Monday, January 27, 2020

The major purpose that episodic counterfactual thinking serves is mood regulation: to daydream and to feel better

Branch, Jared. 2020. “Involuntary Mental Time Travel into the Episodic Future, Episodic Past, and Episodic Counterfactual Past in Everyday Life.” PsyArXiv. January 27. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: To date, studies exploring episodic counterfactual thoughts have employed laboratory studies to discern the subjective qualities of voluntary mental time travel (Branch & Anderson, 2018; De Brigard & Giovanello, 2012; Ă–zbek, Bohn, & Berntsen, 2017). Here, we offer the first diary study of episodic counterfactual thinking, and therefore we report the subjective qualities of involuntary mental time travel into the counterfactual past. We find that such thoughts do occur, although to a much lesser extent than mental time travel into the future or past (i.e. episodic future thinking or episodic memory). The major purpose that episodic counterfactual thinking serves is mood regulation: to daydream and to feel better. We observed that the majority of episodic counterfactual thoughts are experienced in the recent past and decrease as a function of time. We also report on the phenomenological aspects of episodic counterfactual thoughts as they relate to future thinking and memories.

Affective polarization (steady growth of the mutual dislike between Republicans and Democrats): Elites in the US have polarized faster than those in eight other OECD countries of study

Cross-Country Trends in Affective Polarization. Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow, Jesse M. Shapiro. NBER Working Paper No. 26669, January 2020.

Abstract: We measure trends in affective polarization in nine OECD countries over the past four decades. The US experienced the largest increase in polarization over this period. Three countries experienced a smaller increase in polarization. Five countries experienced a decrease in polarization. These findings are most consistent with explanations of polarization based on changes (e.g., changing party composition, growing racial divisions, the emergence of partisan cable news) that are more distinctive to the US, and less consistent with explanations based on changes (e.g., the emergence of the internet, rising economic inequality) that are more universal.

4.2 Evaluation of Potential Explanations
Figure 3 plots average trends in each explanatory variable separately for the groups of countries
with rising or falling affective polarization. Appendix Figure 6 plots the individual series for each of the explanatory variables that we consider.

Internet and broadband penetration increased in all countries over the sample period, yet affective polarization did not. This is inconsistent with implication (i). Moreover, internet penetration appears to have risen faster in countries with falling polarization. This is inconsistent with implication (ii). The fact that in many countries polarization rose faster in the post-2000 period than the pre-2000 period is consistent with a role for digital media, but digital media cannot account for the rapid growth in affective polarization in the US and Canada during the 1990s. (See also Boxell et al. 2017.)

Income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, increased in all sample countries except Switzerland, for which we have limited data. This is inconsistent with implication (i). Moreover, the data do not exhibit evidence of implication (ii).

Openness to trade, as measured by the trade share of GDP, likewise increased fairly broadly over the sample period, with no clear evidence of a faster increase in those countries with increasing affective polarization.

All countries experienced an increase in the foreign-born share of the population over the period for which we have data, and differences in the rate of growth do not appear to align with differences in the trends in affective polarization.

In our view, the data do not support the hypothesis that these factors played an important role in the rise in affective polarization in the US in the sense of equations (1) and (2).

Other explanations are more consistent with our data. The period we study saw important changes in the composition of the political parties in the US. Among both political elites and voters, party identification became increasingly aligned with both political ideology and social identities such as race and religion (McCarty et al. 2008; Abramowitz and Saunders 2008; Levendusky 2009; Fiorina 2016, 2017; Mason and Wronski 2018; Valentino and Zhirkov 2017).6 Many scholars have identified such “party sorting” among voters as a key potential cause of affective polarization, with sorting leading those from opposite parties to differ more on average in both ideology and identity (Iyengar et al. 2019; Mason 2016, 2018; Fiorina and Abrams 2008; Webster and Abramowitz 2017). The underlying drivers of party sorting are not fully understood, and sorting could be a consequence as well as a cause of affective polarization (Lelkes 2018). However, many drivers emphasized in the literature, such as the realignment of the parties in the South following the civil rights era, are distinctive to the US and originate at least in part in the strategic choices of political elites rather than the shifting views of voters themselves (Fiorina and Abrams 2008, p. 581; Levendusky 2009, 2010; Lupu 2015; Banda and Cluverius 2018).7

Consistent with the view that changing party composition is distinctive to the US, Rehm and Reilly (2010) find that, according to expert ratings of party positions, elites in the US have polarized faster than those in the eight other OECD countries we consider. Some of these countries (e.g., Canada) have experienced smaller increases in polarization among political elites, and some (e.g., Australia, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and the UK) have experienced declines in elite polarization. Consistent with the hypothesized mechanism, Canada has also experienced growing partisan differences in issue positions among voters (Kevins and Soroka 2018), whereas Britain and Germany have experienced overall declines (Adams et al. 2012a; Munzert and Bauer 2013). Fiorina’s (2017, Chapter 8) review of this and related evidence likewise concludes that the US has experienced faster growth in elite polarization and party differences in issue positions among voters than countries in Western Europe.

Increased party sorting by race has also been highlighted as a potentially important driver of affective polarization (see, e.g., Valentino and Zhirkov 2017; Abramowitz 2018; Mason and Wronski 2018; Westwood and Peterson 2019). Such sorting may in turn be driven by the growth in the non white share of the population. With the caveat that it is difficult to define and compare racial composition across countries and time periods (see Appendix A.6), it is noteworthy that the increase in the non-white share has been twice as large in countries with rising affective polarization as in those with falling affective polarization (see Figure 3).

The rise of 24-hour partisan cable news provides another potential explanation. Partisan cable networks emerged during the period we study and arguably played a much larger role in the US than elsewhere, though this may be in part a consequence rather than a cause of growing affective polarization. The timing of the introduction of Fox News appears roughly consistent with the acceleration of the growth in affective polarization during the 1990s, as well as with the observation that older demographic groups both consume more partisan cable news and have polarized more quickly than younger demographic groups in the US (Boxell et al. 2017; Martin and Yurukoglu 2017). Interestingly, the five countries with a negative linear slope for affective polarization all devote more public funds per capita to public service broadcast media than three of the countries with a positive slope (Benson and Powers 2011, Table 1; see also Benson et al. 2017).

Check also Merkley, Eric, and Dominik Stecula. 2020. “Party Cues in the News: Democratic Elites, Republican Backlash and the Dynamics of Climate Skepticism.”  British Journal of Political Science. Preprint January 25.

Metal music fans exhibit moral reasoning styles dependent on their metal sub-genre identification; the moral reasoning styles explain partially lyrical preferences that weren’t already explained by personality

Morality in everything, chapter 23958:

The role of moral reasoning & personality in explaining lyrical preferences. Kyle J. Messick, Blanca E. Aranda. PLoS One, January 24, 2020.

Abstract: Previous research has supported that personality traits can act to a precursor to media preferences. Due to the ongoing association between morality and media preferences in public and political discourse (e.g., blaming immoral behaviours on media preferences), this research sought to expand the knowledge about factors that contribute to media preferences by investigating if moral reasoning styles explain some of the variance that was not already explained by personality traits. A specific form of media preferences were chosen – lyrical preferences in metal music – as claims between metal lyrical themes and behaviour have been ongoing since the 1980s, despite a lack of empirical evidence to support these claims. A lyrical preferences scale was developed, and utilizing this scale, it was found that different types of metal fans exhibit different moral reasoning styles dependent on their metal sub-genre identification. Further, it was found that moral reasoning styles explain a portion of the variance in lyrical preferences that weren’t already explained by personality traits. In particular, lyrical preferences were often thematically consistent with moral reasoning content and personality traits, such as that individuals that preferred lyrics about celebrating metal culture and unity had higher levels of the group loyalty moral reasoning domain alongside being higher in extraversion. The implications of moral reasoning styles and personality traits as being precursors to media preferences are discussed.


This study examined the association between lyrical preferences, moral reasoning domains, and personality traits. We first developed a lyrical preferences scale that allowed for comparisons between members of the metal music community. We then identified differences about moral reasoning based on the type of metal preference (e.g., black metal fans had the lowest scores on the sanctity/degradation moral foundation), and further analyses revealed a rather nuanced understanding about how lyrical preferences are related to moral foundations.

Correlations showed that enjoying lyrics about depression, hardships, love, and emotional turmoil (i.e. human experience) are related to having higher scores on the care/harm and fairness moral domains, which suggests that those people who prefer these lyrics might find the struggles of others related to their own hardships, and might be more empathetic to those struggles. Individuals who showed a preference for vulgar lyrics, such as misogyny, violence, and Satanism in their lyrical content, have significantly lower scores on the sanctity/degradation moral domain compared to other metal fans. One possible explanation is that these metal music fans have a different understanding of sanctity (e.g., thinking of the body as a temple), which is materialised in how these music fans with vulgar/immoral lyrical preferences have higher levels of extreme and unusual piercings and body modifications than metal fans with other lyrical preferences (something we recorded in this study, but was not a focus of the analysis). It is also possible that those who prefer more disgusting lyrics are approaching the idea of disgust in a fundamentally different way than most other music and metal music fans. Adding further cause for concern, the sanctity/degradation subscale has recently been questioned for how inconsistently it applies to people who are not religious [64], which is primarily the case for metal fans in the current sample, as most participants identified themselves as atheistic, agnostic, or ‘none.’ This moral domain has been further criticized, as it has been claimed that ‘purity’ is a descriptive label, and does not reflect a form of moral processing [65]. Future research could explore the relationship between the sanctity of the body and the self for metal fans, particularly for those that prefer immoral/vulgar lyrics.

A preference for lyrics about embracing metal culture & fun, which include themes like unification and loyalty, was associated with higher scores on the moral domains for authority/subversion, group loyalty, care/harm, and sanctity/degradation. It is expected that lyrics about loyalty would be associated with higher levels of loyalty as a moral foundation, which would extend into the authority moral domain, since this shows an appreciation of leadership and followship, as well as a respect for traditions. These lyrics celebrate metal culture, which might extend to a more formal view of metal culture, via respect for traditions, loyalty to the metal community, increased levels of caring, and more common views on purity compared to those who prefer vulgar/immoral lyrics and more extreme metal subgenres. This is a direction that future research could further explore. Lyrics about honour and pride include sentiments that fit well into a worldview that has structure and respect for that structure.

A preference for lyrics about history, mythology, and nature, which include lyrics about war, patriotism, and martyrdom, was positively associated with the group loyalty moral foundation. This association is reasonable, as lyrics about war can emphasize themes such as loyalty to a nation, regime, or historical entity, so individuals who enjoy these are likely seek out lyrics about loyalty as this is a moral principle important to them.

Having a preference for lyrics about science and science fiction only had a relationship with the care/harm moral domain. These are likely lyrics that are more morally neutral, which might explain the lack of an association with other moral domains. The association between science and science fiction lyrics and the moral foundation that focuses on empathy and struggle is not an intuitive one, so future research could explore this relationship by encompassing preferences for this sort of content in other forms of media, such as science fiction films.

Personality traits also had a relationship with lyrical preferences, including vulgar/immoral lyrical preferences negatively relating to agreeableness. People that enjoyed lyrics about embracing metal culture and fun had personality traits that reflected being more extraverted and agreeable, so this lyrical style that embraces activities with groups and friends is consistent with being outgoing, sympathetic, and trusting of others. Preferring lyrics about the human experience was positively related to being more agreeable, neurotic, and open to experience, showing that choosing to listen to emotional lyrics about human experiences is often consistent with having a personality associated with feelings like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. In other words, there was consistency between the lyrical subject matter and the emotional experiences of the person. Similarly, choosing to listen to lyrics about history, nature, and mythology was associated with higher levels of neuroticism and openness to experience. Lastly, enjoying lyrics about science & science fiction were only related to higher levels of openness to experience. Openness to experience is likely associated with lyrics about history and science fiction because these are lyrical topics that describe experiences that might be far from the user’s everyday experiences, indicating a preference towards lyrics that have interesting and often unfamiliar narratives that satiates their openness and desire for new experiences.

These relationships were given further clarification by investigating the extent to which moral reasoning and personality traits explained lyrical preferences. It was found that moral foundations do explain a unique and significant portion of the variance in lyrical preferences that was not already accounted for by personality traits. For example, preferring lyrics about human struggle was related to the moral foundation for care in addition to higher levels of neuroticism and agreeableness. In this instance, an individual that has higher levels of care and empathy involved in how they morally reason might also prefer lyrics about human emotions and struggles that similarly use their ability to be empathetic, since some of their personality traits (neuroticism) suggest that a tendency towards emotional instability.

In relation to the insights from moral panic theory, this study clarifies the direction between moral reasoning and lyrical preferences adding support to the hypothesis that lyrical preference reflect pre-existing moral foundations and personality traits, rather than lyrics leading to a ‘corruption’ of morality. This is consistent with previous findings showing that those who perform acts of violence seek out lyrics that justify their pre-existing beliefs about violence [4].

This study has also brought insights to the metal studies literature, showing that adhering to a metal subgenre has significant implication. For example, black metal fans had lower levels in the sanctity/purity moral domain, which is consistent with the frequently anti-religious message of black metal culture [66].

A few limitations should be noted. First, the moral foundations subscales had slightly lower internal reliabilities than anticipated. It is worth nothing that recently, Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) has been criticized for how difficult it is to replicate across cultures [67]. These limitations might extend into metal culture, in which case MFT might not be the ideal way to explore the moral reasoning of people within metal music culture. Further, the lyrical factor scale developed here comes with its own limitations. It is not expected that the factors presented would be universal across every music culture since lyrical themes and meanings vary across cultural contexts. Although the different types of lyrics could be used in the study of other music cultures, it is likely that the factor structure of the scale would be different. For instance, gang-related activities fall under the vulgar/immoral factor for metal fans, but they might not fall into the same factor in hip hop music, since lyrical topics like Satanism (also part of the vulgar/immoral factor) probably don’t appeal to the same types of hip hop fans as gang-related lyrics. A future study could investigate the degree to which lyrics are interpreted as entertaining, relational, or as a statement of endorsement towards a certain perspective (e.g., pro-violence). This meaning-making approach to lyrics would allow for understanding the role and functions of lyrical preferences, with some functional possibilities including escapism, coping, or feeling like someone else understands a user’s emotional turmoil. Other future studies could evaluate how behaviour directly relates to moral reasoning and media preferences, since it is known that moral foundations don’t always correlate with moral behaviours [68]. Whereas it is the case that violent media, such as video games [2829], can reduce violent behaviours, a future study could see if listening to music with violent lyrical themes serves a similar function.

This study, which explored the relationship between lyrical preferences, moral preferences and personality traits will hopefully add more nuance to the discussion of types of music and their association with moral and immoral behaviours. We suggest that lyrical preferences might originate in pre-existing characteristics, including moral reasoning styles and personality traits. This evidence can be added to that of other precursors for media preferences, including emotional vulnerability/relatability [1], personality factors [23], and pre-existing ideology [4]. Given this, it is hoped that future associations between media (not limited to metal music), and behaviour will take into account these psychological factors, since there is now evidence that moral orientation is as similarly fundamental as personality traits in predicting media preferences.

Risk attitude was an important reason why certain women did not alter their fertility after the collapse of Communism in 1989; this preference for risk could explain their children criminal propensity

Chevalier, Arnaud and Marie, Olivier, Risky Moms, Risky Kids? Fertility and Crime after the Fall of the Wall (December 2019). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP14251,

Abstract: We study the link between parental selection and child criminality. Following the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, the number of births halved in East Germany. These cohorts became markedly more likely to be arrested as they grew up in reunified Germany. This is observed for both genders and all offence types. We highlight risk attitude as an important reason why certain women did not alter their fertility decisions during this time of economic uncertainty. We also show that this preference for risk was then strongly transmitted to their children which may in turn explain their high criminal propensity.

Keywords: crime, economic uncertainty, Fertility, parental selection, risk attitude
JEL Classification: J13, K42

All the Dark Triad & Some of the Big Five Traits Are Visible in the Face: Inferring personality from faces without any concrete source of information could be an evolutionarily adaptive trait

Alper, Sinan, Fatih Bayrak, and Onurcan Yilmaz. 2020. “All the Dark Triad and Some of the Big Five Traits Are Visible in the Face.” PsyArXiv. January 27. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Some of the recent studies suggested that people can make accurate inferences about the level of the Big Five and the Dark Triad personality traits in strangers by only looking at their faces. However, later findings provided only partial support and the evidence is mixed regarding which traits can be accurately inferred from faces. In the current research, to provide further evidence on whether the Big Five and the Dark Triad traits are visible in the face, we report three studies, two of which were preregistered, conducted on both WEIRD (the US American) and non-WEIRD (Turkish) samples (N = 880). The participants in both US American and Turkish samples were successful in predicting all Dark Triad personality traits by looking at a stranger’s face. However, there were mixed results regarding the Big Five traits. An aggregate analysis of the combined dataset demonstrated that extraversion (only female), agreeableness, and conscientiousness were accurately inferred by the participants in addition to the Dark Triad traits. Overall, the results suggest that inferring personality from faces without any concrete source of information would be an evolutionarily adaptive trait.

46% of subjects choose to ignore calorie information, motivated by optimal expectations – subjects choose strategic ignorance so that they can downplay the probability of their preferred meal being high-calorie

Strategic ignorance of health risk: its causes and policy consequences. Jonas Nordstrom et al. Behavioural Public Policy, January 27 2020.

Abstract: We examine the causes and policy implications of strategic (willful) ignorance of risk as an excuse to over-engage in risky health behavior. In an experiment on Copenhagen adults, we allow subjects to choose whether to learn the calorie content of a meal before consuming it and then measure their subsequent calorie intake. Consistent with previous studies, we find strong evidence of strategic ignorance: 46% of subjects choose to ignore calorie information, and these subjects subsequently consume more calories on average than they would have had they been informed. While previous studies have focused on self-control as the motivating factor for strategic ignorance of calorie information, we find that ignorance in our study is instead motivated by optimal expectations – subjects choose ignorance so that they can downplay the probability of their preferred meal being high-calorie. We discuss how the motivation matters to policy. Further, we find that the prevalence of strategic ignorance largely negates the effects of calorie information provision: on average, subjects who have the option to ignore calorie information consume the same number of calories as subjects who are provided no information.

Rats: The curse of the yo-yo effect ("weight cycling"), rapid weight gains after a diet, fails to materialize

Effects of multiple cycles of weight loss and regain on the body weight regulatory system in rats. Jennifer L. Rosenbaum, R. Scott Frayo, Susan J. Melhorn, David E. Cummings, and Ellen A. Schur. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, Oct 24 2019.

Abstract: We studied the effects of multiple cycles of weight loss and regain on the defended body weight in rats. Thirty-six male Wistar rats were divided into three weight-matched groups: weight cyclers (n = 18), ad libitum-fed controls (n = 9), and maturity controls (n = 9). Cyclers underwent four rounds of 20% weight loss from 50% caloric restriction, each cycle followed by recovery to stable plateau weight on ad libitum feeding. Controls ate ad libitum. Maturity controls ate ad libitum and then weight cycled the final two rounds to evaluate the effect of age in later cycles. Cyclers’ postdiet plateau weight became progressively lower than that of controls. With each weight loss, ghrelin increased, while insulin and leptin decreased; the magnitude of these changes did not differ across cycles. After four rounds, cyclers’ weight (504 ± 7 vs. 540 ± 22 g; P < 0.05) and percent body fat (11.7 vs. 15.2%; P < 0.05) were lower than in controls. After a 4-mo follow-up period of ad libitum feeding, cyclers maintained a lower total fat-pad mass versus controls (8.6 ± 0.5 vs. 15.9 ± 3.6 g; P < 0.01) and a lower glucose area-under-the-curve on oral glucose tolerance tests (P < 0.05). Repeated weight-loss cycles exerted positive effects, durably lowering defended levels of body adiposity and improving glucose tolerance.