Monday, May 31, 2021

What Makes It Difficult to Start an Intimate Relationship: Poor flirting skills, shyness, low confidence coming from worries about looks, not meeting available mates, being too conservative & worrying that they would get hurt

What Makes It Difficult to Start an Intimate Relationship: A Taxonomy of the Reasons. Menelaos Apostolou. Europe's Journal of Psychology, Vol. 17 No. 2 (2021), May 31 2021.

Abstract: Within the context of an evolutionary theoretical framework, the current research attempted to study the reasons that cause difficulties in starting an intimate relationship in the Greek cultural context. In particular, using qualitative research methods (interviews and open-ended questionnaires), Study 1 (N = 205) identified 58 reasons that make it difficult for people to start an intimate relationship. Using an online sample of 1,095 Greek-speaking participants (N = 1,095), Study 2 classified these reasons in 12 factors. More than 80% of the participants indicated that they faced above moderate or severe difficulties in at least one factor, while about 40% faced difficulties in three or more factors. Significant gender and age effects were found across the different factors. Using second order principal components analysis, the 12 factors were classified in three broader domains of difficulties in starting a relationship.


In the current research, we identified 58 reasons, which clustered in 12 factors that caused difficulties to individuals in starting an intimate relationship. More than 80% of participants indicated that they faced above moderate or severe difficulties in at least one factor, while about 40% faced difficulties in three or more factors. Significant gender and age effects were also found across the different factors. Using second order principal components analysis, the 12 factors were classified in three broader domains of difficulties in starting a relationship. The low capacity for flirting was the domain in which participants exhibited the most difficulties.

Starting from the latter finding, it appears that the primary difficulty that prevented people in our sample to initiate a relationship, was a limited capacity to approach prospective mates and initiate flirting. This capacity was compromised by poor flirting skills, shyness, low confidence coming from worries about looks, not meeting available mates, but also by being too conservative and worrying that they would get hurt. We argue that the high prevalence of this difficulty is predominantly due to the mismatch problem: Until very recently, in ancestral pre-industrial societies, individuals would get access to mates through force or through arranged marriage, and they would not have to gain such access through initiating flirting. As a consequence, many people did not inherit from their ancestors a good flirting capacity, which is required for getting access to mates in a contemporary context, where mating is not regulated or forced.

With respect to poor flirting skills, a gender difference was found, which was the largest one across the 12 factors, with men indicating more severe difficulty than women. One possible reason is that due to the asymmetry in parental investment, it is usually men who take the initiative to approach women (Buss, 19892017Trivers, 1972). Thus, flirting skills are more important to men, and so lacking such skills may cause them more severe difficulties. Another reason can be that, in ancestral societies men gained access to women through force (Ghiglieri, 1999Tooby & Cosmides, 1988), and they have evolved to be aggressive and rough, which would facilitate them to do so. Yet, such traits are impairing when a man tries to initiate flirting.

Moving on, finding an intimate partner involves adjusting mating standards to realistic levels and use resources such as time and effort effectively. In the ancestral pre-industrial context, a great part of the choosing was made by parents, so mechanisms involved in mating effort and selection of mates may not have been properly adjusted to work well in a context where individuals have to find mates on their own. As a consequence, several people today may have unreasonably high standards, which drive them toward mates they can never get, rejecting mates that they could get. In addition, they may devote their energy in endeavors, such as making money, leaving little time for seeking mates.

This domain does not reflect only the mismatch problem, but also the optimal functioning of mechanisms that have evolved to facilitate mate choice. To begin with, being choosy may lead to people rejecting several mates before settling with one, having to stay single for some time. Nevertheless, because settling with the first mate that comes in someone’s way, is unlikely to be optimal—such a mate may lack desirable traits—being choosy constitutes an effective mechanism that can lead to better and more long-lasting intimate relationships. Thus, many people may tend to interpret being picky as a constraint from starting a relationship, which actually constrains them from starting a relationship with no prospects, giving them time to look for one which has prospects.

Similarly, because people are choosy, it would pay for mate-seekers to develop the qualities which are considered desirable before entering in the mating market. For instance, being educated, having a good job, and being financially independent, are highly desirable in the mating market (Buss, 2017Buss et al., 1990), but require considerable resources, such as money and time, in order to be developed. Accordingly, one possible beneficial strategy would be to allocate these resources in developing these qualities instead of seeking mates, and to enter in the mating market at a later time, having better chances of success. In the meantime, people may not have sufficient time, money or willingness to start a relationship, which albeit constraining in starting a relationship now, may be enabling in starting one at a future time.

This argument can be seen also in the significant gender difference in the “Too picky” factor which loads in this domain. Women gave significantly higher scores than men, suggesting that pickiness made it more difficult for them to start a relationship. Yet, due to the risk of pregnancy, a sexual encounter can commit a woman’s parental investment to a man who is unwilling to invest to her and to her children, a risk that men do not face. Women have evolved to be choosier than men as a way to protect them from such a risk (Buss, 2017). Consequently, women are likely to reject more potential mates than men before settling with one, resulting in more time being single, and so to be more likely to report pickiness as a reason that keeps them back from starting a relationship.

The “Constraints” domain appeared to be the least important one, preventing individuals from starting a relationship. This is expected, as severe health problems and handicaps are rare. In addition, health problems in particular arise usually at an older age, where individuals are not active mate-seekers. Moreover, being homosexual was another constraining factor. In Study 1, individuals indicated that being homosexual prevented them from starting a relationship because they were in the closet, or had difficulties in meeting other homosexual individuals. Yet, the prevalence of homosexuality is the population is about 5% (LeVay, 2010), which can explain why this was not a frequent reason in our sample.

The current research is not without limitations. To begin with, our sample is not representative of the population; for instance, single individuals are overrepresented. One possible reason is that those who were single would be more interested in participating in our study. In addition, our research was based on self-report data, and participants may not have had an adequate understanding of the reasons that caused them difficulties in starting a relationship. Furthermore, to our knowledge, this is the first study that has attempted to study the reasons that cause difficulties in starting a relationship. From the results of a single study, we cannot be certain neither that the factor structure we have derived here is the true one nor that we have identified all the reasons that cause difficulties in starting a relationship. Considerable replication and extension of the current work is required, in order to understand the reasons which prevent people from staring a relationship.

Replication in different cultural contexts is also necessary, because our findings are based on the Greek culture, and may not readily apply to other cultures. In particular, the factor structure and the importance assigned to each factor may differ across cultural settings. For instance, in cultural settings where marriages are arranged, the flirting capacity is unlikely to be the most important factor preventing people from starting an intimate relationship. On the other hand, in cultural settings where people find their own partners, the flirting capacity would an important factor preventing people from staring an intimate relationship.

In sum, the current study identified several reasons which constrained people from starting an intimate relationship. These reasons were classified in broader factors and domains, and sex and age effects were also found. Considerable more work is necessary however, in order to fully understand this complex phenomenon.

Rolf Degen summarizing... Mask wearers surrounded by mask wearers had the impression that the mask made others "stranger" than themselves

About the Acceptance of Wearing Face Masks in Times of a Pandemic. Claus-Christian Carbon. i-Perception, May 30, 2021.

Abstract: Wearing face masks in times of COVID-19 is one of the essential keystones for effectively decreasing the rate of new infections and thus for mitigating the negative consequences for individuals as well as for society. Acceptance of wearing masks is still low in many countries, making it extremely difficult to keep the pandemic at bay. In an experimental study, participants (N = 88) had to assess how strange they felt when wearing a face mask while being exposed to displays of groups of varying numbers of mask wearers. Three different types of face masks were shown: simple homemade masks, FFP2 masks, and loop scarfs. The higher the frequency of people wearing masks in the displayed social group, the less strange the participants felt about themselves, an essential precondition for accepting wearing masks. This effect of a descriptive social norm was particularly effective when people saw others wearing less intrusive masks, here, simple homemade masks.

Keywords: perceived strangeness, social acceptance, COVID-19, virus, face masks, psychology, pandemic

Wearing face masks in times of COVID-19 is one of the essential keystones for effectively decreasing the rate of new infections and for mitigating the negative consequences for individuals as well as for society. Wearing masks does not belong to natural human’s habits and is still not easily acceptable for many people (Wong, 2020) and has been emerged as a political issue (Rabinovitch-Fox, 2020)—many people just feel strange when wearing masks (Robb, 2021) and therefore will not follow recommendations to put on masks in public. Here, we tested how the mere exposure to people in the social environment who do or do not wear masks can dramatically change the feeling of strangeness when wearing a mask oneself.

It is of particular interest that the number of mask wearers had dissociative effects on both dependent variables employed in the present study: The participants experienced the idea of wearing masks themselves as less and less strange when more people in the shown social group wore face masks as well. At the same time, however, they kept perceiving the other mask wearers in the displayed social group as strange, especially when they wore loop scarfs, in this case, black, loop scarfs. We suggest that this dissociation of effects is the outcome of two different mechanisms that are at work here: A more perceptual one and a more cognitive (normative) one. To illustrate this, we would like to give an example: Imagine you are invited by a good friend who grew up in Venice to visit his/her beautiful hometown to which you have never been. You travel to Venice, and upon arriving there in a small taxi boat, you realise that the world-famous Carnival of Venice is well underway. People all around you, including your friend who is welcoming you at the landing stage, are wearing the typical, highly elaborate masks. You were not prepared for the festival, so you do not have a mask. You will, most probably, experience the following: The people around you will appear somewhat strange to you—this mainly perceptual effect is based on an insufficient familiarity with the specific disguise. Furthermore, with such masks on, we cannot rely anymore on typical processes which we effortlessly use in normal, everyday life without any masks, for example, reading the emotional state (Carbon, 2020) and further mental states (Schmidtmann et al., 2020) of others by merely processing the holistic facial information. Yet, you will probably feel less strange about yourself as soon as you put on a mask as well—this effect traces back to the descriptive social norm that is established by the outward appearance (the shared dress code) of the majority of people around you in this specific situation. This effect of taking social norms into account is a cognitively based effect. It is important to understand this perceptuo-cognitive dissociation because it is not limited to wearing masks: We often adopt descriptive social norms that are signalled by the empirical conditions of present situations, and we try to behave like the others around us, but this does not necessarily mean that we like or would principally endorse this behaviour as well. In the present experiment, the perception of others as being strange was particularly strong for loop scarfs and FFP2 masks. The loop scarfs resemble so-called bandanas—may be because of negative connotations triggered by the resemblance with the cliché masking of bank robbers in movies or cartoons. The FFP2 masks, at least at the early phase of the pandemic when this study was conducted, were obviously also seen as being strange—but probably due to another phenomenon: Most people were unfamiliar with this kind of mask which should have fundamentally changed meanwhile due to the everyday usage of such masks.

So, which masks seem to be optimal for everyday usage? From a physical (Verma et al., 2020), mathematical (Mittal et al., 2020) as well as a medical (Chu et al., 2020) perspective, there are clear answers to this question: The mask should be capable of filtering a maximum of airborne particles, so the certified face masks with FFP2 (N95; filtering at least 95% of airborne particles, if they show a diameter of at least 100 nm; O'Dowd et al., 2020) and FFP3 (N99; 99%) filtering levels seem to be the best (O'Dowd et al., 2020). From a psychological perspective, the answer might differ. In the present study, we observed least perceived strangeness when observing other people wearing less intrusive masks, concretely simple self-made masks, while loop scarfs and FFP2 masks showed higher levels of perceived strangeness in this respect. Meanwhile, participants did not feel particularly strange themselves, actually even a bit less strange than the others shown as a social group. Such simple face masks offer a series of other advantages: First, they are relatively easy and comfortable to use (Yao et al., 2019), they can be easily and privately produced by simple means, and they are cheap enough to equip many people around the globe in high quantity and fresh quality. Second, as the suggestions for wearing masks for private persons refer to the protection of others and because there is no clear evidence of a difference in protecting others between simple masks and FFP2/N95 masks (Jefferson et al., 2020), simple masks prevent a shortage of professional medical masks that should be primarily reserved for medical workers. Third, in our study, the simple masks showed the highest acceptance rate in terms of feeling least odd when imaging wearing such a mask. This is an important precondition to face masks actually being worn in different situations and over a longer period (see MacIntyre et al., 2009MacIntyre & Chughtai, 2015), especially by non-medical workers (Matusiak et al., 2020). Furthermore, they do not emit large amounts of microplastic fibres as one-way masks might do (Fadare & Okoffo, 2020). Of course, such general ideas should be adjusted for specific contexts and fields of applications, for example, it was shown that wearing masks has race-specific effects on other perceivers (Christiani et al., in press). This last point also calls for extensions of such studies as we only tested a relatively narrow sample employing White European faces only wearing three different types of face masks that were popular and available in April 2020. For instance, there are reports and societally meaningful discussions on interactive effects between wearing specific masks and ethnic background and the morphological group of the wearer, for example, black bandanas worn by people of colour which triggered racial stereotypes (Ray, 2020). This should be systematically analysed to understand and to counteract against such mechanisms.

In general, our results will also assist policymakers in predicting the future acceptance of wearing masks in which generally more people comply with these new hygienic practices, following role models wearing masks and propagating them instead of denying and problematising them (Hornsey et al., 2020).

Women with higher creativity (ideational fluency) had higher mate appeal; intelligence and emotional competence did not significantly predict appeal; perceived abilities seem more relevant for attraction than measured ones

What you see is what you want to get: Perceived abilities outperform objective test performance in predicting mate appeal in speed dating. Gabriela Hofer et al. Journal of Research in Personality, May 30 2021, 104113.


• Women with higher creativity (ideational fluency) had higher mate appeal.

• Intelligence and emotional competence did not significantly predict mate appeal.

• More substantial effects were found for speed-dating ratings of the same abilities.

• Controlling for physical attractiveness further reduced effects of abilities.

• Perceived abilities seem to be more relevant for attraction than measured ones.

Abstract: Are intelligent, creative, and emotionally competent people more desirable? Evolution-based theories and studies on the ideal partner suggest that they are. We aimed to assess whether verbal, numerical, and spatial intelligence, creativity, and intra- and interpersonal emotional competence are associated with higher real-life mate appeal. In speed dates, 87 women and 88 men met up to 14 members of the opposite sex (2188 observations). While only one measured ability—women’s creativity—was significantly associated with mate appeal, ability perceptions by speed-dating partners could broadly predict mate appeal. Effects of perceived and measured abilities were substantially reduced after controlling for physical attractiveness. These results suggest that the investigated abilities play a lesser role in initial attraction than proposed in the past.

Keywords: mate appealintelligencecreativityemotional competenceperceived abilitiesspeed datingperson perceptionsocial relations modeling

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Individuals high in narcissism have “thin skins” and are prone to aggression when they are provoked; these results suggest that narcissism is an important risk factor for aggression and violence

Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2021). The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, May 2021.

Abstract: This meta-analytic review examines the link between narcissism and aggression, and whether the link is stronger under provocation conditions. A total of 437 independent studies were located, which included 123,043 participants. Narcissism was related to both aggression (r = .26, [.24, .28]) and violence (r = .23, [.18, .27]). As expected, the narcissism-aggression link was stronger under provocation conditions (r = .29, [.23, .36]) than under no provocation conditions (r = .12, [.05, .18]), but was even significant in the absence of provocation. Both “normal” and “pathological” narcissism were related to aggression. All three dimensions of narcissism (i.e., entitlement, grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism) were related to aggression. Narcissism was related to all forms of aggression (i.e., indirect, direct, displaced, physical, verbal, bullying), and to both functions of aggression (i.e., reactive, proactive). The relation between narcissism and aggression was significant for males and females, for people of all ages, for students and nonstudents, and for people from individualistic and collectivistic countries. Significant results were obtained in experimental, cross-sectional, and longitudinal studies, in published and unpublished studies, and in studies that assessed aggression using different types of measures (i.e., self-report, other-report, observation). Overall results were robust to publication bias and the presence of outliers. Theoretically, these results indicate that provocation is a key moderator of the link between narcissism and aggression. Individuals high in narcissism have “thin skins” and are prone to aggression when they are provoked. Practically, these results suggest that narcissism is an important risk factor for aggression and violence.

Gut reactions were harsher and behavioral intentions linked to action were stronger when the error was made by an algorithm compared to human error; irrespective of error severity or info about algorithm maturity

To err is human, not algorithmic – Robust reactions to erring algorithms. Laetitia A. Renier, Marianne Schmid, Mast Anely Bekbergenova. Computers in Human Behavior, May 30 2021, 106879.


• Reactions toward erring algorithms go beyond algorithm aversion.

• Gut reactions were harsher and behavioral intentions linked to action were stronger when the error was made by an algorithm.

• Justice cognitions were weaker when the error was made by an algorithm.

• Observed effects were immune to the domain of use, the severity of the error, and information about algorithm maturity.

Abstract: When seeing algorithms err, we trust them less and decrease using them compared to after seeing humans err; this is called algorithm aversion. This paper builds on the algorithm aversion literature and the third-party reactions to mistreatment model to investigate a wider array of reactions to erring algorithms. Using an experimental design deployed with a vignette-based online study, we investigate gut reactions, justice cognitions, and behavioral intentions toward erring algorithms (compared to erring humans). Our results show that when the error was committed by an algorithm (vs. a human), gut reactions were harsher (i.e., less acceptance and more negative feelings), justice cognitions weaker (i.e., less blame, less forgiveness, and less accountability), and behavioral intentions stronger. These results remain independent of factors such as the maturity of the algorithms (better than or same as human performance), the severity of the error (high or low), and the domain of use (recruitment or finance). We discuss how these results complement the current literature thanks to a robust and more nuanced pattern of reactions to erring algorithms.

Keywords: Algorithm aversionArtificial intelligenceErrorReactionsPerceptionThird-party

An honesty oath leads to more truth telling; liars need more time to decide under oath

How the honesty oath works: Quick, intuitive truth telling under oath. Tobias Beck. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, May 29 2021, 101728.


• An honesty oath leads to more truth telling

• The additional truth tellers under oath decide very fast

• Liars need more time to decide under oath

• The oath reduces the extent of strategic reasoning in the decision whether to tell the truth or not

• The honesty oath works by making the decision to tell the truth more intuitive and less deliberate

Abstract: This study analyzes the workings of oath-taking when the decision about lying requires strategic thinking. In a laboratory experiment, the oath leads to more truth telling, but it does not make liars reduce the sizes of their lies. While truth tellers decide faster due to the oath, liars need more time to decide under oath. By analyzing players’ beliefs about their co-players’ mistrust, I find that the oath reduces the extent of strategic reasoning in the decision whether to tell the truth or not. These findings are consistent with the conjecture that the honesty oath works by making the decision to tell the truth less deliberate and more intuitive.

Keywords: Honesty oathStrategic deceptionTruth tellingSize of the lieLaboratory experiment

People often overestimate their past mobility, strongly believe in their future one, & think that The American Dream is alive for them and their families more than it is for others or the country as a whole

The psychology of lay beliefs about economic mobility. Shai Davidai, Margaux N. A. Wienk. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, May 28 2021.

Abstract: Although economic mobility is an objectively defined term, lay beliefs about mobility—the configuration of ideas and attitudes about economic mobility that is not necessarily grounded in economic data—are often formed in a subjective manner. Drawing on research from the United States and beyond, we propose a novel framework for understanding how people construe, think about, and understand economic mobility. We highlight the importance of systematically examining the type, time frame, trajectory, and target of mobility that people have in mind for understanding when they most and least strongly believe in it. In addition, our framework offers a conceptual roadmap for examining the factors that influence lay beliefs about mobility, including individual differences in these lay beliefs and their important downstream consequences. Finally, we outline several important open questions that are highlighted by our framework as a guide for future research on lay beliefs about economic mobility.

Granddaughter’s intimacy with maternal grandmothers was significantly higher and with paternal grandfathers significantly lower than with other grandparents than with other grandparents

Which grandparent is more intimate? The effects of the gender of grandchildren. Mengjie Tu, Hongpo Zhang, Yafei Guo, Lin Zhang, Xinhui Wei & Quanlei Yu. Current Psychology, May 25 2021.

Abstract: Mothers have almost 100% certainty of their relationship with their offspring, but fathers face paternal uncertainty, which affects not only parental investment but also grandparents’ investment in grandchildren. However, due to Chinese patriarchal culture and preference for sons, grandparents may give their grandchildren different investments by gender. To explore the psychological and behavioral mechanisms of grandparents’ emotional investment in grandchildren from both cultural and evolutionary perspectives, this study collected data from 642 Chinese participants who had impressions of all four grandparents and measured their relationships with their grandparents and other demographic variables. After controlling for the number of grandchildren, participant’s age, region, etc., a significant interaction between the grandchild’s gender and grandparent categories was found. Simple effect analysis and post-hoc analysis showed significant differences in grandsons’ intimacy with maternal grandmothers and grandfathers, but no other grandparents, while granddaughter’s intimacy with maternal grandmothers was significantly higher and with paternal grandfathers significantly lower than with other grandparents, and there were no other significant differences. Those results support human psychology and behavior are jointly influenced by evolution and culture.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Millions of People's Location Data Revealed a 'Universal' Pattern In Study: The universal visitation law of human mobility

The universal visitation law of human mobility. Markus Schläpfer, Lei Dong, Kevin O’Keeffe, Paolo Santi, Michael Szell, Hadrien Salat, Samuel Anklesaria, Mohammad Vazifeh, Carlo Ratti & Geoffrey B. West. Nature, volume 593, pages522–527. May 26 2021.

Abstract: Human mobility impacts many aspects of a city, from its spatial structure1,2,3 to its response to an epidemic4,5,6,7. It is also ultimately key to social interactions8, innovation9,10 and productivity11. However, our quantitative understanding of the aggregate movements of individuals remains incomplete. Existing models—such as the gravity law12,13 or the radiation model14—concentrate on the purely spatial dependence of mobility flows and do not capture the varying frequencies of recurrent visits to the same locations. Here we reveal a simple and robust scaling law that captures the temporal and spatial spectrum of population movement on the basis of large-scale mobility data from diverse cities around the globe. According to this law, the number of visitors to any location decreases as the inverse square of the product of their visiting frequency and travel distance. We further show that the spatio-temporal flows to different locations give rise to prominent spatial clusters with an area distribution that follows Zipf’s law15. Finally, we build an individual mobility model based on exploration and preferential return to provide a mechanistic explanation for the discovered scaling law and the emerging spatial structure. Our findings corroborate long-standing conjectures in human geography (such as central place theory16 and Weber’s theory of emergent optimality10) and allow for predictions of recurrent flows, providing a basis for applications in urban planning, traffic engineering and the mitigation of epidemic diseases.

Popular version: Millions of People's Location Data Revealed a 'Universal' Pattern In Study

Wisdom: When thinking about others, we often take a perspective of an impartial observer, a third person viewing the events from afar; it seems a good idea to work on our issues from a distant observer perspective

Grossmann, Igor. 2021. “Wisdom: Situational, Dispositional, or Both?.” PsyArXiv. May 28. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Some people think wisdom is a stable and invariable individual disposition. Others view wisdom as deeply embedded in culture, experiences, and situations, and treat these features as mutually making up wisdom. Who is right and what are the implications for measurement, training and the fundamental (essentialist vs. constructivist) nature of wisdom itself? In this chapter, we will review evidence concerning the dispositional versus situational approaches to study wisdom. Even though main features of wisdom show some stability, there is also a profound and systematic variability in response to situational demands. We will also learn about a novel theoretical framework, conceptualizing dispositions as a distribution of situation-specific responses, thereby resolving the dispositional versus situational debate on the nature of wisdom. Drawing on these insights, we will conclude by reflect on recommendations for best measurement practices and ways to boost and train wisdom in everyday life.

Boosting and training wisdom

One of the most exciting implications of cross-situational variability in wisdom is that we can possibly shape situations to our benefit. Here, the insight about wisdom being lower when dealing with personal issues appears troublesome: In many domains of our lives, we cannot always defer decisions to someone else. What to do? As we discussed earlier when introducing the idea of naïve realism in perception of reality, people tend to subjectively represent and construct the events they encounter 8. The notion of subjective construal can help shed possible light on the difference in wisdom when reflecting on person- and non-person-centric situations. Ethan Kross and I reasoned that the reason wisdom appeared heighted in reflection on non-personal challenges concerns a particular vantage point one adopts when construing other people’s problems compared to personal problems. When thinking about others, we often take a perspective of an impartial observer, a third person viewing the events from a far. In contrast, when we reflect on personal issues we typically do so from an immersed, first-person perspective. If this difference in the subjective vantage point is elemental for the self-other asymmetry in manifest wisdom, it may be possible to boost wisdom in reflection on personal issues by construing personal situations as an “impartial observer.”

We first sought to test this idea in the context of job prospects at the peak of "great recession" in the U.S., asking college seniors, none of whom had a secured job at this point, to consider their future career prospects 43. Participants were randomly assigned to two conditions. In one condition, we instructed participants to reflect on their job prospects from a perspective of a "distant observer," envisioning the situation unfolding from a far. In the control condition, seniors envisioned the situation unfolding before their own eyes. What we found is that compared to the control group, the “distant observer” instructions prompted greater wisdom – greater recognition of limits of their knowledge and consideration of things may unfold and change. In follow-up set of experiments, we showed equivalent results when instructing participants to reflect on a polarized political issue at a peak of 2008 U.S. presidential election 43, trust and infidelity conflicts 10, and personal autobiographical experiences – i.e., recent unresolved conflicts people experienced in their own lives 44,45. In each case, linguistic and temporal prompts promoting a distant observer vantage point (e.g., by using a third-person language “he”/”she” or perspective of “one year from now”) fostered wisdom (recognition of the limits of one's knowledge and recognition of change) in reflections on hypothetical and autobiographical issues compared to prompts promoting an immersed vantage point (e.g., by using a first-person language “me”/”mine” or a perspective of “here and now”). Moreover, using this manipulation, we were able to attenuate the self-other asymmetry discussed above. That is, observer vantage point led to greater wisdom for both personal and a friend’s problems, reducing self-other asymmetry 10; Studies 2-3. It appears that experimental instructions altered the perception of the situation—from exclusively self-focused to a situation considering viewpoints of other persons involved, in turn recreating wisdom-enhancing contexts in one's mind. Overall, it appears that a wide range of construal-altering instructions (see Figure 4) increases participants' ability for applied central features of wisdom in hypothetical and real-world situations, both in the context of interpersonal and intergroup conflicts.

fig 4

Can the distanced observer construal be trained to promote changes in wisdom over time? Building on the insights from the contextual view of wisdom, my colleagues and I decided to address this question 46. Given that people experience a range of issues in their lives, we reasoned that an effective shift in subjective construal toward a vantage point of an impartial observer requires repeated practice of wisdom-enhancing strategies over time. In turn, practice-driven shifts in subjective construal should promote greater wisdom after the practice. We tested this idea in a set of randomized control trial (RCT) intervention. In each study, participants reflected on their interpersonal conflicts twice – before and after the intervention, and we analyzed their reflections for presence of wisdom-related themes. In-between these measurement points, participants were randomly assigned to the third-person intervention condition or the first-person control condition (in the second study we also added no instruction control condition). In each condition, participants were instructed to keep a diary, each day writing a short reflection on the most significant (positive or negative) issue of the day. Based on the earlier experimental work, in the intervention condition participants had to write the diary using third-person language, reflecting on the event from an observer perspective. In the control condition(s), participants wrote their diary in a first-person, as one would typically do. Figure 5 shows the results we saw in the first study, which demonstrate that this month-long intervention impacted a range of features of wisdom, resulting in post-intervention growth in wisdom in the third-person condition compared to the control condition. These results were statistically accounted by a shift toward more inclusive subjective construal of the interpersonal conflicts participants reflected on in the experimental conditions. In the spirit of humility, it is worth highlighting that these training results are preliminary and require further replications and extensions to other cultures. None the less, they are encouraging, for the first time providing empirical support from randomized control trials for training-based shifts in wisdom over time.

fig 5

Larger is not better: No mate preference by European Common Frog (Rana temporaria) males; plus large rate of failures to mate

Larger is not better: No mate preference by European Common Frog (Rana temporaria) males. Carolin Dittrich, Oliver Roumldel. bioRxiv, May 28 2021.

Abstract: According to classical sexual selection theory, females are the choosy sex in most species. Choosiness is defined as the individual effort to invest energy and time to assess potential mates. In explosive breeding anurans, high intrasexual competition between males leads to a sexual coercion ruled mating system, where males could have evolved preferences for specific female traits. In the current study, we tested male mating preference in the explosive breeding European Common Frog without intrasexual competition. We hypothesized that males show preferences towards larger female body size in the absence of male competition. We conducted mate choice experiments, placing a male and two differently sized females in a box and recorded their mating behavior. Males did not show any preference considering female body size, neither in the attempt to grab a female nor during the formation of pairs. We witnessed a high failure rate of male mating attempts, which might make the evolution of mate choice too costly. However, small males are faster in attempting females, which could be an alternative strategy to get access to females, because their larger competitors have an advantage during scramble competition. Nonetheless, in successfully formed pairs, the females were on average larger than the males, an observation which deviated from our null-model where pairs should be of similar size if mating would be random. This indicates that selection takes place, independent from male mating preference or scramble competition.

26 Introduction

27 Research on sexual selection, exploring the mechanisms that lead to female/male mate choice and the evolution of 
28 different mating systems that facilitate non-random mating, has increased considerably in recent years (Janetos 1980; 
29 Ryan and Keddy-Hector 1992; Paul 2002; Edward and Chapman 2011). Studies addressing the theory of sexual 
30 selection revealed that females are the choosy sex in most species. This is mainly based on one assumption, the 
31 evolution of anisogamy, where males produce many small (cheap) gametes and females less but larger (expensive) 
32 gametes. Thus, females invest more energy in the production of eggs than males invest in the production of sperm 
33 (Trivers 1972). In consequence, reproduction is more costly to females and they should choose the 'fittest' male to 
34 mate with. This includes those with the best possible genes to improve her offspring’s fitness and/or those who can 
35 provide vital resources (e.g. territory, nesting place, food, parental care) to increase offspring survivability and 
36 attractiveness, thereby increasing the female´s personal fitness (Fisher 1958; Hedrick 1988; Møller and Alatalo 
37 1999). Here, choosiness is defined as an individual’s active effort to invest energy and time to assess potential mates, 
38 whereas preference is defined as an intrinsic, passive attractiveness towards specific traits of the opposite sex 
39 (Jennions and Petrie 1997; Cotton et al. 2006). However, female preferences can be overridden by dominant 
40 intrasexual competition (Qvarnström and Forsgren 1998; Härdling and Kokko 2005; Formica et al. 2016). 
41 Preferences can enhance the evolution of different mating strategies and tactics to increase reproductive output with 
42 behavioral plasticity; depending on sex, age, physiological state or operational sex ratio (Parker 1982; Gross 1996). 
43 Nevertheless, newer studies suggest that males can be choosy too, if mate availability is high and simultaneous 
44 sampling possible (Barry and Kokko 2010), if there is variation in female quality/fecundity (Krupa 1995; Johnstone 
45 et al. 1996), and if the benefits of choosing between females is higher then the costs associated with assessing 
46 females (Edward and Chapmann 2011, and references therein). Some prerequisites are the presence of males’ ability 
47 to detect differences and a preference for particular female traits. Body size can be such a trait, i.e. indicating 
48 longevity based on good genes which could be heritable (Kokko and Lindström 1996; Møller and Alatalo 1999). 
49 However, body size usually is based on a variety of genes and environmental processes, but might simply indicate 
50 higher fecundity (Peters 1986; Shine 1988; Nali et al. 2014). Mating with a larger female thus may increase a male’s 
51 individual fitness. A male’s choice however, should not only be based on such trivial correlation, it will be impacted 
52 by trade-offs concerning its mating chances, and thus individual males indeed may follow very different strategies to 
53 access females. Some examples of male tactics are satellite males, usually being smaller than their competitors (Arak 
54 1983; Halliday and Tejedo 1995), mate-guarding (Parker 1974), prudent mate choice (Fawcett and Johnstone 2003; 
55 Härdling and Kokko 2005), clutch piracy (Vieites et al. 2004) or even functional necrophilia (Izzo et al. 2012). 
56 Mating systems in amphibians are diverse, and apart from environmental parameters, mostly depend on female 
57 availability over time (Wells 2007). In frog and toad species (anurans) with long breeding periods (prolonged 
58 breeders) female mate choice seems to be the rule (Wells 1977). At any given time, a few females actively choose 
59 among many calling males, often based on call characteristics (Toledo et al. 2015; Ryan et al. 2019), the quality of 
60 defended territories, or the availability of other resources to judge the males (Howard 1978; Kirkpatrick and Ryan 
61 1991; Kokko and Jennions 2008; da Rocha et al. 2018). In lek-breeding anurans, the males aggregate in displaying 
62 arenas that do not contain any resources required by females. Females visiting these arenas 'sample' several males 
63 and choose a male to mate with (Bourne 1992). In lek-mating systems the operational sex ratio is highly skewed 
64 towards males and individual males are not able to monopolize females, leading to higher intrasexual competition 
65 (Emlen and Oring 1977). In contrast, in species with a short breeding period (explosive breeders) males are actively 
66 searching for mates and engage in direct male-male competition over the arriving females. Explosive breeding is 
67 characterized by an almost equal operational sex ratio, synchronized receptiveness of females and low sexual 
68 selection (Emlen and Oring 1977). In theory all males are able to mate and reproduce, but larger/more dominant 
69 males have an advantage to access and dominate receptive females during scramble competition leading to a 
70 variation in male mating success (Berven 1981; Olson et al. 1986; Höglund 1989; Vagi and Hettyey 2016). 
71 Therefore, some males are considered to sexually dominate the females in explosive breeding systems, leaving little 
72 room for male and female mate choice if the cost for mate sampling are too high (Dechaume-Moncharmont et al. 
73 2016). Nevertheless, male mate preferences could have evolved in explosive breeders, because female fecundity 
74 highly dependents on female body size in most anuran species (Krupa 1995; Nali et al. 2014). Simultaneous 
75 sampling of preferred females might be particular possible during the peak mating time because female availability 
76 should then be highest (Arntzen 1999; Barry and Kokko 2006). All males should prefer larger females to increase 
77 their own fitness according to adaptation theory, although preferences could be obscured by high intrasexual 
78 competition. On the other hand, costs associated with mate choice depend on male density and the frequency of 
79 different mating tactics within a breeding aggregation (Arak 1983; Höglund and Robertson 1988), as well as for 
80 instance male’s individual predation risk (Magnhagen 1991; Bernal et al. 2007), all factors which may vary already 
81 during a short breeding season (Olson et al. 1986; Vojar et al. 2015). 
82 In this study, we investigate the mating preference of the European Common Frog (Rana temporaria) because it is an 
83 excellent example of an explosive breeder with male-male competition. Although former studies suggest a lack of 
84 male mate preferences in this species (Elmberg 1991), we observed non-random mating by body size and found 
85 indications of male mate preference and different mating tactics in former experiments (Dittrich et al. 2018). Larger 
86 females were paired more frequently than smaller ones and smaller sized males showed a different mating tactic to 
87 get access to females (Dittrich et al. 2018). Here, we hypothesize that all males will prefer larger females 
88 independent of their own body size, when intrasexual competition is absent and males are presented to differently 
89 sized females. Additionally, we predict small males to be faster in attempting a female to increase their chances to 
90 keep an exclusive access to the female during scramble competition

The Cartesian Folk Theater: People believe that consciousness happens in a single, confined area (vs. multiple dispersed areas) in the human brain, and that it (partly) happens after the brain finished analyzing all available information(partly) happens after the brain finished analyzing all available information

Forstmann, Matthias, and Pascal Burgmer. 2021. “The Cartesian Folk Theater: People Conceptualize Consciousness as a Spatio-temporally Localized Process in the Human Brain.” PsyArXiv. May 28. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: The present research (total N = 2,057) tested whether people’s folk conception of consciousness aligns with the notion of a “Cartesian Theater” (Dennett, 1991). More precisely, we tested the hypotheses that people believe that consciousness happens in a single, confined area (vs. multiple dispersed areas) in the human brain, and that it (partly) happens after the brain finished analyzing all available information. Further, we investigated how these beliefs are related to participants’ neuroscientific knowledge as well as their reliance on intuition, and which rationale they use to explain their responses. Using a computer-administered drawing task, we found that participants located consciousness, but not unrelated neurological processes (Studies 1a & 1b) or unconscious thinking (Study 2) in a single, confined area in the prefrontal cortex, and that they considered most of the brain not involved in consciousness. Participants mostly relied on their intuitions when responding, and they were not affected by prior knowledge about the brain. Additionally, they considered the conscious experience of sensory stimuli to happen in a spatially more confined area than the corresponding computational analysis of these stimuli (Study 3). Furthermore, participants’ explicit beliefs about spatial and temporal localization of consciousness (i.e., consciousness happening after the computational analysis of sensory information is completed) are independent, yet positively correlated beliefs (Study 4). Using a more elaborate measure for temporal localization of conscious experience, our final study confirmed that people believe consciousness to partly happen even after information processing is done (Study 5).

Increasing Population Densities Predict Decreasing Fertility Rates over Time: A 174-nation Investigation

Rotella, Amanda M., Michael E. W. Varnum, PhD, Oliver Sng, and Igor Grossmann. 2020. “Increasing Population Densities Predict Decreasing Fertility Rates over Time: A 174-nation Investigation.” PsyArXiv. August 5. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Fertility rates have been declining worldwide over the past fifty years, part of a phenomenon known as “the demographic transition.” Prior work suggests that this decline is related to population density. In the present study, we draw on life history theory to examine the relationship between population density and fertility across 174 countries over 69 years (1950 to 2019). We find a robust association between density and fertility over time, both within- and between-countries. That is, increases in population density are associated with declines in fertility rates, controlling for a variety of socioeconomic, socioecological, geographic, population-based, and female empowerment variables. We also tested predictions about environmental boundary conditions. In harsher living conditions (e.g., higher homicide or pathogen rates), the effect of increased population density on fertility rates was attenuated. The density-fertility association was also moderated by religiousness and strength of social norms, where the relationship between density and fertility was attenuated in countries with high religiosity and strong social norms. We discuss why and when changes in population density may influence fertility rates and the broader implications of this work.

Cultural evolution of emotional expression in 50 years of song lyrics

Cultural evolution of emotional expression in 50 years of song lyrics. Charlotte O. Brand, Alberto Acerbi, Alex Mesoudi. Evolutionary Human Sciences , Volume 1 , 2019 , e11. Nov 7 2019.

Abstract: Popular music offers a rich source of data that provides insights into long-term cultural evolutionary dynamics. One major trend in popular music, as well as other cultural products such as literary fiction, is an increase over time in negatively valenced emotional content, and a decrease in positively valenced emotional content. Here we use two large datasets containing lyrics from n = 4913 and n = 159,015 pop songs respectively and spanning 1965–2015, to test whether cultural transmission biases derived from the cultural evolution literature can explain this trend towards emotional negativity. We find some evidence of content bias (negative lyrics do better in the charts), prestige bias (best-selling artists are copied) and success bias (best-selling songs are copied) in the proliferation of negative lyrics. However, the effects of prestige and success bias largely disappear when unbiased transmission is included in the models, which assumes that the occurrence of negative lyrics is predicted by their past frequency. We conclude that the proliferation of negative song lyrics may be explained partly by content bias, and partly by undirected, unbiased cultural transmission.


We analysed the emotional content of song lyrics in over 160,000 songs spanning the years 1965–2015. We found that the frequency of negative words increased over time, whilst the frequency of positive words decreased over time, and asked whether these patterns could be attributed to cultural transmission biases such as success bias, prestige bias, content bias or unbiased transmission. In the billboard dataset, containing top-100 songs from 1965 to 2015, we found an effect of unbiased transmission on positive lyrics, and an effect of content bias on negative lyrics. For the larger mxm databases we only found weak effects of unbiased transmission for both negative and positive lyrics.

The effects we found in all models are extremely small. This is partly because we analysed the data on the scale of each word, negating any need for averaging over lyrics and songs. Thus, the relative increase or decrease in the log odds is understandably small. Furthermore, our implementation of transmission biases is necessarily indirect and simplified given that we lack direct observations of song lyrics being copied. It is therefore unsurprising that the effects vastly reduced or disappeared when controlling for unbiased transmission, given how many other factors must be at play in the generation of song lyrics, both directional biases such as those we explored here and random processes (Bentley et al. 2007). For example, prestige can be realised in myriad ways (Jiménez and Mesoudi 2019), particularly in the music industry. The effect of various recording companies, the extent of media attention outside of the charts and the amount of money spent on music promotion may all play a significant role in an artist's apparent prestige, and is not necessarily restricted to the content of their music. Our implementation of ‘prestige’ as predominance in the charts therefore only captures one specific aspect of musical prestige.

The effect of unbiased transmission is, however, the largest and most consistent in all of our models. This result suggests there may be an effect of random drift, or random copying, in the emotional content of song lyrics over time. This is consistent with previous work showing that random copying can explain changes in the popularity of dog breeds, baby names and popular music (Bentley et al. 2007; Hahn and Bentley 2003), as well as archaeological pottery and technological patents (Bentley et al. 2004). Thus, rather than song-writers being influenced by the most prestigious or successful artists, they may simply be influenced by the emotional content of any of the available song lyrics in the previous timestep, which may happen to increase in negativity or decrease in positivity owing to small fluctuations. As in previous work, our results do not provide evidence of literal random copying by individuals as we do not have direct access to individual's copying decisions. Instead, random drift is posed as a baseline against which to compare evidence of other copying biases. It is possible that the population-wide patterns are not a result of unanimous random copying, but owing to a multitude of idiosyncratic causes that collectively cancel each other out to create the appearance of random copying (Hoppitt and Laland 2013). In this sense, any small fluctuation in negative words owing to a particular historical event, or owing to the emergence of a more negatively biased genre, may have caused an initial increase in negative lyrics, which became exacerbated by random drift.

The presence of a content bias in the likelihood of negative lyrics occurring in the billboard songs is noteworthy. This result suggests that songs with more negative lyrics are more successful in general, perhaps reflecting either a general negativity bias (Bebbington et al. 2017; Fessler et al. 2014) or an art-specific, or music-specific, negativity bias. Similar trends favouring negative emotions vs positive ones in other artistic domains support our finding. As mentioned above, Dodds and Danforth (2010) documented a decrease in frequency of positively valenced words, and an increase in negatively valenced ones in pop song lyrics (a similar result was found in DeWall et al. 2011). Morin and Acerbi (2017) found a similar pattern in centuries of literary fiction, with a general decrease in the frequency of words denoting emotions, explained by a decrease in words denoting positive emotions, whereas the frequency of negative words remained constant. It is worth noting that we were unable to look for content bias (with our implementation) in the mxm data as there was no ranking system. One possible way of determining the popularity or use of a song could be to look at how many times, or how often, its lyrics are searched for, and whether this correlates with negative content.

In general, the idea that negative emotions would be privileged in art is consistent with the hypothesis that artistic expressions may have an adaptive function, in particular as simulation of social interactions (Mar and Oatley 2008). According to this view, developed with literary fiction in mind but potentially generalisable to other expressive forms, art would provide hypothetical scenarios where we can test and train, with no risk, our cognitive and emotional reactions. From this perspective, simulating negative events is more useful than simulating positive ones (Clasen 2017; Gottschall 2012). Art expressing negative emotions, in addition, may hold more value for audiences seeking comfort from the knowledge that others also experience negative emotions. Indeed, studies have shown that people underestimate the prevalence of others’ negative emotions, and this underestimation exacerbates loneliness and decreases life satisfaction (Jordan et al. 2011). Furthermore, suppressing rather than reappraising negative emotions decreases self-esteem and increases sadness (Nezlek and Kuppens 2008)(Nezlek & Kuppens, 2008). This hypothesis is worth investigating in future research.

Our varying effects models suggested that most of the variation lay between artists. However, genre also showed considerable variation. We were unable to control for genre in the billboard data as genre information was not available with this dataset. This could provide a partial explanation for the differing results between the billboard and mxm datasets; indeed, Dodds and Danforth (2010) attributed the decrease in emotional valence within pop song lyrics to the emergence of more negative genres such as heavy metal and punk. Future work investigating the variation of emotional expression between different genres of music would be valuable. A further limitation of this study is that we restricted our analysis to comparing the content of each song with that of the songs from the previous three years of songs. Mechanistically this suggests that songs that are currently in the charts influence song-writers who are writing within three years of chart success, assuming that the time it takes to get from the song-writing process to chart success is three years or less. It is possible that these effects are stronger or weaker at different time points, such as within one or five years of chart success. Furthermore, although we controlled for artist, many songs in the billboard charts are in fact written by specially designated song-writers, such as Max Martin.

Overall this research contributes to the growing body of work attempting to quantitatively study trends in the domain of music (Youngblood 2019; Savage 2019; Mauch et al. 2015; Ravignani et al. 2017). Our starting result of an increase in negative emotions and decrease in positive ones in song lyrics is paired with similar findings regarding acoustic qualities. Using the same Billboard top-100 songs that we analysed, Schellenberg and von Scheve (2012) found an increase in minor mode and a decrease in the average tempo, which indicates that the songs become more sad-sounding through time. This seems to be part of a longer trend in Western classical music, where the use of the minor mode increased over a 150-year period from 1750 to 1900 (Horn and Huron 2015). The relationship between minor tone and negative valence of lyrics has been also studied, and confirmed, quantitatively (Kolchinsky et al. 2017). Analogously, studying more than 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, Interiano et al. (2018) found a similar decrease in ‘happiness’ and ‘brightness’, coupled with a slight increase in ‘sadness’ (these high-level features result from algorithms analysing low-level acoustic features, such as the tempo, the tonality, etc.). They also found the puzzling result that, despite a general trend towards sadder songs, the successful hits are, on average, happier than the rest of the songs. In the same way, whereas we found that the higher the position in the billboard chart the more negative a song is, billboard songs are as a whole more positive than the songs in the mxm dataset, which contains more (and less successful) songs.

In this study we used cultural evolutionary theory to try to explain patterns in one of the most pervasive of human cultural practices, music production. More specifically, we tried to detect whether any particular transmission bias best explained the changing patterns of emotional expression over time. We conclude that, although we found weak evidence of success and prestige biases, these were overwhelmed by an effect for unbiased transmission. The presence of a content bias for negative lyrics remained, and this may be a contributing factor to the increasing in negative lyrics over time. A potential explanation for these results is that a multitude of transmission biases and other causes are at play. It is likely that small shifts, for example owing to historical events or the emergence of particular genres, may have nudged the production and transmission of negative and positive lyrics in opposite directions, and random copying exacerbated this trajectory. These possibilities should be explored more in future work. Overall, the exercise of precisely analysing large datasets to explain cultural change, if refined on relatively benign cultural trends such as pop music, could eventually be more expertly applied to areas of greater societal importance and impact, such as shifts in political beliefs or moral preferences.