Saturday, September 26, 2020

Personality Evaluated: What Do People Like and Dislike About Themselves and Their Friends?

Sun, Jessie, Rebecca Neufeld, Paige Snelgrove, and Simine Vazire. 2020. “Personality Evaluated: What Do People Like and Dislike About Themselves and Their Friends?.” PsyArXiv. September 26. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: What do people think are their best and worst personality traits? Do their friends agree? Across three samples, 463 college students (“targets”) and their friends freely described two traits they liked and two traits they disliked the most about the target. Coders categorized these open-ended trait descriptions into high or low poles of broad trait domains and judged whether targets and friends reported the same specific best and worst traits. Best traits reflected only the socially desirable poles of the major trait domains (especially high agreeableness and extraversion), whereas worst traits reflected both poles (e.g., high extraversion: “loud”; high agreeableness: “people-pleaser”), and especially low emotional stability (particularly from the targets’ perspective). Overall, targets and friends mentioned similar kinds of best and worst traits, and agreed to a moderate extent on what the targets’ best and worst traits were. These results highlight the mixed blessings of various personality traits.

Impact of superstitious beliefs on the timing of marriage and childbirth: Evidence from Denmark

Impact of superstitious beliefs on the timing of marriage and childbirth: Evidence from Denmark. Evgeny A. Antipov, Elena B. Pokryshevskaya. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 15, No. 5, September 2020, pp. 756–782.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: We study the influence of numerological superstitions on family-related choices made by people in Denmark. Using daily data on marriages and births in Denmark in 2007-2019 we test hypotheses associated with positive perception of numbers 7 and 9 and a negative perception of number 13, as well as the impact of February, 29, April 1, St. Valentine’s Day and Halloween. There is significant negative effect of the 13th on the popularity of both wedding and birth dates. However, some other effects associated with special dates and the cultural representations of unofficial holidays have a stronger effect. In addition, after controlling for many factors, February 29 and April 1 turn out to be desirable for weddings, but not for childbirth, implying the context dependence of cultural stereotypes. Evidence of birth scheduling for non-medical reasons is especially worrisome because of the associated adverse health outcomes associated with elective caesarian sections and inductions.

Keywords: superstitions, jinx number, lucky number, numerology, childbirth, marriage

Replication of Azar et al. (2013): 70% of customers in Czech restaurants returned excessive change to waiters; the higher the excessive change was, the more honest the customers were

A field experiment on dishonesty: A registered replication of Azar et al. (2013). Jakub Procházka, Yulia Fedoseev, PetrHoudek. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, September 2020, 101617.


• 70% of customers in Czech restaurants returned excessive change to waiters.

• The higher the excessive change was, the more honest the customers were.

• We successfully replicated the effect from Israeli restaurant.

Abstract: This study is a registered replication of a field experiment on dishonesty by Azar et al. (2013). Their main finding was that most customers of an Israeli restaurant did not return excessive change; however, customers who received a higher amount of excessive change returned it more often than people who received a lower amount. Our study, which was conducted on a sample of customers of restaurants in the Czech Republic (N=219), replicated the results of the original study. The high excessive change condition increased the chance of returning the excess change by 21.7 percentage points (17.4 percentage points in the original study). The findings show that the psychological costs of dishonesty can outweigh its financial benefits. We similarly found that repeat customers and women were more likely to return the excessive change than one-time customers and men. The majority (70%) of customers in our sample returned the excessive change. We discuss the importance of field studies and replications of them in the further development of research into dishonest behavior.

Keywords: Dishonestyfield experimentpre-registered replicationcustomer behaviour

Even for the most committed brain trainers, we found no relationship with any cognitive performance measure, regardless of participant age, which brain training program they used, or whether they expected brain training to work

Stojanoski, B., Wild, C. J., Battista, M. E., Nichols, E. S., & Owen, A. M. (2020). Brain training habits are not associated with generalized benefits to cognition: An online study of over 1000 “brain trainers”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Sep 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: The foundational tenet of brain training is that general cognitive functioning can be enhanced by completing computerized games, a notion that is both intuitive and appealing. Moreover, there is strong incentive to improve our cognitive abilities, so much so that it has driven a billion-dollar industry. However, whether brain training can really produce these desired outcomes continues to be debated. This is, in part, because the literature is replete with studies that use ill-defined criteria for establishing transferable improvements to cognition, often using single training and outcome measures with small samples. To overcome these limitations, we conducted a large-scale online study to examine whether practices and beliefs about brain training are associated with better cognition. We recruited a diverse sample of over 1000 participants, who had been using an assortment of brain training programs for up to 5 years. Cognition was assessed using multiple tests that measure attention, reasoning, working memory and planning. We found no association between any measure of cognitive functioning and whether participants were currently “brain training” or not, even for the most committed brain trainers. Duration of brain training also showed no relationship with any cognitive performance measure. This result was the same regardless of participant age, which brain training program they used, or whether they expected brain training to work. Our results pose a significant challenge for “brain training” programs that purport to improve general cognitive functioning among the general population. 

Rolf Degen summarizing... With increasing age, individual differences in personality traits are more and more determined by idiosyncratic life experiences, compared to genes and family upbringing

Kandler, C., Bratko, D., Butković, A., Hlupić, T. V., Tybur, J. M., Wesseldijk, L. W., de Vries, R. E., Jern, P., & Lewis, G. J. (2020). How genetic and environmental variance in personality traits shift across the life span: Evidence from a cross-national twin study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Sep 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Decades of research have shown that about half of individual differences in personality traits is heritable. Recent studies have reported that heritability is not fixed, but instead decreases across the life span. However, findings are inconsistent and it is yet unclear whether these trends are because of a waning importance of heritable tendencies, attributable to cumulative experiential influences with age, or because of nonlinear patterns suggesting Gene × Environment interplay. We combined four twin samples (N = 7,026) from Croatia, Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and we examined age trends in genetic and environmental variance in the six HEXACO personality traits: Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. The cross-national sample ranges in age from 14 to 90 years, allowing analyses of linear and nonlinear age differences in genetic and environmental components of trait variance, after controlling for gender and national differences. The amount of genetic variance in Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Openness followed a reversed U-shaped pattern across age, showed a declining trend for Honesty-Humility and Conscientiousness, and was stable for Emotionality. For most traits, findings provided evidence for an increasing relative importance of life experiences contributing to personality differences across the life span. The findings are discussed against the background of Gene × Environment transactions and interactions.

Anthropocentric biases in teleological thinking: How nature seems designed for humans

Preston, J. L., & Shin, F. (2020). Anthropocentric biases in teleological thinking: How nature seems designed for humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Sep 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: People frequently see design in nature that reflects intuitive teleological thinking—that is, the order in nature that supports life suggests it was designed for that purpose. This research proposes that inferences are stronger when nature supports human life specifically. Five studies (N = 1,788) examine evidence for an anthro-teleological bias. People agreed more with design statements framed to aid humans (e.g., “Trees produce oxygen so that humans can breathe”) than the same statements framed to aid other targets (e.g., “Trees produce oxygen so that leopards can breathe”). The bias was greatest when advantages for humans were well-known and salient (e.g., the ozone layer) and decreased when advantages for other targets were made explicit. The bias was not eliminated by highlighting the benefits for other species, however, and emerged spontaneously for novel phenomena (“Jupiter’s gravity protects Earth from asteroids”). We conclude that anthropocentric biases enhance existing teleological biases to see stronger design in phenomena where it enables human survival.

The absence of pessimism was more strongly related to positive health outcomes than was the presence of optimism

Scheier, M. F., Swanson, J. D., Barlow, M. A., Greenhouse, J. B., Wrosch, C., & Tindle, H. A. (2020). Optimism versus pessimism as predictors of physical health: A comprehensive reanalysis of dispositional optimism research. American Psychologist, Sep 2020.

Abstract: Prior research has related dispositional optimism to physical health. Traditionally, dispositional optimism is treated as a bipolar construct, anchored at one end by optimism and the other by pessimism. Optimism and pessimism, however, may not be diametrically opposed, but rather may reflect 2 independent, but related dimensions. This article reports a reanalysis of data from previously published studies on dispositional optimism. The reanalysis was designed to evaluate whether the presence of optimism or the absence of pessimism predicted positive physical health more strongly. Relevant literatures were screened for studies relating dispositional optimism to physical health. Authors of relevant studies were asked to join a consortium, the purpose of which was to reanalyze previously published data sets separating optimism and pessimism into distinguishable components. Ultimately, data were received from 61 separate samples (N = 221,133). Meta-analytic analysis of data in which optimism and pessimism were combined into an overall index (the typical procedure) revealed a significant positive association with an aggregated measure of physical health outcomes (r = .026, p < .001), as did meta-analytic analyses with the absence of pessimism (r = .029, p < .001) and the presence of optimism (r = .011, p < .018) separately. The effect size for pessimism was significantly larger than the effect size for optimism (Z = −2.403, p < .02). Thus, the absence of pessimism was more strongly related to positive health outcomes than was the presence of optimism. Implications of the findings for future research and clinical interventions are discussed.

Among both men & women, a large proportion saw themselves as more masculine or feminine than men & women on average, respectively, suggesting that accentuating one’s gender conformity has a psychological function

Theo G. M. Sandfort, Henny M. W. Bos, Tsung-Chieh (Jane) Fu, Debby Herbenick & Brian Dodge (2020) Gender Expression and Its Correlates in a Nationally Representative Sample of the U.S. Adult Population: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, The Journal of Sex Research, Sep 24 2020, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2020.1818178

ABSTRACT: We explored the associations of gender expression with childhood gender expression, sexual identity, and demographic characteristics in a representative sample of the U.S. population aged 18 to 65 years (N = 1277), using data from the 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. As expected, gay men were less gender conforming than heterosexual men. However, among women, persons with a bisexual identity were less gender conforming compared to heterosexual and lesbian persons. In multivariate analyses, childhood gender expression trumped the role of sexual identity. In terms of demographic characteristics, gender conformity seemed to be more present among persons with positions with less social status in terms of age, race/ethnicity, education, income, and relationship status. Finally, we found among both men and women, that a large proportion saw themselves as more masculine or feminine than men and women on average, respectively, suggesting that accentuating one’s gender conformity has a psychological function.

Evolution targets peripheral, not central, aspects of cognition; specialization for language processing has focussed on perceptuomotor aspects of speech rather than on an innate universal grammar

Sinking In: The Peripheral Baldwinisation of Human Cognition. Cecilia Heyes, Nick Chater, Dominic Michael Dwyer. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, September 24 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:


.  Evolution targets peripheral, not central, aspects of cognition.

.  Many peripheral mechanisms have evolved via the Baldwin effect.

.  ‘Garcia effects’ on taste-aversion learning have not withstood the test of time.

.  Fear learning is ‘prepared’ by attentional rather than by learning mechanisms.

.  Specialization for language processing has focussed on perceptuomotor aspects of speech rather than on innate principles of universal grammar.

.  There is no innate module for imitation but enhanced social motivation consequently leads to greater attention to the behaviour of other agents.

Abstract: The Baldwin effect is a hypothetical process in which a learned response to environmental change evolves a genetic basis. Modelling has shown that the Baldwin effect offers a plausible and elegant explanation for the emergence of complex behavioural traits, but there is little direct empirical evidence for its occurrence. We highlight experimental evidence of the Baldwin effect and argue that it acts preferentially on peripheral rather than on central cognitive processes. Careful scrutiny of research on taste-aversion and fear learning, language, and imitation indicates that their efficiency depends on adaptively specialised input and output processes: analogues of scanner and printer interfaces that feed information to core inference processes and structure their behavioural expression.

Keywords: adaptive specialisationBaldwin effectfear learningimitationlanguagetaste-aversion learning

Concluding Remarks

The Baldwin effect has seemed promising for a very long time. For more than a century it has been poised to revolutionise our understanding of the evolution of complex behavioural traits, but convincing empirical demonstrations have been elusive. We have argued that there is now compelling evidence of the Baldwinisation of cognition from Drosophila, and that research in cognitive science indicates that peripheral rather than central cognitive mechanisms have been the primary targets of selection.

Why might selection operate primarily at the cognitive periphery? A parallel with the evolution of other biological mechanisms is suggestive: internal physiological processes and anatomical structures are remarkably well-conserved. The organisation of the digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems is similar across vertebrate species, and they are so deeply interconnected that modifications beyond changes of size and shape may be difficult without causing substantial collateral damage. Moreover, even such modest changes to central systems will impact on a wide variety of functions and may therefore not be under strong selection from any one function. By contrast, interfaces with the external environment (jaws, teeth, digestive enzymes, bone and muscle structure) can be adapted to local circumstances (e.g., food sources) without interfering with central systems. The central machinery of cognition is less well understood, but may be equally interlocking, with widespread functional ramification, and a consequent resistance to evolutionary change.

Alternatively, it is possible that central cognitive processes are fully evolvable, but, at least in the human case, tend to be adaptively specialised by cultural rather than by genetic selection [101]. In domains such as language, imitation, mathematics, and ethics, changes to central mechanisms can be acquired through cultural learning. Cognitive skills that are taught, and those that are learned from others through more informal social interaction, do not need to sink in. Baldwinisation would bring little if any fitness advantage for skills that are reliably inherited via a non-genetic route [17], and specialised central mechanisms may be more teachable than specialised peripheral mechanisms. Plausibly, it is easier to learn grammatical constructions than vocal control through conversation, and, in the case of imitation, easier to learn sensorimotor mappings than intrinsic motivation through non-vocal social interaction.

These possibilities warrant further investigation, but the main purpose of this article is to draw attention to empirical work and to encourage testing for Baldwin effects in cognitive science (see Outstanding Questions). Many nonspecialists assume that research on taste aversion, fear learning, language, and imitation has produced solid evidence of genetically specialised learning mechanisms. This view is outdated. Careful empirical work, starting in the 1970s, has shown that efficiency in these domains depends on genetically specialised input and output processes, and that these cognitive equivalents of scanners and printers are likely to be Baldwin effects.

Outstanding Questions

How widespread is the Baldwin effect? For example, has it shaped face processing, episodic memory, social exchange reasoning, normative thinking, mathematical cognition, and mentalising?

Baldwinisation is plausible for human fear learning, imitation, and language because there is evidence that traits which now have a genetic basis were learned earlier in the organism’s phylogenetic history. Is this a general principle? How confidently can we infer Baldwinisation, rather than aplastic evolution, from evidence that a trait was learned earlier in phylogenetic history?

Are there cases where the Baldwin effect has operated on central cognitive processes?

What sinks in when Drosophila are artificially selected for aversion learning? Would studies of experimental evolution using two cue modalities and two types of outcome confirm the evidence from rats that peripheral processes are Baldwinised?

Research using behavioural and physiological measures suggests that young infants are especially attentive to, rather than fearful of, snakes. Can this evidence of peripheral Baldwinisation be confirmed using neurological measures of attention? Are infants better able to associate snakes with positive than with negative outcomes?

Has the motivation to align our thought and behaviour with others, for example in joint action and communication, been Baldwinised?

Many theorists argue that language was originally gestural rather than vocal. If so, are there traces of Baldwinisation of gestural communication, over and above manual dexterity required, for example, in tool use?

Can we find evidence that sequence processing and motivation have been Baldwinised specifically for imitation? For example, are there types of action, or stages in the learning process, where different computations encode action and non-action sequences for imitation and recognition? Is it easier to train infants to copy body movements (‘overimitation’) than to copy object movements?

Does cultural evolution promote, or suppress, natural selection?

From 2000... A glimpse at the metaphysics of Bongard problems

A glimpse at the metaphysics of Bongard problems. Alexandre Linhares. Artificial Intelligence, Volume 121, Issues 1–2, August 2000, Pages 251-270.

Abstract: Bongard problems present an outstanding challenge to artificial intelligence. They consist of visual pattern understanding problems on which the task of the pattern perceiver is to find an abstract aspect of distinction between two classes of figures. This paper examines the philosophical question of whether objects in Bongard problems can be ascribed an a priori, metaphysical, existence—the ontological question of whether objects, and their boundaries, come pre-defined, independently of any understanding or context. This is an essential issue, because it determines whether a priori symbolic representations can be of use for solving Bongard problems. The resulting conclusion of this analysis is that in the case of Bongard problems there can be no units ascribed an a priori existence—and thus the objects dealt with in any specific problem must be found by solution methods (rather than given to them). This view ultimately leads to the emerging alternatives to the philosophical doctrine of metaphysical realism.

Keywords: PhilosophyPattern understandingBongard problemsMetaphysical realismMultiperception