Thursday, January 2, 2020

For married and unmarried Americans alike, pornography use was either unassociated or negatively associated with nearly all relationship outcomes; pornography use was not positively associated with relationship quality

Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys. Samuel L. Perry. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Jan 2 2020.

Abstract: Numerous studies have examined the association between pornography use and various measures of relationship quality. Yet scholars have also pointed out the limitations of many such studies, including inconsistent findings for men and women, non-representative samples, and negatively biased measures that could result in misleading findings. The purpose of this study was to establish a dominant pattern in the association between pornography use and relationship quality in a way that mitigated these issues. Data were taken from 30 nationally representative surveys, which together included 31 measures of relationship quality: 1973–2018 General Social Surveys (1 repeated measure); 2006 Portraits of American Life Study (13 measures); 2012 New Family Structures Study (12 measures); and 2014 Relationships in America Survey (5 measures). This allowed for 57 independent tests examining the association between pornography use and relationship outcomes for married Americans and 29 independent tests for unmarried Americans. Along with bivariate associations, full regression models were estimated with sociodemographic controls and interaction terms for gender. For married and unmarried Americans alike, pornography use was either unassociated or negatively associated with nearly all relationship outcomes. Significant associations were mostly small in magnitude. Conversely, except for one unclear exception, pornography use was never positively associated with relationship quality. Associations were only occasionally moderated by gender, but in inconsistent directions. While this study makes no claims about causality, findings clearly affirmed that, in instances where viewing pornography is associated with relationship quality at all, it is nearly always a signal of poorer relationship quality, for men and women.

Despite the numerous studies conducted on the association
between pornography use and committed romantic relationships,
there remains some disagreement among scholars as to
whether there are clear trends. Part of the challenge has been
that data were often taken from small, non-representative populations,
using measures or designs that could be negatively
biased, and findings could often be curiously different for men
and women. Using 31 measures of relationship quality across
30 nationally representative surveys, the current study sought
to mitigate these issues in order to establish a dominant trend in
the association between pornography use and relationship quality
for representative samples of unmarried and married men
and women. That dominant trend seems to be that pornography
use in the general population—either at all or in higher frequencies—
is either unassociated with romantic relationship quality
or is weakly associated with poorer relationship quality. This
was true for married and unmarried Americans alike as well as
for men and women. Conversely, more frequent pornography
use was almost never associated with better relationship quality,
at least on average. Moreover, consistent with Wright et al.
(2017), these patterns held across different measures of pornography
use, including dichotomous measures (GSS), those
asking about general frequency (PALS, NFSS), and those asking
about most recent use (RIA).
To be sure, this study has made no claim as to the direction
of the association between pornography use and relationship
quality nor could it do so with these data. While other studies
using the panel component of PALS (e.g., Perry, 2017a,
2018; Perry & Davis, 2017) or the GSS (e.g., Perry & Schleifer,
2018; Wright et al., 2014) have sought to establish a directional
“effect” between pornography use and relationship outcomes,
the goals of this study were to establish a dominant pattern in
associations across a maximum number of relationship outcomes
and surveys. Since this study cannot determine directionality,
it could very well be that any observed association
between pornography viewing and poorer relationship quality
can be explained by self-selection (i.e., Americans in struggling
relationships seek out pornography as an escape or alternative),
just as it could be that frequent pornography use is contributing
to the relationship struggles. As suggested by Muusses et al.
(2015), it could also be both.
Beyond the fact that all these data were cross-sectional, they
are also only of individual Americans rather than dyads. Thus,
the study was unable to address one of the primary critiques of
the previous research on pornography use and relationship quality
(see Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Newstrom & Harris, 2016),
in that it cannot examine the relationship quality of someone
whose partner is viewing pornography nor is it able to examine
relationship outcomes of couples who view pornography
together. Some of the confusion about findings linking pornography
use with relationship outcomes stems from these two
limitations. In their recent narrative review and meta-analysis
of literature examining heterosexual men’s pornography use
and their female partner’s response, Wright and Tokunaga
(2018) demonstrated the general trend that women who perceived
their male partner as pornography consumers tended
to be less relationally or sexually satisfied, and tended to be
more insecure about their own bodies. Moreover, because such
Americans who use pornography together with their partner
(and thus might experience positive returns to their pornography
use) would also be included in these samples, the findings
presented here suggest that these are a minority among pornography
users. That is, whether or not coupled pornography
use might be beneficial for some couples, the stronger pattern
among a larger percentage of Americans is that pornography
consumption happens more frequently in relationships that are
not doing well comparatively.
Interestingly, the tests for interactions also showed that in
the vast majority of instances, gender did not significantly moderate
the association between pornography use and relationship
outcomes. And the relatively few situations where these
interactions were significant painted rather inconsistent results.
Sometimes, it seemed that the quality of men’s romantic relationships
was more closely tied to pornography use, while other
times it seemed that the association was stronger for women.
At the very least, the consistent lack of a moderating effect for
gender would challenge assumptions that women’s pornography
use tends to be associated with better relationship quality,
while men’s is associated with poorer relationship quality
due to different use patterns. Rather, for both men and women,
married and unmarried, pornography use tended to be either
unassociated with relationship quality or associated with poorer
relationship quality.
There also seemed to be little discernable difference between
those in marriage relationships verses unmarried romantic relationship
in terms of the association between pornography use
and relationship outcomes. Despite research suggesting that
pornography use might be viewed as more of a violation in marriage
relationships perhaps due to more expansive and stringent
expectations for sexual “fidelity” (Bridges et al., 2003; Olmstead
et al., 2013; Schneider, 2000), there were relatively few
instances where associations in the 2006 PALS, 2012 NFSS,
or 2014 RIA survey were statistically significant for married
Americans and were not significant for unmarried Americans,
despite some potentially large differences in sample size.
Despite the broader trend that pornography use tended to
be an indicator of poorer relationship quality in the majority
of significant associations, the exception (in the 2012 NFSS;
Table 4) must be considered as an important qualifier. On the
face of it, the finding that married persons who viewed pornography
more often were less likely to talk to their spouse about
separating would contradict the idea that pornography use is
associated with poorer relationship outcomes. Unfortunately,
the interpretation of this association is not so clear. It could also
be that persons who view pornography more often are simply
less likely to talk to their spouse at all, not just about separating.
Moreover, given that 9 of the other 12 outcomes for married
participants in the NFSS all point to the conclusion that viewing
pornography more often is linked with poorer marital quality,
this finding is anomalous and perhaps an outlier. However, to
the extent that this association is capturing a real relationship,
it requires that scholars provide appropriate qualification when
drawing conclusions about pornography’s association with
relationship outcomes. To the extent that the two are related
at all (and in many instances they were not), pornography use
tends to be an indicator of poorer relationship quality, though
not always.

Why Older Women (Cougars) Seek Sex With Younger Men (Cubs)

Why Older Women (Cougars) Seek Sex With Younger Men (Cubs). Micheal Castleman. Psychgology Today, Jan 02, 2020.


There have always been couples comprised of older women (cougars) and significantly younger men (cubs), but these relationships went mainstream in 2009 with the premiere of the TV show “Cougar Town.” Then in 2017 Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France, and the media feasted on the fact that his wife, his former high school Latin teacher, was 24 years older. Not surprisingly, sexologists have recently delved into the cougar-cub phenomenon.

"Script-Defying" Sex

A French researcher conducted in-depth interviews with 55 women, age 30 to 60, who'd been involved with significantly younger men. Their choice of mates involved several factors independent of their age differences: appearance, intelligence, kindness, family background, and sense of humor. But the younger men also gave their older partners a welcome gift—“script-defying” sex.

“Script” refers to sexual scripts, the sexological term for culturally accepted generalizations about lovemaking, what most people consider conventional and normal. Prevalent sexual scripts include:

.    Men lust. Women want to feel desired.
.    “Sex” equals fellatio and intercourse, with perhaps a bit of cunnilingus.
.    Men should orchestrate sex. Women should follow their lead.
.    Women come during intercourse.

These scripts may be widely accepted, but they are seriously mistaken:

.    Yes, the large majority of women want to feel desired. In addition, some—an estimated 5 to 10 percent—also experience lifelong male-style lust. Many cougars said they’d been denigrated by friends and previous close-in-age lovers for having lusty libidos.
.    Sex equals fellatio and intercourse with a little cunnilingus in one key realm—pornography. Porn shows almost constant penis worship, but comparatively little (if any) cunnilingus. This seriously deludes men about women and lovemaking. Gentle, extended clitoral caressing—particularly cunnilingus—is key to most women’s orgasms and erotic satisfaction. Many cougars said they’d tried unsuccessfully to persuade similar-aged lovers to provide oral. They found cubs more open to instruction and much less resistant to providing extended cunnilingus every time. As a result, the women were more consistently orgasmic than many had been with age-matched lovers, and reported greater sexual satisfaction.
.    When men orchestrate partner sex, they work up to orgasms around 95 percent of the time. But depending on the study, women’s rate of partner-sex orgasms is only 50 to 70 percent, no matter how long it lasts or how large the erection. As just mentioned, in cougar-cub relationships, the women insist on extended cunnilingus, which helps them climax. And most cubs appreciate having experienced teachers who clue them into the fine points of pleasuring women and helping them come.
.    When TV and movies depict intercourse, after a few thrusts, both lovers come. Actually, only around 25 percent of women are consistently orgasmic from intercourse alone. The other 75 percent need kissing, cuddling, whole-body massage, genital hand massage, and especially cunnilingus. Compared with men their own age or older, cougars say cubs are more teachable, and therefore, preferable partners.

Measurement and Theory in Disgust Sensitivity

Tybur, Joshua M., and Annika Karinen. 2019. “Measurement and Theory in Disgust Sensitivity.” PsyArXiv. October 29. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: This chapter covers the 20+ year history of disgust sensitivity research by summarizing and contrasting different disgust sensitivity instruments and discussing how these instruments are used and interpreted.

Behavioral Validations of DS

As its name implies, pathogen disgust is associated with motivations that appear tailored
to keeping pathogens at bay. Consider the canonical disgust face, which is characterized by (1) a
closing of the eyes and, a lowering of the eyebrows, both of which reduce the exposed surface
area of the eyes, (2) a wrinkling of the nose, which reduces air intake, and (3) a lowering of the
lips, which reduces the probability of objects entering the mouth (or, alternatively, if something
is already in the mouth, a protruding tongue, which expels the contents of the mouth; Susskind et
al., 2008). Each of these actions partially seals off an entryway through which pathogens can
enter the body. Behaviors apart from facial expression also appear specialized for neutralizing
pathogens. Disgust is associated with motivations to avoid physical contact with the disgust
elicitor – physical contact that would allow pathogens to be transmitted from disgust elicitor to
human (Hertenstein et al., 2006; Roseman et al., 1994). Does pathogen DS, as assessed by selfreport instruments, relate to these types of pathogen-neutralizing behaviors?
Multiple studies employing behavioral avoidance tasks (BAT) suggest that it does. In
BATs, researchers record whether participants are willing to physically contact an object, and
what degree of contact they will engage in. For example, in one study, participants were
presented with a cookie on the floor and were asked to (a) hold the cookie, (b) touch the cookie
with their lips, and (c) eat the cookie (Deacon and Olatunji, 2007). Similar progressions were
used for a used hair comb and a bedpan filled with toilet water. Pathogen DS (negatively)
predicted the number of steps completed in the tasks, even when controlling for participant sex,
anxiety, and depression. Similar results have been obtained for BATs in which participants were
asked to touch tissues used by someone who had the common cold (Fan and Olatunji, 2013);
touch a sterilized cockroach (Rozin et al., 1999); touch a colonoscopy bag (Reynolds et al.,
2014); and touch moldy fruit (Olatunji, Lohr et al., 2007). In contrast, pathogen DS does not
predict avoidance of watching or committing socio-moral violations (Van Overveld et al., 2010),
and sexual DS and moral DS do not predict avoidance of contact with sinks, trash cans, and
toilets in a public restroom (Olatunji et al., 2012). Similarly, pathogen DS – but not sexual DS or
moral DS – relates to galvanic skin response to images of pathogen cues (Olatunji et al., 2012).
Only a few studies have tested whether DS relates to facial responses to disgust-eliciting
stimuli. In one study of 47 participants, facial electromyography (EMG) indicated that pathogen
DS was unrelated to the degree of levator labii (a key muscle in the disgust facial response)
activation in response to disgust-eliciting images (Stark et al., 2005). In another study of 60
participants, EMG again indicated that pathogen DS was unrelated to levator labii activation in
response to a disgust-eliciting film clip (De Jong et al., 2011). Of course, these studies are not
well powered to detect small relations between DS and facial responses – they only had 28% and
34% power to detect a correlation of r = 0.25. Nevertheless, they hint at two interesting
possibilities. First, they could suggest that variability in some anti-pathogen responses, including
subjective feelings of disgust and physical avoidance, is distinct from variability in other anti-
pathogen responses, such as reducing the degree to which the eyes, nose, and mouth are exposed
to pathogens. Second (and, perhaps, alternatively), they could suggest that variability in facial
response to disgust elicitors reflects variability in motivations to communicate the presence of
pathogens to others (see Fridlund, 1991). Once again, further research is needed to adjudicate
between these possibilities.
The majority of studies testing how DS relates to behavior have presented participants
with cues to pathogens. One exception examined how DS relates to aggression. Reasoning that
disgust motivates avoidance – and that aggression involves approach-oriented motivations
(Harmon-Jones and Peterson, 2008) – Pond and colleagues (2012) suggested that DS should
relate negatively to aggression. They found that participants higher in moral DS and in sexual DS
– but not pathogen DS – delivered fewer high intensity noise-blasts in a behavioral aggression
paradigm (notably, though, this study did not report unique effects of moral DS vs. sexual DS,
and it did not control for participant sex – a variable strongly related to both aggression and
sexual DS). That said, we are unaware of any studies that have examined how sexual DS relates
to behavioral responses to unwanted sexual advances or how moral DS relates to behavioral
responses to individuals who have committed moral transgressions. Naturally, such studies
present ethical challenges that surpass asking participants to touch tissues or sterilized
cockroaches. Nevertheless, they would greatly improve our interpretation of sexual DS and
moral DS.
In sum, findings gleaned from a variety of methods – including self-report instruments,
behavioral avoidance tasks, and physiological measures – provide the groundwork for how we
should interpret DS. However, a theoretical framework is required to integrate these empirical
findings and transform this groundwork into a firm foundation. In the next section, we will extend
a theoretical framework for understanding the experience of disgust (Tybur et al., 2013) to
understanding variability in DS.

Relationship trajectories of winning & losing candidates for mayor & parliamentarian: A promotion to one of these jobs doubles the baseline probability of divorce for women, but not for men

All the Single Ladies: Job Promotions and the Durability of Marriage. Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. Jan 2020, Vol. 12, No. 1: Pages 260-287.

Abstract: We study how promotions to top jobs affect the probability of divorce. We compare the relationship trajectories of winning and losing candidates for mayor and parliamentarian and find that a promotion to one of these jobs doubles the baseline probability of divorce for women, but not for men. We also find a widening gender gap in divorce rates for men and women after being promoted to CEO. An analysis of possible mechanisms shows that divorces are concentrated in more gender-traditional couples, while women in more gender-equal couples are unaffected.

JEL J12, J16, M12, M51

Diversity Promotes Collective Intelligence in Large Groups but Harms Small Ones

Pescetelli, Niccolo, Alexis Rutherford, and Iyad Rahwan. 2020. “Diversity Promotes Collective Intelligence in Large Groups but Harms Small Ones.” PsyArXiv. January 2. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Diverse groups are often said to be less susceptible to decision errors resulting from herding and polarization. Thus, the fact that many modern interactions happen in a digital world, where filter bubbles and homophily bring people together, is an alarming yet poorly understood phenomenon. But online interactions are also characterized by unprecedented scale, where thousands of individuals can exchange ideas simultaneously. Evidence in collective intelligence however suggests that small (rather than large) groups tend to do better in complex information environments. Here, we adopt the well-established framework of social learning theory (from the fields of ecology and cultural evolution) to explore the causal link between diversity and performance as a function of group size. In this pre-registered study, we experimentally manipulate both group diversity and group size, and measure individual and group performance in realistic geo-political judgements. We find that diversity hinders the performance of individuals in small groups, but improves it in large groups. Furthermore, aggregating opinions of modular crowds composed of small independent but homogeneous groups achieves better results than using non-modular diverse ones. The results are explained by greater conflict of opinion in diverse groups, which negatively impacts small (but not large) groups. The present work sheds light on the causal mechanisms underlying the success (or lack thereof) of diverse groups in digital environments, and suggests that diversity research can benefit from adopting a wider social learning perspective.

Full text downloadable at (PDF)

Women: Beliefs in one’s sexual power lead both to negative (via self‐objectification, eating less) and positive (via sexual subjectivity, more sexual desire and pleasure) consequences for mental health

Sex is power belief and women’s mental health: The mediating roles of self‐objectification and sexual subjectivity. Matthias De Wilde, Annalisa Casini, Robin Wollast, Stéphanie Demoulin. European Journal of Social Psychology, November 12 2019.

Abstract: Sex is power belief (SIPB) positively relates to self‐objectification. This research aims at expanding this finding. We propose that SIPB involves an instrumental view of one’s own body (i.e., self‐objectification) that leads women to experience the negative consequences classically associated with self‐objectification. We further suggest that SIPB positively relates to sexual subjectivity—multidimensional sexual self‐perceptions and positive sexual experiences—and that such relation counterbalances some of the negative effects of SIPB. We examine the effect of SIPB on women’s negative eating attitudes and sexual satisfaction, and test the mediating roles of self‐objectification and sexual subjectivity in three studies (N1 = 121, N2 = 296, N3 = 320). Results supported our predictions that beliefs in one’s sexual power lead both to negative (via self‐objectification) and positive (via sexual subjectivity) consequences for women’s mental health. The discussion focuses on the potential consequences of SIPB at both individual and collective levels.

 General Discussion

The overall aim of the present research was to provide a more complete and nuanced
picture of the relationship between SIPB and SO. More precisely, across three studies, we
aimed to examine the consequences of SIPB on women’s health (i.e., negative eating
attitudes and sexual satisfaction) and to assess two possible underlying mechanisms of these
relationships (i.e., SO and sexual subjectivity).
Results of studies 1, 2 and 3, indicated that SIPB was positively related to SO.
Women who perceive that their body is a source of power are more prone to focus on the
observable part of themselves and to consider it as important for their self-concept (i.e., selfobjectify).
These results are in line with the idea that some women consider that matching
beauty and thinness standards is a stairway to power over men (Erchull & Liss, 2013b, 2014).
Indeed, media in contemporary occidental society teach women from an early age that
sexualized behaviors are rewarded (Murnen & Smolak, 2012) and that they can – or even
should – feel empowered when expressing and displaying their sexuality (Erchull & Liss,
2013ab; Tolman, 2012). In this sense, these results replicated prior findings from Erchull and
Liss (2013a) which reported a positive correlation between SIPB and SO. In addition, our
results are in line with prior studies that reported a positive relationship between variables
conceptually close to SIPB (e.g., beauty as currency and enjoyment of sexualization) and SO
(Calogero, et al., 2017; Erchull & Liss, 2014).
Moreover, in line with the literature on SO (Moradi & Huang, 2008; Roberts et al.,
2018), results of studies 1, 2, and 3 showed that the positive relationship between SIPB and
SO is related to deleterious consequences for women’s health, such as increasing women’s
negative eating attitudes and decreasing women’s sexual satisfaction (considered as a health
indicator; Higgins, Mullinax, Trussell, Davidson, & Moore, 2011). This result legitimates the
concern of scholars about the illusory nature of feeling a sense of power using their body
(Calogero & Siegel, 2018; Gill, 2008, 2012; Liss et al., 2010; Anderson, 2014). Accordingly,
our results indicate that SIPB is related to women’s attempt to comply with men’s
expectations (e.g., negative eating attitudes). Further, some scholars claimed that women who
experience a sense of power through the use of their body have actually internalized
extremely deeply the objectifying perspective of society (e.g., Gill, 2012) and that this source
of power is implicitly reserved to women who best fit men’s expectations (Gill, 2008). Our
findings support scholars’ concerns with the fact that women’s desire, pleasure, and
subjectivity could be devalued by the message that their sense of power is, in fact, a “false
consciousness marketed to them by a sexualized advertising culture” (Lamb & Peterson,
2012, p. 705). Taken together, these results converge with the idea that, subjectively
empowering or not, SO remains deleterious for women’s health and sexual functioning.
In addition, on top of the deleterious consequences SIPB has via SO, results of
Studies 2 and 3 also indicated that SIPB positively relates to sexual satisfaction via an
increase in sexual subjectivity. Consistent with Peterson’s claim (2010), our results show that
beliefs in one’s sexual power increase women sense of empowerment, their subjective right
to feel attractive and sexually desirable (Horne & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2006), their perception
of efficacy and entitlement to sexual desire and pleasure (Tolman, 2002, 2012), and their
sexual self-reflection (Zimmer-Gembeck & French, 2016). Because increased sexual
subjectivity relates positively to one’s sexual satisfaction (Horne & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2006;
Zimmer-Gembeck & French, 2016), this translates into a positive relationship between SIPB
and sexual satisfaction and an overriding of the deleterious consequences SIPB has on sexual
satisfaction via an increase in SO. Interestingly, additional analyses reported in studies 2 and
3 seem to underline the important driving role of two sub-components of the sexual
subjectivity construct in the relationship between SIPB and sexual satisfaction, i.e., sexual
body esteem and perceived sexual efficacy. Future research should be conducted to further
replicate this unexpected results, and to provide a better understanding of these relationships.

Prosocials were more optimistic about the future of morally good (than bad) agents, while individualists were not; this was driven by prosocials’ failure to update beliefs from undesirable information about morally good agents

Zheng, Shuying, Xinyuan Yan, Jenifer Siegel, Vladimir Chituc, Shiyi Li, Molly Crockett, and Yina Ma. 2020. “Self-serving Karmic Beliefs: Prosociality Influences Vicarious Optimism.” PsyArXiv. January 2. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Belief in karma is ubiquitous, appearing early in development and impacting prosocial behavior. Here, we tested the possibility that karmic beliefs are self-serving: are “good” people more likely to believe that good things happen to good people? Study 1 (n=170) showed stronger karmic beliefs in more prosocial individuals. Next, we tested whether self-serving karmic beliefs arose from a motivated deployment of vicarious optimism: prosocial individuals adopt karmic beliefs by prioritizing desirable (the fortunes of good people, the misfortunes of bad people) over undesirable information when predicting the future. Study 2 (n=107) showed that prosocials were more optimistic about the future of morally good (than bad) agents, while individualists were not. This was driven by prosocials’ failure to update beliefs from undesirable information about morally good agents. Together, we suggest that karmic beliefs are self-serving, and result from a failure to update beliefs from information that conflicts with a karmic worldview.

Karma denotes the belief that good things will happen to people who have done good deeds, while misfortunes will befall bad people in the future. In the current studies, combining the moral character learning and vicarious belief update tasks, we are able to quantify the beliefs about the future of people who have done objectively good or bad deeds. We show that individuals hold optimistic beliefs about the future of good people and discount undesirable feedback when predicting their futures. In contrast, individuals similarly incorporate desirable and undesirable feedback into their beliefs about bad people’s futures. These results suggest that vicarious optimism is one possible cognitive mechanism that gives rise to karmic beliefs. Furthermore, we show that prosocial individuals (relative to individualists) hold stronger karmic beliefs and stronger vicarious optimism for good relative to bad people, suggesting that karmic beliefs are self-serving: good people more likely to believe that good things happen to good people.

We provide evidence for a correlation between prosociality and karmic beliefs. However, the causal direction of this relationship remains open to discussion, and is likely bidirectional. Previous studies showed that priming of karmic beliefs increased generosity and prosocial behavior (White, Kelly, Shariff, & Norenzayan, 2019), suggesting that karmic beliefs may be a precursor to prosocial behavior. However, studies developmental work suggests that prosocial behavior may emerge earlier than karmic beliefs; preverbal infants (6-10 months) show disapproval of antisocial behavior (Hamlin, Wynn, & Bloom, 2007) and infants between 12 and 24 months exhibit prosocial behaviors (Brownell, 2013), whereas karmic beliefs have only been demonstrated in 4-6-year-old children (Banerjee & Bloom, 2013, 2017). Thus, it may also be the case that prosociality promotes the development of karmic beliefs. Prosocial behavior is often costly (Crocker, Canevello, & Brown, 2017). Karmic beliefs that morally good behavior will be rewarded could provide one type of justification for these costs and serve as a psychological compensation (Bäckman & Dixon, 1992). In addition, helping others also brings positive “side effects” (Carlson & Zaki, 2018), such as positive feelings (Aknin, Van de Vondervoort, & Hamlin, 2018) and social praise (Eisenberg, Wolchik, Goldberg, & Engel, 1992). Thus over time, the beliefs that performing good deeds increases the chance of future desirable outcomes may be reinforced into a karmic worldview.

People hold karmic beliefs in both first-party and third-party contexts (Hafer & Olson, 1989). If prosocials and individualists hold karmic beliefs to a similar extent, we might expect strong optimistic belief updating for the self in prosocials, and pessimistic belief updating for the self in individualists. However, we observed that prosocials and individualists were similarly optimistic about their own futures. One potential explanation is that the wishful thinking for oneself outweighs karmic believes when there are any conflicts (Mata & Simão, 2019). Alternatively, individualists may not identify themselves as “bad people” given vast evidence that most people tend to view themselves in a positive light (Sanitioso & Wlodarski, 2004). Thus, it is possible that individualists believe in karma but view themselves as good people who deserve an optimistic future. Given that we found weaker karmic beliefs in individualists, the finding of similar optimistic beliefs for the self in individualists and prosocials would lend further support to our hypothesis that karmic beliefs are self-serving, so that strong karmic beliefs motivates prosocial individuals to believe in a bright future (possibly caused by the good deeds they did). Taken together, this suggests that the self-serving nature of karmic beliefs applies to both the self and other people.

In current study, individualists not only failed to show asymmetric vicarious optimism towards good and bad agents; they also did not show vicarious optimism at all. Consistent with previous findings that individualists maximize the differences between the self and others in allocating monetary reward (Haruno & Frith, 2010; Liu et al., 2019) or responding to painful stimuli (Singer et al., 2008), individualists also differentiate optimistic future beliefs toward the self and others (only showing optimism towards self, but not to others: t(50) = 2.35, p = 0.023, 95% CI = [0.58, 7.43], Cohen d’ = 0.33). Taken together, this suggests individualists prefer to maximize self-other differences not only in material outcomes (i.e., monetary allocation, physical pain) but also in immaterial beliefs about the future.

One limitation of our second study is that we only provide evidence for ‘half’ of the karmic worldview, i.e., that good things will happen to good people; we did not observe evidence for beliefs that bad things will happen to bad people. Even prosocials who showed stronger karmic beliefs did not express pessimistic beliefs about bad agents. This might be due to that, in prosocials’ karmic belief system, good things not happening is already a type of punishment for the bad people, given that prosocial generally care about others and prefer not to do harm to others (Penner., Dovidio., Piliavin., & Schroeder., 2005), thus prosocials do not predict bad consequence for morally bad people. Indeed, the current sample, we found evidence that prosocials showed stronger harm aversion in the moral decision task where they trade off profit for themselves against pain for another person (harm aversion: prosocials vs. individualists, t(101) = 4.39, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [0.11, 0.29], Cohen d’ = 0.43).

In conclusion, the current study provides a novel framework to decipher the cognitive processes that give rise to karmic beliefs, and further proposes that karmic beliefs may be subject to self-serving motivations. Our findings suggest that karmic beliefs – a feature of many religious traditions – may be a key component of a positive feedback loop between beliefs and behavior that together contribute to large-scale cooperation.