Saturday, August 8, 2020

Country‐level optimism was negatively related to GDP per capita, population density, and democratic norms and positively related to income inequality and perceived corruption

International Optimism: Correlates and Consequences of Dispositional Optimism across 61 Countries. Erica Baranski  Kate Sweeny  Gwendolyn Gardiner  David C. Funder  Members of the International Situations Project. Journal of Personality, August 7 2020.

Objective: The current exploratory study sought to examine dispositional optimism, or the general expectation for positive outcomes, around the world.

Method: Dispositional optimism and possible correlates were assessed across 61 countries (N = 15,185; mean age = 21.92; 77% female). Mean‐level differences in optimism were computed along with their relationships with individual and country‐level variables.

Results: Worldwide, mean optimism levels were above the midpoint of the scale. Perhaps surprisingly, country‐level optimism was negatively related to GDP per capita, population density, and democratic norms and positively related to income inequality and perceived corruption. However, country‐level optimism was positively related to projected economic improvement. Individual‐level optimism was positively related to individual well‐being within every country, although this relationship was less strong in countries with challenging economic and social circumstances.

Conclusions: While individuals around the world are generally optimistic, societal characteristics appear to affect the degree to which their optimism is associated with psychological well‐being, sometimes in seemingly anomalous ways.

The Political Right Is Not More Credulous: Experimental Evidence Against Asymmetric Motivations to Believe False Political Information

Is the Political Right More Credulous?: Experimental Evidence Against Asymmetric Motivations to Believe False Political Information. Timothy Ryan and Amanda Aziz. The Journal of Politics, Aug 2020.

Abstract: Recent political events have galvanized interest in the promulgation of misinformation—particularly false rumors about political opponents. An array of studies provide reasons to think that harboring false political beliefs is a disproportionately conservative phenomenon, since citizens with affinity for the political right endorse more false information than people with affinity for the left. However, as we discuss below, past research is limited in its ability to distinguish supply-sideexplanations for this result (false information is spread more effectively by elites on the right) from demand-side explanations (citizens who sympathize with the right are more likely to believe false information upon receipt). We conduct an experiment on a representative sample of Americans designed specifically to reveal asymmetries in citizens’proclivity to endorse false damaging information about political opponents. In a contrast with previous results, we find no evidence that citizens on the political right are especially likely to endorse false political information.

Keywords: Rigidity of the Right; Ideology; Motivated reasoning; Conspiracy beliefs

The unexpected small decline in Neuroticism suggests that, during the acute phase of COVID-19, feelings of anxiety and distress may be attributed more to the pandemic than to one’s personality

Change in five-factor model personality traits during the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Angelina R. Sutin et al. PLoS, August 6 2020.

Abstract: The rapid spread of the coronavirus and the strategies to slow it have disrupted just about every aspect of our lives. Such disruption may be reflected in changes in psychological function. The present study used a pre-posttest design to test whether Five Factor Model personality traits changed with the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Participants (N = 2,137) were tested in early February 2020 and again during the President’s 15 Days to Slow the Spread guidelines. In contrast to the preregistered hypotheses, Neuroticism decreased across these six weeks, particularly the facets of Anxiety and Depression, and Conscientiousness did not change. Interestingly, there was some evidence that the rapid changes in the social context had changed the meaning of an item. Specifically, an item about going to work despite being sick was a good indicator of conscientiousness before COVID-19, but the interpretation of it changed with the pandemic. In sum, the unexpected small decline in Neuroticism suggests that, during the acute phase of the coronavirus outbreak, feelings of anxiety and distress may be attributed more to the pandemic than to one’s personality.


The present research suggests modest acute personality change during the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Contrary to our hypothesis, there was a small decline in Neuroticism rather than the expected increase. This change in Neuroticism was only apparent among individuals who were not in quarantine/isolation. We likewise did not find the expected increase in Conscientiousness, and there was some evidence that the current social environment may have changed the meaning of an item. In exploratory analyses, there was modest evidence that isolation status moderated trait changes in Conscientiousness, Openness, and Agreeableness, as well as for Neuroticism.

Personality traits tend to be stable over time and resistant to normative life events that are stressful [8]. Of the five traits, there is the most evidence that Neuroticism may be the most reactive to stress. When individuals experience a great amount of distress, either through an extremely aversive event [1719] or a depressive episode [9], Neuroticism tends to increase. A similar but weaker trend is found for long-term psychological responses to natural disasters, such as after the Christchurch Earthquake [20]. Likewise, interventions to improve mental health decrease Neuroticism [10]. Given the stress and anxiety over the coronavirus, we had expected Neuroticism to increase. Instead, the opposite pattern emerged. This decrease may be due to contrast effects. That is, reminders of the collective stress and anxiety that the world was under were everywhere: During the 10 days of the posttest data collection, there was significant volatility and losses in the stock market [21] (marker of economic anxiety), essential household products such as toilet paper were sold out across the country [22] (marker of consumer anxiety), and national polls indicated that 70% of American adults were concerned or very concerned about the virus in their community [23] (marker of individual anxiety). Feelings of personal stress and anxiety may be attributed less to the self when there is a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety experienced through the whole of society. In such a context, there might be an attenuated tendency to perceive and rate oneself as emotionally distressed as compared to other people. The stress and anxiety participants felt may have been ascribed to the external situation rather than their own personality. It is important to note that participants with pretest data but no posttest data scored higher in Neuroticism. This difference in attrition may have had an effect on the pattern of results. For example, as individuals higher in neuroticism were lost to follow-up, it is possible that this more emotionally vulnerable group responded differently to the pandemic. It is also of note, however, that the overall pattern that we found is consistent with anecdotal reports of decreases in anxiety among individuals who typically suffer from anxiety [24].

We did not find evidence for change in Conscientiousness. We hypothesized that the ubiquitous public health messaging to be more attentive to personal behavior would translate into an overall increase in a trait tendency to be conscientious, particularly the facet of Responsibility. Rather than Responsibility, however, we found only modest evidence for an increase in the facet of Productiveness, which indicated that individuals saw themselves as more efficient and persistent in this crisis. There was, however, a fascinating pattern for Dutifulness. Dutifulness measures the tendency to adhere strictly to ethical principles [15]. This trait tendency decreased between pre- and post-test, a change that primarily occurred in participants younger than 65 (i.e., working-aged adults). This decrease was due entirely to declines on one item about going to work/school when not feeling well. In pre-pandemic times, this item was a fairly good marker of an individual’s willingness to follow through on their commitments. The swift changes in the social landscape, however, may have changed the meaning of this item. Now, rather than a marker of conscientiousness, going to work/school while sick may be a marker of recklessness or antagonism, whereas staying at home and protecting one’s community is conscientious. It is an example of how social context can (rapidly) change the meaning of an item and how it defines the trait it measures.

Approximately one-quarter of our sample reported being in isolation/quarantine within the last month. Our exploratory analysis suggested modest change in personality by isolation status. Of most note, isolation status moderated change in Neuroticism such that the decline in Neuroticism only occurred for those not in quarantine. Further, there was a cross-over interaction for the Depression facet: Individuals not in quarantine declined, whereas those in quarantine increased in a trait tendency toward depressed affect. Increases in depressed affect and other aspects of negative emotionality are common while in quarantine, and the effects may or may not be long lasting [25]. More generally, quarantine might provoke anxiety that is not assuaged by the stress and anxiety felt by the rest of the population. In addition to Neuroticism, isolation also moderated change in Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. In all cases, these traits declined among individuals in isolation, specifically the facets of Curiosity, Trust, and Organization, respectively. The circumstances around isolation may lead to boredom and erode trust. There may also be less pressure to be organized because there is less that needs to get done in a timely manner. It is also of note that there were baseline differences in personality prior to quarantine. That is, individuals who go into quarantine had higher baseline levels of Neuroticism and lower Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Individuals with these traits may be at greater risk of exposure through either who they interact with and/or they work jobs that put them at higher risk of exposure. Individuals higher in Neuroticism may also perceive more threat and go into quarantine to feel safer. There may also be bias associated with these traits in how quarantine/isolation is interpreted (e.g., safer at home may be interpreted as quarantine). We could not tease apart these different possibilities.

FFM personality traits are known to be stable [26] with normative changes across the lifespan [27] and are also known to be relatively resistant to change after normative life events [8]. As such, there would be no expectation that personality traits would change over just six weeks in normal circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic, however, is unprecedented in its disruption of daily life for most of the population. It was thus possible that it would also have an unprecedented effect on personality. As described above, extremely aversive and stressful events are associated with change in personality [1719], and the global scale of the current stressful event may have had a widely felt impact. And yet, even with the widespread fears over health consequences of complications of COVID-19, the economic uncertainty, and restrictions on daily life, personality traits have been mostly resistant to change. These findings support theoretical accounts of personality traits that argue for their stability [28], even in the face of acute environmental stressors. It may be the case that other aspects of psychological functioning, including state affect or mental health [29], may be more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 (but see [30]).

The present study had several strengths, including a pre-post design that captured trait psychological function just prior and during the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The findings, however, need to be put in context. Although there was evidence of change, for example, the magnitude of change was small; in most cases, the change was less than one-tenth of a standard deviation. As such, overall there is more evidence of stability than substantial change. Still, personality would not be expected to change at all over such a short period of time in normal circumstances. The findings also need to be put in context of some limitations. First, the attrition analysis indicated that there were significant selection effects for who remained in the sample at Time 2 that may have had an effect on the results, particularly for Neuroticism (as discussed above). It is important to note that this study was not originally designed to be longitudinal, so participants in the pretest survey did not know that they would be asked to complete a second survey. With the pandemic, the study was reconceptualized to take advantage of the data collected on psychological functioning just prior to the pandemic. Fortunately, many participants were willing to fill out a second survey, but given that the original study was not meant to be longitudinal, there was no expectation that participants would continue to participate. Second, we tested for trait change in the acute phase of the pandemic. Although the purpose of this measurement was to address whether trait psychological functioning was responsive to an acute health-threatening crisis, it is also possible that the effects of the crisis could take longer to consolidate into substantial changes in personality. Future work will need to address whether there are long-term changes in personality in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Future work also needs to address personality change during the pandemic in other cultural contexts. Third, our measure of quarantine/isolation was broad and did not differentiate between quarantine or isolation and the situation for the participant during quarantine/isolation (e.g., whether the person was alone or with another person). As such, we could not disentangle the exact circumstance of the quarantine/isolation and whether such differences are important for personality change. Finally, as with all non-experimental research, there may be other explanations for the current set of results that we cannot rule out.

Overall, the results suggest more trait psychological resilience than harm during the acute phase of the coronavirus spread and response in the United States. Consistent with the notion that traits are stable and resistant to change, there were few changes in response to the spread of the coronavirus and the measures to control the spread in the United States. The results further suggest that the broader social environment may be modifying both how individuals see themselves (e.g., attributing less anxiety and depressed affect to themselves) and the meaning of specific items to how they measure a trait (e.g., items of Dutifulness). Future work will need to address whether these modest changes are long lasting and/or whether different patterns of change emerge if this crisis is protracted.

Pigeons try to overthrow a stable social order's hierarchy just adding weights to the revolutionaries' bodies; mass loading causes the low-ranked male birds to immediately become more aggressive and rise-up the dominance hierarchy

Artificial mass loading disrupts stable social order in pigeon dominance hierarchies. Steven J. Portugal, James R. Usherwood, Craig R. White, Daniel W. E. Sankey and Alan M. Wilson. Biology Letters, August 5 2020.

Abstract: Dominance hierarchies confer benefits to group members by decreasing the incidences of physical conflict, but may result in certain lower ranked individuals consistently missing out on access to resources. Here, we report a linear dominance hierarchy remaining stable over time in a closed population of birds. We show that this stability can be disrupted, however, by the artificial mass loading of birds that typically comprise the bottom 50% of the hierarchy. Mass loading causes these low-ranked birds to immediately become more aggressive and rise-up the dominance hierarchy; however, this effect was only evident in males and was absent in females. Removal of the artificial mass causes the hierarchy to return to its previous structure. This interruption of a stable hierarchy implies a strong direct link between body mass and social behaviour and suggests that an individual's personality can be altered by the artificial manipulation of body mass.

4. Discussion

Over a 31-month period, the dominance hierarchy of the pigeon group did not significantly change, with individuals retaining their position within the hierarchy throughout the experimental period. Previously, it has been demonstrated that in animal groupings of less than approximately 10 individuals, stable hierarchies are more commonly observed than in larger groups [27]. The linear dominance hierarchy in the pigeons was significantly related to body mass. There is no clear pattern yet determined as to why body mass is such a strong determinant of dominance in some species but not others [11,28]. It is possible that body mass is significantly correlated with dominance in species where secondary-sexual ornamentations are less pronounced, and as a result, signalling is less clear. In such cases, body mass may become more of an important indicator of fitness. The hierarchy returning to its stable structure upon the removal of the additional mass load suggests that no carry-over or ‘memory' effects of mass loading persist and implies an instantaneous neurological feedback mechanism regarding changes in body mass (e.g. [29]).

It is possible that the addition of the extra mass to the backs of the subordinate birds aggravated or stressed the birds, causing them to exhibit higher levels of aggression. During the addition of the artificial mass, the subordinate birds did not show any obvious signs of aggravation at the lead weights attached to them, nor did they try to peck or remove them, either on themselves or on conspecifics (S.J.P. personal observation), suggesting this is an unlikely explanation for their increased aggression. Similarly, the composition of aggressive behaviours did not change between weighted and unweighted sessions, suggesting behaviours were not more focused on the back, where the weights were attached. An alternative explanation, however, is that the addition of artificial mass—although only for a short period—increased the energetic requirements of the weighted birds, thus requiring them to be more aggressive to ensure adequate access to food [30,31]. Such a theory is akin to ‘lead according to need', an idea which has previously linked to motivation and leadership in group behaviour [32].

Only males responded to the artificial mass loading by significantly increasing their aggressive behaviour, while females did not seemingly respond, suggesting that increasing aggression in response to artificial mass loading is sex specific. Previously, it has been demonstrated that injections of testosterone into male pigeons did not make male pigeons more aggressive or dominant, [33], yet a perceived possible increase in physiological condition through the addition of mass in the present study did elicit a response. This sex-specific response may be linked to competition for females, with female pigeons preferentially selecting males for partnering who hold dominant positions within a hierarchy [34]. An avenue worthy of further investigation is the impact that the pairing status of an individual has on their respective rank, as it has been previously demonstrated in birds that being paired increases your rank within a hierarchy [35,36].

The present study demonstrates the plasticity of aggressive traits, and the rapidity with which they can be modified based on physiological condition. Fruitful future investigations would be to ascertain the attributes that lead to greater body masses in wild-type scenarios and in turn greater dominance. The ‘prior attributes' hypothesis [8,27,28], for example, suggests hierarchies are predetermined by personality or physiological differences in dominance ability. This in turn may be linked to leadership during flocking and associated energy expenditure [3740]. How natural seasonal variations in body mass [4143] manifest in terms of dominance and general social behaviour would further explore the interactions between individual physiology, energetics and social behaviour. Moreover, experiments that supplementary feed specific individuals over a longer period of time to increase body mass may yield different results with respect to the changes in their respective ranks. Our study focused on only one flock of birds, and to determine the full nature of these instantaneous changes in body mass, further studies are needed with larger sample sizes, both in terms of number of flocks and sampling sessions where mass was added, and ideally additional species.

Consistent with the proposition that people need to exert autonomy over their decisions, prosocial behavior is most likely to lead to happiness when actors have chosen to provide help

Helping and Happiness: A Review and Guide for Public Policy. Lara B. Aknin  Ashley V. Whillans. Social Issues and Policy Review, August 6 2020.

Abstract: Perhaps one of the most reaffirming findings to emerge over the past several decades is that humans not only engage in generous behavior, they also appear to experience pleasure from doing so. Yet not all acts of helping lead to greater happiness. Here, we review the growing body of evidence showing that people engage in a wide array of prosocial behaviors (e.g., charitable giving, volunteering, blood/organ donation, offering advice, food sharing) which can promote positive emotions. Then, using self‐determination theory, a foundational theory of human motivation, we consider when and how generous actions are most likely to boost the helper's happiness—and when they are not. Finally, we leverage these insights to consider how public policy and organizations can apply this information to make prosocial action more emotionally rewarding for citizens and employees alike.