Sunday, March 14, 2021

Surgent, dominant, and athletic men could possess a greater ability to regulate oxidative stress; women whose faces were judged as more attractive also had higher oxidative stress, a possible cost of maintaining this phenotype

Oxidative stress and the differential expression of traits associated with mating effort in humans. Nicholas M. Grebe et al. Evolution and Human Behavior, March 13 2021.

Abstract: Oxidative stress is a physiological condition in which reactive oxygen species created through cellular respiration can potentially damage DNA and tissue. Oxidative stress may partially mediate trade-offs between reproductive effort and survival efforts. On the one hand, traits associated with reproductive effort, particularly costly male-male competition, are expected to raise oxidative stress. On the other hand, behavioral strategies may be a critical mediating mechanism, such that those who can better resist the physiological costs of oxidative damage exhibit increased mating effort. In a sample of 248 college students (173 men), we examined the associations between traits linked to mating effort—including personality features, athleticism, and history of illness—with levels of 8-OHdG, a biomarker of oxidative stress. 8-OHdG was measured twice, one week apart, once during active hours and once at awakening. In men, surgency, social dominance, and athleticism were all negatively associated with 8-OHdG levels in awakening, but not lab samples collected during active hours. In women, these same traits were positively associated with 8-OHdG levels, particularly in morning samples. Differences in associations based on sex and time of collection introduce additional complexities to understanding links between oxidative stress and mating effort.

Keywords: Oxidative stressMating effortHuman biologyPersonality


4. Discussion

4.1 Summary of Associations

Our study explored two alternative scenarios for associations between oxidative stress and putative measures of investment in mating effort. On one hand, surgent, dominant, and athletic men could possess a greater ability to regulate oxidative stress, reflected by lower levels of 8-OHdG, consistent with associations found in rhesus macaques (Georgiev et al., 2015); on the other hand, high activity levels of these men could produce associations in the opposite direction. As a comparison, we investigated these same features in women, predicting weaker or absent associations. Our results showed that surgent, dominant, and athletic men tended to produce low levels of 8-OHdG in first-of-the-morning urine. Provisionally, we interpret this pattern to have one or both of two explanations. First, surgent, dominant, and athletic men may experience relatively little oxidative damage throughout the day to be repaired. Second, surgent, dominant, and athletic men may experience relatively little oxidative damage as a function of basal metabolic processes experienced overnight. In turn, these associations may be attributable to multiple underlying processes, including a smaller number of ROS-producing mutations and/or relatively low levels of environmental toxins. In either of these scenarios, men’s surgency, dominance, and athleticism partly reflects underlying condition—fundamentally, the capacity to efficiently convert energy into fitness-enhancing activity. An explanation for these associations may lie in the role of oxidative stress in the production of sexually selected signals. Individuals who suffer lower costs to energy production in the form of oxidative stress will be selected to energetically invest, over development, more heavily in capacities resulting in surgency, social dominance, and athleticism.

By contrast, women’s surgency, social dominance, and athleticism positively covaried with levels of 8-OHdG measured in urine collected at awakening. Why do women show a very different pattern? The pattern for men in the scenarios above results from selection for investment in traits (i.e., surgency, dominance, and athleticism) that may boost mating success in men that can physiologically “afford” them due to efficient oxidative stress regulation. To some degree, despite sex differences, women may have ancestrally benefited from investments in developing these phenotypes, too. At the same time, there is reason to suspect that these investments would not have been contingent on condition in the same way we propose they would have been for men. If women who possess relatively high levels of surgency, dominance, and athleticism are not ones who pay low costs for energy production in the form of oxidative stress, there is no reason to expect negative associations between them and oxidative stress. And indeed, because these traits—and many others that reflect increased mating effort—may be associated with higher levels of energy production, one might expect that women who possess them generate greater levels of ROS, which would result in greater oxidative damage and greater need for repair. One recent study presents evidence consistent with this notion: women whose faces were judged as more attractive also had higher oxidative stress, suggesting a possible cost of maintaining this phenotype (Marcinkowska et al., 2020). (By contrast, Gangestad et al. [2010] found male facial attractiveness to covary positively with a biomarker of oxidative stress; Foo et al. [2017] did not detect an association for either sex.)

We emphasize that these interpretations are provisional and require corroboration, both via direct replication, and via extensions that collect additional phenotypic information pertaining to mating effort (e.g., anthropometric measurements). We offer them because they may lead to fruitful directions for future research At the same time, in light of the complexities of associations between sexual signals, reproductive effort, and oxidative stress, some of which we reviewed in the introduction, we fully recognize that alternative explanations are possible. Furthermore, consistent with the notion that there is still much to be resolved in this literature, we also find unexpected, major differences in patterns based on when and how oxidative stress biomarkers are sampled, which we discuss below.

4.2 Implications for Understanding the Moderating Effect of Collection Time

Strong sex-specific associations between personality/health and oxidative stress were qualified by time of sampling. For men, negative associations of surgency, social dominance, and athleticism with levels of 8-OHdG measured in awakening samples disappeared when examining samples collected during lab sessions later in the day. Surgent, dominant, and athletic women had relatively high levels of 8-OHdG in both awakening and active samples, though associations were weaker in the latter set of samples.

One can reasonably ask whether these moderation effects are robust and meaningful. There are several reasons to think that they are. First, moderation by sex and sample was significant and consistent across three related factors (surgency, dominance, athleticism). Second, in analyses that substituted time since awakening for the crude binary of “sampling session”, moderation effects consistently strengthened, supporting the interpretation that this is the relevant difference driving effects. Third, our results remained similar in analyses predicting log-transformed 8-OHdG concentrations, suggesting outliers were not responsible for our observed pattern of effects. Finally, we observed a similar moderation effect for uric acid: effects differed between awakening and lab sessions (though, in this instance, this interaction was not moderated by sex). This effect of uric acid was independent from the effects of surgency, dominance, and athleticism. Nonetheless, the fact that time since awakening moderated this effect too bolsters the idea that time of sampling importantly moderates associations with 8-OHdG. While further studies are needed to establish the robustness and generalizability of these moderation effects, below we offer our provisional interpretation of what they might reflect in our studies.

Concentrations of 8-OHdG in urine do not capture instantaneous levels. Rather, they reflect the accumulation of 8-OHdG filtered out of circulating blood by the kidneys and stored in the bladder between last void and current void. For a first-morning void, this time span consists of a long, inactive period—sleep. By contrast, urine collected during daytime hours has largely accumulated during relatively short, active periods. Based on this observation, perhaps the most straightforward explanation for diverging associations is that an awakening measure of oxidative stress represents a more stable, and thus desirable, estimate of accumulated damage compared to daytime samples more affected by metabolic demands of daily activities (e.g., exercise). The fact that medical biomarker research favors first-morning voids for similar reasons (e.g. Witte et al., 2009; Heerspink et al., 2010) supports this interpretation.

We do entertain a second interpretation that specifically implicates sleep. Much somatic repair occurs during sleep, and indeed, one primary function of sleep across a wide range of taxa may be to permit allocation of energy to repair processes for oxidative damage (Anafi et al., 2013). At the same time, sleep itself slows the accumulation of oxidative damage, as the rate of metabolic expenditure slows. From this reasoning, it follows that someone with relatively low levels of 8-OHdG accumulated during sleep (i.e., found in first-morning voids) (a) experiences relatively low levels of oxidative damage throughout the day, to be repaired at night, and/or (b) produces relatively low levels of oxidative damage through basal metabolic processes. This interpretation is provisional and requires additional tests. We did not detect effects of sleep quality in our sample but future research may further investigate its impact.

4.2.1 Associations with Uric Acid

Because oxidative stress can be affected by the action of anti-oxidants, we considered whether concentrations of uric acid influenced the relationships we examined. While we did not find that uric acid mediated links between 8-OHdG and the traits we examined, we did find that uric acid covaried with 8-OHdG differently in awakening and active daytime samples, providing an independent piece of evidence that time of sampling affects associations with 8-OHdG. The effects of uric acid on oxidative damage can reverse, from anti-oxidant to pro-oxidant, in response to cellular environments (Sautin et al., 2007; So & Thorens, 2010), and prior evidence suggests that circadian rhythms have a strong influence on these roles (Stringari et al., 2015; Kono et al., 2010). Our examination of the role of anti-oxidants was limited in this study. Future research would benefit from considering a wider range of anti-oxidant assays, which can provide a triangulated estimate of different components underlying an organism’s anti-oxidant system (Constantini, 2011).

4.3 No Detected Associations with Susceptibility to Infectious Disease

In contrast to individual differences in surgency, social dominance, and athleticism, susceptibility to infectious disease did not substantially covary in our study with 8-OHdG, either in men or women, or in awakening or lab samples. Future research may examine these associations further, as well as assess associations between current infectious status and 8-OHdG levels. We note here that our results are based on two samples of young adults from a non-clinical, industrialized population. This poses a constraint on generalization for all of the conclusions we have presented, but it may be particularly relevant for measures of susceptibility to infectious disease. Clinical populations, unsurprisingly, have an elevated susceptibility to infectious disease (WHO, 2011), and distributions of immune function biomarkers and disease susceptibility differ markedly between industrialized and non-industrialized populations, which has important consequences for patterns of energetic investment (e.g. Blackwell et al., 2016). A broader sampling of the range of infectious disease burden in future research will permit a fuller examination of its role in oxidative stress and energetic trade-offs.

2D:4D Digit Ratios in Adults with Gender Dysphoria: A Comparison to Their Unaffected Same-Sex Heterosexual Siblings, Cisgender Heterosexual Men, and Cisgender Heterosexual Women

2D:4D Digit Ratios in Adults with Gender Dysphoria: A Comparison to Their Unaffected Same-Sex Heterosexual Siblings, Cisgender Heterosexual Men, and Cisgender Heterosexual Women. Şenol Turan, Murat Boysan, Mahmut Cem Tarakçıoğlu, Tarık Sağlam, Ahmet Yassa, Hasan Bakay, Ömer Faruk Demirel & Musa Tosun. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Mar 10 2021,

Abstract: We compared gender dysphoria (GD) patients and their same-sex siblings in terms of their 2D:4D ratios, which may reflect prenatal exposure to androgen, one of the possible etiological mechanisms underlying GD. Sixty-eight GD patients (46 Female-to-Male [FtM]; 22 Male-to-Female [MtF]), 68 siblings (46 sisters of FtMs; 22 brothers of MtFs), and 118 heterosexual controls (62 female; 56 male) were included in the study. FtMs were gynephilic and MtFs were androphilic. We found that 2D:4D ratios in the both right hand (p < .001) and the left hand (p = .003) were lower in male controls than in female controls. Regarding right hands, FtM GD patients had lower 2D:4D ratios than female controls (p < .001) but their ratios did not differ from those of their sisters or male controls. FtM GD patients had no significant difference in their left-hand 2D:4D ratios compared to their sisters or female and male controls. While there was no significant difference in right hands between FtM's sisters and male controls, left-hand 2D:4D ratios were significantly higher in FtM's sisters (p = .017). MtF GD patients had lower right-hand 2D:4D ratios than female controls (p <.001), but their right-hand ratios did not differ from those of their brothers and male controls. There was no significant difference in left-hand 2D:4D ratios between MtF GD patients, and their brothers, or female and male controls. FtM GD patients showed significantly masculinized right-hand 2D:4D ratios, while there was no evidence of feminization in MtF GD patients.


The 2D:4D ratio is thought to be determined during critical periods of prenatal development under the influence of sex hormones. Here, we conducted a case-control study of the 2D:4D ratio, which is thought to be indicative of prenatal exposure to sex hormones, in patients with GD, their unaffected same-sex heterosexual siblings, and cisgender heterosexual male and female controls. We observed that patients with FtM GD had lower right-hand 2D:4D ratios than cisgender heterosexual female controls and they did not significantly differ from cisgender heterosexual male controls. Although they had lower right-hand 2D:4D ratios than their unaffected heterosexual sisters, the difference was not significant. Furthermore, the left-hand 2D:4D ratios in patients with FtM GD did not differ significantly from that of their unaffected heterosexual sisters, cisgender heterosexual male or female controls. Patients with MtF GD had lower right-hand 2D:4D ratios than cisgender heterosexual female controls but they did not show a significant difference from their unaffected heterosexual brothers or cisgender heterosexual male controls. There was no significant difference in the left-hand 2D:4D ratios between patients with MtF GD and their unaffected heterosexual brothers, as well as the cisgender heterosexual male or cisgender heterosexual male controls.

Early studies of 2D:4D ratios in patients with GD found that patients with MtF GD have higher right-hand 2D:4D ratios than those of male controls, while differences in 2D:4D ratios between patients with FtM GD and female controls were not significant (Kraemer et al., 2007; Schneider et al., 2006). However, subsequent studies found results contradicting with the findings of these two first studies. Wallien et al. (2008) found a lower 2D:4D ratio in patients with FtM GD in comparison with female controls, but no significant difference between patients with MtF GD and male controls. Vujovic et al. (2014) echoed and extended the finding reported by Hisasue et al. (2012) that patients with FtM GD had the lowest left-hand 2D:4D ratios, as measured by X-rays, in comparison with both male and female controls. In a similar vein, Leinung and Wu (2017) found a low dominant-hand 2D:4D ratio in patients with FtM GD compared to female controls; however, a feminized 2D:4D (higher) in patients with MtF GD in comparison with male controls was not observed. In another more recent study, Sağlam et al. (2020) found a lower right-hand 2D:4D ratio in patients with FtM GD in comparison with female controls, but no significant difference between patients with MtF GD and male controls in both hands. In a meta-analytic study, Voracek, Kaden, Kossmeier, Pietschnig, and Tran (2018) concluded that patients with MtF GD showed feminized right-hand 2D:4D digit ratios, while the identical effect for the left-hand digit ratio was not significant. However, the study findings underscored that patients with FtM GD had neither masculinized right-hand 2D:4D ratios nor left-hand 2D:4D digit ratios. In another meta-analytic study conducted by Sadr et al. (2020), it was shown that 2D:4D digit ratios of patients with MtF GD (transwomen) were higher (feminized) than male controls and this finding was consistent across studies and both hands, but the effect sizes were small (left hand: d = .19, p = .010; right hand: d = .29, p = .0009). For patients with FtM GD (transmen), they had a lower (masculinized) 2D:4D digit ratio in both hands than female controls, while it was detected that the effect sizes were not statistically significant (left hand: d = − .20, p = .195; right hand: d = − .36, p = .123). The latest meta-analytic study conducted by Siegmann et al. (2020) showed that the 2D:4D digit ratios of patients with MtF GD were significantly higher than male controls (Hedge’s g = .153), and this effect is even more pronounced if the diagnosis was made by a clinician (Hedge’s g = .193). They did not detect any significant difference between patients with FtM GD and female controls.

In the present study, we found that patients with FtM GD had lower right-hand 2D:4D ratios than cisgender heterosexual female controls, but did not have lower ratios than cisgender heterosexual male controls. Previous studies have concluded that in humans the right-hand 2D:4D ratios are more sensitive to early prenatal androgen exposure than the left 2D:4D ratios (Hönekopp & Watson, 2010; Manning, 2002; Manning, Scutt, Wilson, & Lewis-Jones, 1998; Xu & Zheng, 2015). In keeping with the previous literature (Hönekopp et al., 2010; Kraemer et al., 2007; McFadden et al., 2005; Schneider et al., 2006), the differences appear to be more pronounced in the right-hand 2D:4D ratios in our study. To account for this finding, we may suggest that increased levels of prenatal steroid exposure may be associated with greater lateralization toward the left hemisphere (Grimshaw, Bryden, & Finegan, 1995; Jackson, 2008; Witelson & Nowakowski, 1991) which may make the differences in finger length ratios more visible in the right hand. Thus, ICC analyses showed that the 2D:4D ratios of patients with FtM GD and their unaffected heterosexual sisters revealed moderate resemblance in both the right hand and in the left hand, with a stronger correlation for the right hand. Adding to this perspective, an animal model put forth by Zheng and Cohn (2011) suggested that the 2D:4D ratios of the right paw are more sensitive to prenatal androgen exposure than the 2D:4D ratios of the left paw. Emerging evidence and the consistency of relevant findings appear to give credence to the increased sensitivity of the right hand to prenatal androgen exposure (Schneider et al., 2006). In addition to this, we also found no significant difference in the left-hand 2D:4D ratios between patients with FtM GD and cisgender heterosexual male controls. Vujovic et al. (2014) reported that patients with FtM GD showed the lowest left-hand 2D:4D ratio compared to both the control males and females. These findings may be interpreted as meaning that both the right and left hand may be affected by prenatal androgen exposure to a certain degree, but that this influence may be stronger for the right hand. However, there is no credible explanation for an underlying mechanism that specifies a different association of the right and the left finger lengths with prenatal androgen levels, and thus, the mechanism underlying this needs further investigation (Hisasue et al., 2012).

Growing evidence from family and twin studies demonstrates that genetic factors contribute to the development of GD (Gomez-Gil et al., 2010; Heylens et al., 2012; Polderman et al., 2018; Turan & Demirel, 2017), but a strong candidate gene accounting for the development of GD is yet to be identified (Zucker et al., 2016). In human beings, many traits and diseases have a polygenic architecture (Zucker et al., 2016), and many genotypical characteristics evolve into phenotypical traits through interactions with the environment. GD is most likely a complex condition that results from a combination of multiple genetic and environmental factors. In this context, the term endophenotype, meaning measurable components unseen by the unaided eye along the pathway between disease and genotype, has arisen as an important concept in the investigation of complex psychiatric diseases (Gottesman & Gould, 2003). An endophenotype is a quantitative biological trait which shows greater prevalence in unaffected first-degree parents of GD patients than in the general population ((Flint & Munafo, 2007; Kendler & Neale, 2010) and may be neurophysiological, biochemical, endocrinological, neuroanatomical, cognitive, or neuropsychological in nature (Gottesman & Gould, 2003).

In keeping with the literature, the most salient finding of the current data was that patients with FtM GD’s right-hand 2D:4D ratios had significant and strong intraclass correlation with their unaffected heterosexual sisters’ right 2D:4D ratios (r = 0.55). The same was also true for the left-hand 2D:4D ratios, but with a relatively more modest intraclass correlation coefficient (r = 0.36). In contrast, neither the intraclass correlation coefficients for the right-hand nor the left-hand 2D:4D ratios of patients with MtF GD and their unaffected heterosexual brothers were substantial. Moreover, patients with FtM GD and their unaffected heterosexual sisters did not significantly differ in their right 2D:4D ratios from cisgender heterosexual male controls.

These results may be interpreted as further evidence for significant associations between prenatal testosterone exposure and the gender-related behaviors previously suggested in the literature (Brown, Hines, Fane, & Breedlove, 2002; Grimbos et al., 2010; Hines, 2006; Lutchmaya, Baron-Cohen, Raggatt, Knickmeyer, & Manning, 2004; Voracek, Dressler, & Manning, 2007). To the best of our knowledge, relying on the present results, which were consistent with the preceding data (Manning, Bundred, Newton, & Flanagan, 2003; van Anders, Vernon, & Wilbur, 2006), the right-hand 2D:4D digit ratios, in particular, can be considered an endophenotype for masculinization in biological females, which may result in GD.

In this study, we found that patients with MtF GD had lower right-hand 2D:4D digit ratios than cisgender heterosexual female controls, but the mean difference from cisgender heterosexual female controls for the left-hand digit ratios was not significant. On the other hand, unlike patients with MtF GD, the unaffected heterosexual brothers of MtF GD patients had significantly lower left-hand 2D:4D ratios than cisgender heterosexual female controls. These findings are partly consistent with those of previous studies (Kraemer et al., 2007; Schneider et al., 2006; Vujovic et al., 2014) showing that patients with MtF GD seem to also be affected by prenatal androgen exposure, with the exception of the direction of the hand, in which right-hand sensitivity has been widely highlighted. The masculinization in patients with MtF GD might be conceived of as a “ceiling effect” in which males are exposed to sufficient levels of androgen stimulation during the prenatal period (Breedlove, 2010), and the right hand may be more affected from this exposure. However, the 2D:4D digit ratios did not show an endophenotypic characteristic for patients with MTF, when their unaffected heterosexual siblings, cisgender heterosexual male controls, and cisgender heterosexual female controls were considered.

Our study had several limitations that should be considered. First, the sample sizes were relatively small in all groups, which compromise the generalizability of the current results. Second, the measurement method of finger length was indirect. Previous studies showed that indirect finger length measurement methods such as photocopies tended to produce lower 2D:4D ratios than direct measurements (Manning, Fink, Neave, & Caswell, 2005; Ribeiro, Neave, Morais, & Manning, 2016; Xu & Zheng, 2015). Therefore, it has been suggested that indirect measurements may not be the best method to investigate sex or gender effects in 2D:4D ratios (Manning, 2017). However, it has been argued that indirect measurement methods can be used as long as 2D:4D ratios obtained with different digit measurement methods are combined within one study (Xu & Zheng, 2015). Third, because siblings were recruited by patients with GD, it can be said that we have a biased sample. Finally, the absence of patients with FtM GD who were sexually attracted to men and patients with MtF GD who were sexually attracted to women make it difficult to distinguish the effect of sexual orientation and gender identity on digit ratio. As a matter of fact, in the meta-analysis study conducted by Grimbos et al. (2010), similar to the results of our study, while homosexual women had a lower 2D:4D ratio than did heterosexual women, no significant difference was found between homosexual and heterosexual men.

In conclusion, patients with FtM GD had significantly masculinized right-hand 2D:4D ratios. The unaffected heterosexual sisters of patients with FtM GD measured between the digit ratios of cisgender heterosexual male and females in terms of right-hand 2D:4D ratio. This could be indicative of an endophenotype for prenatal exposure to androgens that has long been considered a significant antecedent of this phenomenon of the right-hand 2D:4D digit ratio. In contrast, we did not find prominent evidence pointing to feminization in the 2D:4D ratio in patients with MtF GD. Patients with MtF GD seemed to follow different developmental pathways in the early period. Further studies with larger samples should be conducted to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the potential underpinnings of GD in relation to the 2D:4D ratio.

Children Show a Gender Gap in Negotiation; let's change children so we can correct this ugly feature

Children Show a Gender Gap in Negotiation. Sophie H. Arnold, Katherine McAuliffe. Psychological Science, January 6, 2021.

Abstract... In the United States, there is an unfortunate yet pervasive gender gap in wages: Women tend to make less than men for doing the same work. One prominent account for why this wage gap exists is that women and men negotiate differently. However, we currently do not know whether differences in negotiation are a product of extensive experience or are deeply rooted in development. Here, we brought data from children to bear on this important question. We gave 240 children between the ages of 4 and 9 years old a chance to negotiate for a bonus with a female or a male evaluator. Boys asked for the same bonus from a male and a female evaluator. Older girls, in contrast, asked for a smaller bonus from a male than a female evaluator. Our findings suggest that a gender gap in negotiation emerges surprisingly early in development, highlighting childhood as a key period for interventions.

Keywords: negotiation, gender, wage gap, social categories, social cognitive development, open data, open materials

Realness is the relatively stable tendency to act on the outside the way one feels on the inside, regardless of proximal consequences; is a core feature of authenticity, generally adaptive but largely unrelated to agreeableness

Realness is a core feature of authenticity. Christopher J. Hopwooda et al. Journal of Research in Personality, March 13 2021, 104086.


• Authenticity is a multidimensional process with costs and benefits.

• Authenticity processes have been obscured in recent research.

• Realness is a tractable, measurable, and core component of authenticity.

• Being real is adaptive but not always agreeable.

Abstract: We established realness as the relatively stable tendency to act on the outside the way one feels on the inside, without regard for proximal personal or social consequences. In nine studies, we showed that realness is a) a core feature of individual differences in authenticity, b) generally adaptive but largely unrelated to agreeableness, c) highly stable, d) reliably observable in dyadic behavior, and e) predictive of responses to situations with potential for personal or social costs. Informants both perceive agreeable motives in real behavior and recognize that being real can be disagreeable. We concluded that realness represents an important individual difference construct that is foundational for authentic social behavior, and that being real comes with both costs and benefits.

Keywords: authenticitytransparencyrealnesscongruencepersonality

18. Discussion

At the moment, the world is awash in “fake news”, citizens are routinely manipulated by politicians who do not mean what they say, and social media platforms incentivize virtue signaling and punish straightforwardness. Although being “yourself” is often extolled in modern society, it comes with social risks. It is these moments of social risk that provide perhaps the most valid test of whether a person is actually being real: a person who is only real when it pays off is not really real at all.

This complexity is emphasized in classical psychological theories about authenticity and related concepts (congruence, genuineness, transparency), yet contemporary research uses measures that are strongly related to agreeableness, and which tend to mix content that is central to authentic behavior with content that is more peripheral. We sought to identify, distinguish, and validate the tendency to be real, the core individual difference variable underlying authentic personality processes, which we define as doing on the outside what one feels on the inside regardless of the proximal social consequences.

Realness may be a particularly important individual difference variable within certain domains of social behavior. For instance, being real may be both harmful and beneficial for politicians, but for citizens, it is a key characteristic of trust (Rosenblum et al., 2019). As such, both actual demonstrations and (potentially inaccurate) perceptions of realness are nearly always an important consideration in the political sphere. Related, standing up to or criticizing powerful people and institutions to promote social justice is socially risky, by definition. People who have been made famous for doing so (e.g., Joan of Arc, Sitting Bull, Colin Kaepernick, Thomas Paine, Rosa Parks, William Tell, Henry David Thoreau) strike us as prototypically real – and they have historically experienced both the costs and benefits of this trait. To the degree that being real is an important ingredient for making the world a better place, understanding and promoting realness at the individual level may contribute to a more just society. At the same time, people who both hold and express hateful, racist, and divisive beliefs are also being real. As such, the social value of realness may depend on the health of those inner qualities that support it, such as self-awareness and capacity for reflection.

Realness may be particularly important in close relationships, such as psychotherapy, romance, or parenting. Indeed, we would hypothesize that, all things equal, most people would rather have a close relationship with someone who is real than with someone who is not. Again, however, we would expect that realness would be particularly valued in close relationships when it is supported by internal capacities for empathy and personal reflection. This notion is captured by the idea that people generally prefer a friend whose “heart is in the right place”.

These speculations point the way to future research that will benefit from our generation of a unidimensional model of realness. In these studies, realness was relatively stable, observable, predictive of contextualized social behavior, positively associated with adaptive functioning, and largely unrelated to concerns about being agreeable vs. antagonistic, as predicted. These results have implications for understanding individual differences in an important pattern of social behavior and may help clarify disconnections between classical theories and contemporary research on authenticity.

18.1. Realness and Authenticity

Authenticity has captured the attention of theorists and researchers for decades, but it is a highly complex construct that has proven difficult to study and around which no scholarly consensus has emerged (Hicks et al., 2019). The authenticity literature is somewhat disjointed, with measures that are similar but not identical, and in which theory and research have parted ways in important respects (Baumeister, 2019). Moreover, our results suggest that existing measures deviate from classical theories about authenticity in being strongly related to agreeable personality characteristics.

Based on our literature review, we concluded that this was a result of two main factors. The first was that existing measures seem to capture some non-specific social desirability variance that contributes to discriminant validity issues with respect to agreeableness-related traits and behaviors. The second was the effort to account for multiple internal and external features that give rise to authentic behavior, even if they are supportive but not essential. We understand authenticity as a relatively complex, multi-component, within-person process involving dynamic connections between internal states and external behavior. Many of the existing authenticity measures were based on theories that explicitly referenced such dynamic, multi-component, within-person processes. These processes included some features that seem central to authenticity (behavioral expressions of inner states), as well as other features that may support authentic behavior but in a somewhat non-specific way (e.g., self-awareness).

To be clear, we think that studying authenticity and all of the processes that support it is an important endeavor for social scientists. However, we concluded that, rather than trying to capture all of the features involved in complex within-person authenticity dynamics using measures designed to detect between-person differences, it would be better to begin by isolating a core between-person variable that is central to authentic behavior. A firm model of individual differences in realness can help facilitate authenticity research by distinguishing those individuals most likely to be real in a given situation, and by providing a variable that can be used to study the within-person contours of real behavior across time and situations.

We found that realness content was present in existing multidimensional measures of authenticity, but that it was also obscured in measures with scales that focused on either internal characteristics such as capacities for personal awareness, accurate perception, and reflective function, or external characteristics involving explicit social behavior. While such characteristics, in combination, may support authenticity, it is not being aware or behaving in a certain way in isolation that provides evidence that someone is authentic – it is the correspondence between these inner and outer states. This correspondence could be labeled congruence or transparency, terms which directly indicate the connection between inner and outer states. However, the second obscuring factor was that item content on existing measures tended to have a strong positive valence. A consequence of this positive valence is that authenticity measures tend to be strongly correlated with agreeable traits. However, as described in detail above, this pattern of correlation departs significantly from classical theories of authenticity. An authentic person should be so whether or not there are potential negative consequences. In fact, situations in which the potential for negative consequences are present provide the truest tests of authenticity. We refer to this tendency to be transparent or congruent without regard for social consequences as realness. By realness, we simply mean that when a person reveals everything they think, feel, and want on the inside to others in a way that is direct and straightforward, they are being real; when they conceal such features, they are being fake.

To be clear, realness does not solve all of the problems with authenticity. A significant hurdle is that the validity of realness scores depends on the rater having a valid account of inner states. Generally speaking, the self is the best source of information about inner states, although individuals may have not accurately report them for a variety of reasons. Observers and informants, in contrast, may not share all of the self’s blind spots, but they also do not have direct access to the target’s inner states. It may be possible to create experimental approaches to test the relevance of self-insight to some degree (e.g., by manipulating inner states directly via priming techniques), which would be an important direction for future work.

One specific way in which realness may be different from authenticity occurs when a person has two motives. For instance, a person may disapprove of someone else’s behavior but also value social harmony, and expect that expressing that disapproval would create disharmony. It is not clear whether expressing disapproval or not would be the most authentic behavior in this situation. However, the most real response would be to both express disapproval and also express the desire to maintain social harmony. To the extent that either of these inner states or motives are concealed, the response is not real (but still could potentially be authentic in at least some sense). Future work focused on the how people express themselves when their motives conflict would be informative about both realness and the broader concept of authenticity.

18.2. Correlates of Individual Differences in Realness

We found that individual differences in realness were strongly related to variation in existing measures of authenticity and correlated with high levels of extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, honesty, dominance, internal locus of control, and interpersonal competence. Realness was negatively associated with neuroticism, a range of maladaptive personality characteristics, interpersonal problems, self-monitoring, and fear of negative evaluation; and it was largely unrelated to agreeableness, although the pattern of results was complicated, as we will discuss in more detail below. Overall, this pattern of correlations suggests that people who are more real tend to have more adaptive personalities. This is consistent with classic theories that postulate that realness is an outgrowth of psychological maturity (e.g., Horney, 1951; Maslow, 1968). However, as discussed above, this may depend on the level of health of inner characteristics such as self-awareness and capacity for reflection and emotion regulation. In other words, it may be the case that realness is adaptive among healthy, prosocially motivated individuals, whereas it is maladaptive or even pernicious among people who are less well-developed or antisocial. Indeed, we note that children are often seen as characteristically “real”, despite not having developed personalities. Given that both classical theory and our data imply but do not prove that realness is an outcome of healthy maturation, genetically-informed developmental data would be useful for better understanding the sources of individual differences in the construct (Wagner et al., 2020), and future research should seek to distinguish being real from the healthy inner capacities that support personal and interpersonal adaptation.

Although we conceptualize realness as an individual difference construct, we also wish to emphasize that it is importantly different from the big five or analogous personality traits. Personality traits such as those in the big five indicate the tendency to behave in a certain way, relative to others, across time and situations. For instance, people who are high in extraversion are more extraverted than most other people in most situations. In contrast, realness is a contingent construct, in that it is only possible to test whether someone is real when social risk is present. As such, it is most telling to observe realness when the relevant costs are present. In an individual difference measure such as the RS, this can be specified in the items themselves. In observational or experimental work, this would have to be taken into account in other ways, such as the manipulation of scenarios so as to create social risk. This would be a fruitful avenue for future research because it would help inform the mechanics of real behavior, and help distinguish it from other kinds of traits.

18.3. Realness and conceptually similar constructs

Some of the modest correlations between realness and conceptually similar constructs are important for understanding the difference between realness and other aspects of authenticity. For example, honesty as conceptualized on the HEXACO is a relatively instrumental trait with significant positive valence (e.g., If I knew that I could never get caught, I would be willing to steal a million dollars (reverse), I wouldn't use flattery to get a raise or a promotion at work, even if I thought it would succeed). In contrast, the social costs of realness are embedded in the items of the RS, which also focus on being real for its own sake, as opposed to the instrumental utility of the alternative. To be concrete, HEXACO honesty might be better at capturing the tendency (not) to use subterfuge in order to get something or impress someone, RS realness might be better at capturing the tendency to act according to inner experience regardless of personal or social consequences. It would be useful for future research to examine a wider range of correlates than in this study, to further elaborate the nomological net of realness.

Self-monitoring is another conceptually similar but somewhat broader and empirically distinct construct. Self-monitoring focuses on behavioral expression, and particularly non-verbal expressions (Snyder, 1974). Moreover, it the absence of self-monitoring can function to be either real or non-real. For instance, according to Snyder (1974), one of “the goals of self-monitoring may be to communicate accurately one's true emotional state”. In other words, for a person who is characteristically deceptive or fake, an absence of self-monitoring would tend to contribute to being less real. Overall, we see self-monitoring as capturing some aspects of being real in the sense that the absence of self-monitoring is thought to produce a tight, non-reflected connection between internal states and outward behavior, but that the concept also some of the internal features depicted in Figure 1, and may not necessarily be associated with being real in any particular situation. The relatively modest correlation between realness and self-monitoring in study 3 is consistent with this interpretation.

Disinhibition, a third conceptually similar construct, is a broad trait involving impulsive behavior. It tends to be associated with negative outcomes such as externalizing psychopathology (Patrick et al., 2013), and tends to decrease normatively with age (Vaidya, Latzman, Markon, & Watson, 2010). There is a similarity between being real and being disinhibited, because both of these concepts involve a connection between inner states and behavioral expression. However, disinhibition is broader and more maladaptive, and thought to reflect a kind of psychological immaturity or underdevelopment. For instance, whereas disinhibition is a strong predictor of substance use (Iacono, Malone, & McGue, 2008), we would not expect realness to be related to substance use. Instead, we would expect people who are real to use substances if they feel like them, and not use substances if they don’t, whereas we would expect disinhibited people to experience an urge to use substances that they find difficult to control. Disinhibition has been conceptualized as low conscientiousness (Clark & Watson, 2008); in this study the RS was consistently albeit modestly negatively correlated with conscientiousness, supporting the empirical distinction between realness and disinhibition.

18.4. Realness and Agreeableness

One of the main motivations for this research was our observation that classical theories of authenticity emphasized the potentially disagreeable aspects of realness (e.g., Maslow, 1968) whereas existing measures of authenticity had uniformly positive correlations with individual differences in agreeable behavior (e.g., Pinto et al., 2012). We concluded that this discrepancy may be due, at least in part, to social desirability. Generally speaking, authenticity and agreeableness are both positive characteristics, and thus items designed to assess them might contain non-specific positive valence, creating a correlation between the two constructs (Baumeister, 2019; Jongman-Sereno & Leary, 2016).

Comparisons of validity correlations from self, informant, and peer-nomination data were used to disentangle social desirability effects. The self-report correlation between realness and agreeableness was negligible. The correlation between informant-rated realness and informant-rated agreeableness was positive, which may suggest that informants would generally prefer their friends to be real. This interpretation is consistent with assertions by theorists like Rogers (1961) regarding the interpersonal importance of being real. However, when given a forced choice between a real and a polite friend, both of whom the rater likes, informants rated the polite friend as substantially more agreeable than the real friend. This pattern can be summarized as follows: people who are more real do not tend to see themselves as more agreeable, but people tend to see realness in their friends as more agreeable than otherwise, while also recognizing that it is less agreeable to be real than to be polite.

Longitudinal and experimental work would be useful for further disentangling realness from disagreeableness, from the perspective of both the self and others. Further refinement of the measurement of these constructs may also be useful. Specifically, it may be that realness is experienced as warm or communal in a deep sense, even if it is not agreeable in the more superficial sense. Colloquially, people often experience gratitude when others are “real” with them, presumably because they attribute that realness to some kind of deep or lasting concern. Given the possibility that perceived agreeableness and realness reflect different levels of psychological functioning, it may not make sense to measure them with the same kinds of tools (Leary, 1957), and it may be profitable to develop techniques that distinguish deeper, motivational aspects of behavior from more visible, superficial aspects.

18.5. Realness, Context, and States

One interesting finding from recent research is that people tend to report feeling more authentic when they are their best selves, not their most typical selves, in social situations (Beer and Harris, 2019Fleeson and Wilt, 2010). This speaks to the valence effect discussed above – people want to believe they are their best selves deep inside, which includes being authentic (Hicks, Schlegel, & Newman, 2019), and there is a fairly consensual model of what the best self is (Bleidorn et al., 2019). This may help explain why ratings of authenticity and ratings of adaptive personality traits, including agreeableness, converge at a very general level.

But a different and perhaps more interesting behavioral question is, in the moment when the crisis strikes, are you real (Sedkides et al., 2019)? Being real in this sense is not the same thing as behaving according to one’s typical trait levels, being the same way across all situations, or being the best version of yourself. As inner feelings may change dramatically across situations or roles, then behavior must correspondingly change, given that realness is defined by the congruence between inner and outer states. Realness is consistency with how one feels in a given moment, which itself might change across situations, and which may deviate from typical traits. A related question is, what if a person has an internal conflict and their behavior only corresponds to one side of that conflict? We would argue that this would be only partly real, and to be fully real, one should outwardly express both aspects of their internal conflict.

Longitudinal and contextualized, multi-method data are needed to test these kinds of hypotheses. We did not consider contextual factors such as relationship closeness or hierarchy (Chen, 2019), the match between internal and external states (Eastwick, Finkel, & Simpson, 2019), relationship dynamics (Finkel, 2019), internal conflict (Strack & Deutsch, 2004), or the level of support in the environment (Ryan & Ryan, 2019) affect realness. We anticipate that, like other traits, realness will be strongly impacted by both individual differences and situational dynamics. In this set of studies, we focused on individual differences and learned very little about situational dynamics. By generating a valid measure of realness that can be administered as a self-report, informant-report or behavioral observation tool, we have we have provided a method for capturing this core feature of authentic behavior and set the stage for work on the manifestation and dynamics of realness states in actual social contexts.

18.6. Limits to Generalizability

These studies were conducted exclusively in WEIRD samples in two countries. It would be important to examine how well the concept of realness generalizes to other cultures in terms of content validity, measurement invariance, and patterns of correlation before generalizing these results to people, in general. Even within these countries, efforts were not specifically made to examine how realness functions across important sub-segments of the population (e.g., different ethnicities or social classes). This is a related and important area for future work. It seems plausible that, within WEIRD countries, people with different backgrounds are more likely to exhibit realness than others. For instance, it may be that people with more historical or personal privilege experience relatively less social risk in being real than people from underrepresented or underprivileged groups. Extending from this idea is the possibility that certain known groups might be particularly high (e.g., counselors) or low (e.g., thieves) in realness. Studies sampling such groups would provide a novel means of validating and studying realness.