Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Conservative opposition to refugee resettlement can be weakened if conservatives are given reasons to believe those refugees will support the Republican Party; liberal support for refugees drops when they receive that information

Cui Bono? Partisanship and Attitudes Toward Refugees. Richard Hanania. Social Science Quarterly, November 30 2020.


Objective: This paper tests the hypothesis that the expected partisan affiliation of refugee populations partially explains why white conservatives and white liberals have different attitudes toward refugee resettlement in the United States.

Method: This was tested with a preregistered survey experiment that examined how attitudes toward refugee resettlement changed depending on the racial and political characteristics of a theoretical refugee population.

Results: Conservative opposition to refugee resettlement can be weakened if conservatives are given reasons to believe those refugees will support the Republican Party. At the same time, liberal support for refugees drops when they receive the same information.

Conclusion: Although white conservatives and white liberals exhibit different levels of racial prejudice, and this has consequences for their immigration and refugee policy preferences, their beliefs about how newcomers influence domestic partisan politics are also consequential.

Cultural anthropology’s love-hate relationship with evolution: what will the future bring?

van Schaik, Carel P (2020). Cultural anthropology’s love-hate relationship with evolution: what will the future bring? Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 144:77-92.

Abstract: Cultural anthropology and evolutionary biology arose around the same time, and both adopted the same evolutionist framework. Their paths soon diverged, however, largely because anthropology rejected the notion of evolutionary progress—and thus the notion of the existence of primitive versus advanced races—before evolutionary biology did. Most anthropologists subsequently rejected all evolutionary interpretations of ethnographic patterns and thus all biological influences on human behavior. Most evolutionary biologists until recently ignored the massive role of culture in guiding human behavior. Promising recent work suggests that important new insights emerge when evolutionary and cultural influences on behavior and society are integrated. The success of these new approaches indicates that the presence of a similar mental substrate everywhere produces a non-trivial level of predictability and thus convergence in cultural evolution. Future work along these lines should therefore yield novel insights in how humans respond to changing subsistence or institutional arrangements.

‘Garbage language’: chief pollinator, iconicity, loincloth strategy, talent pipeline, going granular, value prop, first moved advantage, proactive technology, paralellization, leading edge-solutions

Playing the Bullshit Game: How Empty and Misleading Communication Takes Over Organizations. André Spicer. Organization Theory, June 4, 2020.

Abstract: Why is bullshit so common in some organizations? Existing explanations focus on the characteristics of bullshitters, the nature of the audience, and social structural factors which encourage bullshitting. In this paper, I offer an alternative explanation: bullshitting is a social practice that organizational members engage with to become part of a speech community, to get things done in that community, and to reinforce their identity. When the practice of bullshitting works, it can gradually expand from a small group to take over an entire organization and industry. When bullshitting backfires, previously sacred concepts can become seen as empty and misleading talk.

Keywords: activity theory, bullshit, domination, power, resistance

The first characteristic of the speech community which is conducive to bullshitting is a large number of potential suppliers of bullshit. One important source of supply are conceptual entrepreneurs. These are actors with a stock of pre-packaged concepts they try to market to others. Many conceptual entrepreneurs operate in the management ideas industry. This is a sector made up of consultants, gurus, thought leaders, publishers and some academics (Sturdy, Heusinkveld, Reay, & Strang, 2018). The quality of actors operating in this industry tends to be extremely variable. A consequence is that some of the conceptual entrepreneurs seeking to peddle their wares in the management ideas industry are bullshit merchants. There are some sub-sectors of the management ideas industry where bullshit merchants are particularly concentrated. One is the ‘leadership industries’ (Pfeffer, 2015). This sub-sector includes many consultants, speakers, experts and advisors who create and distribute pseudo-scientific ideas about leadership (Alvesson & Spicer, 2013). A second sub-sector with a significant concentration of bullshit merchants is the ‘entrepreneurship industry’ (Hunt & Kiefer, 2017). This is the cluster of mentors, (pseudo-)entrepreneurs and thought leaders who push poorly evidenced, misleading and seductive ideas about entrepreneurship. Often their target is so-called ‘wantrepreneurs’ (Verbruggen & de Vos, 2019). In some cases, these ideas have been found to encourage vulnerable young people to adopt what are seductive but empty and misleading ideas about entrepreneurial success (Hartmann, Dahl Krabbe, & Spicer, 2019). For instance, Chen and Goldstein (forthcoming) followed a cohort of students at a mid-ranked North American university as they joined a campus-based business accelerator. Many put their lives on hold to launch start-ups. When these eventually failed, they often found themselves struggling to re-enter the mainstream labour market. They also tried to grapple with the ultimately meaningless and misleading advice about entrepreneurship they were exposed to during their time in the accelerator.

A second aspect of a speech community which can foster bullshitting is noisy ignorance. This is when actors lack knowledge about an issue yet still feel compelled to talk about it. It is not just the result of a lack of cognitive ability (however, it could be; Littrell et al., 2020). Rather, noisy ignorance is mainly due to a lack of understanding or experience concerning the issues being discussed. Often that ignorance has been strategically cultivated (McGoey, 2012). In some other cases, actors deliberately avoid gathering information or knowledge about an issue. In other cases, noisy ignorance is created by knowledge asymmetries where one party knows much more about a particular issue than another. When an actor is relatively ignorant about an issue, they do not have the wider background knowledge in order to compare new claims. Nor do they have an understanding of the right questions they might ask. This means they rely on relatively crude understandings of an issue yet tend to be much more certain than an expert would be (Raab, Fernbach, & Sloman, 2019).

When ignorance is noisy, uninformed actors do not simply stay silent about what they don’t know. Rather, they are compelled to speak about an issue of which they have little knowledge or understanding. A recent experimental study found that this compulsion to speak (coupled with a lack of accountability created by a ‘social pass’) was an important factor in explaining bullshitting (Petrocelli, 2018). Similar dynamics have been found in field studies. For instance, middle managers are often relatively ignorant about the work their subordinates are engaged with, but are under pressure to act as the leader by doing or say something (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016). They fall back upon generic management speak rather than engage with the people they manage in language they find meaningful. A second example is British government ministers who find themselves with a new policy portfolio (King & Crewe, 2014). Often these politicians have little or no knowledge of the new policy area, but they are under pressure to say and do something. To address this tricky situation, politicians rely on empty and often misleading language.

There also needs to be an opportunity in a speech community to use bullshit. Such an opportunity typically appears when a speech community is infused with permissive uncertainty. This is a situation where actors do not know what will happen and are willing to consider almost any knowledge that might plug this epistemic gap. They face high levels of uncertainty, yet have permissive epistemic norms which guide the problem of sorting out what to do. This creates a curious situation where almost any knowledge claim goes. When faced with a wicked problem such as a significant and unexpected environmental change, some organizations experience high levels of uncertainty but also find that different kinds of experts claim ownership over the problem (Rittel & Webber, 1973). This can create experimentation, participation and dialogue (Ferraro, Pfeffer, & Sutton, 2005). But equally, it can create multiple failures, conflict and drift. Under these circumstances, a greater sense of confusion can well up and an ‘anything goes’ approach takes hold.

The most obvious aspect involved in this kind of situation is a state of uncertainty (Fuller, 2006Wakeham, 2017). This entails epistemic uncertainty which comes from having imperfect knowledge about the world. Epistemic uncertainty can also be generated by competing and overlapping knowledge claims which create a dense patchwork of contradictory truths, making it difficult for an actor to make a judgement about what they think is correct. In addition, people face ontological uncertainty. This comes from the fact that social reality is ‘inherently risky and always under construction’ (Fuller, 2006, p. 274). Even if an actor acquires knowledge about social reality, that social reality can shift and change. Such changeability makes it very difficult to be certain of one’s judgements.

What makes uncertainty even more difficult to deal with is permissiveness. This is created by relaxed ‘epistemic vigilance’ (Sperber et al., 2010). In some settings, relaxing one’s epistemic vigilance is a way of investing epistemic trust in another person or, at the very minimum, as a way of keeping conversation and interaction going (Sperber et al., 2010). This sets up what we might call ‘epistemic indulgency patterns’. These are similar to the industrial indulgency patterns which entail routine social interactions where an authority figure like a manager allows their subordinates to get away with otherwise banned behaviour (such as stealing materials from a factory) in exchange for compliance (Gouldner, 1954). A similar process happens with epistemic claims. This is when people are willing to indulge weak claims from others in return for indulgence of their own weak claims. When this happens, people begin to allow weak or empty claims to pass without too much scrutiny. If they were to engage in greater epistemological due diligence, then social interaction would become too costly, time-consuming and conflict inducing. These epistemic indulgency patterns allow bullshit to pass without more serious assessment.

When such epistemological indulgency patterns are paired with endemic uncertainty, it can create a confusing, yet liberating situation: no-one knows what’s happening and which bodies of knowledge they should draw on to sort things out. For instance, the process of rapid social change in the United States during the late 19th century created a great sense of uncertainty in many people’s lives. It led to the confusing multiplication of forms of knowledge and authority. This uncertainty coupled with a pluralism created an ideal setting where sham commercial ventures and questionable experts peddled their wares. In the medical field, ‘quacks’ (unlicensed doctors) outnumbered licensed doctors by three to one in many parts of the country (Janik & Jensen, 2011). Quacks offered miracle cures which had no basis in science. The market for their ‘bullshit’ cures flourished until the early 20th century when legislation reduced the permissiveness associated with medical knowledge claims. Arguably a similar process has occurred in recent years with the rise of new technologies such as artificial intelligence. These new technologies have created a great deal of uncertainty, but they have also enabled some degree of permissiveness around who is able to claim expertise in the technology. This has opened up significant space for bullshitters who talk about artificial intelligence but have little understanding of the underlying technology. This makes it not terribly surprising that a recent analysis of 2,830 ‘artificial intelligence’ start-ups in Europe found that about 40 percent of them did not use AI technology at all (MMC Ventures, 2019).

Cooperative breeding system in small‐scale (hunter‐gatherer, horticultural, and agropastoral), sub‐Saharan populations

Life history and socioecology of infancy. Courtney Helfrecht  Jennifer W. Roulette  Avery Lane  Birhanu Sintayehu  Courtney L. Meehan. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, September 21 2020.


Objectives: Evolution of human maternal investment strategies is hypothesized to be tied to biological constraints and environmental cues. It is likely, however, that the socioecological context in which mothers' decisions are made is equally important. Yet, a lack of studies examining maternal investment from a cross‐cultural, holistic approach has hindered our ability to investigate the evolution of maternal investment strategies. Here, we take a systems‐level approach to study how human life history characteristics, environments, and socioecology influence maternal investment in their children.

Materials and methods: We test how infant age and sex, maternal age, parity, and child loss, and the composition of a child's cooperative breeding network are associated with maternal investment across three small‐scale (hunter‐gatherer, horticultural, and agropastoral), sub‐Saharan populations (N = 212). Naturalistic behavioral observations also enable us to illustrate the breadth and depth of the human cooperative breeding system.

Results: Results indicate that infant age, maternal age and parity, and an infant's cooperative childcare network are significantly associated with maternal investment, controlling for population. We also find that human allomaternal care is conducted by a range of caregivers, occupying different relational, sex, and age categories. Moreover, investment by allomothers is widely distributed.

Discussion: Our findings illustrate the social context in which children are reared in contemporary small‐scale populations, and in which they were likely reared throughout our evolutionary history. The diversity of the caregiving network, coupled with life history characteristics, is predictive of maternal investment strategies, demonstrating the importance of cooperation in the evolution of human ontogeny.

Heavy coffee drinkers differed from low/non-consumers by displaying increased wanting but not liking for coffee

Dissociation between wanting and liking for coffee in heavy drinkers. Nicolas Koranyi et al. Journal of Psychopharmacology, May 21, 2020.


Background: There is an ongoing discussion about the addictive strength of caffeine. According to the incentive-sensitization theory, the development and the maintenance of drug addiction is the result of a selective sensitization of brain regions that are relevant for wanting without a corresponding increase in liking. Dissociations of wanting and liking have been observed with a wide range of drugs in animals. For human subjects, results are inconclusive, which is possibly due to invalid operationalizations of wanting and liking.

Aim: The present study examined dissociations of wanting and liking for coffee in heavy and low/non-consumers with newly developed and validated response time-based assessment procedures for wanting and liking.

Methods: For this study 24 heavy and 32 low/non-consumers of coffee completed two versions of the Implicit-Association Test (IAT), one of which has been developed and validated recently to assess wanting for coffee, whereas the other reflects an indicator of liking for coffee.

Results: Results revealed a significant interaction between group (heavy vs. low/non-consumers) and IAT type (wanting vs. liking) indicating that heavy coffee drinkers differed from low/non-consumers by displaying increased wanting but not liking for coffee.

Interpretation: These data confirm that heavy coffee consumption is associated with strong wanting despite low liking for coffee, indicating that wanting becomes independent from liking through repeated consumption of caffeine. This dissociation provides a possible explanation for the widespread and stable consumption of caffeine-containing beverages.

Keywords: Implicit wanting, implicit liking, caffeine, incentive-sensitization theory, coffee

Living in collectivistic countries was associated with less implicit and explicit age bias, and greater feelings of warmth toward older adults compared with highly individualistic countries

Cross-Cultural Comparisons in Implicit and Explicit Age Bias. Lindsay S Ackerman, William J Chopik. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2020 Sep 2;146167220950070. doi: 10.1177/0146167220950070

Abstract: Most research documenting bias against older adults has been conducted in individualistic and industrialized cultures. In the current study, we examined cultural variation in attitudes toward older adults and subjective age in a large sample of 911,982 participants (Mage = 27.42, SD = 12.23; 67.6% women) from 68 different countries (Msize = 12,077; Mdnsize = 425.5). We hypothesized that age bias would be lower among those living in highly collectivistic countries. We found that living in collectivistic countries was associated with less implicit and explicit age bias, and greater feelings of warmth toward older adults compared with highly individualistic countries. Given the impact of age bias and prejudice on both the targets and perpetrators of bias, further research is needed to examine the causes of and interventions for bias against older adults.

Keywords: age bias; cultural differences; explicit bias; implicit bias; individualism/collectivism.

Age, self-rated health, sex, education, income, children in the household, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, perceived exposure risk show no relation to adherence to COVID-19 rules; conscientiousness does

Bogg, T., & Milad, E. (2020). Demographic, personality, and social cognition correlates of coronavirus guideline adherence in a U.S. sample. Health Psychology, 39(12), 1026-1036.


Objective: The present study examined patterns and psychosocial correlates of coronavirus guideline adherence in a U.S. sample (N = 500) during the initial 15-day period advocated by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Method: Descriptive and correlational analyses were used to examine the frequency of past 7-day adherence to each of 10 guidelines, as well as overall adherence. Guided by a disposition-belief-motivation model of health behavior, path analyses tested associations of personality traits and demographic factors to overall adherence via perceived norms, perceived control, attitudes, and self-efficacy related to guideline adherence, as well as perceived exposure risk and perceived health consequence if exposed.

Results: Adherence ranged from 94.4% reporting always avoiding eating/drinking inside bars/restaurants/food courts to 13.6% reporting always avoiding touching one’s face. Modeling showed total associations with overall adherence for greater conscientiousness (β = .191, p < .001), openness (β = .098, p < .05), perceptions of social endorsement (β = .202, p < .001), positive attitudes (β = .105, p < .05), self-efficacy (β = .234, p < .001), and the presence versus absence or uncertainty of a shelter-in-place order (β = .102, p < .01). Age, self-rated health, sex, education, income, children in the household, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, perceived exposure risk, and perceived health consequence showed null-to-negligible associations with overall adherence. 

Conclusions: The results clarify adherence frequency, highlight characteristics associated with greater adherence, and suggest the need to strengthen the social contract between government and citizenry by clearly communicating adherence benefits, costs, and timelines.

KEYWORDS: COVID-19, personality, conscientiousness, social cognition, guideline adherence


The purpose of the present research was to investigate patterns and psychosocial correlates of adherence to the White House Coronavirus Task Force guidelines for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) using a U.S. sample. As assessed during the week following the release of the guidelines, the results showed there to be generally high, but not perfect, frequency of following most of the 10 guidelines, especially for avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, avoiding eating or drinking inside bars, restaurants, or food courts, and avoiding visiting nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities. It also is notable that nontrivial minorities of participants indicated less frequent adherence to all of the guidelines as well, especially avoiding touching of the face, coughing or sneezing into an elbow, disinfecting frequently used items, washing hands for 20 s or more, avoiding being closer than six feet to other people, and avoiding social visits. These patterns reveal the variations to guideline adherence that may further contribute to the unwitting spread of SARS-CoV-2, as well as morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19.
The results of the path modeling show some of these variations can be explained by individual differences in personality traits, beliefs about guideline adherence, and, to a lesser extent, perceptions of current health. Specifically, in line with trait-consistent temperamental process models of behavior, conscientiousness was directly associated with greater past seven-day frequency of overall guideline adherence by virtue of the general tendencies to be reliable (vs. careless). Consistent with an instrumental disposition-belief-motivation perspective, open individuals were more likely to follow the guidelines by virtue of more positive attitudes associated with following the guidelines. Also consistent with an instrumental disposition-belief-motivation perspective, agreeable individuals were more likely to follow the guidelines by virtue of greater endorsement of norms and attitudes associated with following the guidelines. However, the total association between agreeableness and guideline adherence was not statistically significant. Moreover, the total associations between extraversion and neuroticism and guideline adherence also were not statistically significant.
Consistent with Social Cognitive Theory, individuals who were more confident in overcoming obstacles to following the guidelines—entreaties for social company or not feeling like it—were more likely to follow the guidelines. Consistent with the Theory of Planned Behavior, individuals who perceived others as supportive or encouraging of following the guidelines were more likely to follow the guidelines, as were individuals who held more positive views of the guidelines—as being wise or useful. In contrast, as components of the Health Belief Model, individuals who perceived greater risk of exposure and/or greater perceived health consequence were not more likely to follow the guidelines. Moreover, the results did not show consistent effects or differences for age, sex, education, income, and the presence/absence of children in the household on guideline adherence.
The findings for conscientiousness are consistent with a large body of research demonstrating the health relevance of this personality trait (e.g., Bogg & Roberts, 2013). Moreover, guideline adherence is a prototypical exemplar of conscientiousness—following socially prescribed norms and delaying gratification (Roberts, Jackson, Fayard, & Edmonds, 2009). The small total effect observed for openness is more novel, but does add to a growing body of research demonstrating the health relevance of this personality trait (e.g., Bogg & Vo, 2014Graham et al., 2017). Similarly, the findings for perceived norms, attitudes, and self-efficacy are consistent with decades of theorizing and research using Social Cognitive Theory and the Theory of Planned Behavior. Indeed, from the vantage point of the study of individual differences in health-related behaviors, guideline adherence, despite its unprecedented status, is associated with many of the same tendencies and beliefs as other behaviors. However, with the spread of morbidity and mortality throughout the population at stake, the implications for these associations are much more acute and severe.


Given that members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force have stated they expect a resurgence of SARS-CoV-2 during the fall of 2020 and that a safe and reliable vaccine is not likely to be available until the winter of 2021, the present findings have implications for the ongoing and future use of national-level guidelines and state-, county-, and city-level emergency orders to slow the spread of the virus. To be clear, these implications pertain more to the focused and consistent implementation of existing public health approaches, rather than to wholesale changes or shifts in strategy.
One of the lessons learned from the person–situation debate within personality psychology is that consistent relations between personality traits and behaviors should not be expected in “powerful” and “clearly normatively scripted situations” (Kenrick & Funder, 1988, p. 31). It is when traits are provided with sufficient situational affordances for variable expression that covariation with behavior should be expected. As can be inferred from the results of the present study, situational flexibility was observed to the extent conscientiousness and social cognitions were found to be directly associated with guideline adherence. While these findings are validating from a construct perspective, they also show how individual differences can affect public health measures and guidance.
In the U.S, the prevailing ethical premise of public health policy during a pandemic is the use of evidence-based measures that do not unduly restrict individual liberties or harm well-being (Gostin, Friedman, & Wetter, 2020). In instances where more extreme measures, such as stay-at-home orders, are deemed necessary based on available evidence, then the affected population must be assured that basic needs (e.g., medical care, schooling, housing, income) will be provided for by the government and that such measures and their associated penalties have clear sunset provisions. In such a way, an unambiguous social contract can be established—one with both positive and negative contingencies associated with complying with the measures. As a prerequisite consideration to a social contract, the results of the present work suggest all those affected must be fully informed and/or reminded as to whether they are subject to more onerous measures, such as shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders.
Several approaches could be used to strengthen perceptions of the binding nature of such a social contract. Early, consistent, and visible messaging regarding the nature and scope of the threats associated with transmission and infection would be required. This would entail careful coordination between public health and political leaders at all levels of government in order to frame the guidelines as necessary and legal emergency measures, rather than advisements for consideration. Coordinated messaging regarding the measures would likely help alter any (mis)perceptions that individual rights and liberties are absolute, that there is arbitrary local/regional variation in the utility or importance of such measures, and that public officials might appear to ignore, minimize, or repudiate the measures.
Establishing and maintaining a clear social contract is consistent with the goals of emergency public health measures (i.e., introducing and sustaining new norms for behaviors while mitigating collateral harms to well-being through the use of emergency measures). Under an effective social contract for such measures, the influences of individual differences would likely remain, but could be reduced. In principle, the terms of the social contract should serve as the primary influences of guideline adherence. In such a context, a primary task of the political–public-health apparatus would be establishing and strengthening perceptions of a social contract. To the extent there is a perception of a stronger set of contingencies for guideline adherence, then there should be a reduction in the influence of the individual characteristics associated with adherence. As noted, such a perspective is consistent with principles from the fields of personality and social psychology, which hold that more powerful situations tend to attenuate the influence of individual difference factors on behavior.
Clear articulation and sustained communication of the following could serve to strengthen perceptions of a social contract for adherence behaviors:
  1. The benefits of adherence—the offsetting means by which the collateral effects of emergency measures on individual and institutional well-being would be mitigated.
  2. The costs of nonadherence—aside from risks of infection and illness, the precise consequences for violations of the emergency measures and assurances that individual and institutional violators should expect them to be fair and certain.
  3. The limited timeframe for adherence—the necessity of emergency measures will be continually reevaluated and emergency orders for such measures will be rescinded at the earliest appropriate opportunity.
The above recommendations are not intended to be exhaustive, but illustrate example means by which the perceived influence of the situational constraints surrounding social distancing and hygienic measures can be strengthened via explicit social contract. This will remain a concern, given the subsequent implementation of additional measures (e.g., masks), as well as fluctuations in restrictions based on changes in local rates of coronavirus infections. Clarifying the existence, structure, and contingencies of such a contract could help reduce gaps in adherence associated with lower conscientiousness and weaker beliefs about adherence behaviors.


Although the approach of the present work provides some clarity and insights into the patterns and correlates of guideline adherence in the U.S. during the initial 15-day period of guideline implementation, the results do not come without limitations. First, the representativeness of the sample by age, sex, and race was inherently limited. The sampling strategy available from Prolific did not allow for further stratification by income, education, region, and so forth, or many other characteristics and features of the population used to strengthen claims of representativeness. Second, because the approach of the study emphasized assessment during the initial 15-day period, obtaining approval from the relevant institutional review board was prioritized. This resulted in an approach that avoided survey questions that could potentially be personally identifiable (e.g., ZIP codes), violate HIPAA or other relevant privacy regulations (e.g., symptomatic/diagnosed family members), or otherwise pose a risk greater than everyday life (e.g., reporting maladaptive coping behaviors). This approach was effective in obtaining exempt status in a timely manner, but also resulted in a more limited assessment of candidate psychosocial correlates of guideline adherence. Third, the precision of the guideline items and scale was limited by its retrospective framing and self-report format. Moreover, although the scale demonstrated adequate rudimentary psychometric properties, a more sophisticated probing of its structure is warranted. Fourth, intention (planning) to follow the guidelines, while an integral component of the Theory of Planned Behavior, was excluded due to the cross-sectional design of the study, which precluded the appropriate temporal ordering of intention prior to behavior. Finally, prospective and longitudinal designs would allow for tests of temporally predictive effects to guideline adherence, as well as COVID-19 symptoms and diagnoses, rather than relying on the tests of associations reported in the present work.

Startup formation has precipitously declined for firms operated by US PhD recipients in science and engineering due to increasing burden of knowledge, greater work complexity in R&D, & more administrative work

Declining Business Dynamism among Our Best Opportunities: The Role of the Burden of Knowledge. Thomas Åstebro, Serguey Braguinsky, Yuheng Ding. The Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka Univ, August 2020.

Abstract: We document that since 1997, the rate of startup formation has precipitously declined for firms operated by U.S. PhD recipients in science and engineering. These are supposedly the source of some of our best new technological and business opportunities. We link this to an increasing burden of knowledge by documenting a long-term earnings decline by founders, especially less experienced founders, greater work complexity in R&D, and more administrative work. The results suggest that established firms are better positioned to cope with the increasing burden of knowledge, in particular through the design of knowledge hierarchies, explaining why new firm entry has declined for high-tech, high-opportunity startups.


We have established a couple of new facts regarding business dynamism among high-tech, high-opportunity startups run by PhDs in science and engineering. Since 1997, the share of founders in these startups has declined by around 38 percent, not limited to any particular founder demographic or ethnic group or occupation, and this decline is widespread across regions of the United States. The share of workers at startups has followed the same path of decline.

There is a significant trend toward an increasing amount of work experience among founders (although not their age), pointing to the burden of knowledge as an explanation for the decline in startup rates. Probing this idea in the data, we show evidence that founders are rewarded for building experience, as they have had to perform an increasing number of R&D tasks over time while also increasing the number of other tasks that they have to perform. Nevertheless, founders’ earnings generally do not reflect that added workload, as average earnings have been declining, especially for less experienced founders.

The data further suggest that established firms have an advantage over startups in creating a division of labor in R&D, in particular by introducing more hierarchical layers, reducing knowledge workers’ span of control, and allocating more experienced workers to positions with greater managerial responsibility. Further, established firms compensate workers for performing more R&D tasks and supervising more individuals. These developments are not seen among founders. The differences follow from the natural limits imposed by running a small firm with less division of labor and a high amount of multitasking by the founder. The largest firms are even more active in reorganizing job tasks, increasing the depth of hierarchy at twice the rate of all established firms.

Why don’t founders hire more specialized workers and start with bigger teams and build a richer hierarchy, as established firms do? Although we do not address this follow-on question, we can at least speculate. Some of the answers might be that startups face high uncertainty about the viability of their businesses and thus start small, and either grow or exit as uncertainty diminishes; and/or most startups are financially constrained and cannot afford to hire larger teams. We leave it to future research to explore these ideas.

As noted in the introduction, a steady flow of great new high-tech firms is generally agreed to be necessary for an economy to remain vibrant in the long run. In this sense, our findings present cause for concern. It is not immediately clear what the remedy is. Typical regulatory actions, such as changing taxation rates or restricting or enlarging businesses’ operating conditions would likely have no effect. And restricting established firms’ ability to make organizational design changes seems highly unlikely to pass any legislature. Our findings suggest that if the goal is to restore business dynamism in the high-tech sector, alleviating the burden of knowledge should be front and center in the strategy to attain it.

Rolf Degen summarizing... If couple therapy has some initial positive impacts on sexual functioning, they wither away over time

Trajectories of Sexual Satisfaction and Frequency During and After Couple Therapy for Relationship Distress. Karen Rothman et al. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Nov 30 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Using a sample of 134 distressed, different-sex couples, this study investigated the effects of Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy and Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy on sexual dissatisfaction and sexual frequency both during treatment and in the five years following treatment. Therapy effects depended on treatment type, gender, and whether sexual distress was identified as a presenting problem; while couple therapy may initially improve some aspects of the sexual relationship, impacts tend to fade over follow-up. Couple therapy may benefit from incorporating a greater emphasis on sex and inclusion of techniques from sex therapy.

Robust global source credibility effect for scientific authorities ("the Einstein effect"): Across 24 countries & all levels of religiosity, nonsense from a scientist was considered more credible than nonsense attributed to a spiritual guru

Hoogeveen, Suzanne, Sacha Altay, Theiss Bendixen, Renatas Berniūnas, Joseph Bulbulia, Arik Cheshin, Claudio Gentili, et al. 2020. “The Einstein Effect: Global Evidence for Scientific Source Credibility Effects and the Influence of Religiosity.” PsyArXiv. December 1. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: People tend to evaluate information from reliable sources more favourably, but it is unclear exactly how perceivers' worldviews interact with this source credibility effect. Here, we present data from a cross-cultural study in which individuals (N = 10,195) from a religiously and culturally diverse sample of 24 countries were presented with obscure, meaningless statements attributed to either a spiritual guru or a scientist. The data indicate a robust global source credibility effect for scientific authorities, which we dub "the Einstein effect": across all 24 countries and all levels of religiosity, nonsense from a scientist was considered more credible than nonsense attributed to a spiritual guru. Additionally, individual religiosity predicted a weaker relative preference for the statement from the scientist vs. the spiritual guru, and was more strongly associated with credibility judgments for the guru than the scientist. Independent data on explicit trust ratings across 143 countries mirrored the experimental patterns. These findings suggest that irrespective of religious worldview, science is a powerful and universal heuristic that signals the reliability of information.

Update Feb 7 2022: From the final version, The Einstein effect provides global evidence for scientific source credibility effects and the influence of religiosity. Suzanne Hoogeveen, Julia M. Haaf, Joseph A. Bulbulia, Robert M. Ross, Ryan McKay, Sacha Altay, Theiss Bendixen, Renatas Berniūnas, Arik Cheshin, Claudio Gentili, Raluca Georgescu, Will M. Gervais, Kristin Hagel, Christopher Kavanagh, Neil Levy, Alejandra Neely, Lin Qiu, André Rabelo, Jonathan E. Ramsay, Bastiaan T. Rutjens, Hugh Turpin, Filip Uzarevic, Robin Wuyts, Dimitris Xygalatas & Michiel van Elk. Nature Human Behaviour, Feb 7 2022.


In the current cross-cultural study, we used a straightforward manipulation and measurement of source credibility effects at the individual level. We found a robust source effect on credibility judgements of meaningless statements ascribed to different authority figures; across all 24 countries and all levels of religiosity, gobbledegook from a scientist was considered more credible than the same gobbledegook from a spiritual guru. In addition to this robust overall Einstein effect, participants’ background beliefs predicted the credibility evaluations; individuals scoring low on religiosity considered the statement from the guru less credible than that from the scientist, whereas this difference was less pronounced for highly religious individuals. These patterns were consistent with explicit trust data collected for over 100,000 individuals from 143 countries: across 140 of 143 of these countries, people indicated greater trust in scientists than in traditional healers, with a larger difference for non-religious compared with religious individuals. Robustness analyses for the experimental study indicated that the effects were robust against different data inclusion criteria (for example, attention checks) and analytic choices (for example, selection of covariates, dependent variable, prior settings). Moreover, the effects also emerged compellingly when analysed as a between-subjects design (Table 2), suggesting that they are not simply explained by social desirability or participants responding in line with their guess of the research hypothesis (also note that recent empirical work indicates that online survey experiments are generally robust to experimenter demand effects77). Results of exploratory response time analyses suggest that in addition to giving more positive evaluations, people may actually put more effort into processing information from credible sources (although they did not recall it better). In particular, participants spent more time and may have tried relatively harder to decipher the gobbledegook from the scientist, whereas previous scepticism may have steered some to immediately dismiss the information from the guru as nonsense.

The pattern of results suggests that variability in the source effect between individuals and countries is more strongly driven by differences in the credibility of the spiritual authority than the scientific authority. Based on the literature one could consider various plausible hypotheses explaining cross-cultural variation in the source effects, for instance in terms of cultural religiosity, vertically versus horizontally structured societies, general trust in authorities and specific trust patterns toward religious and secular authorities78,79,80,81,82,83. However, although our analysis indicated quantitative differences in the size of the source effect between countries (that is, varying positive effects), we did not find qualitative differences (that is, changes in the direction or presence of the effect). Descriptively, the weakest source effects (that is, smallest difference between the scientific and the spiritual source) are observed in Asian countries (Japan, China, India), possibly because the spiritual guru as presented in the survey more closely fits Eastern belief systems than Abrahamic faith traditions. However, this explanation remains speculative and we are hesitant to overinterpret the cross-national variability both in the overall credibility judgements and the effect of source. Although we included main effects of age, gender, level of education and socio-economic status in the analyses, the different sampling strategies that were applied between countries also calls for caution in making inferences based on direct comparisons.

Our findings could reflect a universal gullibility with regard to gobbledegook statements: only a small minority of participants, regardless of their national or religious background, displayed candid scepticism towards the nonsense statements, and 76% of participants rated the scientist’s gobbledegook at or above the midpoint of the credibility scale (compared with 55% for the guru). However, the notion of a general gullibility underlying the observed effects is not entirely supported by the data. The median response was the midpoint of the credibility scale. Participants may have primarily used the midpoint of the scale to indicate that they were uncertain about whether or not the claim was credible, that is, to refrain from passing judgement at all84,85,86. This response might appear as a lack in motivation to critically reflect on the information that was presented; at the same time, saving one’s cognitive resources can also be considered ‘strategic’. First, as with most psychology experiments, our study was a zero-stakes task with no incentive for accuracy, which may have lowered effort and biased responses toward the midpoint. Second, when analytical reasoning about the plausibility of a presented claim does not yield any conclusion, the most rational thing to do may be either suspending judgement (selecting the neutral midpoint of the rating scale) or calibrating judgement to previous beliefs about the source of the claim. If one considers the group to which the source belongs generally competent and benevolent, it makes sense to give a positive judgement of their difficult-to-evaluate claim. After all, credible experts often acquired credentials based on their reputation of discovering phenomena that seem implausible at first glance55. For instance, the premises of using vaccines (‘inserting a virus prevents disease’) or facts about climate change (‘humans are changing the weather’) are intuitively dubious, yet reputable scientists have convinced many laypeople of their truth.

In this study, we intentionally selected authorities that are generally considered benevolent30,31 and we generated statements that are nearly impossible to (in)validate and that bear no relation to controversial or politicized scientific topics about which people may have strong previous attitudes (efficacy of vaccinations, climate change, etc.). By using ambiguous claims without any specific ideological content, we tried to isolate the worldview effect regarding the source from any worldview effect related to the content of the claims. At the same time, we aimed to maximize the efficacy of our manipulation, by varying the names, photographs and visual contexts (chalkboard versus stars) in addition to the authority’s profession. This approach makes it more difficult to single out which specific factor contributes to the source effect (for example, the observed effects might be partly driven by the authority’s appearance rather than their domain of expertise). Relatedly, some participants might have recognized the depicted men (Enrico Fermi and José Argüelles), although we consider it unlikely that many did. Because we did not ask whether participants recognized any of the depicted sources, we tried to indirectly and retrospectively assess recognition by scanning the open text items at the end of the survey (comments and awareness item) for any mentioning of either ‘Enrico’, ‘Fermi’, ‘José’ or ‘Argüelles’ (ignoring capitalization or diacritical marks). Only one (Spanish) participant mentioned recognizing both of the sources. Although this obviously does not prove that no other participants might have known the depicted sources, it seems unlikely that this was the case for a large proportion of participants. On the other hand, the multifaceted nature of the manipulation also increases its ecological validity; our stimuli resemble popular internet memes and real-life instances of source credibility also involve a combination of different features (for example, authorities typically look the part in public and appear in congruous contexts). Furthermore, a recent study showed that the mere mentioning of a famous source such as Aristotle or the Dalai Lama enhanced profundity ratings for pseudo-profound nonsense relative to unauthored versions, suggesting that even the mere name of an authority may suffice to induce source effects87.

The effects observed in our experimental data and the associations identified in the existing trust data were highly comparable, suggesting that by using our source credibility manipulation we tapped into participants’ attitudes about scientific and religious authorities. A noteworthy divergence, however, is that whereas our data showed a small positive relation between religiosity and credibility ratings for gobbledegook from the scientist, the trust data demonstrated a small but negative association between religiosity and trust in scientists. The finding that religious people are generally less trusting towards science has often been reported in the literature53,88,89,90. However, recent studies suggest that the negative relation between religiosity and trust in science might be US-specific and be weak or absent in other countries91,92,93,94. In addition, although trust is probably closely linked to credibility, explicit trust assessments and credibility ratings of specific statements may diverge, perhaps particularly for the kind of obscure statements used in the current study. That is, the gobbledegook statements may still have resonated better with religious individuals than non-religious individuals, resulting in the main effect of religiosity on credibility ratings. This main effect may be driven by a tendency for intuitive reasoning, which has been related to religiosity78,95,96 and receptivity of pseudo-profound and pseudo-scientific nonsense36,67. It could thus be that mistrust in science only partially dampens the allure of well-sounding science-related gobbledegook for intuitive reasoners36.

Notably, our study showed that across 24 countries even those who are highly religious are prone to a scientific source credibility bias, what we have deemed the Einstein effect. Looking ahead, there are at least six compelling horizons for future research to address the generalizability and underlying causes of the Einstein effect. First, whether scientific education diminishes the appeal of scientific authority outside its immediate domain remains unclear. Although those who place faith in science are prone to Einstein effects38,40,97,98, strong scepticism is normative within the practice of science—as anyone who has experienced peer review will attest. Although it is 150 years since Charles Peirce famously argued for fixing beliefs from the ‘method of science’ in favour the ‘method of authority’, the role of appeals to scientific authority among scientists remains unclear99. Second, future researchers might investigate whether political partisanship predicts differences in scientific source credibility. Although political commitments may share common psychological features with religious commitments100,101,102,103, the rise of anti-science populist ideologies might diminish or reverse Einstein effects among political partisans. By contrast, individual differences in deference to science104 may predict enhanced Einstein effects, although a recent study failed to find this pattern for faith in science (van der Miesen et al., in preparation). Third, the historical origins of scientific source credibility across different cultures remain unclear. If we were to wind back the clock a century to Einstein’s era, would we also observe preferential source credibility for scientific authority over spiritual authority? Fourth, the proximate and sustaining social and technological causes of scientific source credibility are not addressed in our study, and remain ripe for investigations. Is scientific source credibility an artefact of global information networks, country-wide science education or the sequestering of religious authority to the private domain? Fifth, although our study covers 24 countries worldwide, we cannot claim universality for our findings. Indeed, investigating source credibility in cultures where spiritual authority dominates may help to clarify the mechanistic questions that our study raises but does not address. Sixth, future work may extend the current work and investigate how the Einstein effect is affected by content cues (for example, the use of jargon, argument coherence, disclosure of uncertainty105) and personal attitudes towards the topic106,107,108.

In conclusion, our results strongly suggest that scientific authority is generally considered a reliable source for truth, more so than spiritual authority. Indeed, there are ample examples demonstrating that science serves as an important cue for credibility; the cover of Donald Trump’s niece’s family history book is adorned by ‘Mary L. Trump, PhD’; advertisements for cosmetic products often claim to be ‘clinically proven’ and ‘recommended by dermatologists’, and even the tobacco industry used to appeal to science (for example, ‘more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette’). By systematically quantifying the difference between acceptance of statements by a scientific and spiritual authority in a global sample, this work addresses the fundamental question of how people trust what others say about the world.