Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Negativity Bias in Motive Attribution: We once again found that participants expected protagonists to be more likely than they were themselves to pursue courses of action that they considered morally bad

The Worst-Motive Fallacy: A Negativity Bias in Motive Attribution. Joel Walmsley, Cathal O’Madagain. Psychological Science, October 21, 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: In this article, we describe a hitherto undocumented fallacy—in the sense of a mistake in reasoning—constituted by a negativity bias in the way that people attribute motives to others. We call this the “worst-motive fallacy,” and we conducted two experiments to investigate it. In Experiment 1 (N = 323), participants expected protagonists in a variety of fictional vignettes to pursue courses of action that satisfy the protagonists’ worst motive, and furthermore, participants significantly expected the protagonist to pursue a worse course of action than they would prefer themselves. Experiment 2 (N = 967) was a preregistered attempted replication of Experiment 1, including a bigger range of vignettes; the first effect was not replicated for the new vignettes tested but was for the original set. Also, we once again found that participants expected protagonists to be more likely than they were themselves to pursue courses of action that they considered morally bad. We discuss the worst-motive fallacy’s relation to other well-known biases as well as its possible evolutionary origins and its ethical (and meta-ethical) consequences.

Keywords: cognitive bias, motives, attribution, meta-ethics, experimental philosophy, moral intuitions, moral judgment, open data, open materials, preregistered

General Discussion

The results of our experiments suggest that the tendency against which Hanlon’s razor warns is, in fact, a real tendency in our judgments of other people’s motives. Across a range of contexts, we found evidence that people were inclined to expect that agents are motivated primarily by the worst of the reasons that they have for a given action and that people expect others to be motivated by worse reasons than they are motivated by themselves. Although we were unable to replicate this effect for a broader range of vignettes than we considered in Experiment 1 (the first four from Experiment 1 plus an additional eight), it was replicated for the original vignettes when these were analyzed separately. Additionally, it is clear that there was a difference in the new vignettes, which could explain this failure: Participants rated the good motives as more extreme than the bad motives in the new vignettes. This difference may have counteracted any tendency to be biased to expect the agent to act primarily on the worse motive. We also found that in all cases, participants expected the agents in the story to be more likely to act on the motives that they found more extreme, as we suspected we might when we set up our study. And finally, the second effect we reported, in which participants expected other people to be more likely to pursue actions that they consider bad than they would prefer to do themselves, was replicated for all of the vignettes in Experiment 2.

The worst-motive fallacy fits naturally within the family of general negativity biases mentioned in the Background section, because it suggests, in effect, that we are also negatively biased in our moral evaluation of other people’s motives. Plausibly, we consider the worst reasons for actions to be the main motives because of our more general tendency to place greater focus on negative stimuli rather than positive, coupled with a more pronounced tendency to evaluate other people’s characters more negatively than we do our own.

We think that the worst-motive fallacy may arise because of the adaptive advantages that are gained from paying more attention to negative rather than positive aspects of other people’s behavior, the wisdom of which is recommended by another common folk aphorism5: “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” A cognitive bias may be selected for when the errors in which it results are less costly than erring in the opposite direction (Haselton & Nettle, 2006). In general, the evolutionary story goes, it is more advantageous to pay attention to negative aspects of our environment and thereby avoid harm, even if that means failing to notice positive aspects and thereby missing good opportunities. In the context of the worst-motive fallacy, although being overly suspicious of other people’s motives may incur the cost of failing to take up cooperative opportunities, the cost of naively entering cooperative partnerships with malicious actors may be higher. It will therefore be more advantageous to err on the side of falsely believing that other people have bad motives than to risk falsely believing that they have good motives.

Given the evolutionary account proposed here, several follow-up studies using similar methods could be conducted to explore the boundary conditions of the effect we have identified. For example, one might expect to find an in-group/out-group effect that leads to more benign interpretations of other people’s motives when they are relatives or when more is known about the protagonist’s history, prior behavior, or decision-making context. If we are generally predisposed to treat other people with suspicion, then it seems plausible that this would extend to an increased negativity bias when it comes to out-group attribution of motives. Such an effect would likely manifest along depressingly familiar prejudicial lines of gender, race, nationality, class, and so on.

What about those philosophical theories, considered at the outset, that appeal to an agent’s motives in the assessment of the morality of actions? The present study suggests that we should be cautious about appealing to our assessment of other people’s motives to judge the morality of their actions. The negativity bias we have uncovered casts doubt on the practicalities of any meta-ethical theory that recommends that our moral evaluation of other people’s actions should be rooted in our assessment of their motives. Similarly, the robust effect of extremeness (i.e., the fact that people are more likely to attribute a motive when it is further away from morally neutral in either direction) gives us a further reason to be wary. Given two competing motives that we have reason to believe an agent has in mind, it seems we are likely to consider not only the bad motive to be the main motive but also the more morally extreme motive to be the main motive. Although such meta-ethical theories could still be correct that, objectively, actors’ motives play an essential role in the goodness of their actions, they should nonetheless carry a user warning, as it were, that our subjective assessment of those motives may be far less reliable than is generally supposed.

These are matters for future investigation beyond the scope of this article. Our present focus has been to formally identify this unnoticed fallacy and to demonstrate for the first time that there is a tendency for people actually to commit it. Of course, the reader might suspect that our main motive in writing the present article was something else again: to publish in a top-ranking, peer-reviewed journal for the purposes of fame, glory, and career advancement. We suggest, however, that to suppose this would be to commit a fallacy, whose cause is a demonstrably commonplace cognitive bias.

Envy of the Rich Is One Reason That Americans Favor Reducing Income Inequality, Specially Among Republicans

Evans, MDR, and Jonathan Kelley. 2020. “Envy of the Rich Is One Reason That Americans Favor Reducing Income Inequality.” SocArXiv. October 22. doi:10.31235/

Rolf Degen's take:


Research question: Why do some Americans evaluate income inequality as too high whereas others do not? Does envy of the rich (the desire to "chop the top"), matter to these evaluations, even above and beyond other well-known influences? We explore this issue by extending a standard model of social-structural and political influences on inequality aversion/ desire to reduce income inequality to include self-reported income envy (and including perceived self-interest as a control variable).

Key findings: (1) Envy of the rich has a moderately strong relationship with seeing the current income distribution as too unequal: The total effect of envy on inequality aversion is positive and moderately strong. (2) This effect persists unchanged after taking family political and stratification background, demographics, and current social class/stratification position into account. (3) It persists when we also control perceived economic self-interest in inequality reduction. (4) Part of the effect is indirect through political party preference, but the direct effect of envy remains moderately important even when party is taken into account (5) The effect is strong among Republicans, but absent among Democrats.

Data and methods: Data are from the International Social Science Survey Round 20, USA 2016-2017, a representative US national sample (N=1,778 in the main wave and 2496 in two developmental waves). Methods include descriptive statistics; CFA for scale construction; OLS and multilevel regression analysis; and SEM to check causal issues.

Theoretical implications: Attitude towards income inequality, also called inequality aversion or norm on income inequality, is the offspring of many parents; envy is one of the generative influences, in addition to structural and political roots of public opinion and policy-relevant attitudes. Support for redistribution, therefore, encompasses not only a desire for social cohesion through mechanical solidarity based on equality of condition, not only a self-interested desire to reap some of the redistributed riches, not only a fixed political commitment to this goal, but also an envy component, specifically among people on the right of politics.

Reward devaluation theory (RDT) posits that some depressed individuals avoid positivity due to its previous association with adverse or disappointing outcomes

Negative affect interference and fear of happiness are independently associated with depressive symptoms. D. Gage Jordan  Amanda C. Collins  Matthew G. Dunaway  Jenna Kilgore  E. Samuel Winer. Journal of Clinical Psychology, October 20 2020.


Objectives: Reward devaluation theory (RDT) posits that some depressed individuals avoid positivity due to its previous association with negative outcomes. Behavioral indicators of avoidance of reward support RDT, but self‐report indicators have yet to be examined discriminantly. Two candidate self‐report measures were examined in relation to depression: negative affect interference (NAI), or the experience of negative affect in response to positivity, and fear of happiness, a fear of prospective happiness.

Method: Participants completed measures assessing NAI, fear of happiness scale, and depression online via Amazon's Mechanical Turk at three time points (N = 375). Multilevel modeling examined the relationship between NAI, fear of happiness, and depressive symptoms longitudinally.

Results: NAI and fear of happiness were both positively associated with depressive symptoms. They both uniquely predicted depressive symptoms when included within the same model.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that different conceptualizations of positivity avoidance are uniquely associated with depressive symptoms.

Fear of Happiness

A phenomenon relevant to negative affect interference that has been studied in relation to depressive symptoms specifically is fear of happiness (Gilbert et al., 2012, 2014; Joshanloo et al., 2013). As noted above, positive emotions, such as safeness, joy, and happiness, may not necessarily be experienced as pleasurable in clinical populations, but rather as frightening (Şar et al., 2019). Positive emotions may be associated with previous, negative experiences and have resulted in disappointment or adverse outcomes, thus the prospect of experiencing happiness itself may result in negative emotions (Joshanloo & Weijers, 2014). The experience of negative emotions may be more intense than positive emotion, which may result in individuals being aversive of positive emotions (Baumeister et al., 2001). Moreover, individuals may have a “taboo” on happiness as they believe that bad things happen when one is happy or that happiness never lasts (Arieti & Bemporad, 1980). The repeated disappointment of positivity and association with previous, negative experiences over time may lead one to be aversive of happiness and therefore have reduced hope. Thus, the diminished levels of hope related to positive experiences may result in one developing or maintaining depressive symptoms (Bloore et al., 2020). In sum, some individuals hold negative views about positive emotions and may thus actively avoid experiencing them due to their association with negativity.

Examining Negative Affect Interference and Fear of Happiness Through the Lens of RDT

The most basic evidence as to why individuals may avoid and devalue positive emotions and happiness comes from meta-analyses of the dot-probe task (Winer & Salem, 2016). As noted briefly above, these meta-analyses demonstrate that depressed individuals discriminantly avoid positive information in comparison to neutral information on the dot-probe task, and that this pattern is the opposite of the approach-related reward biases that individuals without symptoms of psychopathology demonstrate (Pool et al., 2016). The main tenet of RDT posits that individuals avoid positive emotions because they are frightened of, disgusted by, or disturbed by previous experiences where positive expectations such as hopefulness resulted in ultimate disappointment. However, behavioral indicators, such as an attentional bias against positivelyvalenced stimuli, may not capture all features of this specific devaluative process outlined by RDT. As such, the constructs of negative affect interference and fear of happiness are highly relevant to advancing understanding of these phenomenological components of RDT. For example, consider the role negative affect interference may play for someone who is depressed. The depressed individual may attempt to upregulate their positive affect by engaging in physical/sensory pleasures (e.g., walking on the beach). When attempting to engage in such activities, however, this individual may concurrently experience guilt, self-criticalness, or even shame as a result (e.g., “what’s the point of even trying?”). As negative affect interferes with attempts to engage in pleasurable activities, the likelihood of engaging in similar activities in the future diminishes. The negative affect interference construct, then, may provide insight regarding a possible devaluative process associated with depression, in line with the main tenet of RDT; in other words, that positivity comes to serve as a marker for negative feelings. A similar process can take place as one comes to fear happiness. As noted previously, a happiness-averse individual would hold negative views about positivity as a result of prior experiences (e.g., where initial hope or excitement ultimately led to disappointment). In sum, RDT suggests that experiences that are potentially index by negative affect interference and fear of happiness are causing or maintaining symptoms of depression, such as anhedonia. However, these constructs have yet to be evaluated together in a single study. The concepts of negative affect interference and fear of happiness thus are not only related to depressive symptoms, but when viewed through the lens of RDT, would be most likely to evidence avoidance; however, to our knowledge, there is no work that has examined these constructs together and whether they are independently related to depressive symptoms. Therefore, the present study sought to examine whether these potential routes of avoidance of positivity are independently associated with depressive symptoms when entered into the same model. To accomplish this, we assessed these variables at three separate time points spanning the course of approximately nine months, investigating the extent to which these means of restricting positive affect (i.e., fear of happiness and negative affect interference), relate to depressive symptoms in a longitudinal sample. We hypothesized that both negative affect interference and fear of happiness would be significantly associated with depressive symptoms, replicating previous findings (DePierro et al., 2018; Gilbert et al., 2012, 2014). Additionally, as an exploratory analysis, we examined the extent to which fear of happiness and negative affect interference were associated with depressive symptoms when entered as independent variables into a linear mixed (multilevel) model to further evaluate their capacity to predict depressive symptoms independently. Further, given these constructs were measured at various time points, we were also able to examine the trajectories of these variables, determining the extent to which they were stable over the course of the study. 

Lastly, we included the other subscales of the HDIS, positive emotionality (PE) and hedonic deficits (HD), to further assess whether fear of happiness and negative affect interference would discriminate from constructs that are viewed as similar but different in important ways by RDT. More specifically, PE reflects a frequency of experienced positive affect, whereas HD specifically refers to a general inability to experience positive feelings (Frewen, Dean, et al., 2012). Anhedonic experiences likely share a great deal of overlap with fear of happiness and negative affect interference; indeed, fearing a prospective positive event may appear as avolition due to the individual actively avoiding the event. However, understanding the unique predictability of fear of happiness and negative affect interference compared to general anhedonic symptoms could provide evidence that may ultimately inform future treatments or conceptualizations of depression. For example, hallmark treatments for depression have often focused on reducing negative affect and/or assuming the depressed patient suffers from an inability to experience positive affect (Beck & Bredemeier, 2016). Further, current nosology also simply emphasizes a “markedly diminished interest” in activities (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), possibly conflating distinct experiences that can result in this loss of interest (Winer et al., 2019). Understanding the processes associated with fearing and actively avoiding positivity and showing that these experiences are unique from mere reduced positive affect or an inability to experience positivity would allow for a more nuanced understanding of how depressive symptoms develop, as well as possibly inform novel interventions that target these fears or avoidance. Thus, we wished to examine if fear of happiness and NAI would discriminate from PE and HD, which do not index phenomena that are as precisely theoretically relevant to avoidance of positivity as stipulated by RDT. Moreover, we also wished to examine whether the fear of happiness and NAI were similar enough that only one would be predictive of depressive symptoms, or if one or both explained enough unique variance to be independently predictive. 

Women consistently showed higher concerns for Care, Fairness, & Purity in their moral judgements; sex differences in moral judgements were larger in individualist & gender-equal societies with more flexible social norms

Sex differences in moral judgements across 67 countries. Mohammad Atari, Mark H. C. Lai and Morteza Dehghani. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. October 21 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Most of the empirical research on sex differences and cultural variations in morality has relied on within-culture analyses or small-scale cross-cultural data. To further broaden the scientific understanding of sex differences in morality, the current research relies on two international samples to provide the first large-scale examination of sex differences in moral judgements nested within cultures. Using a sample from 67 countries (Study 1; n = 336 691), we found culturally variable sex differences in moral judgements, as conceptualized by Moral Foundations Theory. Women consistently scored higher than men on Care, Fairness, and Purity. By contrast, sex differences in Loyalty and Authority were negligible and highly variable across cultures. Country-level sex differences in moral judgements were also examined in relation to cultural, socioeconomic, and gender-equality indicators revealing that sex differences in moral judgements are larger in individualist, Western, and gender-equal societies. In Study 2 (19 countries; n = 11 969), these results were largely replicated using Bayesian multi-level modelling in a distinct sample. The findings were robust when incorporating cultural non-independence of countries into the models. Specifically, women consistently showed higher concerns for Care, Fairness, and Purity in their moral judgements than did men. Sex differences in moral judgements were larger in individualist and gender-equal societies with more flexible social norms. We discuss the implications of these findings for the ongoing debate about the origin of sex differences and cultural variations in moral judgements as well as theoretical and pragmatic implications for moral and evolutionary psychology.

4. General discussion

Given the pressing need for more conclusive empirical studies of sex differences in moral judgements, we examined women's and men's moral judgements using a high-powered design, and also investigated country-level correlates of sex differences in moral judgements in two consecutive studies. The current research is the first large-scale, cross-cultural investigation to empirically test multivariate sex differences in moral judgements nested within cultures. In Study 1, we examined the role of sex in moral judgements in 67 cultures using a large online sample. Further, in our country-level analysis, we examined the role of country-level cultural, socioeconomic, and gender-related indices in the magnitude of sex differences in moral judgements across cultures. In Study 2, we replicated these findings across 19 countries, by secondary analysis of completely independent data from locally administered, translated versions of the MFQ.

At the broadest level, Study 1 had three major findings: (i) three moral foundations of Care, Fairness, and Purity show systematic sex differences across cultures, with women scoring higher in all three cases, (ii) in more collectivist, non-WEIRD, and male-biased (higher sex ratio) cultures, sex differences in Care become smaller, and (iii) sex differences in Loyalty and Authority are quite variable across cultures. Relying on multivariate sex differences (i.e. Mahalanobis' D and its disattenuated bias-corrected statistic, see [27]) in moral judgements, the present multivariate effect sizes were found to be substantially larger than previously estimated sex differences in moral judgements (e.g. [3,34]) and the median effect size in individual differences research [65]. These multivariate effect sizes of sex differences were substantially larger in individualist and gender-equal countries. Study 2 largely replicated these findings. In particular, (i) women scored reliably higher than men on Care, Fairness, and Purity, (ii) sex differences in Care and Purity were substantially smaller in collectivist and male-biased (higher sex ratio) cultures, and (iii) sex differences in Loyalty and Authority were quite variable across cultures. These replicated findings support the notion that in more egalitarian Western (or Westernized) cultures, women and men tend to diverge in their Care concerns; and that in societies where the number of men for each woman is higher, sex differences in morality (particularly Care) drop substantially [4] which is consistent with the literature on sex ratio and its psychological implications [31]. In these contexts, men are more likely to focus on family values, long-term relationships, parenting, and caring for offspring since opportunities for short-term mating is scarce.

These culturally variable sex differences in moral foundations have implications for the origin of sex differences in psychology and evolutionary human sciences. First, the magnitude of sex differences, operationalized by multivariate (or global) difference effect size [33], was larger than previously thought, typically relying on univariate effect size, Cohen's d [3,66]. Second, these effects are considerably variable across cultural contexts, thus mono-cultural studies in research on sex differences can be misleading. For example, by looking at sex differences in Loyalty in the USA versus China, one would reach opposite conclusions. Third, these findings can be used to empirically compare (and refine) theoretical perspectives on culturally variable sex differences, hence contributing to a cumulative science of psychology of gender. Women's higher emphasis on Care and Purity judgements may be related to their parental care systems and disgust sensitivity, extensively researched in evolutionary psychology [67,68]. However, our findings regarding sex differences in Loyalty and Authority (i.e. negligible in size and highly variable across cultures) indicate that motivations for ingroup loyalty and hierarchical social structures are not substantially different between women and men across cultures. This finding is in line with evolutionary anthropological research examining sex differences in political leadership in small-scale egalitarian societies indicating that sex differences in leadership and coordination of ingroup members are not directly a product of differences in motivation for status and leadership, but an indirect product of sex differences in cooperation strategies, access to schooling, and sexual division of labour [69]. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that women and men value loyalty to their social networks and respecting authorities almost to the same extent; however, ‘social networks’ can mean different things for women and men. It is important to women to invest resources in creating and maintaining supportive social networks in order to protect themselves and their offspring [70]. For men, it can sometimes be attractive to invest their resources in forming coalitions to engage in intergroup aggression, as the spoils of an intergroup victory enhance their mating opportunities substantially [71]. Thus, men might be keener than women to take on leadership roles during intergroup competitions. In the case of Loyalty and Authority (which show large cultural variability in sex differences, from men scoring higher than women, to no difference, to women scoring higher than men), cultural evolution can be the key driving force which accounts for the diversity of cultural norms among populations. Cultural evolution is typically ‘faster’ than biological evolution and can be spread in a population in very few generations. It has been suggested that the legal and political systems that govern societies are themselves outcomes of cultural evolution [72,73], as it has eventuated over human history.

With regard to cultural variation of sex differences based on cultural, socioeconomic, and gender-related variables, the findings suggested that women and men are more different in their moral judgements in gender-egalitarian societies compared with less egalitarian ones. Notably, however, these results cannot be used to infer any causal relationships between gender equality and the magnitude of sex differences since the data are cross-sectional. Even in countries with gender-equal outcomes (high Gender Gap Index), where women and men have equal access to health and education, entrenched gender norms about moral phenomena persist. Moreover, these findings tell us nothing about individuals' experience of gender inequality and their moral judgements [44]. These findings are consistent with evolutionary psychological research on sex differences across cultures. These results, on the other hand, are in contrast with the original predictions of the social role theory [21]. Notably, social role theory has explicitly incorporated cultural evolutionary components into the theory [20], advocating that ‘biological characteristics affect the efficient performance of many activities in society, they underlie central tendencies in the division of labour’. However, this theory's prediction of women and men being more similar in gender-egalitarian societies was not supported here.

Of note, while the present work is not a test of MFT itself, the theoretical limitations of MFT should be noted. MFT's evolutionary roots have been argued to be ad hoc rather than theory-driven. While Graham et al. [7] provide an evolutionary function for each of the foundations, the theory itself has been developed without a clear a priori evolutionary model. The theory of ‘morality-as-cooperation’ [74], for example, argues that morality consists of a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in humans' evolutionary history, proposing seven moral domains (family, group, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness, and property) which are considered morally good across cultural contexts [74]. Future research is encouraged to replicate and extend the present findings using modern evolutionary theories of morality using corresponding measures [75]. In addition, MFQ has limitations. MFQ measures a pre-specified set of features that are relevant for moral judgement. More specifically, this questionnaire focuses on abstract judgements about what is part of the moral domain, rather than direct moral decision-making. Another limitation of the present studies is their samples. Study 1's sample is a convenience sample from an online platform and Study 2 is a secondary analysis of different samples coming from a relatively heterogeneous set of countries, collected using different procedures. Hence, future studies are encouraged to replicate these findings using more representative sampling procedures across diverse sets of cultures, including small-scale societies.

A goal scored just before halftime has greater value than other goals provided it is scored by the home team

Are goals scored just before halftime worth more? An old soccer wisdom statistically tested. Henrich R. Greve ,Jo Nesbø,Nils Rudi,Marat Salikhov. PLoS One, October 20, 2020.

Abstract: There is an old soccer wisdom that a goal scored just before halftime has greater value than other goals. Many dismiss this old wisdom as just another myth waiting to be busted. To test which is right we have analysed the final score difference through linear regression and outcome (win, draw, loss) through logistic regression. We use games from many leagues, control for the halftime score, comparing games in which a goal was scored after 1 minute remained of regulation time with games in which it was scored before the 44th minute. Our main finding is that the home team scoring just before halftime influence these outcomes to its advantage, compared with scoring earlier with the same halftime score. We conclude that a goal scored just before halftime has greater value than other goals provided it is scored by the home team. In other words; the wisdom may be old, but it’s still wise.

Discussion and conclusion

This study is a follow-up and correction of three earlier studies that directly or indirectly looked at the empirical value of goals just before half time [11314], one of which found evidence that certain timings of previous goals influenced final game outcomes beyond the goal itself [1]. In particular, Baert and Amez’s study [1], the most recently published and the one closest to our study, found weak negative effects for home team goals just before halftime, contrary to the common belief that the goals just before halftime are particularly beneficial. We conducted this analysis again using larger datasets and more familiar teams, as we relied on the top level national leagues, and found the opposite result. Home team goals just before the halftime gave a greater advantage than home team goals at other times, whereas for away team goals the timing had the opposite directional effect—not with statistical significance. These findings are conclusive.

So why is a goal just before halftime more important?

It is not within the scope of this paper to answer that question, but a promising start is to listen to the insiders of the game. It is interesting that all the coaches, players and fans we interviewed emphasized the psychological effect, the mental boost and positive energy that a late goal brought to the locker room during the break—even the interviewees who did not believe in the extra effect of goals just before halftime(!). Does positive energy—however that is defined—and a feeling of having been rewarded, produce better results than the opposite feeling? And if so, why is it better to have a break right after that reward instead of continuing playing? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe any goals give the “mental boost” that the experts we interviewed suggest. The nature of a boost is that it is temporary, so let’s imagine it lasts for the next ten minutes. In that case the boost after an early goal will have evaporated when it’s time for the break, while the same goal scored just before the break will mean that the scoring team—if it can contain all or some of this “boost” during the break—have a relative advantage when the second half starts. Conversely, the team conceding a late goal enters the locker room on a negative note. Does this this negative feeling settle during the halftime break, whereas it would dissipate if they could continue playing? Does it trigger unwise coaching decisions? Our findings suggest that it is problematic for the away team conceding a late goal.

Clearly, the following sequence of events underlies the findings. The goal is scored just before halftime, and the teams enter the locker room without much play following the goal and with a fresh memory of the goal. In the locker room, the team is assembled in a meeting rather than spread out on the pitch as they would be during play, and the coach makes play adjustments and motivates players. The team then re-enters the pitch and starts playing. Somewhere in this sequence of events a home-team advantage is created if it has scored just before the halftime. We view the motivational effect as the most likely source.

Our findings and the sentiment of football players and coaches can be combined to form theoretical implications. There is indeed an emotional impact of performance outcomes, and this impact is processed and stored differently when it is considered during a break and when there is no subsequent break, but rather continued effort without close interaction of team and coach. The gain in motivation for a team that has just received positive feedback through scoring a goal can indeed lead to improved performance and a win through a cognitive confirmation bias or through conservation of emotions [58]. This finding is important theoretically because there is yet little work on how such motivational effects linger under some circumstances and dissipate under other circumstances. More research should be conducted to examine this relationship.

There are also implications to related situations in soccer. The players’ and coaches’ emphasis on a mental boost are related to another old soccer wisdom. It is commonly believed that a team is particularly vulnerable to being scored against in the first few minutes after having scored a goal. The underlying reasoning is again the mental boost of the scoring team, which can lead to less cautious play. We are not aware of tests of this effect, but if it were found to be true, it would add to a body of evidence that successes yield confidence and some degree of inadvertent risk taking, for better or for worse.

The finding has applied implications for sports, and more generally for organizations with easily measurable performance outcomes. If the performance in the preceding active period after a success is a trade-off between the mental boost (being offensive, aggressive) and being over-confident (systematically underestimating risk), but a cool-off period (a break) will preserve more of the mental boost than the over-confidence, then it suggests it is tactically wise—in businesses and sports where striking a balance between being aggressive and defensive in decision making is essential—to reward success with breaks. Would rewarding decision making employees’ success with an instant holiday instead of a financial bonus be more beneficial for the company? This counter-intuitive approach (in basketball and handball normally players who have been making poor shot-decisions are given a break, not the “hot hands”) may somewhat cool off the hands of hot-handed decision makers, but—paying more dividend if the above is true—cool down their eagerness to go for too risky shots.

Within the field of management, one of the best-known research streams on this effect documents top management hubris, or belief in own infallibility [2122]. Within the field of finance, it is well-documented that prior success in investing leads to over-confidence and increased risk-taking among regular and professional investors [2324]. Both of these findings can be connected to research such as ours because they may be instances of decision-makers experiencing the same kind of mental boost as soccer players, either for a short time or for a longer duration. In both management and finance, the economic consequences of the resulting behaviors are significant, as they have been related to significant risk taking and losses in actions such as mergers and acquisitions (of firms) and transactions in financial markets.

One caution is that we cannot determine whether our findings originate in the scoring team or the conceding team. However, success as a temporary mental boost is well-documented in general, so in that respect soccer players are not special. Loss of motivation after disappointments is also a general effect. An interesting feature of the halftime effect that could be applicable broadly is that a break after a confidence-boosting event seems to be beneficial. If this also holds true for other types of work, a counter-intuitive implication is that a recently successful decision maker will do better when forced to have a cooling off period before making more decisions involving risk. Such practices may also be beneficial beyond sports, such as in the management and finance.

More broadly, our findings suggest a need for new research with a different focus than past work. Researchers have learnt much about the effects of failure on the human mind [2526], so it is now time for more research on the effects of success.

We found that participants considered it more permissible to harm a few animals to save a greater number of animals than to harm a few humans to save a greater number of humans

Caviola, L., Kahane, G., Everett, J. A. C., Teperman, E., Savulescu, J., & Faber, N. S. (2020). Utilitarianism for animals, Kantianism for people? Harming animals and humans for the greater good. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Oct 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Most people hold that it is wrong to sacrifice some humans to save a greater number of humans. Do people also think that it is wrong to sacrifice some animals to save a greater number of animals, or do they answer such questions about harm to animals by engaging in a utilitarian cost-benefit calculation? Across 10 studies (N = 4,662), using hypothetical and real-life sacrificial moral dilemmas, we found that participants considered it more permissible to harm a few animals to save a greater number of animals than to harm a few humans to save a greater number of humans. This was explained by a reduced general aversion to harm animals compared with humans, which was partly driven by participants perceiving animals to suffer less and to have lower cognitive capacity than humans. However, the effect persisted even in cases where animals were described as having greater suffering capacity and greater cognitive capacity than some humans, and even when participants felt more socially connected to animals than to humans. The reduced aversion to harming animals was thus also partly due to speciesism—the tendency to ascribe lower moral value to animals due to their species-membership alone. In sum, our studies show that deontological constraints against instrumental harm are not absolute but get weaker the less people morally value the respective entity. These constraints are strongest for humans, followed by dogs, chimpanzees, pigs, and finally inanimate objects.

Partial support for hypothesis that women pursuing short-term relationships would engage in appearance enhancement tactics that increase the attractiveness of their bodies more than their faces, reflecting men's priorities

Cloud, J. M., & Perilloux, C. (2020). The relationship between mating context and women’s appearance enhancement strategies. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Oct 2020.

Abstract: Previous research has indicated that men tend to prioritize facial over bodily attractiveness in long-term mating contexts but shift in the opposite direction in short-term mating contexts. The current study extended this research to test whether women adjust their appearance enhancement practices in ways that reflect men’s relative priorities. In particular, we hypothesized that women pursuing short-term relationships would report engaging in appearance enhancement tactics that increase the attractiveness of their bodies more than their faces, whereas the opposite should be true for women pursuing long-term relationships. Using an act nomination procedure, we identified the most common practices women engage in to enhance the attractiveness of their faces and bodies. From this list, a separate sample of women selected the 10 tactics they considered to be most important to increasing their own physical attractiveness and reported how much time, money, and effort they invest in enhancing the appearance of their faces and bodies. Results partially supported our hypothesis: Women’s inclination toward short-term mating was positively correlated with the percentage of body-related tactics chosen but did not correlate with the amount of time, money, or effort they reported spending on facial or bodily appearance enhancement. These results provide preliminary support for the proposal that women internalize men’s priorities for facial versus bodily attractiveness in different mating contexts, though more work is needed to determine the extent to which this occurs.

Physical pain in certain social situations makes people smile; the distress induced smile, at least for males in informal social situations, is a goal dependent impulsive behaviour that communicates appeasement & non-hostility

The Distress Smile and its Cognitive Antecedents. Aditya Singh & Jaison A. Manjaly. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, Oct 19 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: This paper investigates the paradoxical finding that physical pain in certain social situations makes people smile. A number of models have been proposed to explain emotional behaviour, and we tested some important predictions they make regarding the mental antecedents and cognitive properties that could characterize such distress smiles, specifically ones that occur in informal and non-serious social situations. We assessed impulsivity and controllability of the smile, its accompanying emotions, dependence on effortful appraisal, communicative functions, and whether it is goal dependent or stimulus driven. To do this we made students receive and induce physical pain to each other on the upper arm, and varied the following conditions in which the pain was administered: social distance between participants, hierarchical relation between the participants, attentional load, and instructions to make no movements. We also assessed the presence of happiness and amusement (or mirth), and whether they were correlated with the distress smiles. We concluded that the distress induced smile, at least for males in informal social situations, is a goal dependent impulsive behaviour that communicates appeasement and non-hostility.