Saturday, February 1, 2020

Policy interventions aimed at correcting self-servingly biased misperceptions are unlikely to be effective in the long run due to people’s ability to forget or suppress information that threatens their desired views

The Dynamics of Motivated Beliefs. Florian Zimmermann. American Economic Review. Feb 2020, Vol. 110, No. 2: Pages 337-363.

Abstract: A key question in the literature on motivated reasoning and self-deception is how motivated beliefs are sustained in the presence of feedback. In this paper, we explore dynamic motivated belief patterns after feedback. We establish that positive feedback has a persistent effect on beliefs. Negative feedback, instead, influences beliefs in the short run, but this effect fades over time. We investigate the mechanisms of this dynamic pattern, and provide evidence for an asymmetry in the recall of feedback. Finally, we establish that, in line with theoretical accounts, incentives for belief accuracy mitigate the role of motivated reasoning. (JEL C91, D83, D91)

We find that negative feedback is indeed recalled with significantly lower accuracy, compared to positive feedback, which suggests that the dynamic belief pattern we have identified is indeed driven by the selective recall of information. Next, we make use of additional outcome variables and a placebo condition to delve into how selective recall operates. In a nutshell, the following patterns emerge. Our results suggest that participants are able to suppress the recall of unwanted memories. Furthermore, participants appear to suppress the recall of not only negative feedback but also the IQ test more broadly. Our results lend direct support to key modeling assumptions in Bénabou and Tirole (2002, 2004). From a policy perspective, our findings suggest that policy interventions aimed at correcting self-servingly biased misperceptions via information or feedback are unlikely to be effective in the long run due to people’s ability to forget or suppress information that threatens their desired views.

Kissing frequency was a strong indicator of both specific sexual quality & global relationship connectivity, barometer of the more immediate quality of sexual relationships & the overall relationship quality

A kiss is not just a kiss: kissing frequency, sexual quality, attachment, and sexual and relationship satisfaction. Dean M. Busby,Veronica Hanna-Walker &Chelom E. Leavitt. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Jan 31 2020.

Abstract: Kissing can be thought of as a relationship maintenance behavior and/or as part of the sexual repertoire. Using data from 1,605 participants in committed relationships for at least two years, we analyzed how kissing frequency was associated with specific aspects of the two most recent sexual experiences, attachment, and global sexual and relationship satisfaction using a structural equation model. Kissing frequency had a significant, positive association with all specific aspects of recent sexual experiences (levels or arousal, experience of orgasm, and event-specific sexual satisfaction) and global sexual and relationship satisfaction. Kissing frequency had a significant, negative association with anxious and avoidant attachment. The associations with attachment and specific aspects of recent sexual experiences only partially mediated the relationship between kissing frequency and global relationship and sexual satisfaction. The results indicated that kissing frequency was a strong indicator of both specific sexual quality and global relationship connectivity and may be a promising variable to utilize as a barometer of both the more immediate quality of sexual relationships as well as overall relationship quality.

Keywords: Kissing, attachment, sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction

Small-scale societies: Divinatory statements provide a version of the situation that most participants are motivated to agree with, providing efficient coordination at a minimal cost for almost all participants

Why Divination? Evolved Psychology and Strategic Interaction in the Production of Truth. Pascal Boyer. Current Anthropology, Jan 14, 2020.

Abstract: Divination is found in most human societies, but there is little systematic research to explain (1) why it is persuasive or (2) why divination is required for important collective decisions in many small-scale societies. Common features of human communication and cooperation may help address both questions. A highly recurrent feature of divination is “ostensive detachment,” a demonstration that the diviners are not the authors of the statements they utter. As a consequence, people spontaneously interpret divination as less likely than other statements to be influenced by anyone’s intentions or interests. This is enough to give divination an epistemic advantage compared with other sources of information, answering question 1. This advantage is all the more important in situations where a diagnosis will create differential costs and benefits, for example, determining who is responsible for someone’s misfortune in a small-scale community. Divinatory statements provide a version of the situation that most participants are motivated to agree with, as it provides a focal point for efficient coordination at a minimal cost for almost all participants, which would answer question 2.

Despite motivation to alleviate discomfort and to maintain a morally good self-concept, more severe moral transgressions are actually remembered more frequently, more vividly, and with more detail

The phenomenology of remembering our moral transgressions. Shenyang Huang, Matthew L. Stanley Felipe De Brigard. Memory & Cognition, January 27 2020.

Abstract: People tend to believe that they truly are morally good, and yet they commit moral transgressions with surprising frequency in their everyday lives. To explain this phenomenon, some theorists have suggested that people remember their moral transgressions with fewer details, lower vivacity, and less clarity, relative to their morally good deeds and other kinds of past events. These phenomenological differences are thought to help alleviate psychological discomfort and to help people maintain a morally good self-concept. Given these motivations to alleviate discomfort and to maintain a morally good self-concept, we might expect our more egregious moral transgressions, relative to our more minor transgressions, to be remembered less frequently, with fewer details, with lower vivacity, and with a reduced sense of reliving. More severe moral transgressions might also be less central to constructions of personal identity. In contrast to these expectations, our results suggest that participants’ more severe moral transgressions are actually remembered more frequently, more vividly, and with more detail. More severe moral transgressions also tend to be more central to personal identity. We discuss the implications of these results for the motivation to maintain a morally good self-concept and for the functions of autobiographical memory.

Keywords: Autobiographical memory Moral psychology Identity Self Phenomenology

British football leagues: Male height is positively associated with social dominance; but the ‘Napoleon complex’/‘small man syndrome’ suggests that smaller males are more assertive & punitive to compensate

Referee height influences decision making in British football leagues. Dane McCarrick, Gayle Brewer, Minna Lyons, Thomas V. Pollet & Nick Neave. BMC Psychology volume 8, Article number: 4 (2020). January 17.

Background Male height is positively associated with social dominance, and more agonistic/competitive behaviours. However, the ‘Napoleon complex’ or ‘small man syndrome’ suggests that smaller males are more assertive and punitive to compensate for lack of height and social dominance. Here, we assess possible relationships between height and punitive behaviours in a real-world setting.

Methods Using a non-experimental correlational design, we analysed data on 61 male association football referees from four professional leagues in England, and explored relationships between their height and punitive behaviours in the form of yellow cards, red cards and penalties given during an entire season.

Results Overall there was no effect of referee height on fouls awarded. However, there was a main effect of height on yellow cards awarded, with shorter referees issuing more yellow cards. The same effect was found for red cards and penalties, though this was moderated by league. In the lower leagues, more red cards and penalties were awarded by relatively shorter referees, but in the higher leagues more red cards and penalties were awarded by relatively taller referees.

Conclusions These findings from real-life public dominance encounters show that height is associated with punitive behaviours, but is sensitive to context.

Rolf Degen summarizing... People are reluctant to adopt low-carbon behaviors as long as "the rich" and the “egoistic people” are not doing their part

Revisiting the Psychology of Denial Concerning Low-Carbon Behaviors: From Moral Disengagement to Generating Social Change. Susanne Stoll-Kleemann, Tim O’Riordan. Sustainability 2020, 12(3), 935, January 27 2020.

Abstract: This paper reassesses the scope for shifting high-carbon personal behaviors in the light of prevailing insufficient political and regulatory action. Our previous research has shown that citizens regard such behavioral shifts as extremely daunting and create a number of psychological denial mechanisms that draw attention to the inaction of others, including governments. Further theoretical insights and relevant new findings have been attained from a more recent survey of more than 1000 German residents. This reveals that direct denial of anthropogenic climate change is replaced by a denial of responsibility for individual climate action. Ways of moral disengagement play a more dominant role, such as the diffusion and displacement of responsibility, although a majority is aware of—and very much concerned about—the climate crisis. More attention needs to be given for further reinterpretation of the role of moral disengagement to single out adequate strategies for different individuals and groups of people, such as making role models more visible to encourage social learning that could accelerate further necessary moral and behavioral transformations.

Keywords: climate change; behavior change; denial; emotions; low-carbon behavior; moral disengagement; collective action; responsibility; self-efficacy

All religious, etchnic, and racial groups appear to make use of pornography; its use is associated with greater health, knowledge, and standard of living, and lower homophobia

Pornography Use: What Do Cross-Cultural Patterns Tell Us? David L. Rowland, Dudbeth Uribe. In: Cultural Differences and the Practice of Sexual Medicine pp 317-334. January 28 2020.

Abstract: Access to online pornography has increased greatly over the past decade. In this chapter we first review purported effects of pornography use. We then present data compiled from one source of internet pornography use, namely Pornhub, and review findings from a cross-cultural perspective. Specifically, we investigate age and gender patterns across various regions of the world and relate pornography use to a number of sociocultural indices. Results indicate changing age and gender patterns with respect to pornography use, as well as relationships with indices of human development, gender inequality, trans/homophobia, and internet access. Given that internet pornography may increasingly serve as a means of sex education in many cultures, the importance of implementing meaningful and balanced sex education that promotes healthy sexual relationships is critically important.

Keywords: Pornography Cross-cultural Online Gender Age Worldwide trends Effects

Our expressed virtue judgments of specific traits may function, in part, as self-interested propaganda, by influencing the social value assigned by local others to the traits we happen to possess

Morality and the Modular Mind: Propagandistic Self-Interest and Perceptions of Virtue. Schwab, Leon T. California State University, Fullerton, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2019. 27547780.

ABSTRACT: The underlying cognitive mechanisms that regulate how people formulate moralistic judgements of others’ behaviors and traits are poorly understood. This study tests the novel prediction, based on a hypothesized function of self-interested propaganda, that the extent to which a given trait is perceived as virtuous is positively influenced by one’s own standing on that trait. In a first study, data were gathered from 237 participants who completed an online survey. Participants rated the same list of traits for (i) their self-perceived standing on those traits, and (ii) their judgment of those traits as being virtuous. Some notable correlations between self-perceived trait possession and virtue ratings of those traits are Patriotism (r = 0.56, p < .01), Religiosity (r = 0.56, p < .01), Attractiveness (r = 0.5, p < .01), and Strength (r = 0.49, p < .01). A second study replicated these findings when controlling for participants’ estimates of (i) what others in their immediate social world would perceive as virtues, and (ii) what others in their distant social world would perceive as virtues. Although preliminary, these initial findings suggest that our expressed virtue judgments of specific traits may function, in part, as self-interested propaganda, by influencing the social value assigned by local others to the traits we happen to possess.

1985-2017: Media representations of climate change have become increasingly politicized, whereby political actors are increasingly featured and scientific actors less so

Politicization and Polarization in Climate Change News Content, 1985-2017. Sedona Chinn, P. Sol Hart, Stuart Soroka. Science Communication, January 29, 2020.

Abstract: Despite concerns about politicization and polarization in climate change news, previous work has not been able to offer evidence concerning long-term trends. Using computer-assisted content analyses of all climate change articles from major newspapers in the United States between 1985 and 2017, we find that media representations of climate change have become (a) increasingly politicized, whereby political actors are increasingly featured and scientific actors less so and (b) increasingly polarized, in that Democratic and Republican discourses are markedly different. These findings parallel trends in U.S. public opinion, pointing to these features of news coverage as polarizing influences on climate attitudes.

Keywords: climate change, computerized content analysis, news, politicization

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.

And Political leanings are the strongest predictors of climate change beliefs, particularly among the more knowledgeable:
Climate Change: A Partisan and Polarized Issue in the United States. Risa Palm, Toby Bolsen. Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in South Florida pp 15-40, January 2 2020.

The Smartphone as a Pacifying Technology: In moments of stress, engaging with one’s smartphone provides greater stress relief than one’s laptop or a similar smartphone belonging to someone else

The Smartphone as a Pacifying Technology. Shiri Melumad, Michel Tuan Pham. Journal of Consumer Research, ucaa005, January 27 2020.

Abstract: In light of consumers’ growing dependence on their smartphones, this article investigates the nature of the relationship that consumers form with their smartphone and its underlying mechanisms. We propose that in addition to obvious functional benefits, consumers in fact derive emotional benefits from their smartphone, in particular, feelings of psychological comfort and, if needed, actual stress relief. In other words, in a sense, smartphones are not unlike “adult pacifiers.” This psychological comfort arises from a unique combination of properties that turn smartphones into a reassuring presence for their owners: the portability of the device, its personal nature, the subjective sense of privacy experienced while on the device, and the haptic gratification it affords. Results from one large-scale field study and three laboratory experiments support the proposed underlying mechanisms and document downstream consequences of the psychological comfort that smartphones provide. The findings show, for example, that (a) in moments of stress, consumers exhibit a greater tendency to seek out their smartphone (study 2); and (b) engaging with one’s smartphone provides greater stress relief than engaging in the same activity with a comparable device such as one’s laptop (study 3) or a similar smartphone belonging to someone else (study 4).

Keyword: product attachment, psychology of technology, mobile marketing, digital marketing

Exaggerated psychological stress reactivity linked to increase in risk factors for cardiovascular disease; blunted reactivity predicted future increased obesity, greater illness frequency, poorer cognitive ability

Psychological stress reactivity and future health and disease outcomes: A systematic review of prospective evidence. Anne I. Turner et al . Psychoneuroendocrinology, February 1 2020, 104599.

• SAM system and HPA axis reactivity predict future health and disease outcomes
• Exaggerated and blunted responses predict different health and disease outcomes
• Reactivity-related health and disease outcomes are both physical and mental
• Intermediate stress responses (“Goldilocks” responses) may be the most adaptive
• A “bidirectional multi-system reactivity hypothesis” is proposed

Background Acute psychological stress activates the sympatho-adrenal medullary (SAM) system and hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. The relevance of this stress reactivity to long-term health and disease outcomes is of great importance. We examined prospective studies in apparently healthy adults to test the hypothesis that the magnitude of the response to acute psychological stress in healthy adults is related to future health and disease outcomes.

Methods We searched Medline Complete, PsycINFO, CINAHL Complete and Embase up to 15 Aug 2019. Included studies were peer-reviewed, English-language, prospective studies in apparently healthy adults. The exposure was acute psychological stress reactivity (SAM system or HPA axis) at baseline. The outcome was any health or disease outcome at follow-up after ≥ 1 year.

Results We identified 1,719 papers through database searching and 1 additional paper through other sources. Forty-seven papers met our criteria including 32,866 participants (range 30 – 4100) with 1-23 years of follow-up. Overall, one third (32%; 83/263) of all reported findings were significant and two thirds (68%; 180/263) were null. With regard to the significant findings, both exaggerated (i.e. high) and blunted (i.e. low) stress reactivity of both the SAM system and the HPA axis at baseline were related to health and disease outcomes at follow-up. Exaggerated stress reactivity at baseline predicted an increase in risk factors for cardiovascular disease and decreased telomere length at follow-up. In contrast, blunted stress reactivity predicted future increased adiposity and obesity, more depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms, greater illness frequency, musculoskeletal pain and regulatory T-Cell percentage, poorer cognitive ability, poorer self-reported health and physical disability and lower bone mass.

Conclusion Exaggerated and blunted SAM system and HPA axis stress reactivity predicted distinct physical and mental health and disease outcomes over time. Results from prospective studies consistently indicate stress reactivity as a predictor for future health and disease outcomes. Dysregulation of stress reactivity may represent a mechanism by which psychological stress contributes to the development of future health and disease outcomes.

Keywords: acute stressblood pressureheart rateepinephrinenorepinephrinecortisolsympatho-adrenal medullary systemhypothalamo-pituitary adrenal axishealth outcomesdisease outcomes

When honest people cheat, and cheaters are honest: Cognitive control processes override our moral default

When honest people cheat, and cheaters are honest: Cognitive control processes override our moral default. Sebastian P.H. Speer, Ale Smidts, Maarten A.S. Boksem. bioRxiv, Jan 24 2020.

Abstract: Every day, we are faced with the conflict between the temptation to cheat for financial gains and maintaining a positive image of ourselves as being a ‘good person’. While it has been proposed that cognitive control is needed to mediate this conflict between reward and our moral self-image, the exact role of cognitive control in (dis)honesty remains elusive. Here, we identify this role, by investigating the neural mechanism underlying cheating. We developed a novel task which allows for inconspicuously measuring spontaneous cheating on a trial-by-trial basis in the MRI scanner. We found that activity in the Nucleus Accumbens promotes cheating, particularly for individuals who cheat a lot, while a network consisting of Posterior Cingulate Cortex, Temporoparietal Junction and Medial Prefrontal Cortex promotes honesty, particularly in individuals who are generally honest. Finally, activity in areas associated with Cognitive Control (Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Inferior Frontal Gyrus) helped dishonest participants to be honest, whereas it promoted cheating for honest participants. Thus, our results suggest that cognitive control is not needed to be honest or dishonest per se, but that it depends on an individual’s moral default.

Highly educated parents are more able to preserve their family's elite status in the next generation

The social and genetic inheritance of educational attainment: Genes, parental education, and educational expansion. Meng-Jung Lin. Social Science Research, Volume 86, February 2020, 102387.

Abstract: Recently, several genome-wide association studies of educational attainment have found education-related genetic variants and enabled the integration of human inheritance into social research. This study incorporates the newest education polygenic score (Lee et al., 2018) into sociological research, and tests three gene-environment interaction hypotheses on status attainment. Using the Health and Retirement Study (N = 7599), I report three findings. First, a standard deviation increase in the education polygenic score is associated with a 58% increase in the likelihood of advancing to the next level of education, while a standard deviation increase in parental education results in a 53% increase. Second, supporting the Saunders hypothesis, the genetic effect becomes 11% smaller when parental education is one standard deviation higher, indicating that highly educated parents are more able to preserve their family's elite status in the next generation. Finally, the genetic effect is slightly greater for the younger cohort (1942–59) than the older cohort (1920–41). The findings strengthen the existing literature on the social influences in helping children achieve their innate talents.

Keywords: Educational attainmentParental educationCohortGene-environment interactionEducational expansion in higher education

People do not realize that failures contain useful information; therefore, people undershare failures in and beyond organizations settings

Hidden failures. Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, Ayelet Fishbach. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 157, March 2020, Pages 57-67.

• People do not realize that failures contain useful information.
• Therefore, people undershare failures in and beyond organizations settings.
• Highlighting the information in failure makes people more likely to share it.

Abstract: Failure often contains useful information, yet across five studies involving 11 separate samples (N = 1238), people were reluctant to share this information with others. First, using a novel experimental paradigm, we found that participants consistently undershared failure—relative to success and a no-feedback experience—even though failure contained objectively more information than these comparison experiences. Second, this reluctance to share failure generalized to professional experiences. Teachers in the field were less likely to share information gleaned from failure than information gleaned from success, and employees were less likely to share lessons gleaned from failed versus successful attempts to concentrate at work. Why are people reluctant to share failure? Across experimental and professional failures, people did not realize that failure contained useful information. The current investigation illuminates an erroneous belief and the asymmetrical world of information it produces: one where failures are common in private, but hidden in public.

Keywords: SharingFailureInformationSuccessKnowledge transfer

Pseudo-profound statement attributed to the Dalai Lama seems even more profound: "We are non‐local beings that localize as a dot then inflate to become non‐local again. The universe is mirrored in us."

“Who said it?” How contextual information influences perceived profundity of meaningful quotes and pseudo‐profound bullshit. Vukašin Gligorić  Ana Vilotijević. Applied Cognitive Psychology, December 20 2019.

Summary: Psychological research on pseudo‐profound bullshit—randomly assembled buzz words plugged into a syntactic structure—has only recently begun. Most such research has focused on dispositional traits, such as thinking styles or political orientation. However, none has investigated contextual factors. In two studies, we introduce a new paradigm by investigating the contextual effect on pseudo‐profound bullshit and meaningful quotes. In Study 1, all participants rated the profundity of statements in three contexts: (a) isolated, (b) as allegedly said by a famous author, or (c) within a vignette (short story). Study 2 serves as a conceptual replication in which participants rated statements in only one of three contexts. Overall, our results demonstrate that although contextual information such as author's name increases the perceived profundity of bullshit, it has an inconsistent effect on meaningful quotes. The present study helps to better understand the bullshit receptivity while offering a new line of research.


In the present research, we tried to add to the small amount of literature on pseudo‐profound bullshit, while offering a new paradigm. Across two studies, we demonstrated that pseudo‐profound bullshit is susceptible to the labeling effect—bullshit being rated as more profound when presented as being uttered by a famous author. On the contrary, this contextual effect for meaningful quotes was inconsistent, as profundity ratings were increased only in the second study.
The labeling effect for pseudo‐profound bullshit is similar to the ratings of poems attributed to famous or bogus poets (Bar‐Hillel et al., 2012). Although we did not investigate any underlying mechanisms of the effect, it is plausible to assume the similar process to those where expectation led to genuinely different feeling (e.g. Bar‐Hillel et al., 2012; Lee et al., 2006). That is, after seeing a famous author's name next to the statement, participants might have been primed by the author's name and construed the meaning in the statement. However, the power of different authorities remains; it may happen that one is seduced by an authority from an unfamiliar field (e.g., art/Dali), whereas this could not be the case for the familiar field (e.g., physics/Plank). Specifically, one of the directions for future research could be to examine whether certain authorities (i.e., based on occupation) have a larger or smaller impact on bullshit receptivity. Taken together, it would be beneficial to test whether this tendency is irrational or not (as in heuristics, for example).
Interestingly, increase in profundity was inconsistent for meaningful quotes as it emerged only in the second study. All meaningful quotes from Study 2 were taken as excerpts from particular authors' work, which makes them decontextualized. This might be the reason why there was a contextual effect on these quotes. As quotes usually depict the author's views represented by their own words on a certain topic (Conrad, 1999), this way of recruiting can constrain their application. Alternatively, short and widely applicable sayings (such as Latin phrases, e.g., “He conquers who conquers himself”) might be immune to the contextual effect due to their life‐oriented message and widespread use. This might be one of the avenues for future research.
Another possible path of label influence is through the contextualization of the statement. For example, when one reads a short story (or book excerpt), she might relate the bullshit to that story so that “non‐local beings that localize as a dot” actually relate to the protagonists of the story (e.g., signifying the old man's unimportance in the world). Even though our data do not support these conclusions, vignette condition had higher absolute ratings than the isolated condition. It might be the case that our short stores in Study 1 did not have enough literary value to increase the profundity. Although the vignette condition (book excerpt) improved ratings in Study 2, it also contained the author's name, making it impossible to distinguish whether effect occurred due to the author or the excerpt. However, this condition had higher absolute values than the author‐only condition, supporting our notions. These questions remain open for other researchers to answer.
Surprisingly, in Study 2, meaningful quotes and pseudo‐profound bullshit were rated as equally deep, which is in contrast to results from Study 1 and findings from bullshit research (e.g., Čavojova et al., 2018; Pennycook et al., 2015). One plausible reason is the selection of the deepest pseudo‐profound items from the original 30‐item scale. Higher mean profundity ratings for bullshit items in Study 2 (M = 3.2 compared with M = 2.9 in Study 1) support this notion. Therefore, although the same five pseudo‐profound items had similar ratings in two studies (M = 3.17 and M = 3.20), the mean bullshit score was lower in the first study as it contained other bullshit items that had lower ratings. Second, our selection of meaningful quotes does not necessarily guarantee their profundity—mean profundity ratings for meaningful quotes was lower in Study 2 (M = 3.3 compared with M = 3.7 in Study 1). That is, some of the meaningful quotes in Study 2 might seem like contemporary motivational quotes (e.g., “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”) and therefore have lower ratings. Indeed, this quote had the lowest ratings along with the Dostoevsky's quote (“To go wrong in one's own way is better than to go right in someone else's.”).
In conclusion, our results suggest that pseudo‐profound bullshit is susceptible to contextual effects—attributing a statement to a famous person alters its perception. Although it might be only economically exploited (as in the case of New Age leading figures), other kinds of bullshit (for example, political), might be more dangerous. Demonstrating how easily people might evaluate pseudo‐profound statements as more profound just because they were presented with an author's name; we should be aware of potential abuse of this type of effect.