Saturday, April 4, 2020

People Judge Others to Have More Control over Beliefs Than They Themselves Do

Cusimano, Corey, and Geoffrey Goodwin. 2020. “People Judge Others to Have More Control over Beliefs Than They Themselves Do.” PsyArXiv. April 3. doi:10.1037/pspa0000198

Abstract: People attribute considerable control to others over what those individuals believe. However, no work to date has investigated how people judge their own belief control, nor whether such judgments diverge from their judgments of others. We addressed this gap in seven studies and found that people judge others to be more able to voluntarily change what they believe than they themselves are. This occurs when people judge others who disagree with them (Study 1) as well as others agree with them (Studies 2-5, 7), and it occurs when people judge strangers (Studies 1-2, 4-5) as well as close others (Studies 3, 7). It appears not to be explained by impression management or self-enhancement motives (Study 3). Rather, there is a discrepancy between the evidentiary constraints on belief change that people access via introspection, and their default assumptions about the ease of voluntary belief revision. That is, people spontaneously tend to think about the evidence that supports their beliefs, which leads them to judge their beliefs as outside their control. But they apparently fail to generalize this feeling of constraint to others, and similarly fail to incorporate it into their generic model of beliefs (Studies 4-7). We discuss the implications of our findings for theories of ideology-based conflict, actor-observer biases, naïve realism, and on-going debates regarding people’s actual capacity to voluntarily change what they believe.

The unique social sense of puerperium: Increased empathy and Schadenfreude in parents of newborns

The unique social sense of puerperium: Increased empathy and Schadenfreude in parents of newborns. Ana-María Gómez-Carvajal, Hernando Santamaría-García, Adolfo M. García, Mario Valderrama, Jhony Mejia, Jose Santamaría-García, Mateo Bernal, Jaime Silva, Agustín Ibáñez & Sandra Baez. Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 5760. April 2020.

Abstract: Pregnancy and puerperium are typified by marked biobehavioral changes. These changes, which are traceable in both mothers and fathers, play an important role in parenthood and may modulate social cognition abilities. However, the latter effects remain notably unexplored in parents of newborns (PNs). To bridge this gap, we assessed empathy and social emotions (envy and Schadenfreude) in 55 PNs and 60 controls (childless healthy participants without a romantic relationship or sexual intercourse in the previous 48 hours). We used facial electromyography to detect physiological signatures of social emotion processing. Results revealed higher levels of affective empathy and Schadenfreude in PNs, the latter pattern being accompanied by increased activity of the corrugator suppercilii region. These effects were not explained by potential confounding variables (educational level, executive functioning, depression, stress levels, hours of sleep). Our novel findings suggest that PNs might show social cognition changes crucial for parental bonding and newborn care.


This is the first study investigating social cognition abilities in PNs. We found that, compared to controls, PNs exhibited higher levels of affective empathy and Schadenfreude, the latter pattern being accompanied by increased EMG modulations of the corrugator supercilii. These results further our understanding of social cognition changes during the puerperal period.

As expected, PNs showed higher scores than controls in both affective empathy subscales (i.e., empathic concern and personal distress), even after adjusting for executive functioning, educational levels, perceived stress levels and hours of sleep. Conversely, non-significant differences were observed between groups in cognitive empathy. Our results are consistent with previous suggestions7 that empathy is a key aspect of parenting, especially because babies’ needs are expressed non-verbally. Specifically, empathic concern and personal distress levels are highly related with the social cognition abilities required to recognize and care for others people’s feelings, and even turn to their aid45. In line with our findings, in the first stage of bonding, affective empathy is more important and essential than cognitive empathy58. Higher affective empathy levels are involved in better emotional communication, social attachment, and motivation to cooperate58. Increased parental empathy7 facilitates emotional communication, social attachment, parental caring58, and motivation to protect and care for the newborn1. Notably, given the nature of our empathy measure, our results suggest that higher affective empathy levels observed in PNs are not limited to parent-baby interactions, but are also present in scenarios involving other individuals.

Regarding social emotions, our results showed increased Schadenfreude levels in PNs, which were not explained by executive functioning, educational levels, stress levels or hours of sleep. By contrast, envy levels were similar between groups. This pattern may be associated with the multiple hormonal, emotional, and biological changes that take place during pregnancy and puerperium. However, as endocrine, physiological or other biological measures were not included in this study, interpretations about the relevance of these factors should be cautions. A possible explanation for the selective differences in Schadenfreude observed in PNs might be the pleasurable nature of this emotion33,59 and its strong relationship to reward mechanisms40, indexed by increased engagement of the ventral striatum33. In fact, this brain region, along with others (e.g., thalamus, hippocampus and amygdala), is crucially involved in oxytocinergic dynamics33,60. Previous studies suggest that the neurohor mone OXY may partly account for variations in parent-infant interactions7. Higher OXY levels may be associated a wide range of emotions and social behaviors, such as raising children, trusting others, attacking potential outsiders and competing with rivals, which can lead to trust and generosity, but at the same time to increased Schadenfreude61. Null differences in envy might be explained by the fact that, unlike Schadenfreude, this is a non-gratifying emotion that implies feelings of dissatisfaction with another person’s good fortune40. In fact, envy implies greater neuronal activity in pain circuits rather than in the reward and pleasure systems62. Promisingly, this new hypothesis, derived from our behavioral results, paves the way for new cross-methodological studies. Future studies should include neuroimaging measures as well as OXY and other hormones levels in order to test this interpretation.

Additionally, our social emotion task comprised a group of justice-related scenarios. Accordingly, the higher Schadenfreude scores in PNs could reflect an enhanced sensitivity to track unfair situations and respond to scenarios in which those situations are punished. In fact, Schadenfreude might play a positive role when unfair social situations are sanctioned63, which aligns with a widespread human trend to punish unfair or social inappropriate situations –namely, altruistic punishment64, a behavior that is likely underpinned by negative emotions towards defectors. Note, in this sense, that higher OXY levels seem to increase altruistic punishment behavior, by rendering cooperation and promoting cohesion in social groups65. Arguably, PNs exhibited higher Schadenfreude for unfair or threatening scenarios as an expression of an increased sensitivity to track social threats. Conversely, although the envy situations described unfair and inappropriate social situations, the lack of differences between PNs and controls might reflect the role of control mechanisms in the former, favoring proactive punishment over mere unpleasantness in the face of unfair social scenarios.

These interpretations are further supported by our EMG results. In line with previous EMG studies41,42, we found that activity of the zygomaticus major activity was higher for Schadenfreude than envy responses. Consistent with previous research41, this finding suggests that participants seem to exhibit a subtle contortions similar to those involved in the act of smiling when a misfortune happens to another person. In addition, we found that in control participants the depressor muscle activity was higher for envy than Schadenfreude. Depressor supercilii activity show increased activity in response to negative facial stimuli (i.e., angry faces)66. Increased activity of this muscle may be explained by the fact the envy stimuli employed here involve situations related to negative feelings of deservingness (e.g., a young man got a better test score for being the son of a professor) or morality/legality (e.g., a politician takes a vacation using taxpayers’ money). Furthermore, EMG results revealed that implicit muscular correlates of Schadenfreude involve higher activity in the corrugator supercilii for PNs than controls. Note that modulation of the corrugator supercilii indexes the disapproval of an action54, a process noticeably involved in Schadenfreude responses. Considering that linguistic properties of stimuli may affect the zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii activities67, sentences for envy and Schadenfreude conditions were controlled in terms of length, complexity, and grammatical structure. Thus, our behavioral and EMG results can hardly be attributed to differences in the linguistic properties of both conditions stimuli.

Taken together, our results suggest that affective empathy and emotional reactivity to unfair or threating social situations (Schadenfreude) are increased in PNs. Accordingly, social cognition changes seem present in mothers and fathers of newborns, irrespective of type of delivery. In general, PNs seem more sensitive to the influence of others and to salient social cues, which are crucial for parental bonding. These patterns align with previous studies showing that the neural circuits underlying emotions in response to socially valued scenarios are partly targeted by the oxytocinergic system65. In fact, exogenous OXY levels correlate positively with levels of empathy68,69 and Schadenfreude61. Note, in this sense, that elevated OXY levels in PNs13,17 may selectively facilitate social cognition in certain conditions68,69 and increase the salience of social cues61. Consistent with previous suggestions70,71, it has been proposed that OXY has a dual effect on parental behavior, insofar as it inhibits aggression towards the offspring while promoting territoriality as well as aggressive and defensive behaviors against outsiders. As biological measures were not included in the present study, future research should correlate serum or salivary levels of OXY and other hormones levels (e.g., prolactin, OXY, progesterone, estrogen, and cortisol) of pregnant/puerperium women and their partners with performance in social cognition tasks. Furthermore, given that the relatively small sample size for EMG data is a limitation of this study, further studies should investigative social cognition domains, their associated muscle responses, and their peripheral and neural correlates in larger samples of PNs.

We have found a particular pattern of results as we observed at the same time increased affective empathy and Schadenfreude levels in PNs. Although it has been theoretically suggested that Schadenfreude is a counter-empathic emotion35,72, there is no direct evidence supporting such an association. Indeed, our results showed that empathy and Schadenfreude are not correlated. Thus, our results suggest that empathy and social emotions changes observed in PNs seem to be dissociable.

Besides, in our study we assessed the role of negative mood factors and cognitive factors in modulating Schadenfreude and empathy effects in PNs. In particular, we conducted covariation analyses to assess the extent in which depression and stress modulate the experience of Schadenfreude. These covariation analyses did not reach significant effects suggesting that increased Schadenfreude in PNs is not directly explained by the mediation of other emotional or cognitive changes occurred at afterbirth stages. In addition, puerperium is considered as a particular intense emotional milestone in PNs’ life, usually associated with emotional changes and stress73,74. However, this milestone could be also accompanied by happy mood and the experience of positive emotions such as joy, contempt or happiness. A potential limitation in our study was that we did not measure the role of positive emotions and happy mood in the experience of Schadenfreude. To date, the state-of-art of studies assessing Schadenfreude has shown dissociable neurocognitive and behavioral mechanisms underlying Schadenfreude and positive emotions33,34,63,75. Furthermore, note that this is arguably one of the reasons why previous studies on Schadenfreude have not controlled for the effects of joy or happy mood33,36,42,43,59,76. However, previous studies have revealed the complexity of positive emotions and its influences on secondary emotions77. Those influences could also impact on the experience of social emotions, including Schadenfreude. New studies should assess the extent to which dispositional emotions or instant and evoked emotional states could affect the intensity and experience of social emotions and social cognition in particular biological states as puerperium or pregnancy. Besides, the group of effects on social emotions and empathy observed in PNs could also be affected by general changes on emotional reactions including fear, anger, and happiness among other emotional manifestations. Future studies also should control the effects of primary emotions on the social emotions and empathy. Finally, the difference in the experimental testing contexts between PNs and controls represents a limitation of our study. However, the results of the complementary analyses (with a control group evaluated in the same setting as the experimental groups) suggest that our pattern of results is not explained by differences in testing sites. Future studies should use specific designs to evaluate the potential impact of different contextual variables on performance.

In sum, this report offers unprecedented evidence that PNs exhibit increased emotional reactivity, characterized by an exacerbation of affective empathy and Schadenfreude. These results open a new agenda to examine changes in social cognition and their relationship with neuroendocrine phenomena.

Rats find occupancy of a restraint tube rewarding; these results are difficult to reconcile with accounts of rat empathy based on the thesis that tube restraint distresses occupants

Rats (Rattus norvegicus) find occupancy of a restraint tube rewarding. Yosuke Hachiga  Alan Silberberg  Burton Slotnick  Maria Gomez. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, April 1 2020.

Abstract: Two experiments evaluated whether rats' occupancy of a restraint tube is reinforcing. In Experiment 1, each rat in the 0‐min group moved freely in a chamber where a wall blocked access to a restraint tube. After 10 min the wall was removed, permitting 15 min of chamber access and tube entry. The other 2 groups were locked in the tube for 10 and 20 min respectively before release into the chamber for 15 min. Across sessions, rats locked up for 10 and 20 min entered the tube more frequently than rats in the 0‐min group, and during the first 2 sessions rats in the 20‐min group stayed in the tube longer than the other groups. Over sessions this difference disappeared. However, for all groups and sessions the mean percentage of session time in the tube exceeded chance expectations. This result suggests tube occupation was reinforcing. In Experiment 2’s Phase 1, rats could enter an open tube. On exiting, the tube door closed. A lever press opened the door for the rest of the 1‐hr session. In Phase 2, these rats were locked in the tube for 10 min before the door opened. Upon exiting, the door closed. As in Phase 1, a lever press opened the door for the rest of the session. The latency between pressing and tube entry decreased over sessions, indicating that tube entry reinforced lever pressing. These results are difficult to reconcile with accounts of rat empathy based on the thesis that tube restraint distresses occupants.