Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Violent offenders show reduced attention orienting to the eyes while viewing faces; although offenders & controls show comparable emotion recognition performance, reduced eye gaze is lined to lower recognition for fearful faces

Attention orienting to the eyes in violent female and male offenders: An eye-tracking study. Nina A. Gehrer et al. Biological Psychology, June 12 2021, 108136.


• Violent offenders show reduced attention orienting to the eyes while viewing faces.

• Impairments occur for female as well as male incarcerated offenders.

• Particularly early attention shifts are affected.

• Offenders and controls show comparable emotion recognition performance.

• Reduced eye gaze is related to lower recognition accuracy for fearful faces.

Abstract: Attention to the eyes and eye contact form an important basis for the development of empathy and social competences including prosocial behavior. Thus, impairments in attention to the eyes of an interaction partner might play a role in the etiology of antisocial behavior and violence. For the first time, the present study extends investigations of eye gaze to a large sample (N = 173) including not only male but also female violent offenders and a control group. We assessed viewing patterns during the categorization of emotional faces via eye tracking. Our results indicate a reduced frequency of initial attention shifts to the eyes in female and male offenders compared to controls, while there were no general group differences in overall attention to the eye region (i.e., relative dwell time). Thus, we conclude that violent offenders might be able to compensate for deficits in spontaneous attention orienting during later stages of information processing.

Keywords: female offendersviolent offenderseye gazeattention to the eyeseye tracking

From the first author's PhD thesis:


This study is the first to investigate the association between psychopathic personality traits 

and eye contact during live social interaction. For this purpose, we assessed a group of 

incarcerated offenders who had been convicted of serious crimes (e.g., first-degree murder, 

child molestation, rape, etc.) and had validated psychopathy scores. Eye movements were 

recorded during a semi-structured face-to-face interaction with a mobile eye-tracking headset 

and analyzed using a newly developed automated method for the definition of AOIs (i.e., 

face, eyes and philtrum). Consistent with our hypotheses, higher scores of affective 

psychopathy in particular (but not interpersonal, lifestyle, or antisocial facets of psychopathy) 

were found to significantly predict reduced eye contact in combination with increased 

attention to the lower parts of the face, i.e. the philtrum. Therefore, affective psychopathic 

traits were associated with a different focus within the face, while general attention to the face 

was unrelated to these traits.

Our findings are in line with previous studies that linked reduced eye gaze to high CU (callous unemotional) traits, a precursor of affective psychopathy, in children (Billeci et al., 2019; Dadds et al.,  2008; Dadds et al., 2006; but see also Martin-Key et al., 2018). A few studies replicated this  association between CU traits and eye contact assessed by observer ratings during live parentchild interactions (Dadds et al., 2014; Dadds et al., 2011). In offender samples, however,  reduced attention to the eyes of facial stimuli was only documented in laboratory settings with  existing evidence pointing to an association with interpersonal features of psychopathy  (Dargis et al., 2018). Our study extends previous research in several important ways. For one,  our study is the first to document an association between reduced eye contact and the affective  facet of psychopathy (i.e., impaired empathy, an incapacity of feeling guilt or remorse, and  shallow affect) in incarcerated offenders. Second, we show for the first time that these deficits  generalize to naturalistic settings such as live social interaction and therefore exhibit  behavioral relevance. Taken together, this suggests that impairments in attention to socially  salient features previously documented in children and adolescents with high CU traits  (Dadds et al., 2008; Dadds et al., 2011) presumably persist through life. Therefore, assumed  detrimental effects on the development of social cognition and social competence may play a role in the development and the maintenance of psychopathic personality traits (Bedford et al., 2015; Dadds et al., 2014; Dadds et al., 2011; Vaughan Van Hecke et al., 2007). Similar mechanisms have been posited for social deficits in other psychological or neurological disorders, e.g., autism spectrum disorder or amygdala lesion (Auyeung et al., 2015; Freeth & Bugembe, 2019; Hanley et al., 2015; Hanley et al., 2014; Moriuchi, Klin, & Jones, 2017; Spezio, Huang, Castelli, & Adolphs, 2007; Yoder, Stone, Walden, & Malesa, 2009). Future research is needed in order to understand the mechanisms behind impaired attention processes and their association with these psychopathologies in order to further the understanding of etiology, to improve diagnostic specificity, and to develop new intervention and prevention  strategies. 

This study contains notable strengths as well as a number of limitations. Besides its 

ecological validity, our approach is bolstered by the use of a newly developed method to 

automate AOI labelling in video frames (Duchowski et al., 2019). This is a significant 

improvement of the eye-tracking state-of-the-art (e.g., during social interaction) which, to 

date, has relied on manual frame-by-frame labeling of facial AOIs (Hessels, Benjamins, 

Cornelissen, & Hooge, 2018). The approach presented in this paper offers greater objectivity 

and efficiency of the analysis. Furthermore, psychopathic traits were measured via PCL-R 

scores as assessed by independent experts and we took into account effects of possible 

confounding variables identified by recent research, i.e., age and activity as well as eye 

contact expressed by the experimenter (Gillespie et al., 2017; Hessels et al., 2019; Murphy & 

Isaacowitz, 2010; Rogers et al., 2018). The effects of these variables documented in our study 

fit well with previous findings, e.g., reduced attention to the face when talking compared to 

listening during live interaction (Hessels et al., 2019) or reduced attention to the eyes with 

greater age (Gillespie et al., 2017; Murphy & Isaacowitz, 2010). A clear limitation of our 

study is that we are not able to draw conclusions regarding female psychopaths since gender 

has been linked to scan patterns of faces (Hall, Hutton, & Morgan, 2010; Sullivan, Campbell, 

Hutton, & Ruffman, 2017). Furthermore, future studies need to investigate whether our results 

extend to less structured interaction settings and across different interaction partners. 

However, based on previous findings showing the stability of viewing patterns across 

different interaction partners, the present findings can be expected to generalize despite 

variation of interactional situations (Rogers et al., 2018). 

 In sum, we conclude that early impairments in attention to the eyes of an interaction 

partner are presumably stable over one’s lifespan and affect socialization processes including 

the development of empathy during childhood. Recently, not only psychopathic traits but also

other mental disorders such as autism have been associated with similar attentional deficits. 

Therefore, these impairments may represent a general risk factor for the development of 

psychological disorders characterized by social problems. The underlying mechanisms might 

involve deficient amygdala or ventromedial prefrontal cortex functioning (Spezio et al., 2007; 

Wolf, Philippi, Motzkin, Baskaya, & Koenigs, 2014) but need to be further clarified. It will be 

important to develop effective intervention and prevention strategies that improve visual 

attention and eye contact of children at risk. To date, evidence for lasting changes in eye gaze 

through social attention bias modification training (Alvares et al., 2019; Schönenberg et al., 

2014) or parent training programs (Dadds, English, Wimalaweera, Schollar-Root, & Hawes, 

2019) is still elusive. Thus, these promising approaches and further opportunities that target 

impaired eye contact need to be further investigated and enhanced.

Are conservatives more charitable than liberals in the U.S.? A meta-analysis of political ideology and charitable giving

Are conservatives more charitable than liberals in the U.S.? A meta-analysis of political ideology and charitable giving. Yongzheng Yang, Peixu Liu. Social Science Research, June 16 2021, 102598.

Abstract: Political ideology not only influences political activities, but also apolitical fields such as charitable giving. However, empirical studies regarding political ideology and charitable giving have yielded mixed results. To find out the effect size and explain the variation in effect sizes, we deploy a meta-analysis to estimate the average effect size and examine the potential moderators from four perspectives. Following scientific data collection and coding procedures, we identify 421 effect sizes from 31 empirical studies. Our meta-analysis results suggest that political conservatives are significantly more charitable than liberals at an overall level, but the relationship between political ideology and charitable giving varies under different scenarios. Furthermore, meta-regression results indicate that the measure of charitable giving, the type of charitable giving, and controlling for religiosity can account for the variation in effect sizes.

Keywords: Charitable givingPolitical ideologyUnited StatesMeta-analysis

Check also Cai, Meina and Caskey, Greg and Cowen, Nick and Murtazashvili, Ilia and Murtazashvili, Jennifer Brick and Salahodjaev, Raufhon, Individualism, Economic Freedom, and Charitable Giving (May 28, 2021). SSRN:

The secret life of predictive brains: what’s spontaneous activity for?

The secret life of predictive brains: what’s spontaneous activity for? Giovanni Pezzulo, Marco Zorzi, Maurizio Corbetta. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, June 16 2021.


. Spontaneous brain dynamics are manifestations of top-down dynamics of generative models detached from action–perception cycles.

. Generative models constantly produce top-down dynamics, but we call them expectations and attention during task engagement and spontaneous activity at rest.

. Spontaneous brain dynamics during resting periods optimize generative models for future interactions by maximizing the entropy of explanations in the absence of specific data and reducing model complexity.

. Low-frequency brain fluctuations during spontaneous activity reflect transitions between generic priors consisting of low-dimensional representations and connectivity patterns of the most frequent behavioral states.

. High-frequency fluctuations during spontaneous activity in the hippocampus and other regions may support generative replay and model learning.

Abstract: Brains at rest generate dynamical activity that is highly structured in space and time. We suggest that spontaneous activity, as in rest or dreaming, underlies top-down dynamics of generative models. During active tasks, generative models provide top-down predictive signals for perception, cognition, and action. When the brain is at rest and stimuli are weak or absent, top-down dynamics optimize the generative models for future interactions by maximizing the entropy of explanations and minimizing model complexity. Spontaneous fluctuations of correlated activity within and across brain regions may reflect transitions between ‘generic priors’ of the generative model: low dimensional latent variables and connectivity patterns of the most common perceptual, motor, cognitive, and interoceptive states. Even at rest, brains are proactive and predictive.

Keywords: spontaneous activitygenerative modelsresting statepredictive brains

During offline periods, there are fewer stimuli to 'explain away' and this may favor the formation of generic priors. Generic priors may correspond to information-compressed, low-dimensional states that summarize a large amount of information, abstracting away from specific stimuli.

Sexual activity while driving: 40.5% of media reports shows serious incidents that involved a crash and 21.7% had fatalities

Sexual activity while driving: A content analysis of media reports. Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, James G. Phillips. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, Volume 80, July 2021, Pages 141-149.


• Sexual activity while driving is distracted driving.

• Content analysis was applied to 106 cases of sexual activity while driving.

• Sexual activities reported include masturbating, oral sex, and intercourse.

• Sexual activity while driving was associated with speeding and lane departures.

Abstract: Sexual activity while driving fits the definition of distracted driving because it involves the diversion of attention away from the driving task. However, this risky driving behaviour has received little attention compared to other distracted driving activities. To address the lack of research on sexual activity while driving, the internet was searched from April to June 2020 for media reports in which sexual activities occurred within the cabin of a moving vehicle, taking specific note of: gender, the presence of others, time of day, use of substances, the nature of the circumstances surrounding the incident, and whether crashes had occurred. A total of 106 unique and verified cases were identified from 2004 to 2020. The reports involved 76 male (71.7%) and 30 female drivers (28.3%), and there were 43 (40.5%) serious incidents that involved a crash and 23 fatalities (21.7%). In 17 (16.0%) incidents their vehicle hit another car, and a pedestrian or cyclist was hit in 3 (2.8%) incidents. The risk of a serious incident was higher during oral sex or intercourse than solitary activities (i.e. masturbation). A total of 63 (59.5%) mild incidents (without crashes or fatalities) were identified, in which reports included accounts by witnesses or police regarding sexual activity while driving. Given the potential seriousness of incidents, this topic deserves further research to better understand the prevalence and safety implications of sexual activity while driving.

Keywords: Sexual healthRisky driving behavioursExhibitionismDistracted drivingRoad safetyRisky sexual behavioursRoad TraumaDriver behaviour

Negative content was both better transmitted in transmission chain experiments and shared more than its neutral counterpart; threat-related information was successful in transmission chain experiments but not when sharing

Acerbi, Alberto. 2021. “From Storytelling to Facebook. Content Biases When Retelling or Sharing a Story.” OSF Preprints. June 11. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: Cultural evolution researchers use transmission chain experiments to investigate which content is more likely to survive when transmitted from one individual to another. These experiments resemble oral storytelling, where individuals need to understand, memorise, and reproduce the content. However, prominent contemporary forms of cultural transmission—think an online sharing— only involve the willingness to transmit the content. Here I present two fully preregistered online experiments that explicitly investigated the differences between these two modalities of transmission. The first experiment (N=1080) examined whether negative content, information eliciting disgust, and threat-related information were better transmitted than their neutral counterpart in a traditional transmission chain set-up. The second experiment (N=1200), used the same material, but participants were asked whether they would share or not the content in two conditions: in a large anonymous social network, or with their friends, in their favourite social network. Negative content was both better transmitted in transmission chain experiments and shared more than its neutral counterpart. Threat-related information was successful in transmission chain experiments but not when sharing, and, finally, information eliciting disgust was not advantaged in either. Overall, the results present a composite picture, suggesting that the interactions between the specific content and the medium of transmission are important and, possibly, that content biases are stronger when memorisation and reproduction are involved in the transmission—like in oral transmission—than when they are not—like in online sharing.

The influence of prior knowledge on the formation of detailed and durable memories

The influence of prior knowledge on the formation of detailed and durable memories. B. Bellana et al. Journal of Memory and Language, Volume 121, December 2021, 104264.


• Prior knowledge is an important determinant of memory detail.

• Prior knowledge benefits memory for extrinsic context (extra-item details).

• Prior knowledge subtly impairs memory for intrinsic context (intra-item details).

• Prior knowledge benefits memory formation even when encoding is incidental.

Abstract: Prior knowledge often improves recognition, but its relationship to the retrieval of memory detail is unclear. Resource-based accounts of recognition suggest that familiar stimuli are more efficiently encoded into memory, thus freeing attentional resources to encode additional details from a study episode. However, schema-based theories would predict that activating prior knowledge can lead to the formation of more generalized representations in memory. Across a series of four experiments, we examined the relationship between prior knowledge and memory for extrinsic context (i.e., extra-item details from the surrounding study episode) and intrinsic context (i.e., memory for the precise intra-item features of the studied target itself). Familiar stimuli (famous faces and popular foods/beverages) were associated with better memory for extrinsic context, operationalized as Remember responses and objective source memory accuracy. Self-reported degree of prior knowledge associated with a given image was also predictive of this effect. Prior knowledge improved recognition memory during a surprise delayed recognition test, even under conditions in which study was unintentional, supporting the idea of efficient encoding. Critically, in a paradigm in which recognition required the correct rejection of highly perceptually similar lures, prior knowledge was associated with more false alarms. Our results suggest that stimuli associated with prior knowledge are indeed efficiently encoded into memory, freeing more attentional resources to encode extrinsic context. This benefit, however, may come at the cost of memory precision for the item itself. By examining extrinsic and intrinsic context separately, we demonstrate that resource and schema-based theories provide complementary accounts of how prior knowledge influences memory detail.

Keywords: KnowledgeLearningMemoryEpisodicSemanticsSchema