Wednesday, March 31, 2021

We examined whether violent media exposure would be associated with increased aggression, which would then spread within social networks like a contagious disease

Violent media use and aggression: Two longitudinal network studies. Martin Delhove &Tobias Greitemeyer. The Journal of Social Psychology, Mar 30 2021.

Abstract: Exposure to violent media has been widely linked to increased aggression. In the present research, we examined whether violent media exposure would be associated with increased aggression, which would then spread within social networks like a contagious disease. Two groups of first year psychology students completed a questionnaire three times over the course of a year, measuring their media exposure, aggression, personality, and social relations within the group. Cross-sectional analysis provided mixed results in regards to the link between violent media and aggression. Siena analysis found no evidence of homophily (i.e., participants were not more likely to be friends with others similar to themselves) nor of social influence (i.e., participant’s behavior did not predict a change in their friends’ behavior). However, given the relatively small sample sizes and the weak ties between participants, more work is needed to assess the spread of violent media effects.

KEYWORDS: Video gamesviolent mediaaggressionsocial networklongitudinalSiena

General discussion

The present work had three main goals. First, we aimed at replicating the link between violent media exposure and increased aggression, bringing new evidence in the current debate within media psychology. Second, we tried the case for homophily, the preference of individuals toward befriending others alike to themselves, in the context of aggression and media consumption. Third, and most importantly, we meant to test the recent claim that violent-media-related aggression could spread from consumers to their close ones (e.g., Greitemeyer, 2018).

Cross-sectional results provided mixed support for the link between violent media use and aggressive outcomes. In Study 1, the relationship between violent media use and aggressive behavior and trait aggression was not consistent. In Study 2, higher consumption of aggressive media was linked to the perception of aggressive behavior as more socially normative, but anger and aggressive behavior did not relate to violent media use. Across all six time points of the two studies, neutral media use related frequently to the different measures of aggressive outcomes, suggesting that frequency of media use, rather than the actual violent content one is exposed to, relates to some aspects of aggression. The longitudinal social network analyses did not support our hypotheses either. Homophily did not appear to influence the creation and continuation of relationships when looking at media use and aggression. Moreover, we could not find signs of social influence, be it on aggressive behaviors or norms about aggression. Overall, we did not find violent media to have a longitudinal effect on aggression.


As any work, the present research has several limitations. One of which concerns our samples. We may have lacked a sufficient sample size in order to uncover some of the effects. After exclusions, we had at most 137 participants filling our questionnaire for one time point. Assuming p < .05, the effect size we could detect with a power of .8 was r = .24. Recent meta-analyses in the context of violent video game (Anderson et al., 2010; Greitemeyer & Mügge, 2014) have estimated the effect size at r = .19, which could even be an over-estimation (Hilgard et al., 2017). Hence, even with our best cross-sectional analysis, we were lacking sufficient power.

Unfortunately, because we conducted the study over the course of two following years, there are some potential overlap between participants in Study 1 and 2, meaning that we could not conduct an integrated data analysis to improve our statistical power. Adding to this, we had a high turn-over with only slightly over half of our participants completing all three data collection phases in both studies, hindering the capacity of our Siena analysis to establish the actual effects present in our networks.

Moreover, the use of students as participants in research has been criticized (Peterson, 2001; but see Druckman & Kam, 2009). Most importantly for the present context, participants in our study indicated that the ties to the fellow students were not very close. In fact, our participants did not know each other before data collection started, that is, all of the ties consisted of newly acquainted individuals. Our hope was that by selecting a recently formed network, we would be able to observe the creation of stronger ties as the year went by, giving us an opportunity to evaluate the many changes that would appear as students started to know each other. Although we observed stronger ties at later time points (see Tables 2 and 5) this may not have been sufficient or we may have needed to continue data collection at a later time, once our participants had the opportunity to form more significant friendships. Given that individuals are most strongly affected by their relatives and close friends (Christakis & Fowler, 2009), future work examining the impact of stronger relationships on the spread of aggressive media-related aggression might support the social influence hypothesis.

Adding to this, the specific use of psychology students may be problematic when studying aggression. Indeed, research on the differences in personality among study majors found, among other things, that psychology students tended to score higher on agreeableness (Vedel, 2016) and lower on dark triad traits (Vedel & Thomsen, 2017) than some of the other majors, especially economics or business students. This could be part of an explanation as to the low scores we found on reported aggressive behaviors and norms. Replications using a different sample would be beneficial in the future.

Finally, although it is a great tool for social network analysis, RSiena cannot make use of the whole data we collected. As we have previously stated, behavioral dynamics of continuous variables cannot be implemented yet. In combination with the aforementioned low variance in our aggressive behavior measurement, we could have failed to find some patterns that are actually present in our sample. Another piece of information that would have been beneficial for a more precise model in the future is the relationship type. As stated above, one is more likely to be influenced by those who are closer to her/him. That is, acquaintances typically have a much lesser impact than one’s best friend. Hopefully, future improvements of Siena will allow testing of more complex models in the future, which could shed a new light on works like ours.

Future perspectives

The present work provides some insight on how media use and aggression interact in human networks. However, there are still many things to explore in this field. In the following, we present some ideas that we deem interesting for future works.

First of all, aggression is manifold, and studies on the effect of violent media took interest in many different outcomes. Potential measures of interest include hostile expectation bias (Bushman & Anderson, 2002) or desensitization to violence (Bartholow et al., 2006). Similarly, in light of Vachon et al.’s (2014) finding that empathy and aggression are only weakly related, one may want to use more sound measures of empathy (i.e., by using measures which also include dissonant responses such as sadism or schadenfreude) to explore its role in the context of violent media use in society. As a matter of fact, everyday sadism (Greitemeyer, 2015) and dark personality (Delhove & Greitemeyer, 2020) have been found to relate to violent video game use. Furthermore, based on the correlations between neutral media use and some of our aggression measures, it would be pertinent to compare the effects of violent content and of overall frequency of media consumption on aggression.

Another promising direction could emerge from exploring the effect of prosocial games on prosocial behaviors. An example of such effect stems from the work of Greitemeyer and Osswald (20092010). These authors asked their participants to play either a prosocial or a neutral video game and found that prosocial games decreased hostile expectation biases and the accessibility of antisocial thoughts as well as increased prosocial behaviors and the accessibility of prosocial thoughts. Outside of a laboratory setting, Prot et al. (2014) conducted a large-scale, cross-cultural correlational study and a two-year longitudinal study. They found that prosocial media use was linked to higher levels of helping behaviors which was mediated by increased empathy. Meta-analysis of prosocial video game use found that this effect was of a similar magnitude as that of violent video game use (Greitemeyer & Mügge, 2014). We would suggest that future work also delve into the eventual spread of positive effects of prosocial media.

In both a sample of dating, engaged, and married individuals & a dyadic sample of married couples, the strongest predictors of overall desire for touch were sex (being female) and high relationship quality (actor & partner)

Individual and relational differences in desire for touch in romantic relationships. Brittany K. Jakubiak, Julian D. Fuentes, Brooke C. Feeney. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, March 25, 2021.

Abstract: Although touch is common in romantic relationships and is generally beneficial, people differ in the extent to which they desire to give and receive touch. The current research identified individual and relationship characteristics that predict overall desire for touch and unique desire for overtly affectionate versus indirectly affectionate forms of touch. In both a sample of dating, engaged, and married individuals (Study 1) and a dyadic sample of married couples (Study 2), the strongest predictors of overall desire for touch were sex (being female) and high relationship quality (actor and partner). Attachment avoidance also predicted lower desire for touch overall (Study 1), and actor and partner attachment avoidance predicted lower desire for indirectly affectionate touch, in particular (Study 2). Finally, greater psychological distress predicted greater desire for indirectly affectionate touch in both studies. This novel descriptive information about desire for touch provides a foundation for future intervention work.

Keywords: Affection, attachment, individual differences, romantic relationships, touch

The results suggest that people low in moral character are likely to eventually dominate cheating-enabling environments, where they then cheat extensively

Selection effects on dishonest behavior. Petr Houdek   Štěpán Bahník   Marek Hudík   Marek Vranka. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 16, No. 2, March 2021, pp. 238-266.

Abstract: In many situations people behave ethically, while elsewhere dishonesty reigns. Studies of the determinants of unethical behavior often use random assignment of participants in various conditions to identify contextual or psychological factors influencing dishonesty. However, in many real-world contexts, people deliberately choose or avoid specific environments. In three experiments (total N = 2,124) enabling self-selection of participants in two similar tasks, one of which allowed for cheating, we found that participants who chose the task where they could lie for financial gain reported a higher number of correct predictions than those who were assigned it at random. Introduction of financial costs for entering the cheating-allowing task led to a decrease in interest in the task; however, it also led to more intense cheating. An intervention aimed to discourage participants from choosing the cheating-enabling environment based on social norm information did not have the expected effect; on the contrary, it backfired. In summary, the results suggest that people low in moral character are likely to eventually dominate cheating-enabling environments, where they then cheat extensively. Interventions trying to limit the preference of this environment may not have the expected effect as they could lead to the selection of the worst fraudsters.

Keywords: cheating, self-selection, behavioral ethics, honesty-humility

5  General discussion

People choose different situations based on their personality and preferences. In the case of cheating, the moral character of individuals affects the situation selection (Cohen & Morse, 2014). Moral or guilt-prone people are ready to stop behavior that could harm others and even sacrifice financial reward to do so. On the other hand, unscrupulous people seek such situations (Wiltermuth & Cohen, 2014). Accordingly, we found that participants low in honesty-humility tend to prefer cheating-enabling environments, where their rate of cheating can further escalate.

Based on our results, we recommend enriching the experimental methodology by including the possibility of selection of conditions by participants. Experimental designs typically involve measurement of behavior in assigned conditions, and even participants who would not prefer or encounter these conditions in real life are forced to deal with them in an experiment. While the ability to choose one’s circumstances may be sometimes limited, inclusion of the possibility of self-selection of participants in different conditions would allow for generalization of experimental findings even in situations where people can select their environment and it would thus improve external validity of experiments.

From a practical perspective, our results show the importance of influencing self-selection of people into companies, departments, and other groups. If individuals motivated only by self-interest perceive public office as an opportunity to enrich themselves, the people with low moral character will seek to become civil servants and politicians. Indeed, studies conducted in India show that people who cheat in a laboratory task are more likely to prefer public sector jobs (Banerjee, Baul & Rosenblat, 2015; Hanna & Wang, 2017). Likewise, Ukrainian law students who cheat and bribe in experimental games are more likely to aspire to careers such as judges, prosecutors, and government lawyers (Gans-Morse, 2019). On the other hand, the self-selection of honest people exists in the Danish public sector (Barfort et al., 2019; for cross-country analysis, see Olsen et al., 2018). Selection of honest people in occupations in which dishonesty may have high societal costs could often be more effective than efforts trying to reduce dishonesty of people who have already chosen them.

The reported studies tested many effects, especially related to moderation of the studied effects by personality characteristics. While some of the tested effects were supported by strong evidence or replicated in a subsequent study, other effects were supported by weaker evidence, or the pattern of results between studies was more ambiguous. We did not control the experiment-wise error rate because we were not primarily interested in whether there is any significant association. However, the number of tested effects means that there is a higher chance that some of them are falsely positive or negative, and the positive results supported by weaker evidence should be interpreted with caution and subject to future replications.

The design used in this article can be further extended in various ways. In particular, it is possible that any determinants of cheating that have been observed in experiments without taking self-selection into account may not influence people who would be actually present in real-world cheating-enabling environments (Houdek, 2017, 2019). Such environments may include only individuals with low levels of honesty-humility personal traits who are prepared to cheat regardless of any intervention. Moreover, if an intervention makes cheating more reprehensible or costly to these individuals, they may simply move to a similar environment without the intervention. The self-selection may eventually negate any positive effects of the intervention on the overall level of cheating (e.g., Nettle, Nott & Bateson, 2012). Future studies may directly test this potential implication of our findings.

Another topic for future research are reasons for self-selection into groups. These reasons might vary and result in a specific composition of a group, which can further influence behavior of its present or future members. For example, in certain professions (investment banker, salesperson, advertiser), dishonesty or deception could be perceived as a signal of a person’s skills, and honest people may therefore avoid these professions. Such adverse selection could eventually lead to persistent dishonesty in these professions (Gunia & Levine, 2016). Yet another possibility for extension is to examine whether selection affects enforcement and punishment. With more cheaters, enforcement and punishment may be more diffused, which may attract additional cheaters in the group (Conley & Wang, 2006). While we have considered a monetary fee associated with the choice of the cheating-enabling environment, another possibility is to include non-monetary costs — such as reputational — of choosing the cheating-enabling environment. Finally, all the cheating behavior in our experiments might have been perceived as basically victimless. Future research may examine self-selection in cases where cheating has identifiable victims.

Results suggest that economic factors primarily were related to homicide and suicide cross‐nationally; per capita gun ownership was not an indicator factor cross‐nationally

Examining homicides and suicides cross‐nationally: Economic factors, guns and video games. Christopher J. Ferguson  Sven Smith. International Journal of Psychology, March 30 2021.

Abstract: Understanding why different nations have different homicide and suicide rates has been of interest to scholars, policy makers and the general public for years. Multiple theories have been offered, related to the economy, presence of guns and even exposure to violence in video games. In the current study, several factors were considered in combination across a sample of 92 countries. These included income inequality (Gini index), Human Capital Index (education and employment), per capita gun ownership and per capita expenditure on video games. Results suggest that economic factors primarily were related to homicide and suicide cross‐nationally. Video game consumption was not a major indicative factor (other than a small negative relationship with homicides). More surprisingly, per capita gun ownership was not an indicator factor cross‐nationally. The results suggest that a focus on economic factors and income inequality are most likely to bear fruit regarding reduction of violence and suicide.

Memorable meals: Remembered eating happiness was predicted by the worst eating experience, but not by the best or final eating experience

Villinger K, Wahl DR, Schupp HT, Renner B (2021) Memorable meals: The memory-experience gap in day-to-day experiences. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0249190, Mar 30 2021.

Abstract: Research shows that retrospective memory is often more extreme than in-the-moment experiences. While investigations into this phenomenon have mostly focused on distinct, one-time experiences, we examined it with respect to recurring day-to-day experiences in the eating domain, focusing on variables of the snapshot model—i.e., the most intense and the final experience. We used a smartphone-based Ecological Momentary Assessment to assess the food intake and eating happiness of 103 participants (82.52% female, Mage = 21.97 years) over eight days, and then calculated their best (positive peak), worst (negative peak) and final experiences. Remembered eating happiness was assessed immediately after the study (immediate recall) and after four weeks (delayed recall). A significant memory-experience gap was revealed at immediate recall (d = .53). Remembered eating happiness was predicted by the worst eating experience (β = .41, p < .001), but not by the best or final eating experience. Analyzing changes over time did not show a significant memory-experience gap at delayed recall, but did reveal a similar influence of the worst eating experience (β = .39, p < .001). Findings indicate that, in the domain of eating, retrospective memory is mainly influenced by negative experiences. Overall, the results indicate that the snapshot model is a valid conceptualization to explain recall of both outstanding and day-to-day experiences.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Provocative & biased perspective: The neuromodulator dopamine may be a crucial link between neural circuits performing Bayesian inference and the perceptual idiosyncrasies of people with schizophrenia

Illusions, Delusions, and Your Backwards Bayesian Brain: A Biased Visual Perspective. Born R.T., Bencomo G.M. Brain Behav Evol,  Mar 2021.

Abstract: The retinal image is insufficient for determining what is “out there,” because many different real-world geometries could produce any given retinal image. Thus, the visual system must infer which external cause is most likely, given both the sensory data and prior knowledge that is either innate or learned via interactions with the environment. We will describe a general framework of “hierarchical Bayesian inference” that we and others have used to explore the role of cortico-cortical feedback in the visual system, and we will further argue that this approach to “seeing” makes our visual systems prone to perceptual errors in a variety of different ways. In this deliberately provocative and biased perspective, we argue that the neuromodulator, dopamine, may be a crucial link between neural circuits performing Bayesian inference and the perceptual idiosyncrasies of people with schizophrenia.

Keywords: Cerebral cortexDopamineNeuromodulatorsSchizophreniaSensory systemsVision

Closing Remarks and Future Directions

This has been an admittedly biased review of several different bodies of literature, perhaps illustrating the pitfalls inherent in overly strong priors. Our aim from the start was to be provocative and, whether the ideas presented here are absolutely correct in their detail is less important than the dialogue and future studies that we are hoping to inspire. Besides, it takes only one additional inhibitory interneuron intercalated into a circuit to completely invert the sign of a predicted effect or influence! And, as noted above, simply changing the subtype of a neuromodulator’s receptor can lead to very different effects on the same circuit.

In this spirit, we close with a few thoughts on several specific areas that we think merit deeper investigation. First, at the circuit level, the mechanisms by which top-down information interacts with local circuits remain largely unknown, exacerbated by the fact that many of these interactions take place in layer 1. While modern approaches using serial-section electron microscopy (EM) have begun to flesh out the details of local circuits [Morgan and Lichtman, 2013], layer 1 has not been amenable to traditional EM-based connectomics, because, as previously noted, the vast majority of the inputs are from distant sources. However, such distant sources might soon be identifiable in serial EM reconstructions by using recently developed methods that allow neural tracing with viral vectors carrying different genetically encoded labels that are distinguishable with EM [Cruz-Lopez et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2019]. New, nondestructive imaging methods also promise to extend the distances over which circuits can be reconstructed at the ultrastructural level [Kuan et al., 2020].

Second, most studies on the influence of top-down information on perception and cognition have been done in humans and NHPs, where tools to study circuit mechanisms are lagging compared to those in rodent models. In the future, this border zone needs to be more thoroughly investigated, both by improving our toolkit for circuit-level manipulations in NHP [Dai et al., 2015; El-Shamayleh et al., 2016; Galvan et al., 2017] and seeking out meaningful touchpoints between studies on NHPs and rodents, in the spirit of Figure 4.

Third, the mechanisms by which neuromodulators influence specific cortical circuits are poorly understood; a myriad of cellular and synaptic effects have been described but understanding the overall effects will require sophisticated computational models [Seamans and Yang, 2004].

Fourth, how circuit-level influences of neuromodulators lead to changes in perception and behavior remains deeply mysterious. This is true, not only for dopamine, but other neuromodulators as well. Chief among those that seem ripe for investigation is serotonin (5-HT), given the powerful perceptual distortions that are produced by hallucinogenic drugs, most of which are believed to act through 5-HT2A receptors [Nichols, 2004; González-Maeso et al., 2007; Halberstadt, 2015]. The historical events [Pollan, 2019] that led to these drugs being classified as “schedule 1” made them virtually inaccessible to the scientific community for many years. Thankfully, this historical influence appears to be on the wane, and we hope that perceptual scientists will make use of this powerful set of tools for future studies on perception.

Finally, the body of literature showing a reduced susceptibility to contextual visual illusions and abnormal corollary discharge in patients with schizophrenia, while suggestive, remains difficult to interpret for a variety of reasons including the fact that most of these patients are on a variety of psychoactive medications, are often condemned by their illness to extremely difficult socioeconomic situations, and frequently have other neuropsychiatric diagnoses. In this regard, several studies showing diminished top-down perceptual effects in the normal population that correlate with “cognitive-perceptual schizotypal traits” [Teufel et al., 2010; Bressan and Kramer, 2013] seem particularly promising, particularly given the possibility of conducting large-scale psychophysical studies online, using tools such as Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” [Rajalingham et al., 2015; de Leeuw and Motz, 2016].

There is a tremendous gap between the conceptual simplicity of Bayesian inference and our understanding of the neural mechanisms that might implement it. Even such seemingly basic questions as how neural systems represent probability remain unsettled [Beck et al., 2008; Ma and Jazayeri, 2014; Haefner et al., 2016; Walker et al., 2020]. The situation might seem hopeless. Connectomics has revealed seemingly Byzantine cortical circuitry [Bock et al., 2011] which can adopt a variety of different functional modes under the influence of multiple systems of neuromodulators [Bargmann and Marder, 2013], each having scores of effects at different levels of the circuit [Seamans and Yang, 2004; Tritsch and Sabatini, 2012]. While new experimental tools to probe circuit function are surely part of the solution, ultimately, what is most needed are synthetic computational models, i.e., models that themselves represent the consensus of an entire modeling community [Bower, 2015], which can integrate results across different levels of investigation into (hopefully) simpler explanations at the level of circuit motifs that perform canonical computations [Douglas and Martin, 2007; Kouh and Poggio, 2008; Carandini and Heeger, 2011; Miller, 2016] in the service of behavioral goals [Krakauer et al., 2017]. 

People perceive themselves to adhere more strictly to COVID-19 guidelines than others

People perceive themselves to adhere more strictly to COVID-19 guidelines than others. Andreas Mojzisch,Christian Elster &Markus Germar. Psychology, Health & Medicine, Mar 29 2021.

Abstract: People have a fair idea of how they are supposed to behave to slow down the spread of COVID-19. But what about people’s perception of their own compared to others’ adherence to the guidelines? Building on prior research on self-enhancement biases, we predicted that people perceive themselves to adhere more strictly to the COVID-19 guidelines than others. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a large-scale online experiment (N = 1,102), using a sample from four countries (UK, US, Germany, Sweden). As predicted, people perceived themselves to adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines more strictly than both the average citizen of their country and their close friends. These findings were robust across countries. Furthermore, findings were not moderated by whether people first thought about themselves or about others. In conclusion, our study provides a robust demonstration of how a long-standing psychological effect perseveres, even during a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis.

Keywords: COVID-19better-than-average-effectholier-than-thou effectself-enhancementsocial comparison

Favorable socioeconomic environment in childhood appears to have a positive effect on offspring’s compassion in their middle adulthood; this effect may attenuate by middle age

Saarinen AI, Keltner D, Dobewall H, Lehtimäki T, Keltikangas-Järvinen L, Hintsanen M (2021) The relationship of socioeconomic status in childhood and adulthood with compassion: A study with a prospective 32-year follow-up. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0248226, Mar24 2021.

Abstract: The objective of this study was to investigate (i) whether childhood family SES predicts offspring’s compassion between ages 20–50 years and (ii) whether adulthood SES predicts compassion or vice versa. We used the prospective population-based Young Finns data (N = 637–2300). Childhood family SES was evaluated in 1980; participants’ adulthood SES in 2001 and 2011; and compassion for others in 1997, 2001, and 2012. Compassion for others was evaluated with the Compassion scale of the Temperament and Character Inventory. The results showed that high childhood family SES (a composite score of educational level, occupational status, unemployment status, and level of income) predicted offspring’s higher compassion between ages 30–40 years but not in early adulthood or middle age. These results were obtained independently of a variety of potential confounders (disruptive behavior in childhood; parental mental disorder; frequency of parental alcohol use and alcohol intoxication). Moreover, high compassion for others in adulthood (a composite score of educational level, occupational status, and unemployment status) predicted higher adulthood SES later in their life (after a 10-year follow-up), but not vice versa. In conclusion, favorable socioeconomic environment in childhood appears to have a positive effect on offspring’s compassion in their middle adulthood. This effect may attenuate by middle age. High compassion for others seems to promote the achievement of higher SES in adulthood.

4 Discussion

This study showed that high childhood family SES predicts offspring’s higher compassion in middle adulthood (approximately at the age of 30–40 years), but not in early adulthood or middle age. Hence, living in economically advantaged circumstances seemed to have a positive influence on one’s disposition to feel compassion for others in adulthood. Moreover, we found that high compassion in adulthood predicted higher adulthood SES, but not vice versa.

The positive relationship of childhood family SES with offspring’s compassion is in line with previous literature. Previous studies suggest that high childhood family SES is strongly linked to favorable psychosocial qualities of home environment that may promote compassion development. Specifically, high family SES is proposed to be linked to lower parental stress levels [1214], higher maternal support for the offspring [1214], higher quality of the parent-child communication [16], and better family climate [12]. High quality of the parent-child relationship, in turn, predicts offspring’s higher compassion in adulthood [39].

Importantly, the influence of childhood family SES on offspring’s compassion was not significant in early adulthood (approximately ages of 20–25 years) or in middle age (approximately ages of 45–50 years). This study did not investigate potential mechanisms between SES and compassion but there may be some potential explanations. Firstly, it may be that compassion-related qualities need to be a comparatively stable feature of one’s identity, before one is able to conduct prosocial actions toward outgroup-individuals and to forgive for others who have behaved aggressively [40]. In order to form a stable identity, one needs to mentally go through the past events in childhood and adolescence, including parenting practices and childhood family circumstances. Previously, the age of 30 years is found to be a critical age period for personality traits to become more stabilized [41]. We speculate that this may potentially provide one explanation why parental SES predicted compassion beginning at the age of 30 years. Secondly, compassion increased over age in all the SES groups. Hence, in middle age, there may have not been enough variance in compassion to obtain statistically significant differences between SES groups. Thirdly, there were fewer participants in extreme age ranges that may likely resulted in broader confidence intervals and weaker statistical significance of the associations.

The results showed that high compassion predicts higher SES in adulthood. This may be explained by the motivational component of compassion leading to higher willingness to prosocial behavior [3] that, in turn, is related to higher social connectedness [42]. Further, experiencing compassion is related to more frequent actions to promote common goals in one’s social communities [43]. These social benefits of compassion may promote compassionate individuals’ higher status at occupational environments. In addition, compassion may protect against work stress and burnout because high compassion is related to better coping with stress [4445] and more favorable health behavior [46].

Previous studies have suggested that high adulthood SES is related to weaker compassion-related qualities, such as lower ability to recognize others’ emotional states [19] and less frequent altruistic and helpful behavior toward others [2021]. Those studies, however, did not control for childhood family SES. In this study, we took into account childhood family SES and obtained no association between offspring’s adulthood SES and compassion.

The current study had some methodological limitations that are necessary to be taken into consideration. In Finland, there is a comprehensive social welfare system with quite a strong progressive taxation. Further, unemployed individuals are typically provided with satisfactory unemployment benefits. Additionally, there is a 9-year-long comprehensive school for the whole age group, so that all the citizens may likely have basic educational knowledge. Hence, even “low SES” may likely refer to satisfactory levels of socioeconomic circumstances (i.e. having apartment, food, and health care) and, conversely, there are very few individuals with extreme wealth in Finland. Consequently, our results cannot be generalized to populations with extremely low and high levels of SES where the link between compassion and SES might be different. In addition, there may be possible cultural differences in the SES-compassion relationships that may restrict the generalizability of our findings and that could be addressed in up-coming studies. Overall, our findings suggest that even comparatively small increases in childhood family SES (within a reasonable SES range) have a beneficial influence on offspring’s compassion in adulthood.

This study had also a variety of strengths. Firstly, to our knowledge, this study was the first to investigate the relationship of childhood family SES with compassion over a long-term prospective follow-up (32 years) into adulthood. Further, we investigated the relationship between adulthood SES and compassion over an 11-year follow-up. Secondly, we could take into consideration a variety of other covariates (child’s disruptive behavior, parental mental disorder, parents’ frequency of alcohol use and intoxication). Thirdly, we used SES composite scores consisting of several SES indicators (level of income, occupational status, educational level, employment status), in order to capture the multidimensional aspects of socioeconomic circumstances. Fourthly, we had a large population-based sample with intergenerational design and three respondents from each family (mother, father, and child). Finally, as academic-level education is provided free-or-charge for the Finnish citizens, childhood family SES may not largely determine offspring’s SES development. Hence, the effects of one’s own characteristics (such as compassion) on later SES development can be more clearly observed in our Finnish sample than in some other countries.

Commonly, unemployment or other socioeconomic troubles are treated using public employment services such as vocational training [47]. There is evidence, however, that compassion may have favorable influences on socioeconomic status: for example, compassionate practices at work place are found to predict higher work engagement and to protect against burnout in stressful circumstances over a 6-month follow-up [48]. Our study showed that compassion is related to higher socioeconomic status over an 11-year follow-up. Further, there is evidence that compassion may be enhanced even with a few-week-long compassion intervention [49], including practices to e.g. increase tolerance to other’s suffering and to shift attention from self-monitoring to recognizing others’ emotional states [50]. Finally, there is evidence that women coming from low-SES childhood families may not be willing to contact health-care professionals and must be contacted even ten times in order to get them to participate in psychotherapy [51]. Our study suggests that individuals with low childhood SES may have a lower level of compassion that, in turn, may potentially be manifested as a distrust toward health-care professionals. Consequently, individuals coming from socioeconomically harsh environments could be treated with particular warmth and trust, as has been suggested also previously [52]. 

Decreases in desires for a relationship are significantly associated with greater life satisfaction; the results are used to suggest how many singles may be able to maintain high levels of life satisfaction in the face of social stigmata

Reduced relationship desire is associated with better life satisfaction for singles in Germany: An analysis of pairfam data. Elyakim Kislev. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, March 30, 2021.

Abstract: This research estimates the extent to which life satisfaction of singles is influenced by their desire to be single. Regression analyses on data from the Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics (pairfam) studies are used to investigate this question, paying particular attention to longitudinal differences between never-married and divorced/separated men and women. Panel data analyses between different waves of the pairfam data indicate that decreases in desires for a relationship are significantly associated with greater life satisfaction. These patterns hold for all but one of the demographic groups investigated (divorced/separated men). The results are used to suggest how many singles may be able to maintain high levels of life satisfaction in the face of social stigmata.

Keywords: Divorce, life satisfaction, marriage, singlehood

Earliest childhood memories for the five senses: Memories reported for sight were marginally longer, from a younger age, and estimated to be more important compared to memories reported for the other senses

Do you remember? Similarities and differences between the earliest childhood memories for the five senses. Fabian Hutmacher. Memory, Volume 29, 2021 - Issue 3, Mar 9 2021.

Abstract: We perceive the world with our five senses. However, the role that these five senses play in early childhood memories has received relatively little attention. Against this background, participants (N = 117) were asked to write down their earliest childhood memories for the five senses and to answer additional questions regarding these memories. There was no significant difference between the five senses regarding the percentage of participants reporting a memory or between the valence and the subjective reliability of the reported memories. However, memories reported for sight were marginally longer, from a younger age, and estimated to be more important compared to memories reported for the other senses. A qualitative content analysis revealed that the vast majority of the reported memories fell into a limited number of categories. Interestingly, several categories played a role in more than one sense. Nevertheless, the reported memories also mirrored the characteristic properties that one is able to perceive with each sense. Overall, the findings support the notion that sight is the dominant sense. At the same time, they remind us that each sense provides us with unique information about ourselves and the world around us.

KEYWORDS: Early childhood memorychildhood amnesiasensesvisual dominance

Why gift givers underestimate how uncomfortable recipients feel receiving a gift without reciprocating

When a gift exchange isn’t an exchange: Why gift givers underestimate how uncomfortable recipients feel receiving a gift without reciprocating. Julian Givi. Journal of Business Research, Volume 129, May 2021, Pages 393-405.

Rolf Degen's take: Gift-givers underestimate how uncomfortable their offering will make recipients feel if those are unable to reciprocate

Abstract: When a gift is given from a giver to a recipient, there is often an expectation that the recipient will reciprocate, for example, during the winter holidays. However, recipients do not always have gifts to return to their givers for such “reciprocatory occasions.” They might be unaware beforehand, for instance, that the giver will be giving them one. This research examines whether givers accurately assess how uncomfortable recipients feel when they fail to reciprocate a giver’s gift for a reciprocatory occasion. Several studies demonstrate that givers severely underestimate how uncomfortable recipients feel in such situations. This occurs in part because givers feel less strongly than recipients that the actions of the two parties imply an imbalance in appreciation. Moreover, in part because of this forecasting error, givers give gifts more often than recipients prefer when it is known before a reciprocatory occasion that a recipient would be unable to reciprocate.

Keywords: Gift givingConsumer behaviorProsocial behaviorSelf-other decision-makingReciprocationEmotions

From 2019... Intelligence generation of males and females may rely on opposite cerebral lateralized key brain regions and distinct functional networks consistent with their respective superiority in cognitive domains

From 2019... Multimodal data revealed different neurobiological correlates of intelligence between males and females. Rongtao Jiang, Vince D. Calhoun, Yue Cui, Shile Qi, Chuanjun Zhuo, Jin Li, Rex Jung, Jian Yang, Yuhui Du, Tianzi Jiang & Jing Sui. Brain Imaging and Behavior volume 14, pages 1979–1993, Jul 9 2019.

h/t: David Schmitt

Abstract: Intelligence is a socially and scientifically interesting topic because of its prominence in human behavior, yet there is little clarity on how the neuroimaging and neurobiological correlates of intelligence differ between males and females, with most investigations limited to using either mass-univariate techniques or a single neuroimaging modality. Here we employed connectome-based predictive modeling (CPM) to predict the intelligence quotient (IQ) scores for 166 males and 160 females separately, using resting-state functional connectivity, grey matter cortical thickness or both. The identified multimodal, IQ-predictive imaging features were then compared between genders. CPM showed high out-of-sample prediction accuracy (r > 0.34), and integrating both functional and structural features further improved prediction accuracy by capturing complementary information (r = 0.45). Male IQ demonstrated higher correlations with cortical thickness in the left inferior parietal lobule, and with functional connectivity in left parahippocampus and default mode network, regions previously implicated in spatial cognition and logical thinking. In contrast, female IQ was more correlated with cortical thickness in the right inferior parietal lobule, and with functional connectivity in putamen and cerebellar networks, regions previously implicated in verbal learning and item memory. Results suggest that the intelligence generation of males and females may rely on opposite cerebral lateralized key brain regions and distinct functional networks consistent with their respective superiority in cognitive domains. Promisingly, understanding the neural basis of gender differences underlying intelligence may potentially lead to optimized personal cognitive developmental programs and facilitate advancements in unbiased educational test design.

The arrival of white women: Tourism and the reshaping of beach boys’ masculinity in Zanzibar

The arrival of white women: Tourism and the reshaping of beach boys’ masculinity in Zanzibar. Altaïr Despres. Ethnography, March 22, 2021.

Abstract: Mass tourism in Zanzibar has been accompanied by a virulent denunciation of the dress, bodily, and sexual practices of white women, who have been accused of perverting the local culture. More specifically, they have been held responsible for the emasculation and feminization of Zanzibar’s male youth engaging in compensated intimate relations with them. In this article I argue that sexual relations between white women and Zanzibari men show the capacity of young Zanzibaris to recompose the balance between the two traditional axes in the construction of masculinity, namely economic power and sexual performance. While the economic power of Zanzibari men has suffered from capitalist globalization, sexual potency and expertise, as well as competition between men for access to women’s bodies have become key aspects of affirming masculinity.

Keywords: Masculinity, sexuality, interracial intimacy, tourism, Zanzibar

Ecological variation & institutionalized inequality in hunter-gatherer societies: presence of defensible clumped resources is a likely determinant of institutionalized hierarchy; predictors such as population pressure & warfare, do not show this effect

Ecological variation and institutionalized inequality in hunter-gatherer societies. Eric Alden Smith and  Brian F. Codding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 30, 2021 118 (13) e2016134118;

Significance: Persistent differences in wealth and power are pervasive in contemporary societies, yet were absent or muted for most of human history. To help explain how and why institutionalized hierarchy can arise in egalitarian systems, we examine a sample of Native American hunting and gathering societies that vary in the degree of inequality. Systematic evaluation of alternative hypotheses identifies the presence of defensible clumped resources that can be monopolized as a likely determinant of institutionalized hierarchy. When such resources are present, societies in our study exhibit substantial inequality, including slavery. Other possible predictors, such as population pressure and warfare, do not show this effect. These results suggest general factors likely facilitate the initial emergence of inequality in human societies.

Abstract: Research examining institutionalized hierarchy tends to focus on chiefdoms and states, while its emergence among small-scale societies remains poorly understood. Here, we test multiple hypotheses for institutionalized hierarchy, using environmental and social data on 89 hunter-gatherer societies along the Pacific coast of North America. We utilize statistical models capable of identifying the main correlates of sustained political and economic inequality, while controlling for historical and spatial dependence. Our results indicate that the most important predictors relate to spatiotemporal distribution of resources. Specifically, higher reliance on and ownership of clumped aquatic (primarily salmon) versus wild plant resources is associated with greater political-economic inequality, measuring the latter as a composite of internal social ranking, unequal access to food resources, and presence of slavery. Variables indexing population pressure, scalar stress, and intergroup conflict exhibit little or no correlation with variation in inequality. These results are consistent with models positing that hierarchy will emerge when individuals or coalitions (e.g., kin groups) control access to economically defensible, highly clumped resource patches, and use this control to extract benefits from subordinates, such as productive labor and political allegiance in a patron–client system. This evolutionary ecological explanation might illuminate how and why institutionalized hierarchy emerges among many small-scale societies.

Keywords: evolutionary ecologyhierarchyeconomic defensibilitypatron-client systems

Girls Try, Boys Aim High: Exposing Difference in Implied Ability, Activity, and Agency of Girls Versus Boys in Language on McDonald’s Happy Meal Boxes

Girls Try, Boys Aim High: Exposing Difference in Implied Ability, Activity, and Agency of Girls Versus Boys in Language on McDonald’s Happy Meal Boxes. Kristen Lee Hourigan. Sex Roles volume 84, pages377–391.

Abstract: The present research investigates subtle yet powerful differences in the language present on cultural artifacts marketed for girls and boys. Through a content analysis of the verbs written on the girl-oriented and boy-oriented sides of all 56 McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes distributed between 2011 and 2019 in the United States, I uncover stark differences in the implied ability, activity, and agency levels of boys versus girls. The mixed methods nature of my exploration allows for statistical testing coupled with analysis of the language in context, revealing pervasive, nuanced differences that bolster our understanding of the complexity of the messages being relayed to children about what is appropriate and expected for boys versus girls. Central findings include the subtle, yet pervasive implication that girls are less active, less powerful, and in need of more detailed instruction and help, and they draw on a narrower set of skills as compared to boys. Through differential language, boys are also challenged at a qualitatively different level than girls and are assumed to have greater levels of ability (e.g., girls “try” and boys “aim high”). Girls’ agency is directly questioned, implying a lack of general confidence in the child’s ability to succeed, which is not the case for boys. Such subtle messages perpetuate insidious gender stereotypes and reinforce inequities in power and privilege.

Monday, March 29, 2021

We analyse the research performance of 36,000 Italian and Norwegian professors; men outperform women across countries, fields and academic ranks; the differences can be largely explained by the top 10 % professors

Gender differences in research performance within and between countries: Italy vs Norway. Giovanni Abramo, Dag W. Aksne, Ciriaco Andrea D’Angelo. Journal of Informetrics, Volume 15, Issue 2, May 2021, 101144.


• We analyse the research performance of 36,000 Italian and Norwegian professors.

• We apply an output to input indicator of research performance, the FSS.

• We find that men outperform women across countries, fields and academic ranks.

• Performance differences can be largely explained by the top 10 % professors.

• Possible biases intrinsic in quantitative performance indicators are discussed.

Abstract:In this study, the scientific performance of Italian and Norwegian university professors is analysed using bibliometric indicators. The study is based on over 36,000 individuals and their publication output during the period 2011–2015. Applying a multidimensional indicator in which several aspects of the research performance are captured, we find large differences in the performance of men and women. These gender differences are evident across all analysed levels, such as country, field, and academic position. However, most of the gender differences can be explained by the tails of the distributions—in particular, there is a much higher proportion of men among the top 10 % performing scientists. For the remaining 90 % of the population, the gender differences are practically non-existent. The results of the two countries, which differ in terms of the societal role of women, are contrasting. Further, we discuss possible biases that are intrinsic in quantitative performance indicators, which might disfavour female researchers.

Keywords: ItalyProductivityNorwayBibliometricsUniversityGender gaps

Intelligence compensate for background disadvantage: Although personality traits may help compensate for background disadvantage to a small extent, they do not usually lead to a “full catch-up,” unlike intelligence

Damian, R. I., Su, R., Shanahan, M., Trautwein, U., & Roberts, B. W. (2015). Can personality traits and intelligence compensate for background disadvantage? Predicting status attainment in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(3), 473–489.

Abstract: This study investigated the interplay of family background and individual differences, such as personality traits and intelligence (measured in a large U.S. representative sample of high school students; N = 81,000) in predicting educational attainment, annual income, and occupational prestige 11 years later. Specifically, we tested whether individual differences followed 1 of 3 patterns in relation to parental socioeconomic status (SES) when predicting attained status: (a) the independent effects hypothesis (i.e., individual differences predict attainments independent of parental SES level), (b) the resource substitution hypothesis (i.e., individual differences are stronger predictors of attainments at lower levels of parental SES), and (c) the Matthew effect hypothesis (i.e., “the rich get richer”; individual differences are stronger predictors of attainments at higher levels of parental SES). We found that personality traits and intelligence in adolescence predicted later attained status above and beyond parental SES. A standard deviation increase in individual differences translated to up to 8 additional months of education, $4,233 annually, and more prestigious occupations. Furthermore, although we did find some evidence for both the resource substitution and the Matthew effect hypotheses, the most robust pattern across all models supported the independent effects hypothesis. Intelligence was the exception, the interaction models being more robust. Finally, we found that although personality traits may help compensate for background disadvantage to a small extent, they do not usually lead to a “full catch-up” effect, unlike intelligence. This was the first longitudinal study of status attainment to test interactive models of individual differences and background factors.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Reconnaissance Satellites and Interstate Disputes: Despite considerable interest and debate, it has proven surprisingly difficult to demonstrate a systematic link between technological change and patterns of war and peace

Spying from Space: Reconnaissance Satellites and Interstate Disputes. Bryan R. Early, Erik Gartzke. Journal of Conflict Resolution, March 23, 2021.

Abstract: Despite considerable interest and debate, it has proven surprisingly difficult to demonstrate a systematic link between technological change and patterns of war and peace. At least part of the challenge may reside in finding the right place to “look” for such relationships. Technological change alters what nations can do to one another (capabilities), but in ways that are typically reflected by deals (diplomatic bargains) rather than actions. We theorize that reconnaissance satellites have revolutionized the use of information gleaned from spying in ways that discourage states from engaging in serious conflicts with one another. We analyze the impact of reconnaissance satellites on high-casualty militarized interstate disputes (MIDS) between dyads from 1950 to 2010. We find that when either the potential aggressor or target in a dyad possess reconnaissance satellites, they are significantly less likely to become involved in serious MIDs. This effect is especially powerful when both states possess reconnaissance satellites.

Keywords: conflict, militarized interstate disputes, reconnaissance, satellites, technology

People hold narrative beliefs about how humans in general change over the course of the lives: In some areas, we expect growth (e.g., wisdom), while in others, we expect stability (e.g., extroversion)

Getting better all the time: Master narratives, expectations of change, and their effect on temporal appraisals. James G. Hillman and David J. Hauser. Social Cognition in press, (removed due to publisher's embargo).

Abstract: People hold narrative beliefs about how humans in general change over the course of the lives. In some areas, we expect growth (e.g., wisdom), while in others, we expect stability (e.g., extroversion). However, do we apply those same expectations to the self? In five studies (total N = 1,358), participants rated selves as growing over time in domains where they expected others to stay stable over time (e.g., extroversion, optimism, quick-wittedness). This effect was significantly stronger for growth domains (e.g., wisdom, rationality). Thus, narrative beliefs about change impacted appraisals of temporally-extended selves; in domains where everyone improves, people rate themselves as improving considerably. However, in domains where others stay the same, people also rate themselves as improving. Implications for future temporal self-appraisal research, heterogeneity of effect sizes in self-appraisal research, and between culture differences in narratives are discussed.

Keywords: Self-Appraisal, Temporal Comparisons, Growth Expectations, Master Narratives 

Pluralistic ignorance occurs when group members mistakenly believe others’ cognitions and/or behaviors are systematically different from their own

Pluralistic Ignorance Research in Psychology: A Scoping Review of Topic and Method Variation and Directions for Future Research. Rikki H. Sargent, Leonard S. Newman. Review of General Psychology, March 26, 2021.

Rolf Degen's take: The Emperor's New Clothes: “No one believes, but everyone believes that everyone else believes

Abstract: Pluralistic ignorance occurs when group members mistakenly believe others’ cognitions and/or behaviors are systematically different from their own. More than 20 years have passed since the last review of pluralistic ignorance from a psychological framework, with more than 60 empirical articles assessing pluralistic ignorance published since then. Previous reviews took an almost entirely conceptual approach with minimal review of methodology, making existing reviews outdated and limited in the extent to which they can provide guidelines for researchers. The goal of this review is to evaluate and integrate the literature on pluralistic ignorance, clarify important conceptual issues, identify inconsistencies in the literature, and provide guidance for future research. We provide a comprehensive definition for the phenomenon, with a focus on its status as a group-level phenomenon. We highlight three areas of variation in particular in the current scoping review: variation in topics assessed, variation in measurement, and (especially) variation in methods for assessing the implications of individual-level misperceptions that, in aggregate, lead to pluralistic ignorance. By filling these gaps in the literature, we ultimately hope to motivate further analysis of the phenomenon.

Keywords: pluralistic ignorance, scoping review, methodological review, social psychology

Masculine children showed significantly more interest in male-typical occupations than did control or feminine children; masculine children also had significantly lower interest in female-typical jobs than did control or feminine children

Preschool Gender-Typed Play Behavior Predicts Adolescent Gender-Typed Occupational Interests: A 10-Year Longitudinal Study. Karson T F Kung. Arch Sex Behav. Mar 22 2021, . doi 10.1007/s10508-021-01976-z

Abstract: There are significant gender differences in both play behavior and occupational interests. Play has been regarded as an important medium for development of skills and personal characteristics. Play may also influence subsequent preferences through social and cognitive processes involved in gender development. The present study investigated the association between gender-typed play behavior in early childhood and gender-typed occupational interests in early adolescence. Participants were drawn from a British longitudinal population study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Participants were recruited based on their parent-reported gender-typed play behavior assessed at age 3.5 years. There were 66 masculine boys and 61 masculine girls, 82 feminine boys and 69 feminine girls, and 55 randomly selected control boys and 67 randomly selected control girls. At age 13 years, the participants were administered a questionnaire assessing their interest in gender-typed occupations. It was found that masculine children showed significantly more interest in male-typical occupations than did control or feminine children. Compared with control children, feminine children had marginally significantly lower interest in male-typical jobs. Masculine children also had significantly lower interest in female-typical jobs than did control or feminine children. The associations were not moderated by gender and were observed after taking into account sociodemographic background, parental occupations, and academic performance. The degree of gender-typed play shown by preschoolers can predict their occupational interests 10 years later following transition into adolescence. Childhood gender-typed play has occupational implications that transcend developmental stages.

Keywords: ALSPAC; Adolescence; Gender; Occupation; Play; Sex.

Men and people with lower education backgrounds were more likely to have previously engaged in polyamory (compared to women and people with higher education backgrounds, respectively)

Desire, Familiarity, and Engagement in Polyamory: Results From a National Sample of Single Adults in the United States. Amy C. Moors, Amanda N. Gesselman2 and Justin R. Garcia. Front. Psychol., March 23 2021.

Abstract: Coupledom and notions of intimacy and family formation with one committed partner are hallmarks of family and relationship science. Recent national surveys in the United States and Canada have found that consensually non-monogamous relationships are common, though prevalence of specific types of consensual non-monogamy are unknown. The present research draws on a United States Census based quota sample of single adults (N = 3,438) to estimate the prevalence of desire for, familiarity with, and engagement in polyamory—a distinct type of consensually non-monogamous relationship where people typically engage in romantic love and sexual intimacy with multiple partners. Results show that 1 out of 6 people (16.8%) desire to engage in polyamory, and 1 out of 9 people (10.7%) have engaged in polyamory at some point during their life. Approximately 1 out of 15 people (6.5%) reported that they knew someone who has been or is currently engaged in polyamory. Among participants who were not personally interested in polyamory, 1 out of 7 (14.2%) indicated that they respect people who engage in polyamory. Few sociodemographic correlates emerged; no differences in prevalence were found based on political affiliation, income, religion, geographic region, or race/ethnicity. Sexual minorities, men, and younger adults reported greater desire to engage in polyamory (compared to heterosexuals, women, and older adults, respectively). Men and people with lower education backgrounds were more likely to have previously engaged in polyamory (compared to women and people with higher education backgrounds, respectively). Given that emotional and sexual intimacy is an important part of most people’s lives, understanding the varied ways in which people navigate their intimate lives is critical for the fields of relationship, sexuality, and family science.


Given the centrality of relationships and family, changes in these patterns have powerful implications for social life. Adding to a growing body of research on diverse expressions of intimacy and family life, we examined previous engagement in polyamory, willingness to engage in polyamory, personally knowing someone who engages in polyamory, and positive affect toward polyamory in a national sample of United States adults. We expanded previous research on the prevalence of consensual non-monogamy in several novel ways. Our results are the first to document prevalence estimates related to polyamory in particular. Specifically, we found that willingness to engage in polyamory and previous engagement in polyamory is common. Approximately 1 out 6 people desire to engage in polyamory and 1 out of 9 people have engaged in polyamory at some point during their life. To help put this into perspective, desire to engage in polyamory is as common as how many Americans would like to move to another country (Espipova et al., 2018), and previous engagement in polyamory is as common as holding a graduate degree in the United States (United States Census Bureau, 2019). Moreover, approximately 1 out of 15 people know someone in their social network who is currently or has in the past engaged in polyamory. Among people in the present study who were not personally interested in polyamory, 14.2% of people reported that they respect people who engaged in polyamory. That is, the majority of people who were not personally interested in polyamory did not indicate positive attitudes toward polyamory.

We also found that desire to engage and previous engagement in polyamory is common among people from a range of diverse racial, political, income, religious, and geographic backgrounds. In fact, we found few links between sociodemographic factors and desire or previous engagement in polyamory. Of the few differences documented, people who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (compared to people who identified as heterosexual) and men (compared to women) were more likely to report desire to engage in polyamory and previous engagement in polyamory (consistent with our hypotheses). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may be more inclined to desire polyamory because questioning a heteronormative model of relationships encourages considering alternative relationships styles (Klesse, 2016). Moreover, given engagement in consensual non-monogamy is higher among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (compared to heterosexuals; Haupert et al., 2017ab), having familiarity with or learning norms about consensual non-monogamy may reduce stigma toward these types of relationships among people. In terms of men’s, relative to women’s, high willingness to engage in polyamory, some scholars suggest that this reported desire is an artifact of gendered dating norms (Moors et al., 2015) while others suggests this finding illustrates evolutionary mechanisms for human mating (Mogilski et al., 2017). We also found that younger people, compared to older people, were more likely to indicate willingness to engage in polyamory (inconsistent with our predictions). Desire to try polyamory among younger adults could be related to younger adults’ tendency to hold progressive values (e.g., sex positive views, diversity values; Regnerus and Uecker, 2011Parker et al., 2019), and potentially to younger adults being the target audience for various media that have recently depicted polyamory.

In terms of previous engagement, we found that men were more likely than women to have previously engaged in polyamory at some point during their life (consistent with our hypotheses and previous research on consensual non-monogamy; Haupert et al., 2017aFairbrother et al., 2019). Inconsistent with our predictions, however, was that people who identify as a sexual minority or as heterosexual are equally likely to have previously engaged in polyamory. Although previous research indicates that sexual minorities are more likely (compared to heterosexuals) to engage in consensual non-monogamy (Haupert et al., 2017a), this was not found when looking at polyamory specifically. Perhaps among sexual minorities, higher levels of previous engagement in consensual non-monogamy may be related to engagement in open relationships (which could drive the difference based on sexual orientation when looking at all consensually non-monogamous relationships). Earlier research that used convenience sampling have documented that gay men, in particular, tend to use the term ‘open relationship’ and focus on sexual relationships with other partners (e.g., Blasband and Peplau, 1985Kurdek and Schmitt, 1986). Inconsistent with our predictions, we found that people with lower education levels (high school and some college) were more likely than people with higher educational levels to have previously engaged in polyamory. This finding is also inconsistent with speculations from researchers that people with higher education levels may have had more exposure to information about polyamory or more financial stability to pursue multiple relationships (Sheff and Hammers, 2011). In the United States, approximately 33% of people have earned higher levels of education (a bachelor’s degree or higher; U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). Thus, most people in the United States, have completed some college or high school. The finding that lower education levels are associated with previous engagement in polyamory could reflect that the majority of people in the United States hold high school diplomas or some college experiences (as opposed to college and beyond experiences).

A common stereotype about consensual non-monogamy is that these relationships yield high jealousy and are challenging (Moors et al., 2013Grunt-Mejer and Campbell, 2016). Indeed, qualitative research has documented that similar themes are expressed by people in consensually non-monogamous relationships, especially those new to them (e.g., Aguilar, 2013). In the present study, we found that between 21 and 33% of people who had previously engaged in polyamory experienced issues with their own possessiveness and difficulty with navigating their related emotions. Although these are sizable minorities, we have no way of knowing whether jealousy is more prevalent in polyamorous versus monogamous relationships, as there are no population-based studies of jealousy available. However, prior research using large convenience samples have documented that people engaged in monogamy report higher levels of jealousy than people engaged in consensually non-monogamous relationships (e.g., Conley et al., 2017). Moreover, research has shown that jealousy is a common experience in monogamous relationships. Jealousy is one of the leading predictors of divorce in longitudinal studies (Amato and Rogers, 1997), and using data from the General Social Survey, researchers found that between 32 and 46% of separated or divorced women reported that their ex-husbands were sexually jealous and/or possessive (Brownridge et al., 2008). Further, research conducted using twin studies has suggested that the propensity for romantic and sexual jealousy is somewhat heritable, indicating a person-level factor independent of any relationship arrangement (Walum et al., 2013). Although multi-partner relationship dynamics may provide more varied instances that could facilitate jealousy than would monogamous relationships, jealousy is likely present in all relationship types.

In terms of familiarity with polyamory, sexual minorities and younger adults were more likely to report that they knew someone who is/was engaged in a polyamorous relationship (compared to heterosexual individuals and older adults). Given that sexual minorities are more likely to have previously engaged in polyamory and other forms of consensual non-monogamy (e.g., Haupert et al., 2017a), it is not surprising that they are more likely than people who identify as heterosexual to know someone in their network who practices polyamory. Moreover, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are less likely to adhere to rigid gendered norms surrounding dating, including desire for monogamy and marriage (Moors et al., 2014). There is also evidence that consensual non-monogamy is less stigmatized among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people (Moors et al., 20132014), and indeed, we found that sexual minority participants were more likely than heterosexual participants to indicate that they respect people engaged in polyamory. Specifically, these people who indicated that they were not personally interested in polyamory, but respect it as a relationship option. Future research could explore whether familiarity is linked with holding positive attitudes toward polyamory (akin to research on attitudes toward sexual minorities; Herek and Glunt, 1993), as well as with socio-demographics related to more socially liberal attitudes, as we found with younger participants and those who identified as Democrats. Another research direction could be to explore the extent to which people who are or have engaged in polyamory hold positive or negative views about polyamory. Recent research suggests that people engaged in consensual non-monogamy can hold self-stigmatizing views about their relationships style, similar to the psychological phenomena of internalized homophobia (Moors et al., in press).

In the next section, we provide a high-level overview of the growing area of scientific inquiry on consensually non-monogamous relationships. Beyond the scope of this paper is a critical review of the current literature. Instead, we provide context of some of the current research and how this body of work can be applied to relationship, sexuality, and family science. For further insight on theoretical and research implications of understanding consensually non-monogamous relationships, see reviews by Brewster et al. (2017)Conley et al. (2017), and Moors et al. (2017). For insight on inclusive research practices related to consensual non-monogamy, see Moors (2019).

Future Directions and Implications for Relationship and Family Science

Finding a soulmate is central to mass media depictions of family life as well as social science theories of marriage and family. In fact, most people idealize monogamy and uphold a set of cultural assumptions that monogamous relationships are optimal and that monogamous romantic relationships should take priority over other relationships (known as mononormativity; DePaulo and Morris, 2005Moors and Schechinger, 2014Pieper and Bauer, 2014). That is, most people hold the belief that an exclusive coupled relationship is a “natural” part of the human experience and, subsequently, sexual behaviors outside of monogamous coupling are pathologized (a core concept related to queer theory; e.g., Rubin, 1984Pieper and Bauer, 2014De las Heras Gómez, 2019). The belief that monogamy is optimal is also an (implicit) assumption appears in many contemporary social science theories of intimacy, such as attachment theory and the investment model of relationships (e.g., Moors et al., 2015Conley et al., 2017). One area ripe for future research is expanding relationship concepts and frameworks to include consensually non-monogamous relationship and family arrangements (see Olmstead, 2020, for a review focused on adolescence).

As found in the present study, societal views toward consensual non-monogamy tend to be negative and stigmatizing. Likewise, people engaged in consensual non-monogamy report a range of stigmatizing experiences based on their relationship (e.g., rejection from family and friends; child custody issues) and, often, hide their relationship style (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2010Sheff, 2015Kimberly and Hans, 2017). These negative evaluations of consensual non-monogamy appear to be erroneous stereotypes. Research that has examined relationship qualities among people engaged in consensual non-monogamy and monogamy has generally found that people in both types of relationships report similar levels of relationship quality and psychological well-being (e.g., trust, commitment, love, depression; Rubel and Bogaert, 2015Conley et al., 2017Mogilski et al., 2017Moors et al., 2017Balzarini et al., 2019b). In some cases, people in consensually non-monogamous relationships report greater quality (e.g., lower jealousy, higher sexual satisfaction) and unique benefits, such as personal growth and diversified need fulfillment (Conley et al., 20172018Moors et al., 2017).

Furthermore, a growing body of research focused on relationship processes among people engaged in polyamory has documented a similar pattern of healthy relationship functioning. In terms of jealousy, people engaged in polyamory tend to experience low levels and use new words to describe mild forms of jealousy, such as “shaky” (Ritchie and Barker, 2006). Drawing on interpersonal relationship frameworks, Mitchell et al. (2014) investigated how meeting seven different needs (e.g., autonomy, closeness, emotional support, security) with a given partner affects relationship satisfaction and commitment with both relationship partners among people engaged in polyamory. Overall, need fulfillment across all needs were consistently high with both partners; moreover, the extent to which one partner met someone’s needs was unrelated to satisfaction or commitment with another partner. A similar pattern of results was found when looking at attachment dynamics and relationship quality among people engaged in polyamory (Moors et al., 2019). Specifically, Moors et al. found that people engaged in polyamory exhibited high levels of security with both of their partners (levels higher than established norms). Moreover, there was no association between avoidance and anxiety with one specific partner and the relationship functioning (e.g., satisfaction, commitment) in a different, concurrent relationship. These studies suggest that a relationship with one partner tends to function independently of a relationship with another partner, as both relationships were considered fulfilling, satisfying, and secure (essentially without influencing each other). In the context of the present studies’ findings, a future avenue to explore is the association between attachment bonds and reasons why some people thrive in polyamorous relationships while others experience jealousy or difficulty with navigating their emotions.

In the context of parenting, longitudinal sociological research illustrates the varied ways in which children raised by parents engaged in polyamory thrive (Sheff, 20112015). For instance, children of parents engaged in polyamory report that they enjoy receiving attention from a variety of adults and sharing a diverse range of interests with adults in their lives (Sheff, 20102015). In addition to benefits mentioned by children, parents engaged in polyamory expressed that multiple co-parents (or partners) helped with childrearing and household responsibilities. Although drawbacks such as breakups (and children reported that they missed these adults) can occur in polyamorous family units, this can be likened to feelings of loss that children of monogamous children experience when faced with divorce and separations. One limitation of the present study is that we did not examine whether people were parents and their experiences with or interest in polyamory. Future research could explore the extent to which people who are parents desire to or are engaged in polyamory.

To our knowledge, this study is the first to obtain information about the prevalence of polyamory, including previous engagement, desire, and familiarity, using a large United States national sample. Our study sheds light on the commonness of interest and previous engagement in polyamory among Americans. At the same time, our study focused on the experiences of people who are currently single, which limits the generalizability of our findings to people who are in relationships (including obtaining an estimate of current engagement in polyamory). Future research will benefit from understanding current engagement in polyamory as well as other specific types of consensual non-monogamy. Future research could also explore potential changes in desire or engagement in consensually non-monogamous relationships (or polyamory specifically) over time. A limitation of the present study is that it captures attitudes and behaviors related to polyamory at one time point.