Tuesday, January 26, 2021

We investigate the often-stated, but disputed claim in the political science and political communication literature that increasing media choice widens inequalities in political knowledge, & find little support

Increased Media Choice and Political Knowledge Gaps: A Comparative Longitudinal Study of 18 Established Democracies 1995-2015. Atle Haugsgjerd, Stine Hesstvedt, & Rune Karlsen. Political Communication, Jan 25 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2020.1868633

ABSTRACT: We investigate the often-stated, but disputed claim in the political science and political communication literature that increasing media choice widens inequalities in political knowledge. The assumption is that in a high-choice media environment, the politically interested will consume more news while the uninterested will avoid such content, leading, in turn, to widening differences in political knowledge. Although previous studies show that high media choice increases political knowledge gaps in the United States, comparative longitudinal evidence is currently lacking. To fill this gap, we draw on data from four rounds of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. Overall, we do not find general support for the high-choice knowledge gap thesis. In most countries, there is no indication that inequality in political knowledge has increased over time. Building on recent insights from political communication research, we question key assumptions of the high choice knowledge gap thesis.

KEYWORDS: Political knowledgehigh choiceknowledge gapsincreasing political knowledge inequalitynews avoidance

Discussion and Conclusion

Overall, we do not find support for the high-choice knowledge gap thesis as a general theory. Contrary to the high-choice thesis, our analyses provided little evidence that inequality in political knowledge increases over time, and increased Internet use and broadband access had no effect on knowledge inequality. Further, longitudinal analysis of Norwegian data showed that knowledge was not increasingly stratified by political interest and education from 1997 to 2017. The comparative multilevel analysis also indicated that education has not become a stronger predictor of political knowledge over time or in contexts with high levels of Internet use or broadband access. Overall, the results thus suggest that although increased media choice facilitates increasing personalization of media consumption, this does not necessarily mean that the information-poor escape the constant flow of political news coverage and that knowledge inequalities in high-choice societies increase accordingly.

In the theoretical section, we noted newer strands of research that help to clarify these results. In particular, we highlighted the “infrastructural” view of media use, suggesting that individual preferences are less pivotal than assumed in arguing for the high-choice knowledge gap (e.g., Webster, 2014, pp. 23–48). Preferences are constrained by channel repertoires (Taneja et al., 2012) and situational factors (Wonneberger et al., 2011), as well as by the architecture of the digital political communication system (Taneja et al., 2018). On this view, traditional and digital media infrastructures limit the extent to which people (willingly or unwillingly) avoid news about politics and current affairs. Indeed, there is empirical evidence that the inadvertent audience has not disappeared (e.g., Fletcher & Nielsen, 2018; Thorson, 2020), and the longitudinal evidence for increasing news avoidance is inconclusive (Karlsen et al., 2020; Strömbäck et al., 2013). In short, more choice does not necessarily lead to more news avoidance and increasing knowledge gaps.

In this article, we have focused mainly on the development of knowledge about party positions. As it reflects voters’ basic understanding of the political system, this form of knowledge is essential to the ability to navigate the political landscape, and it is reassuring to find that inequalities do not increase as media platforms multiply. Our analysis of factual knowledge questions – which capture citizens’ dynamic knowledge about current issues covered by the media – yielded largely similar results. However, we would like to emphasize that we do not consider these results conclusive in terms of how increasing media choice affects inequalities in political knowledge. Future research should explore inequalities in different types of political knowledge, including policy knowledge as well as more general political information (cf. Barabas et al., 2014). The lack of variables on media use is also an important shortcoming in the present study. The opportunity to link media consumption and political knowledge would have offered a more comprehensive picture of the impact of media preferences in societies transitioning to high choice. Unfortunately, the lack of relevant data makes this type of longitudinal study difficult to conduct. Panel-studies that include content preferences and media use should, however, provide valuable insights. Richer and more detailed measures of media system fragmentation would also be highly valuable. Nevertheless, we believe the present study provides a good point of departure for such future work.

Another important task for future research is to dig deeper into how specific groups react to the changing media environment. In their seminal work, Tichenor et al. (1970, pp. 159–60) argued that when mass media information increases, “segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease”. In contrast to the high-choice thesis, they contended that when the relative difference between the information-rich and the information-poor increases, the latter do not necessarily become less knowledgeable (Tichenor et al., 1970, p. 160). In line with this proposition, we found that political knowledge in most countries is more or less stable for the lowest quintile of citizens. 22 One possible reason for this pattern is that a preference for one genre rather than another (e.g., entertainment over news) can lead to increased consumption of the preferred genre without reducing consumption of the other (e.g., Webster, 2014). Time spent on media consumption is not necessarily a zero-sum game, and different types of media consumption might increase simultaneously (Newell et al., 2008). A reformulation of the high-choice knowledge gap thesis along these lines may provide a better understanding of contemporary political knowledge dynamics. It could also serve to guide future research on how people with little political interest and resources relate to and learn from the different types of news made available by current digital media systems.

Although our findings do not support the high-choice thesis in general, we did find some evidence of increasing inequality in the United States. This result related mainly to information-poor citizens becoming less knowledgeable. On the one hand, the finding aligns well with Prior’s seminal US studies (20052007), as well as with previous studies of media systems and political knowledge that report striking differences between the United States and all other countries (e.g., Aalberg & Curran, 2012). On the other hand, these results must be treated with caution. Most importantly, our main dependent variable relies on citizens’ placement of parties on the left-right scale, which is a less familiar concept in the United States compared to other countries in our sample. Our analysis of factual knowledge questions did not identify a similar increase in inequalities. One interpretation of these different results relates to affective polarization processes in the US. Increasing media fragmentation in the US is intertwined with political polarization of the media, and since the turn of this century, negative sentiments toward opposing parties and their voters have grown considerably (Hetherington & Rudolph. 2018). Hence, due to partisan media, a strong focus on misinformation and fake news (e.g., Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Lazer et al., 2018) and affective polarization in the electorate (Iyengar et al., 2019), voters might perceive parties as increasingly ideologically extreme, and therefore increasingly misplace these parties on the left right scale.

Overall, our results suggest that a high-choice media environment does not necessarily lead to a widening political knowledge divide between the information-poor and the information-rich. Although encouraging from a democratic perspective, this finding should nevertheless prompt us to think harder about how greater media choice influences media use, and in turn, political knowledge inequality. As the political communication systems of established democracies undergo rapid change, it becomes crucial to improve our understanding of these matters, both empirically and theoretically. This article identifies a number of avenues for future research in this regard. We should also keep in mind that for much of the study period, the choice was between television and radio channels, traditional newspapers, online text pages and low-quality online videos. The present media systems dominated by 24/7 on-demand and high-quality video content offer quite different choices. In this environment, news and current affairs must always compete with favorite television shows or movies. Perhaps the era of real choice has just begun?

Sometimes, individuals strategically avoid information to hold particular beliefs or to take certain actions—such as behaving selfishly—with lower image costs; more important are a desire to avoid interpersonal tradeoffs or bad news, & laziness

Information Avoidance and Image Concerns. Christine L. Exley & Judd B. Kessler. NBER Working Paper 28376, January 2021. DOI 10.3386/w28376. https://www.nber.org/papers/w28376

Abstract: A rich literature finds that individuals avoid information, even information that is instrumental to their choices. A common hypothesis posits that individuals strategically avoid information to hold particular beliefs or to take certain actions—such as behaving selfishly—with lower image costs. Building off of the classic “moral wiggle room” design, this paper provides the first direct test of whether individuals avoid information because of image concerns. We analyze data from 4,626 experimental subjects. We find that image concerns play a role in driving information avoidance, but a role that is substantially smaller than the common approach in the literature would suggest. The large majority (66% to 81%) of information avoidance remains when image concerns cannot drive avoidance. We find evidence for other reasons why individuals avoid information, such as a desire to avoid interpersonal tradeoffs, a desire to avoid bad news, laziness, inattention, and confusion.

On the worldviews of the new tech elite: A social group that shares particular views of the world, which in this case means meritocratic, missionary, and inconsistent democratic ideology

Brockmann H, Drews W, Torpey J (2021) A class for itself? On the worldviews of the new tech elite. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0244071. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244071

Abstract: The emergence of a new tech elite in Silicon Valley and beyond raises questions about the economic reach, political influence, and social importance of this group. How do these inordinately influential people think about the world and about our common future? In this paper, we test a) whether members of the tech elite share a common, meritocratic view of the world, b) whether they have a “mission” for the future, and c) how they view democracy as a political system. Our data set consists of information about the 100 richest people in the tech world, according to Forbes, and rests on their published pronouncements on Twitter, as well as on their statements on the websites of their philanthropic endeavors. Automated “bag-of-words” text and sentiment analyses reveal that the tech elite has a more meritocratic view of the world than the general US Twitter-using population. The tech elite also frequently promise to “make the world a better place,” but they do not differ from other extremely wealthy people in this respect. However, their relationship to democracy is contradictory. Based on these results, we conclude that the tech elite may be thought of as a “class for itself” in Marx’s sense—a social group that shares particular views of the world, which in this case means meritocratic, missionary, and inconsistent democratic ideology.


The rapid dissemination of digital technologies catapulted the founders of large IT enterprises into the top ranks of wealth and power. Given their position of influence in contemporary and (probably) future societies, this paper explores the worldviews of the new tech elite. We focus on the richest 100 persons in tech identified by Forbes magazine. Elite research usually suffers from low to no response rates. Targeting a super-elite exacerbates the problem. In fact, we approached everyone from our list but got only one face-to-face interview. To circumnavigate this problematic access to data, we explored the digital traces of tech elite entrepreneurs to assess their distinctiveness relative to the general population and to other elites. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to study tech elites with digitized text data. Social scientists have started to use social media data to scale ideologies of political elites, or citizens, but not of economic leaders [e.g., 84].

Specifically, we examine the worldviews of the IT tech elite with a simple “bag of words” approach. We hypothesized first that, as products of a society with strong meritocratic beliefs and frequently of elite institutions of higher education, the tech elite would see this world and future worlds in meritocratic terms. Our analysis of a large sample of their statements on Twitter (Tweets), relative to the general US Twitter-using population, indeed found that the tech elite tend to speak more frequently about merit-related topics and to more frequently use words that bespeak achievement-related concerns. They also speak more expansively and positively about the future than the general Twitter-using population. Our first hypothesis, proposing that the tech elite would see the world and the future in meritocratic, self-affirming, or even self-serving terms, was thus confirmed.

This paper provides a basis to directly test whether and how meritocratic beliefs translate into declining social mobility or even social closure in future research. A coherent, divisive and legitimizing social ideology is often seen as an important ingredient for class awareness and self-interested behavior [85]. “Career Funneling” at the most selective universities into tech jobs which are perceived as high status may provide a further explanation as to why tech clusters in Silicon Valley (re)produce a “class for itself” [e.g., 86].

Next, we hypothesized that the tech elite saw its endeavors in “entrepreneurial technoscience” as driven by a desire to “make the world a better place”—that is, that it is “mission-driven.” We tested this hypothesis by comparing the philanthropic statements of members of the tech elite vis-a-vis the Giving Pledge and websites of their own foundations. In addition to comparing across elites, we compared age cohorts within the tech elite to see whether their ideas about “making the world a better place” and about philanthropy varied.

On this basis we found that the members of the tech elite were more likely than the other Pledgers to have an expansive and positive vision of philanthropic endeavor. The tech elite does, indeed, appear to have strong, positive sentiments toward the idea of “making the world a better place.” Is this a “religious” inclination? Insofar as one can say based on these data, the answer to this question is “no.” The tech elite in particular tended toward a more secular outlook. In addition, we found that the different age cohorts within the tech elite tended to stress different secular missions in regard to their philanthropic activities: the oldest, “hardware” generation emphasized “research”; the middle, “software” generation most often cited “school”; and the youngest, “internet” generation most frequently used the word “can,” a reflection perhaps of their youthful enthusiasm. In any case, educational and cultural missions aim to shape the public interest.

This leads to hypothesis 3, which examines the relationship of the tech elite to politics. It proposes that members of the elite have a contradictory relationship with democracy because market success and financial wealth should tend to entail worldviews and arguably activities (including philanthropic activities) that sidestep democratic representation. We found no statistically significant differences in whether or not the tech elite saw a positive relationship between power and money, or between power and democracy, as compared to the members of the US Twitter-using population. Yet, the tech elite denied that there is a positive connection between democracy and money, something that is logically inconsistent with the previous correlations and that is not shared by ordinary US Twitter users, who see the existence of a nexus between democracy and money.

Finally, we aim to determine directly whether the tech elite constitutes a “class for itself” in the sense that we can predict statistically whether a person is a member of the tech elite or not. Machine learning models indicate that we can do so quite accurately (> 80%). Hence, the tech elite appears to be more than simply a part of the capitalist class in the broad sense of sharing “ownership of the means of production.” Rather, members of the tech elite communicate similar worldviews and clearly form a distinct fraction of the capitalist class.

This study constitutes a first exploratory step in the analysis of the tech elite. We highlight three limitations that may inspire future research. First, we haven’t been able in this research to trace everybody from our sample on Twitter and on foundation websites. Twitter is a competitor to other social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Google Techies or WeChat. It is also blocked in China. Also, there is a digital divide between younger and older tech entrepreneurs. The majority of our “hardware” cohort does not use Twitter. For these reasons, the results may be less robust for older members of the tech elite and for Chinese members. Still, we can account for this selectivity and reach higher “response rates” than conventional random samples in elite studies [e.g., 45].

Secondly, we cannot rule out that the Twitter accounts are managed by professional PR experts. Still, we have replicated the analysis with Tweets from non-tech members of the Giving Pledge and see systematic differences between both privileged groups, who can equally afford professional support. Thus, the tech elite communicates differently, and even if the tech elite employs professional support these people are presumably articulating the views of their wealthy clients.

Finally, our insights into the democratic worldviews of the tech elite remain limited. We do not know if the tech elite’s denial of a relationship between democracy and money is strategic communication or, in fact, their actual belief. Future research will have to explore this further. Social science research into social media use of political elites provides a promising roadmap for analyzing elite ideologies [e.g., 8788] and how they shape elite political behavior through donations and other exertions of financial power.

In conclusion, our research contributes to closing a research gap in societies with rising inequalities. We find that the 100 richest members of the tech world reveal distinctive attitudes that set them apart both from the general population and from other wealthy elites. As the companies they have created occupy a commanding position in the emerging tech-based economy, their views of our situation are likely to be of disproportionate significance. As a group, they are meritocratically inclined, concerned with the well-being of their fellow human beings, and relatively supportive of democratic society. Yet their position in a democratic system is contradictory: as a result of their enormous wealth, they have disproportionate influence over how discretionary income is spent. One need not be opposed to philanthropy to see that there is a problem here. Future research will have to address whether the attitudes of this unusual group change over time, and whether policies can be found to bring their opportunities to shape social outcomes in line with a democratic social order.

Consistently growing outside of the relationship in ways that are not shared with a romantic partner may reduce feelings of closeness and connection, and ultimately passion

Carswell, K. L., Muise, A., Harasymchuk, C., Horne, R. M., Visserman, M. L., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Growing desire or growing apart? Consequences of personal self-expansion for romantic passion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Jan 2021. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000357

Abstract: Romantic passion represents one of the most fragile and elusive elements of relationship quality but one that is increasingly valued and tied to relationship and individual well-being. We provide the first examination of whether experiencing personal self-expansion—positive self-change and personal growth without a romantic partner—is a critical predictor of passion. Previous research has almost exclusively examined the consequences of couples’ sharing novel experiences (i.e., relational self-expansion) on romantic relationships. Instead, the consequences of personal self-expansion for romantic relationships remain largely unexamined even though most positive self-growth may occur without a romantic partner (e.g., at work). We investigated the consequences of personal self-expansion for passion in three studies including two 21-day experience sampling studies of community couples and a study in a context likely to elicit heightened personal self-expansion: during job relocation. Within-person increases in daily personal self-expansion were associated with greater passion through greater positive emotions (Studies 1 and 2). In contrast, high between-person levels of personal self-expansion were associated with lower passion through lower levels of intimacy, suggesting that individuals may drift apart from their partners with more chronic personal self-expansion (Studies 1, 2, and 3). That is, consistently growing outside of the relationship in ways that are not shared with a romantic partner may reduce feelings of closeness and connection, and ultimately passion. Results also suggest that chronic personal self-expansion may be a double-edged sword for individual well-being, simultaneously associated with lower passion, but greater fulfillment of competence needs. Results controlled for relational self-expansion and time together.

Indonesia: Women in self-choice marriages had more offspring (controlling for marriage duration) than woman in arranged marriages

Arranged Marriage, Partner Traits and Parental Investment: Examining the Reproductive Compensation Hypothesis in Humans. Annemarie M. Hasnain. Master Thesis, Boise State Univ, August 5 2020. https://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2873&context=td

Abstract: Both sexes choose mates based on qualities that will enhance offspring viability and quality. In some cases individuals are forced to reproduce with less desirable mates which has been shown to result in lower quality offspring. The Reproductive Compensation Hypothesis (RCH) predicts that parents who mate under constraint will increase their reproductive effort and investment in offspring to compensate for lowered offspring viability. Evidence for the RCH has been found in several animal species; however it has not been examined in humans. One possible type of mate choice constraint in humans is that of arranged marriage in which parents or others choose mates for individuals. In order to test the RCH, I examine whether there are differences in both partner traits between women in arranged marriages and those in self-choice marriages, and differences in parental investment between women in arranged and self-choice marriages using data from the Indonesian Family Life Survey. Except for husband’s education level, no differences were found in mate characteristics between the husbands of women in self-choice marriages and those in arranged marriages. Marriage type did not significantly correlate with parental investment except for number of live births. This correlation, however, was not in the predicated direction. Results show that women in self-choice marriages had more offspring (controlling for marriage duration) than woman in arranged marriages. It is possible that arranged marriage is not a true constraint on mate choice or that parental investment measures used in this study need to be more refined.

Sex Differences in Spatial Activity & Anxiety Levels, COVID-19: Women minimize their mobility & outdoor contacts; men's wariness was less associated with the novel virus threat, but to potentical economic losses

Sex Differences in Spatial Activity and Anxiety Levels in the COVID-19 Pandemic from Evolutionary Perspective. Olga Semenova, Julia Apalkova and Marina Butovskaya. Sustainability 2021, 13(3), 1110; January 21 2021. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13031110

Abstract: Despite the enforced lockdown regime in late March 2019 in Russia, the phenomenon of the continued virus spreading highlighted the importance of studies investigating the range of biosocial attributes and spectrum of individual motivations underlying the permanent presence of the substantial level of spatial activity. For this matter, we conducted a set of surveys between March and June 2020 (N = 492). We found that an individual’s health attitude is the most consistent factor explaining mobility differences. However, our data suggested that wariness largely determines adequate health attitudes; hence, a higher level of wariness indirectly reduced individual mobility. Comparative analysis revealed the critical biosocial differences between the two sexes, potentially rooted in the human evolutionary past. Females were predisposed to express more wariness in the face of new environmental risks; therefore, they minimize their mobility and outdoor contacts. In contrast to them, the general level of spatial activity reported by males was significantly higher. Wariness in the males’ sample was less associated with the novel virus threat, but to a great extent, it was predicted by the potential economic losses variable. These findings correspond to the evolutionary predictions of sexual specialization and the division of family roles.

Keywords: pandemic; sexual selection; spatial activity; risk-taking behavior; anxiety; health attitude

The Nation... The Rise and Fall of the ‘Steele Dossier.’

The Rise and Fall of the ‘Steele Dossier.’ A case study in mass hysteria and media credulity. Aaron Maté. The Nation, Jan 11 2021. https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/trump-russiagate-steele-dossier/

[related: Aaron Maté on the Russiagate and the Mueller probe New Studies Show Pundits Are Wrong About Russian Social-Media Involvement in US Politics. Aaron Maté. The Nation, Dec 28 2018. https://www.bipartisanalliance.com/2019/04/aaron-mate-on-russiagate-and-mueller.html]

[excerpts, no links]

Donald Trump’s journey into and out of the Oval Office was shaped by xenophobia, conspiracy theories—and xenophobic conspiracy theories. Trump launched his political career by spreading the “birther” lie about President Obama, and then became Obama’s improbable successor with an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim presidential campaign. Upon losing the White House four years later, Trump, true to form, blamed his ouster on a vast election fraud conspiracy aided—according to flunkies Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell—by “communist money,” “Venezuelan” voting machines, as well as Chinese and Iranian hackers. The right-wing mob that attacked the Capitol to thwart the certification of Joe Biden’s victory last week was the apotheosis of Trump’s unhinged bigotry.

Trump’s deranged coda was fitting for another reason: During his time in office, Democratic Party operatives and their allies in the media challenged the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 victory with a xenophobic conspiracy theory of their own. Russia, it was claimed, not only installed Trump in the White House, but did so as part of an elaborate plot with his campaign. While Russiagate did not incite the hatred, violence, and harm of Trump’s MAGA and “Stop the Steal” movement, it was not without its own dangerous consequences.


The first Manchurian Candidate rumblings about Trump surfaced in the summer of 2016. But the pivotal incident, which morphed into all-consuming Russia mania, came exactly four years ago this month, just days before Trump’s inauguration. On January 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News published the “Steele dossier,” the collection of DNC-funded reports alleging a high-level conspiracy between Trump and Moscow. The catalyst had come four days earlier, when then–FBI Director Jim Comey personally briefed Trump on the dossier’s existence. Their meeting was then promptly leaked to the media, giving BuzzFeed the news hook to publish the Steele material in full.

Despite its outlandish assertions and partisan provenance, Steele’s work product somehow became a road map for Democratic leaders, media outlets, and, most egregiously, intelligence officials carrying out the Russia investigation.

According to Steele, Trump and the Kremlin engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation.” Russia had, Steele alleged, been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years,” dating back to the time when Trump was merely the host of The Apprentice. Russia, Steele claimed, handed Trump “a regular flow of intelligence,” including on “political rivals.” The conspiracy supposedly escalated during the 2016 campaign, when then–Trump lawyer Michael Cohen slipped into Prague for “secret discussions with Kremlin representatives and associated operators/hackers.”

This purported plot was not just based on mutual nefarious interests but, worse, outright coercion. To keep their asset in line, Steele alleged, the Russians had videotaped Trump hiring and watching prostitutes “perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show,” in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel room. This “kompromat” meant that the leader of the free world was not only a traitor but also a blackmail victim of his Kremlin handlers.


If the Steele dossier’s far-fetched claims were not enough reason to dismiss it with ridicule, another obvious marker should have set off alarms. Reading the Steele dossier chronologically, a glaring pattern emerges: Steele has no advance knowledge of anything that later proved to be true, and, just as tellingly, many of his most explosive claims appear only after some approximate prediction has come out in public form.

Despite his supposed high-level sources inside the Kremlin, it was only after Wikileaks published the DNC e-mails in July 2016 that Steele first mentioned them. When Steele made the headline-consuming claim that “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” in exchange for Russian help, he did so only after a meaningless Ukraine-related platform change at the RNC was reported (and mischaracterized) in The Washington Post. When Steele claimed that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was offered up to a 19 percent stake in the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft if he could get Trump to lift Western sanctions, it was only after the media had reported Page’s visit to Moscow.

In short, far from having access to high-level intelligence, Steele and his “sources” only had access to news outlets and their own imaginations. It is for this reason that Russiagate’s key figures and incidents make no appearance in Steele’s dossier. Absent are George Papadapolous and Joseph Mifsud, whose conversations triggered the FBI’s collusion probe. Also MIA is the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian nationals about potential “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The reason is obvious: These events did not get publicly reported until after Steele wrote his final, secret “intelligence report.”


All of this was lost on the many credulous media outlets who served as de facto stenographers for Steele, his clients, and a series of unknown intelligence officials who, behind the safe mask of anonymity, assured the public of his credibility.

David Corn, the veteran Mother Jones reporter who broke the Steele story in October 2016, approvingly cited an official’s assurance that Steele “has been a credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive, and important information to the US government.” In addition to making the dossier publicly known, Corn, it later emerged, even personally provided the FBI with a copy.

“Former C.I.A. officials described [Steele] as an expert on Russia who is well respected in the spy world,” The New York Times wrote on the day of the dossier’s release in January 2017. Steele, the Times added, is “considered a competent and reliable operative with extensive experience in Russia.” Steele, an NBC News headline declared, “Is a Real-Life James Bond.” [Christopher Steele, Trump Dossier Author, Is a Real-Life James Bond]

As they vouched for Steele’s tradecraft, anonymous officials also fed media contacts a false picture that Steele’s dossier had been factually checked out. “US investigators corroborate some aspects of the Russia dossier,” a CNN headline proclaimed in February 2017, weeks after the dossier’s publication. The FBI is “continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier, and, at its core, a lot of it is bearing out,” an unidentified “intelligence official” told The New Yorker later that month.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was an early and particularly fervent believer in Steele’s sleuthing powers. Days before Trump’s inauguration, Maddow speculated that Putin might use the pee tape to blackmail Trump into withdrawing US forces near Russia’s border. Weeks later, after no such withdrawal materialized, and no underlying Trump-Russia conspiracy had been unearthed, Maddow assured her audience that “all the supporting details” in Steele’s reports “are checking out, even the really outrageous ones. A lot of them are starting to bear out under scrutiny. It seems like a new one each passing day.”

Guardian reporter Luke Harding, who served as Steele’s unofficial media spokesperson, repackaged the former spy’s assertions for his best-selling book, Collusion. “One associate described him as sober, cautious, highly regarded, professional and conservative,” Harding wrote. “‘He’s not the sort of person who will pass on gossip. If he puts something in a report, he believes there is sufficient credibility in it.’”

Even the revelation, in October 2017, that Steele’s “intelligence” had been paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign did nothing to stop the media adulation.

In a glowing March 2018 profile of “the ex-spy [who] tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia,” Jane Mayer of The New Yorker assured readers that “a number of Steele’s major claims have been backed up by subsequent disclosures.”

The media’s faith in Steele became so profound that even his most outlandish assertion was not just indulged but actively embraced. During the April 2018 rollout for the first of his two Trump-era books, former FBI director Jim Comey told ABC News that it’s “possible” that the pee tape exists. Comey’s innuendo was enough for New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait to declare himself a “Peeliever.” Urging his readers to join the club, Chait wrote, “I used to doubt that this episode really happened. I now believe it probably did.” Comey, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg declared, “has started a long overdue national conversation about whether the pee tape is real.”

This overdue national conversation received its warmest reception in news media boardrooms, where editors devoted precious journalistic resources to the Pee-Tape Pied Piper. Shortly before setting off the Steele saga with its publication of his dossier, BuzzFeed sent a reporter to Prague in a bid to verify it. After it faced a defamation lawsuit from Russians named in the document, BuzzFeed reportedly paid a private firm $4.1 million to verify portions of its contents.

Racing to find a window in which the pee tape could have occurred, Bloomberg News pored over flight logs, while The Daily Beast scrutinized Trump’s time in Moscow. Their efforts, if not dispositive, were apparently persuasive. “Trump’s Pee-Tape Alibi Is Falling Apart,” Vanity Fair proclaimed. “It is another piece of evidence for the Peelievers,” an increasingly confident Jonathan Chait declared.

According to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, colleagues at the newspaper “literally spent weeks and months trying to run down” material in the dossier, including Cohen’s alleged visit to Prague to pay off Russian hackers. “We sent reporters through every hotel in Prague, through all over the place, just to try to figure out if he was ever there, and came away empty.”

Other reporters claimed to have more success. In April 2018, McClatchy reported that Mueller’s team “has evidence” that Cohen visited Prague in 2016, just as Steele alleged. In December of the same year, McClatchy doubled down by reporting that Cohen’s cell phone sent signals that connected with phone towers in Prague. Cohen ultimately denied the claim under oath, and the Mueller report concurred by noting that Cohen “never traveled to Prague.” More than two years later, McClatchy has since added a tepid editor’s note, rather than a retraction.

In conjunction with the near-uniform journalistic credulity, top Democrats and former intelligence officials used their positions of authority and media stardom to burnish Steele’s public image. Representative Adam Schiff went so far as to read some of Steele’s claims into the Congressional Record. Schiff and his colleagues also invoked a standard of evidence that would not survive a court hearing but was widely embraced in the prolonged media campaign to promote Steele’s claim. Capturing prevailing Steele dossier epistemology, former director of the CIA John Brennan told Meet the Press, “Just because they were unverified does not mean they were not true.”

“Not a single revelation in the Steele dossier has been refuted,” Senator Dianne Feinstein likewise declared. Democratic Senator Mark Warner was more circumspect, explaining that none of the dossier’s allegations has been “proven nor, conversely, disproven.” Speaking to Maddow in May 2018, James Clapper shared his view “that more of it has been corroborated with ensuing developments and what we’ve learned.” Asked by Maddow if there is “anything in the dossier that has been disproven,” Clapper answered confidently—despite being out of office for more than a year, “No.”


While the media and political promotion of the Steele dossier was contemptible, its embrace by the FBI is an even bigger scandal. Rather than dismiss Steele’s work as a political hit job, the FBI used it as source material.

The FBI’s interest in Steele’s dossier was extensive. The bureau maintained a lengthy spreadsheet to document its efforts to corroborate Steele’s fanciful claims. And when agents first sought the now-infamous surveillance warrant on Carter Page in October 2016, they took their cues right from Steele’s pages.

The FBI told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that it “believes that [Russia’s] efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” the Trump campaign. Its source for this absurd “belief” was Steele, whom it described as “Source #1” and “credible.” In an act of circular reporting, the FBI also cited a Yahoo News article by journalist Michael Isikoff—who had also relied on Steele as a source. Although the FBI disclosed to the court that Steele was being paid to do opposition research, it did not disclose that Trump’s Democratic political opponents were footing the bill.

Remarkably, the FBI did not just rely on Steele’s information, but even shared its own information with him. At an October 2016 meeting in Rome, FBI officials disclosed to Steele highly sensitive and even classified material. A damning Justice Department investigation [https://www.justice.gov/storage/120919-examination.pdf], overseen by Inspector General Michael Horowitz and released in December 2019, found that FBI agents gave Steele a “general overview” of Crossfire Hurricane, including its specific—and, at the time, secret—probes of Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Michael Flynn. The Washington Post reported in February 2018 that Steele “would later tell associates” that he gleaned from the meeting that that the FBI “was particularly interested in” George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who served as the predicate for the entire investigation. The Post noted that “Papadopoulos had not surfaced in Steele’s research”—unsurprisingly, because media outlets like the Post hadn’t written stories about him when Steele’s “research” was being invented.

According to the Horowitz report, the FBI was so eager to enlist Steele that it offered to pay him $15,000 “just for attending the October meeting” in Rome. It also pledged a “significantly” greater amount if he could collect information for the investigation.

This arrangement was canceled just a month later, after the FBI discovered that Steele was still speaking to the media. But that did not end the FBI’s reliance on him. The FBI continued to collect information from Steele via an intermediary, former DOJ official Bruce Ohr. Worse, it continued to cite the Steele dossier in subsequent applications to renew the surveillance of Carter Page, never informing the FISC about Steele’s conflicts of interest.

Even worse, the FBI continued to cite Steele even after establishing that his claims were baseless. According to the Horowitz report, Steele’s so-called “Primary Sub-source,” Igor Danchenko, personally informed the FBI in January 2017 that “corroboration” for the Steele dossier’s claims was “zero.”

When Danchenko’s identity was revealed this July, it was clear why he rated his own information so poorly. Rather than being inside Russia with access to Kremlin sources, Danchenko was in fact a DC-based Russian expat with better access to Capitol Hill. Danchenko had formerly worked at the Brookings Institution, a prominent Beltway think tank. According to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, one of Danchenko’s key sources turned out to be another Russian expat, public-relations executive Olga Galkina. Based in Cyprus, Galkina was credited with coming up with the claim about Cohen in Prague. A dispute with her employer, a web services company, apparently inspired Steele’s claim that one of its properties, Webzilla, was implicated in the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC.

Even after learning all of this, the FBI went back to the FISC and obtained two more renewals of Foreign Intelligence Investigation Act authorizations to spy on Page. In its submissions, the FBI mentioned that it had spoken to Danchenko but left out the inconvenient discovery that his corroboration was “zero.”

The April 2019 release of the Mueller report, which found no Trump-Russia conspiracy, dealt a major blow to Steele’s credibility. It also put an end to the breathless media promotion of his fanciful claims. The release of the Horowitz report in December 2019 was even more damaging. The revelation that the FBI misled the FISC about Steele’s claims has triggered high-level calls for reform and a $75 million lawsuit from Carter Page. The Justice Department has also invalidated the final two Page warrants, citing “material misstatements” by the FBI.

While the Steele affair has triggered at least some government-level contrition and nominal reforms, the same cannot be said about the prominent media and political figures who promoted his ludicrous claims with equal credulity. A small number of corporate media voices, notably Erik Wemple of The Washington Post, have criticized the journalists who served as Steele’s stenographers. But Wemple’s columns are one of the few signs of accountability emanating from the media outlets who misled audiences into believing in the fictitious Trump-Russia plot.


[...]. For many liberals, Russiagate offered a comforting explanation for Trump’s improbable, painful victory. If Steele’s spy thriller could be proven true, then the Trumpian nightmare would surely come to an end. This was not only a welcome belief for anyone opposed to Trump but almost a requirement: Day after day, anti-Trump audiences were flooded with constant innuendo about Trump’s treasonous behavior and the false hope that Mueller was a step closer to proving it. To question Steele’s claims and other tenets of Russiagate orthodoxy was, for a long period, an act of heresy to the “Resistance.”

Much like a riveting novel or television show, the Steele story also gave many liberals relief from the daily pain of having such a buffoonish, hateful figure in the Oval Office. But even with Trump now nearly gone, the conditions that gave rise to him, and the dangerous tendencies he represented, remain very present. As do the corporate apologists within the Democratic Party that created an opening for his rise. To ultimately defeat Trumpism, at least some of those who embraced him as a rebuff to the “swamp” will have to be reached.

One place to begin might be by recognizing in ourselves similar qualities to those we’ve deplored in our political opponents. As dismaying as it has been to see MAGA supporters latch on to Trump’s election fraud lies, even to the point of violently attacking the Capitol, perhaps we can develop some insight into their mindset when we consider our own malleability. Trump voters heard liberals incessantly claim that Russia had duped the country into electing their candidate—a Kremlin asset compromised by a salacious videotape, financial leverage, and other unknown kompromat. Even in response to the Trump-fueled assault on Congress, a number of liberal voices, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, immediately brought it back to Putin.

Steele himself personally believed that the aim of his work was to help undo the election. Fusion GPS, Steele told a London court in August 2018, was hired “to obtain information necessary” on “the potential impact of Russian involvement on the legal validity of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.” Based on this, Steele explained, the Clinton campaign “could consider steps they would be legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the outcome of that election.”

Ultimately, Steele’s absurdities, and the overall Russiagate campaign that it fueled, did nothing to undermine Trump. If anything, Trump was handed the enduring gift of a conspiracy-crazed opposition—and, on the core collusion allegation that Steele fueled, his own ultimate exoneration. Just as dangerously, the widespread belief that Trump was a Russian puppet had major geopolitical implications: it helped stigmatize diplomacy with the world’s other top nuclear power, and incentivized liberal adherents to ignore the multiple, hawkish real-world Trump policies that escalated tensions with it. Far more Americans heard of Trump’s fictitious conspiracy with the Kremlin than they did, for example, of him undermining two crucial nuclear weapons treaties, the INF and New START, over Russian objections.


From 2018... At lower levels of stress, higher average testosterone corresponded to higher average solitary desire for men, but lower solitary desire on average for women

From 2018... Average Associations Between Sexual Desire, Testosterone, and Stress in Women and Men Over Time. Jessica C. Raisanen, Sara B. Chadwick, Nicholas Michalak & Sari M. van Anders. Archives of Sexual Behavior volume 47, pages1613–1631. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-018-1231-6

h/t David Schmitt on Twitter: "seems to map with a previous finding (to be clear, high T only links to higher sexual desire in men when combined with low cortisol [low stress]) https://t.co/klmNQd9g75 https://t.co/bZ6jc4br33"

Abstract: Sexual desire and testosterone are widely assumed to be directly and positively linked to each other despite the lack of supporting empirical evidence. The literature that does exist is mixed, which may result from a conflation of solitary and dyadic desire, and the exclusion of contextual variables, like stress, known to be relevant. Here, we use the Steroid/Peptide Theory of Social Bonds as a framework for examining how testosterone, solitary and partnered desire, and stress are linked over time. To do so, we collected saliva samples (for testosterone and cortisol) and measured desire as well as other variables via questionnaires over nine monthly sessions in 78 women and 79 men. Linear mixed models showed that testosterone negatively predicted partnered desire in women but not men. Stress moderated associations between testosterone and solitary desire in both women and men, but differently: At lower levels of stress, higher average testosterone corresponded to higher average solitary desire for men, but lower solitary desire on average for women. Similarly, for partnered desire, higher perceived stress predicted lower desire for women, but higher desire for men. We conclude by discussing the ways that these results both counter presumptions about testosterone and desire but fit with the existing literature and theory, and highlight the empirical importance of stress and gender norms.

Recent work on female competition: These authors research an alternative—the female rivalry hypothesis—that concealed ovulation benefited females by allowing them to avoid aggression from other females

An agent-based model of the female rivalry hypothesis for concealed ovulation in humans. Jaimie Arona Krems, Scott Claessens, Melissa R. Fales, Marco Campenni, Martie G. Haselton & Athena Aktipis. Nature Human Behaviour, Jan 25 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-01038-9

Abstract: After half a century of debate and few empirical tests, there remains no consensus concerning why ovulation in human females is considered concealed. The predominant male investment hypothesis states that females were better able to obtain material investment from male partners across those females’ ovulatory cycles by concealing ovulation. We build on recent work on female competition to propose and investigate an alternative—the female rivalry hypothesis—that concealed ovulation benefited females by allowing them to avoid aggression from other females. Using an agent-based model of mating behaviour and paternal investment in a human ancestral environment, we did not find strong support for the male investment hypothesis, but found support for the female rivalry hypothesis. Our results suggest that concealed ovulation may have benefitted females in navigating their intrasexual social relationships. More generally, this work implies that explicitly considering female–female interactions may inspire additional insights into female behaviour and physiology.

Krems' recap: https://twitter.com/JaimieKrems/status/1353759752858324997

The Nation... The Votes of Black Americans Should Count Twice: Vote reparations would empower us to replace oppressive institutions with life-affirming structures of equality

The Votes of Black Americans Should Count Twice: Vote reparations would empower us to replace oppressive institutions with life-affirming structures of equality. Brandon Hasbrouck. The Nation, Dec 17 2020. https://www.thenation.com/article/society/black-votes-reparations-gerrymandering/

Black votes in this country are worth less than white votes. Joe Biden won the Electoral College because Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia turned out in significant numbers. But even with overwhelming Black support—94 percent of Detroit voted for Biden!—the outcomes in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were worryingly close.

One core problem is the Electoral College. Wyoming, which has just 580,000 residents and is 93 percent white, gets three electors because of its two senators and one representative in the House. By comparison, Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District—which includes Atlanta, has 710,000 residents, and is 58 percent Black—has no dedicated electors or senators and can only occasionally overcome the mostly white and conservative votes from elsewhere in the state. This devaluation of Black votes allows our political system to ignore Black lives, and the consequences are devastating. Unequal representation has led to unequal health care outcomes, which the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened. Without sufficient voting power, Black communities receive substandard education, and politicians are free to appoint judges who sanction mass incarceration, abusive policing, and electoral disenfranchisement.

This is all by design. The Constitution’s framers set up the Electoral College to protect the interests of slave states. Along with the Senate, the Electoral College was critical in the endurance of slavery and its continuation by other means. Abolishing this system would mean that ballots cast by Black voters—or any voters, for that matter—would count the same.

But there’s another way to undo the damage of the Electoral College and other structurally racist political institutions: We can implement vote reparations by double-counting ballots cast by all Black residents. The poisonous legacy of slavery applies to Black people regardless of when we or our ancestors arrived in this country. Vote reparations should also extend to Native Americans. Slavery is rightly called America’s original sin, but so too was the United States’ genocidal seizure of land from its original inhabitants. Various legal forms of disenfranchisement have applied to them. It wasn’t until 1962 that all Native Americans were allowed to vote, and even then they faced—and still face—electoral obstacles. These are not the only examples of American oppression; we should include in vote reparations others who have suffered similar disenfranchisement.

One of the largest objections to monetary reparations is the impracticality of implementing them on a scale that would meaningfully address the injustices. Vote reparations, in contrast, would be a simple, low-cost way to begin to make amends.

This idea isn’t entirely new. Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, discussed a similar proposal in 2015 in The Washington Post. While his plan to make Black Americans’ votes worth five-thirds has a poetic symmetry with the three-fifths clause of the Constitution, we shouldn’t bind a remedy to the mathematics of the compromise that formalized and furthered the dehumanization of Black people. That bargain allowed the very people who stripped us of our rights to have their votes counted for more—even more than other white people—in Congress and the Electoral College. But it’s not the only way politicians have legally denied representation to Black people. This country’s history of poll taxes, literacy tests, gerrymandering, voter purges, and intimidation should all be addressed. Tying a remedy to the three-fifths compromise implies that clause was the heart of the problem. It wasn’t and isn’t. Counting Black votes twice keeps the point clear and provides redress for myriad forms of disenfranchisement deployed against Black voters.

Vote reparations would create possibilities to build what W.E.B. Du Bois called “abolition democracy,” or the practice of achieving a racially just society. Abolition democracy invites us to engage with abolition not as a finite goal but as a radical process of challenging injustices wherever and in whatever form they might appear. Vote reparations would empower us to replace oppressive institutions with life-affirming structures of economic, social, and political equality. And if our elected representatives did not prioritize this transformational work, we could vote them out.

Because white votes currently count more than Black ones, double-counting Black votes would restore electoral balance. Vote reparations would be a giant step toward remedying our nation’s long history of denying and devaluing Black votes. To address systemic racism, we must transform how we choose our government. Even if vote reparations aren’t instituted, Black voters will keep tirelessly dragging our states toward a more perfect union. But just imagine our country if our votes counted twice.

People believe that facts are essential for earning the respect of adversaries; wrong, sharing personal experiences about a political issue—especially experiences involving harm—is what helps to foster respect

Personal experiences bridge moral and political divides better than facts. Emily Kubin et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 9, 2021 118 (6) e2008389118; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2008389118

Significance: All Americans are affected by rising political polarization, whether because of a gridlocked Congress or antagonistic holiday dinners. People believe that facts are essential for earning the respect of political adversaries, but our research shows that this belief is wrong. We find that sharing personal experiences about a political issue—especially experiences involving harm—help to foster respect via increased perceptions of rationality. This research provides a straightforward pathway for increasing moral understanding and decreasing political intolerance. These findings also raise questions about how science and society should understand the nature of truth in the era of “fake news.” In moral and political disagreements, everyday people treat subjective experiences as truer than objective facts.

Abstract: Both liberals and conservatives believe that using facts in political discussions helps to foster mutual respect, but 15 studies—across multiple methodologies and issues—show that these beliefs are mistaken. Political opponents respect moral beliefs more when they are supported by personal experiences, not facts. The respect-inducing power of personal experiences is revealed by survey studies across various political topics, a field study of conversations about guns, an analysis of YouTube comments from abortion opinion videos, and an archival analysis of 137 interview transcripts from Fox News and CNN. The personal experiences most likely to encourage respect from opponents are issue-relevant and involve harm. Mediation analyses reveal that these harm-related personal experiences increase respect by increasing perceptions of rationality: everyone can appreciate that avoiding harm is rational, even in people who hold different beliefs about guns, taxes, immigration, and the environment. Studies show that people believe in the truth of both facts and personal experiences in nonmoral disagreement; however, in moral disagreements, subjective experiences seem truer (i.e., are doubted less) than objective facts. These results provide a concrete demonstration of how to bridge moral divides while also revealing how our intuitions can lead us astray. Stretching back to the Enlightenment, philosophers and scientists have privileged objective facts over experiences in the pursuit of truth. However, furnishing perceptions of truth within moral disagreements is better accomplished by sharing subjective experiences, not by providing facts.

Keywords: moralitypoliticspoltical tolerancemoral psychologynarrative

Sex differences of negative voice hearing experiences: Women have more negative emotions and report more distress due to voices, which may be rooted in differences in relating to voices

Can Gender Differences in Distress Due to Difficult Voices Be Explained by Differences in Relating? Björn Schlier, Xenia Sitara, Clara Strauss, Aikaterini Rammou, Tania M. Lincoln & Mark Hayward. Cognitive Therapy and Research, Jan 22 2021. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10608-020-10190-5

Rolf Degen's take: Rolf Degen on Twitter: "Women are more likely than men to hear distressing voices in the absence of external stimuli. https://t.co/Kjczg1eTBy https://t.co/NRRTUW9ePs"


Background: Research on gender differences has found that women relate to negative voice hearing experiences with more negative emotions and report more distress due to voices, which may be rooted in differences in relating to voices. This study used a robust methodology and a large sample to explore gender differences in relating to voices and voice distress.

Methods: Matched samples of male (n = 124) and female (n = 124) voice hearers were drawn from a survey for secondary analysis. Voice severity (e.g., frequency or loudness), voice distress, and different types of dysfunctional (i.e., passive or aggressive) and functional (assertive) relating were measured. Group comparisons, mediation models, and network analyses were calculated.

Results: Female voice hearers reported more severe voices, more voice distress, more passive, and less assertive relating. Mediation and network analyses yielded evidence for pathways from gender to voice distress via relating and via differences in voice severity.

Conclusion: Gender differences in the emotional impact of voices can be partially explained by relating behavior. Psychological interventions for voice hearing could be optimized by exploring the influence of gender in the emergence of distressing voices. Nevertheless, gender differences need to be treated as one of several different possible mechanisms when working with individual patients.


In this study, we tested whether gender differences in voice hearing experiences can be explained by differences in relating to voices. Our results replicated previous findings that female voice hearers tend to have more severe voice hearing experiences (Murphy et al. 2010), report more negative emotions and distress due to voice hearing (Toh et al. 2020), and tend to relate less functionally (Hayward et al. 2016) when compared to male voice hearers. In general, significant effect sizes were small to medium (0.37 ≤|d|≤ 0.59). To translate this range of effect sizes into more understandable terms of overlapping variance (Magnusson 2020): There is an increased chance (i.e., 64.4–72.2%) that a randomly selected female voice hearer shows more distress and less functional relating than a randomly selected male voice hearer. Overall, however, the within gender variances in individual voice hearing experiences still overlap considerably (i.e., 77.2–85.3% overlap). Therefore, while population-wide trends for gender-differences exist, the individual voice hearing experience varies from person to person. In clinical practice, the knowledge of the gender differences can help to inform the diagnostic process and lines of inquiry when initially meeting patients. But at the same time, we need to remain curious about individual differences and avoid over-generalization when delivering person-centered therapy.

Of importance, our findings extend previous results by offering some evidence for a pathway from gender to voice distress via increased levels of passive relating. This is in line with the hypothesis that relating differences drive gender differences in voice hearing. Additionally, using network analysis, we found an extended pathway between gender and voice distress via assertive relating and passive relating. This could point towards an interdependence of the relating styles, where the passive reaction to the voice is the result of reduced assertiveness. In sum, these associations between assertive relating, passive relating and distress corroborate the basic tenets of the relating therapy approach that improving assertive relating can help to reduce less functional responses to voices and thereby reduces distress.

Additionally, in order to further refine our underlying assumptions that gender differences in relating to voices correspond to global differences in social relating, a closer inspection of the Approve Voices scales and the Approve Social scales adds helpful information. By descriptive values, women responded less assertively and more passively to both voices and other people. However, effect sizes for social relating (assertive: d = − 0.24, passive: d = 0.25) were notably lower than for relating to voices (assertive: d = − 0.38, passive: d = 0.47), and only relating to voices yielded consistently significant results when accounting for alpha-error inflation. However, a comparison of our effect-sizes to previous studies on gender differences in relating [i.e., responding to bullying with assertiveness: d = − 0.28, and with avoidance: d = 0.35, transformed from R2 reported in Jóhannsdóttir and Ólafsson (2004)] shows that our effect sizes regarding social relating correspond to previous findings. Conversely, it seems that gender differences in relating to voices constitute an amplification of gender-role conforming differences in social relating. At this point, however, further research is needed to replicate this pattern of results and explore the factors that drive this translation of social relating styles to relating to voices.

Finally, while relating accounted for some of the gender differences in voice distress, network analysis also yielded a pathway that involved gender differences in voice severity. Possibly, women tend to experience more distress due to voices and relate more passively to them because they hear voices more frequently, more loudly, and for longer periods than men. The matching procedure utilized for this study makes it unlikely that this difference can be explained by differences in diagnosis or illness duration (see Table 1) or demographic variables. However, since we have no data on medication or treatment history, we cannot determine to what extent gender differences in voice severity stem from etiological differences or differences in treatment, e.g. differences in prescription practice (Rothbard et al. 2003), efficacy (Usall et al. 2007), and pharmacodynamics of antipsychotic drugs (Seeman 2004). On a related note, the composition of our sample prevented us from examining the role of gender differences across different cultures. It stands to reason that the aggressive-assertive-passive relating continuum is as likely to be affected by cultural norms and the cross-cultural variation in gender norms as it is by gender. To test this hypothesis, future studies will need to collect more ethnically diverse samples. Furthermore, since our data is cross-sectional, we cannot exclude reverse causal effects of passive relating and distress exacerbating voice severity in the long term. At present, the question of what drives the gender difference in voice severity remains open. To further optimize the fit between client and therapeutic approach, future research needs to explore the working mechanisms of gender differences in voice severity.

Strengths and Limitations

Strengths of this study include the matching of the samples which reduces the chance of biased results. Furthermore, the relatively large sample size can be considered a strength as it allows for the detection of medium and small differences and increases the precision of estimates. A limitation is that diagnoses were self-reported. This could have led to reduced accuracy of diagnostic status, especially since there is evidence that mental health professionals are sometimes reluctant to share the exact diagnosis with their patients (Perkins et al. 2018). Secondly, relating and voice hearing were measured by self-report questionnaires. Possibly, self-reports of affect and behavior lead to an overestimation of gender differences in the direction of gender-role conforming behaviors, especially since there are results from other areas of research that show larger differences in self-reported behavioral tendencies than in objectively assessed behavior (Allen 1995), or instances where self-reported symptom intensity shows the opposite effect when compared to objective parameters (e.g., pain perception vs. physiological parameters; Etherton et al. 2014). Whereas voice severity eludes a truly objective assessment, physiological parameters to quantify voice distress and behavioral assessment of relating could be implemented in future research to further elucidate the extent of gender differences. Finally, the current study focuses on negative voices (i.e., when voices become difficult). As there is some evidence for differences in voice valence (with male voice hearers experiencing more benevolent voices, e.g., Toh et al. 2020), we need to interpret our findings in a larger context of potential gender differences in voice hearing.

Practical Implications and Future Directions

Our results show that relating to voices and subsequent voice distress is connected to gender. Future studies could extend on these findings and explore to what degree these differences are the result of external causes (e.g. more frequent experience of abuse) and whether non-assertive relating amplifies gender differences in voice severity and distress over time. In terms of practical implications, this research may ultimately inform efforts to optimize CBT and relating therapies. Specifically, potential applications could be (1) scanning for gender-typical differences during case-formulation (2) including gender in individual case models when working with male and female participants (3) acknowledging that gender roles may have impacted negatively on relational aspects of voice hearing (in female patients) and utilizing the topic of gender role conformity when working with beliefs about oneself. Moreover, it may be possible to (4) build on any existing gender-typical resources a patient may bring to therapy. In male participants, this could mean fostering gender-role conforming assertiveness. For female patients, this may include broadening the range from which an assertive response is chosen. Rather than focusing on confrontational assertiveness (i.e., hearing what they are saying but also presenting and defending my own view), an assertive response rooted in mindfulness (e.g., notice the voices, notice your own reaction to it, and allow both of it to be) or even in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (e.g., notice the voices but make responding a deliberate choice) might be more suitable if a female patient conforms to gender norms in society—especially since some trials have found both of these methods to be more effective in women (Gobin et al. 2019; Katz and Toner 2013). Finally, (5) practical implications of our results could also entail acknowledging that – for reasons yet unknown—women can experience voices more intensely and subsequently have more difficulties relating assertively to them. In sum, this study highlights the importance of including gender differences into our understanding of a relational framework and points to a research topic that could become highly relevant to practical application of voice hearing therapies.

Stronger partisan identities drive stronger intentions to engage in political violence, but that this effect holds for partisans with the callous, manipulative personality indicated by high dark triad scores only

Dark triad, partisanship and violent intentions in the United States. Oluf Gøtzsche-Astrup. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 173, April 2021, 110633. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2021.110633

Abstract: We have witnessed a drastic increase in partisanship in the United States in the past decades. This increase has sparked concern that the effects may not be as benign as the positive political engagement and activism behaviors sometimes associated with increased partisanship. This paper explicitly targets the risk that increased partisan identities may lead to stronger intentions to engage in violent political behaviors from an individual difference perspective. This paper integrates insights from the literature on political violence and personality psychology. It understands partisanship as social identity and focuses on the influence of the dark triad. In three original, population representative cross-sectional and experimental studies of adult Americans (total n = 3797), the paper shows that stronger partisan identities drive stronger intentions to engage in political violence, but that this effect holds for partisans with the callous, manipulative personality indicated by high dark triad scores only.

Keywords: PartisanshipPolitical violencePersonalityPolitical identityActivismDark triad