, physically strong, and able to compete for resources, but also less likely to invest time and effort in their mates and offspring (Little et al., 2001; Penton-Voak et al., 2003). According to such theories, women may then differ systematically in how they weigh up the costs and benefits of choosing a masculine mate (Little et al., 2001; Penton-Voak et al., 2003).

One factor that is widely thought to influence how women resolve this trade off between the potential costs and benefits of choosing a masculine mate is women’s own physical attractiveness (Little et al., 2001; Penton-Voak et al., 2003). The rationale for predicting these attractiveness-contingent masculinity preferences is that more physically attractive women will be better able to retain and secure investment from masculine men and/or better able to replace masculine men in the event of relationship dissolution (Little et al., 2001; Penton-Voak et al., 2003). In other words, more attractive women are better able to minimize the potential costs of choosing a masculine mate.

Several studies have investigated possible correlations between women’s own attractiveness and their preferences for facial masculinity by measuring women’s own attractiveness via self-ratings. However, results from studies using this methodology are mixed. While Little et al. (2001) found that women who rated their own attractiveness higher showed stronger preferences for men with masculine facial characteristics (see also Little & Mannion, 2006), subsequent studies did not replicate this significant positive correlation between women’s self-rated attractiveness and masculinity preferences (Penton-Voak et al., 2003; Zietsch et al., 2015).

Other work has tested for evidence that women’s own physical attractiveness predicts the strength of their masculinity preferences by assessing women’s own attractiveness via third-party attractiveness ratings of face photographs. Using this methodology, Penton-Voak et al. (2003) found that more attractive women showed stronger preferences for men with masculine facial characteristics when assessing men’s attractiveness for hypothetical long-term, but not short-term, relationships. This result was interpreted as strong evidence for trade-off theories of women’s preferences for masculine men because the potential costs of choosing a masculine mate are generally assumed to be more pronounced for long-term, than short-term, relationships (Penton-Voak et al., 2003).

Many other findings that have been widely interpreted as evidence for trade-off theories of women’s preferences for masculine men, such as putative effects of hormonal status and/or conception risk, have not been observed in large-scale replication studies (see Jones et al., 2019 for a recent review of these non-replications). Consequently, and because we know of no large-scale replication of Penton-Voak et al. (2003), we tested for possible relationships between third-party attractiveness ratings of women’s face photographs and their preferences for men with masculine facial characteristics as hypothetical long-term and short-term relationships.

Multinationals, Monopsony and Local Development:Evidence from the United Fruit Company

Multinationals, Monopsony and Local Development:Evidence from the United Fruit Company. Esteban M endez-Chacon, Diana Van Patten. November 4 2019.

Abstract: This paper studies the short- and long-run effects of large firms on economic development. We use evidence from one of the largest multinationals of the 20th Century: The United Fruit Company (UFC). The firm was given a large land concession in Costa Rica — one of the so-called “Banana Republics”— from 1889 to 1984. Using administrative census data with census-block geo-references from 1973 to 2011, we implement a geographic regression discontinuity (RD) design that exploits a quasi-random assignment of land. We find that the firm had a positive and persistent effect on living standards. Regions within the UFC were 26% less likely to be poor in 1973 than nearby counterfactual locations, with only 63% of the gap closing over the following 3 decades.Company documents explain that a key concern at the time was to attract and maintain a sizable workforce, which induced the firm to invest heavily in local amenities that likely account for our result. We then build a dynamic spatial model in which a firm’s labor market power within a region depends on how mobile workers are across locations and run counterfactual exercises. The model is consistent with observable spatial frictions and the RD estimates, and shows that the firm increases aggregate welfare by 2.9%. This effect is increasing in worker mobility: If workers were half as mobile,the firm would have decreased aggregate welfare by 6%. The model also shows that a local monopsonist compensates workers mostly through local amenities keeping wages low, and leads to higher welfare levels than a counterfactual with perfectly competitive labor markets in all regions, if we assume amenities have productivity spillovers.

We find that households living within the former UFC regions have had better economic outcomes (housing, sanitation, education, and consumption capacity), and were 26% lesslikely to be poor than households living outside. This effect is persistent over time: Since the UFC closed, the treated and untreated regions have converged slowly, with only 63% of the income gap closing over the following 3 decades.3 Historical data collected from primary sources suggests that investments in local amenities carried out by the UFC — hospitals, schools, roads — are the main drivers of our results. For instance, we document that investments per student and per patient in UFC-operated schools and hospitals were significantly larger than in local schools and hospitals run by the government, and sometimes even twice as large. Access to these investments was restricted, for the most part, to UFC workers who were required to live within the plantation. This might explain the sharp discontinuity in outcomes right at the boundary.4 We do not find evidence of other channels, such as selective migration or negative spillovers on the control group, being the main mechanisms behind our results. Why were these investments in local amenities higher than in the rest of the country? While the company might have invested in hospitals to have healthier workers, it is lessclear why it would benefit from more schooling. Evidence form archival company annual reports suggests that these investments were induced by the need to attract and maintain a sizable workforce, given the initially high levels of worker turnover.5 For instance, after describing annual turnovers of up to 100% per year, the 1922 report states
“These migratory habits do not permit them to remain in the plantation from one year to the next, and as soon as they become physically efficient in our methods and acquire money they either return to their homes or migrate elsewhere and must be replaced.”

Later, the 1925 report states
“We recommend a greater investment in corporate welfare beyond medical measures. An endeavor should be made to stabilize the population...we must provide measures for taking care of families of married men, by furnishing them with garden facilities, schools, and some forms of entertainment. In other words, we must take an interest in our people if we might hope to retain their services indefinitely.”


Infrastructure investments included pipes, drinking water systems, sewage system, street lighting, macadamized roads, a dike (Sanou and Quesada, 1998), and by 1942 the company operated three hospitals in the country17 [...] and although a higher level of spending does not necessarily imply a higher quality of health care, UFC’s medical services were known of being among the best in the country (Casey, 1979).

From 2017... Same-sex marriage approval was associated with less self-reported suicide attempts

From 2017... Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts. Julia Raifman et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(4):350-356. Apr 2017, doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.4529

Key Points
Question  Are state same-sex marriage policies associated with a reduction in adolescent suicide attempts?

Findings  This difference-in-differences analysis of representative data from 47 states found that same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. The effect was concentrated among adolescents who were sexual minorities.

Meaning  Same-sex marriage policies are associated with reduced adolescent suicide attempts.

Importance  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Adolescents who are sexual minorities experience elevated rates of suicide attempts.

Objective  To evaluate the association between state same-sex marriage policies and adolescent suicide attempts.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This study used state-level Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data from January 1, 1999, to December 31, 2015, which are weighted to be representative of each state that has participation in the survey greater than 60%. A difference-in-differences analysis compared changes in suicide attempts among all public high school students before and after implementation of state policies in 32 states permitting same-sex marriage with year-to-year changes in suicide attempts among high school students in 15 states without policies permitting same-sex marriage. Linear regression was used to control for state, age, sex, race/ethnicity, and year, with Taylor series linearized standard errors clustered by state and classroom. In a secondary analysis among students who are sexual minorities, we included an interaction between sexual minority identity and living in a state that had implemented same-sex marriage policies.

Interventions  Implementation of state policies permitting same-sex marriage during the full period of YRBSS data collection.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Self-report of 1 or more suicide attempts within the past 12 months.

Results  Among the 762 678 students (mean [SD] age, 16.0 [1.2] years; 366 063 males and 396 615 females) who participated in the YRBSS between 1999 and 2015, a weighted 8.6% of all high school students and 28.5% of students who identified as sexual minorities reported suicide attempts before implementation of same-sex marriage policies. Same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 0.6–percentage point (95% CI, –1.2 to –0.01 percentage points) reduction in suicide attempts, representing a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide owing to same-sex marriage implementation. The association was concentrated among students who were sexual minorities.

Conclusions and Relevance  State same-sex marriage policies were associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts, providing empirical evidence for an association between same-sex marriage policies and mental health outcomes.

Pain and pleasure: Although the mechanisms for affect and motivation are separate, they causally interact

Pain and Pleasure. Murat Aydede. To appear in the Routledge Handbook of Emotion Theory, edited by A. Scarantino—Dec2018, v2.6.

If you look at anybody’s typical list of emotions, you won’t see pains and pleasures among them. Indeed, even among the atypical emotions that people working on emotions regularly cite, pains and pleasures show uponly rarely. And yet, very few people will fail to acknowledge the critical, or perhaps the essential, role pains and pleasures play in our emotional lives. This chapter will explain the sense in which pains and pleasures are elementary forms of emotions.Let’s first distinguish pain and pleasure experiences, properly so-called, from their sources—typically, the physical objects, events, activities, etc., that cause such experiences. Smelling a rose is a pleasure, getting pricked by a rose bush thorn a pain —it is said. But it is primarily the experiences generated by these events that are said to be pleasant or painful. These experiences are mental events or episodes caused by various physical stimuli. It is harmless, in fact sometimes quite appropriate, to extend the terms to refer to such stimuli in most ordinary contexts as causes of such experiences. But here we will focus on pains and pleasures as experiences. As experiences, they are presumed to be conscious mental episodes.1

Function [of affect]

One natural proposal is that hedonic valence is a “teaching signal”of sorts:18 it tells the agent to ‘want,’ or form a ‘desire’ to bring about, what is thus valenced —this involves, and for most animals, exhausts learning when and how to perform those sequences of actions similar to those that have actually lead to the obtaining of the valenced experience. Liking helps attribute incentive salience to environmental stimuli and sustain it (Berridge 1996, Dickinson & Balleine 2010). The sustaining bit is important. A learning-capable agent that acts out of an existing want or desire(learned, acquired, or otherwise) needs to somehow trackthe consequences of its behavior, that is, whether its actions result (or have resulted) in the satisfaction or frustration of its ‘desires’—generating more 'likes' or 'dislikes.' Plausibly, this is the other side of the same coin —of learning what desires to form on the basis of experienced valence. So, experienced valence is also a signal for desire satisfaction or frustration (cf. Schroeder 2004). Thus, although the mechanisms for affect and motivation are separate, they causally interact. We quite generally want what we like, and, more often than not, we like what we want.

Further research on he function of affect is likely to reveal in the future that there is a deeper unitary role affect plays in learning, motivation, and subjective wellbeing.

The discovery of dissociable underlying mechanisms has obvious important implications for a better understanding of affective disorders such as depression, clinical anxiety, and bipolar disorders as well as addiction and obsessive-compulsive behavior.For example, the well-received incentive sensitization theoryof addiction (Robinson & Berridge 1993, 2008) directly came out of hypotheses about the separability of affect from motivation —one way to characterize addiction is as a big increase in motivation to seek and consume substances that is vastly disproportionate to the increasingly diminishing affective payoff. The advances in basic affective neuroscience are poised to deliver surprising results about the causes of various emotional and affective disorders, which promises not only to greatly facilitate proper, faster,and more detailed diagnosis but also to offer huge potential for developing treatment options.There is increasing research on the extensive mechanisms shared by the brain’s default-mode network and the affective circuitry, both of which are connected, unsurprisingly, to pervasive affective disorders such as depression and anhedonia in general. There is evidence that optimal metastability in the brain’s large-scale dynamical oscillation plays a role in subjective affective wellbeing. (Kringelbach & Berridge 2017).19

Above, we had a schema about the general structure of pains and pleasures:

     [sensation or cognition or both] + affect20

The question to ask is: (Q) Does every instance of this schema yield an emotion?In the absence of clear and uncontroversial criteria about what qualifies as an emotion, it is hard to answer this question. If I rely on my pre-theoretical intuitions, I am inclined to answer itin the negative. But we all know that when it comes to emotions, people’s intuitions (pre-theoretical or otherwise) are all over the place. Perhaps we can simply stipulate that any sensory affect is an elementary emotion. This would be fine but it shifts the main research question in emotion theory: what, then, makes a mental episode into a non-elementary emotion?If we can set the sensory case aside in this way by designating them as elementary, perhaps we can identify all cognitive affectwith emotions? This suggestion is probably better —as all emotions are known to involve some cognitive uptake about what is going on in the environment of their emoters, which is usually not amodality specific affair and involves cognitive appraisals. But what about very simple forms of cognitive affect? For example, I’ve just learned there is less car theft in my neighbourhood this year than last year —I am certainly pleased that this is so. Have I undergone an emotion? Saying yes would seem to stretch the meaning of ‘emotion’. The best we can justifiably say, it seems to me, is that some pains and pleasures are emotions, some not—and leave it at that for present purposes.

The key point not to lose sight of is that the core brain mechanisms that generate negative or positive affectas attached to mental processes and the mechanisms connecting affect to learning, decision-making, motivation, and action, are the core building blocks of all emotions. We need to investigate what further elaboration of the basic affective processes is needed to explain the full range of emotions.2