Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Regularly drinking alcohol & drinking with meal is significantly associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, or other-cause mortality

Alcohol Consumption Levels as Compared With Drinking Habits in Predicting All-Cause Mortality and Cause-Specific Mortality in Current Drinkers. Hao Ma et al. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 96, Issue 7, July 2021, Pages 1758-1769.


Objective: To investigate the joint associations of amounts of alcohol consumed and drinking habits with the risks of all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality.

Patients and Methods: A total of 316,627 healthy current drinkers, with baseline measurements between March 13, 2006, and October 1, 2010, were included in this study. We newly created a drinking habit score (DHS) according to regular drinking (frequency of alcohol intake ≥3 times/wk) and whether consuming alcohol with meals (yes).

Results: During a median follow-up of 8.9 years, we documented 8652 incident cases of all-cause death, including 1702 cases of cardiovascular disease death, 4960 cases of cancer death, and 1990 cases of other-cause death. After adjustment confounders and amount of alcohol consumed, higher DHS was significantly associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, or other-cause mortality (Ptrend<.001, Ptrend=.03, Ptrend<.001, and Ptrend<.001, respectively). We observed that the amount of alcohol consumed have different relationships with the risks of all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality among participants with distinct drinking habits, grouped by DHS. For example, in the joint analyses, a J-shaped association between the amount of alcohol consumed and all-cause mortality was observed in participants with unfavorable DHS (Pquadratic trend=.02) while the association appeared to be U-shaped in participants with favorable DHS (Pquadratic trend=.003), with lower risks in those consuming greater than or equal to 50 g/wk and less than 300 g/wk.

Conclusion: Our results indicate that alcohol consumption levels have different relationships with the risk of mortality among current drinkers, depending on their drinking habits.

Sex differences in risk taking: Our findings suggest that sensitivity to rewards, associated with resting-state theta oscillations in the anterior cingulate cortex, is a trait that potentially contributes to those sex differences

Resting-State Theta Oscillations and Reward Sensitivity in Risk Taking. Maria Azanova, Maria Herrojo Ruiz, Alexis V. Belianin, Vasily Klucharev and Vadim V. Nikulin. Front. Neurosci., April 28 2021.

Abstract: Females demonstrate greater risk aversion than males on a variety of tasks, but the underlying neurobiological basis is still unclear. We studied how theta (4–7 Hz) oscillations at rest related to three different measures of risk taking. Thirty-five participants (15 females) completed the Bomb Risk Elicitation Task (BRET), which allowed us to measure risk taking during an economic game. The Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale (DOSPERT) was used to measure self-assessed risk attitudes as well as reward and punishment sensitivities. In addition, the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS11) was included to quantify impulsiveness. To obtain measures of frontal theta asymmetry and frontal theta power, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) acquired prior to task completion, while participants were at rest. Frontal theta asymmetry correlated with average risk taking during the game but only in the female sample. By contrast, frontal theta power correlated with risk taking as well as with measures of reward and punishment sensitivity in the joint sample. Importantly, we showed that reward sensitivity mediated a correlation between risk taking and the power of theta oscillations localized to the anterior cingulate cortex. In addition, we observed significant sex differences in source- and sensor-space theta power, risk taking during the game, and reward sensitivity. Our findings suggest that sensitivity to rewards, associated with resting-state theta oscillations in the anterior cingulate cortex, is a trait that potentially contributes to sex differences in risk taking.


Using resting-state MEG recordings and three distinct measures of risk attitudes, we show that sex differences in risk taking are associated with reward sensitivity, which, in turn, are linked to resting-state ACC theta oscillations (Figure 8). On the behavioral level, males were more sensitive to rewards than females. Game-based measures of risk taking showed significant sex differences and also correlated with self-reported expected benefits of risky actions (DOSPERT benefits scores). On the neural level, rsFTA explained average risk taking during the repeated game exclusively in the female subsample. By contrast, in the whole sample, rsFT correlated with first-trial risk taking and also with DOSPERT benefit and risk scores, indicating an association with reward and punishment sensitivity. Finally, due to a refined spatial specificity, theta power localized to the ACC correlated with outcome sensitivities and game-based measures of risk taking even more strongly than the rsFT did. The findings suggest that resting-state ACC activity is a possible source of sex differences in reward sensitivity, and, consequently, in risk taking.

[Figure 8. Visualization of the main findings. MEG, magnetoencephalography; ACC, anterior cingulate cortex; DOSPERT, Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale; BIS11, Barratt Impulsiveness Scale. Significant correlations are reported after FDR adjustment.]

Behavioral Measures
The DOSPERT benefits subscale significantly correlated with both average and first-trial risk taking, converging with previous studies (Weber et al., 2002; Hanoch et al., 2006; Fukunaga et al., 2018). Further, self-assessed reward sensitivity demonstrated a greater correlation with first-trial than with average risk taking, indicating that sensitivity to outcomes could affect the former more (Erev et al., 2008; Lejarraga and Gonzalez, 2011). Absence of correlations between BIS11 scores and performance on decision-making tasks is in line with the literature (Gomide Vasconcelos et al., 2014; Lauriola et al., 2014; Reddy et al., 2014; Hüpen et al., 2019).

We observed significant sex differences in first-trial and average risk taking during the game, which was expected based on the extensive literature on sex differences in decision-making under uncertainty (e.g., Jianakoplos and Bernasek, 1998; Weber et al., 2002; Charness and Gneezy, 2012; Zhou et al., 2014). Notably, however, Crosetto and Filippin (2013) did not report significant sex differences in their versions of BRET. This discrepancy could be explained by the use of repeated trials or more salient financial incentives in our task. Furthermore, it has been observed earlier that some measures reveal that females are more risk-averse than males, while others are not (e.g., Charness et al., 2013; Filippin and Crosetto, 2016). Our finding that there was no significant sex difference in DOSPERT likelihood scores supports this observation.

As for the reward and punishment sensitivities, we observed that on average males scored higher than females on the DOSPERT benefits subscale. Previous studies also reported sex differences in outcome sensitivities based on DOSPERT (Weber et al., 2002; Hanoch et al., 2006; Lee and Jeong, 2013) and other measures (Li et al., 2007; Cross et al., 2011). In line with previous studies, we found no significant sex differences in impulsivity (Kamarajan et al., 2008; Liu et al., 2012; Lee and Jeong, 2013). Summarizing the facts presented above, behavioral evidence from the current work suggests that sensitivity to outcomes, rather than impulsivity, is a candidate trait that could explain sex differences in risk attitudes.

Frontal Theta Asymmetry (rsFTA)
Analysis of the MEG oscillatory activity showed no significant sex differences in rsFTA, converging with previous EEG work (Ocklenburg et al., 2019). Therefore, as predicted, we simultaneously observed (1) sex differences in risk taking based on game performance and (2) no sex differences in the neural trait previously associated with this decision-making characteristic.

We found a significant positive correlation of rsFTA with average risk taking exclusively in the female subsample, confirming earlier findings in female populations by Gianotti et al. (2009). Average and first-trial risk taking in the game did not correlate with rsFTA in the joint sample, which is in contrast with the result of Studer et al. (2013). However, Studer et al. (2013) did not report sex-specific results, and this study contained 70% of females, which, according to our findings, could bias the result obtained for the joint sample. Because regression analyses demonstrated significant effects of rsFTA on average risk taking in the game and because we observed correlation coefficients of rsFTA with measures of risk taking (although insignificant) comparable in magnitude to previous work with larger samples (Studer et al., 2013), a possible interpretation is that we were not able to reliably detect significant non-parametric associations between rsFTA and risk taking for the whole sample due to the limited sample size.

Higher rsFTA may be associated with the lower relative right frontal activity, and thus the prevalence of left frontal activity (Gianotti et al., 2009; Studer et al., 2013), which is partially supported by previously observed negative associations between theta power and cortical activity (Oakes et al., 2004; Scheeringa et al., 2008). Additional evidence that frontal lateralization is related to risk taking comes from stimulation studies, focused on the role of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in decision-making (Knoch et al., 2006; Fecteau et al., 2007a, b; Cho et al., 2010; Sela et al., 2012). Furthermore, several studies reported sex differences in the involvement of the right and left frontal cortices in decision-making (Bolla et al., 2004; Tranel et al., 2005; Neo and McNaughton, 2011). Our findings contribute to the evidence that sex may interact with frontal asymmetry in relation to risk taking, but this requires further testing.

Theta Power
We found a strong association between rsFT and theta power in the ACC. This outcome is consistent with previous dipole-fitting studies that revealed possible sources of rsFT in the ACC (Asada et al., 1999; Scheeringa et al., 2008; Clemens et al., 2010). The association between the power of neuronal oscillations and the degree of cortical activation is a subject of ongoing research, but an emerging pattern is that stronger alpha oscillations are typically associated with weaker cortical activity (e.g., Oakes et al., 2004). Previous work indicated a similar relationship for theta oscillations, but the evidence is not particularly strong. Oakes et al. (2004) showed some negative associations between EEG theta oscillations and fMRI BOLD signals. However, these associations were positive in some clusters of voxels, such as in one in the insular region. While Scheeringa et al. (2008) did find a negative association between rsFT and metabolic activity in the ACC, a more detailed interpretation of our results regarding cortical sources and their function would require follow-up studies using combined EEG-fMRI.

Risk Taking
We report on the existence of the significant positive correlation between rsFT and first-trial risk taking. Two previous studies did not find correlations of rsFT with risk taking (Massar et al., 2012; Studer et al., 2013). There are three notable similarities between their experimental designs that differentiate them from our paradigm. First, both studies introduced losses in the task either explicitly or via a safe gamble (Ert and Erev, 2013). Second, they forced participants to choose between two gambles with the same expected value (Massar et al., 2012) or with very similar expected values (Studer et al., 2013). Third, the computation of expected values of gambles in tasks used by Massar et al. (2012) and Studer et al. (2013) was straightforward. Therefore, differences in experimental designs associated with values and presentation of options might have affected the observed correlations between rsFT and risk taking.

All observed correlations for rsFT were even stronger for the ACC theta power, and it also significantly correlated with average risk taking in the game. It is an expected result. If rsFT originates at the level of the ACC (Asada et al., 1999; Scheeringa et al., 2008; Clemens et al., 2010), then the results would be more pronounced at the source level compared to the sensor level due to the contamination of sensor-level activity from other less relevant sources. Thus, our findings are aligned with the extensive neuroimaging research demonstrating the involvement of the ACC in decisions under risk (Paulus and Frank, 2006; Christopoulos et al., 2009; Hewig et al., 2009; Mohr et al., 2010; Schonberg et al., 2012; Fukunaga et al., 2018).

Reward and Punishment Sensitivity
Additionally, we found strong correlations of self-assessed punishment (DOSPERT risks) and reward (DOSPERT benefits) sensitivities with rsFT and the ACC theta power. Few previous studies examined associations between rsFT or ACC activity at rest and outcome sensitivity. Our findings contribute to the evidence that rsFT is related to outcome sensitivity (Massar et al., 2012, 2014). Regarding theta oscillations and ACC activity during tasks, both measures have previously been associated with reactions to rewards and punishments (Debener et al., 2005; Cohen et al., 2007; Kamarajan et al., 2008; Santesso et al., 2011; Crowley et al., 2014; Van Duijvenvoorde et al., 2014). Research in humans (Gehring and Willoughby, 2002; Wang et al., 2005; Iannaccone et al., 2015) and primates (Tsujimoto et al., 2010; Womelsdorf et al., 2010; Babapoor-Farrokhran et al., 2017; Taub et al., 2018) singled out theta ACC activity as a source of signals associated with feedback and behavioral adjustment. Our results further extend this literature.

Sex Differences
We found significant sex differences in rsFT. However, evidence from previous studies is mixed. Zappasodi et al. (2006) also used MEG and reported the presence of sex differences in resting-state theta power. Other studies used EEG and reported no significant sex differences (Jaušovec and Jaušovec, 2010; Gmehlin et al., 2011; Kober and Neuper, 2011; Banis et al., 2014), or higher theta power in females compared to males (Clarke et al., 2001; Kamarajan et al., 2008; Osinsky et al., 2017). We examined the demographic characteristics of participants in these studies and did not find a pattern that could account for such inconsistent results. One possibility is that sex difference in skull conductivities affects EEG recordings but not MEG (Huttunen et al., 1999).

Sex differences in the resting-state ACC theta power were even more pronounced. It is in line with the diverse evidence from previous studies that demonstrated sex differences associated with this region (Goldstein et al., 2001; Markham and Juraska, 2002; Zhou et al., 2014). These sex differences may be linked to levels of testosterone and its effects on midbrain dopaminergic pathways (Johnson et al., 2010). On the one hand, activity of the ACC is associated with dopaminergic projections from the midbrain (Holroyd and Coles, 2002), and dopaminergic genetic polymorphisms correlate with risk taking and also with amplitudes of FRN (Heitland et al., 2012). On the other hand, higher levels of testosterone are associated with risk taking (Apicella et al., 2008; Stanton et al., 2011) and also with outcome sensitivity (Van Honk et al., 2004). Therefore, baseline ACC activity may be linked to sex differences in outcome sensitivity and, consequently, risk taking. It should be noted, however, that the previous literature on sex differences in either rsFT or resting ACC theta activity is rather scarce. Accordingly, validation of the current results in future MEG and combined MRI-EEG studies will be necessary.

Noticeably, a mediation analysis allowed us to formally test the hypothesis that sex differences in risk taking may be mediated by reward sensitivity via resting-state theta oscillations in the ACC. The results revealed that reward sensitivity assessed via DOSPERT benefits scores mediated the effects of resting-state ACC theta oscillations on average and first-trial risk taking in the game. Furthermore, structural equation modeling demonstrated that the indirect pathway of the effect of sex on first-trial risk taking via the ACC theta power and DOSPERT benefits scores was significant; it fully accounted for the overall impact of sex on first-trial risk taking. Therefore, even though there may be other confounding variables, reward sensitivity is a candidate trait for explaining sex differences in risk taking where resting-state ACC activity is a potential contributing mechanism.

Finally, regression analysis demonstrated that rsFTA and sex captured significantly different portions of variance in task performance, while ACC theta power explained variance due to sex. Therefore, if we only had information about rsFTA we would not be able to explain variability in risk taking of participants associated with their sex, while this can be done based on resting ACC theta power. Interestingly, Weis et al. (2020) have recently shown that sex classification based on resting-state connectivity of ACC can be done with 74.4% accuracy. In addition, results of regression analysis showed that average performance in the game was explained best when including both rsFTA and ACC theta power before the game (as opposed to including only one of these characteristics), which further highlights a possibility for functionally distinct involvement of these neural traits in risk-taking. Future research is required to clarify this question.

This study has several limitations. An important drawback of our experiment is not controlling for the menstrual cycle phase of female participants. This could have confounded our results because cortical activity is affected by menstrual cycle phase and blood estrogen level (Dietrich et al., 2001; Hausmann, 2005). Furthermore, we had a relatively small sample size (35), a higher number of males compared to females (20/15), and a rather young group of participants. Due to this limitation, we could not reliably detect correlations of risk-taking measures with neural traits in male and female subsamples separately (although technically it is possible). Thus, we were mostly interpreting results relating to the joint sample as a whole. Our findings necessitate further research with larger samples, separately for males and females. Nevertheless, power analysis suggests that our joint sample was sufficient to detect correlation coefficients of 0.45 or higher. Reliability of our results was further confirmed by replicating significant results based on resting-state recordings after the game. Another limitation is that we did not have individual MRI of participants which could have improved our source-modeling results even further. Finally, it must be noted that the study was correlational, and thus we could not establish direct causal links—this critique, however, applies to almost all EEG/MEG studies.

Coding ethnographic texts on reputations from 153 cultures, found that reputational domains vary cross-culturally, yet reputations for cultural conformity, prosociality, social status, and neural capital are widespread

Garfield, Zachary H., Ryan Schacht, Emily R. Post, Dominique Ingram, Andrea Uehling, and Shane Macfarlan. 2021. “The Content and Structure of Reputation Domains Across Human Societies: A View from the Evolutionary Social Sciences.” OSF Preprints. July 2. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: Reputations are an essential feature of human sociality, critical for the evolution of cooperation and group living. Much scholarship has focused on reputations, yet typically on a narrow range of domains (e.g., prosociality, aggressiveness), usually in isolation. Humans can develop reputations, however, from any collective information. We conducted exploratory analyses on the content, distribution, and structure of reputation domain diversity across cultures, using the Human Relations Area Files ethnographic database. After coding ethnographic texts on reputations from 153 cultures, we used hierarchical modelling, cluster analysis, and text analysis to provide an empirical view of reputation domains across societies. Findings suggest: 1) reputational domains vary cross-culturally, yet reputations for cultural conformity, prosociality, social status, and neural capital are widespread; 2) reputation domains are more variable for males than females; and 3) particular reputation domains are strongly interrelated, demonstrating a structure consistent with dimensions of human uniqueness. We label these reputational features: Cultural group unity, Dominance, Sexuality, Social and material success, and Supernatural healing. Ultimately, through this work, we highlight the need for future research on the evolution of cooperation and human sociality to consider a wider range of reputation domains, as well as their patterning by social, ecological, and gender-specific pressures.

Moral dilemmas and trust in leaders during a global health crisis

Moral dilemmas and trust in leaders during a global health crisis. Jim A. C. Everett et al. Nature Human Behaviour, Jul 1 2021.

Abstract: Trust in leaders is central to citizen compliance with public policies. One potential determinant of trust is how leaders resolve conflicts between utilitarian and non-utilitarian ethical principles in moral dilemmas. Past research suggests that utilitarian responses to dilemmas can both erode and enhance trust in leaders: sacrificing some people to save many others (‘instrumental harm’) reduces trust, while maximizing the welfare of everyone equally (‘impartial beneficence’) may increase trust. In a multi-site experiment spanning 22 countries on six continents, participants (N = 23,929) completed self-report (N = 17,591) and behavioural (N = 12,638) measures of trust in leaders who endorsed utilitarian or non-utilitarian principles in dilemmas concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Across both the self-report and behavioural measures, endorsement of instrumental harm decreased trust, while endorsement of impartial beneficence increased trust. These results show how support for different ethical principles can impact trust in leaders, and inform effective public communication during times of global crisis.


The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a number of moral dilemmas that engender conflicts between utilitarian and non-utilitarian ethical principles. Building on past work on utilitarianism and trust, we tested the hypothesis that endorsement of utilitarian solutions to pandemic dilemmas would impact trust in leaders. Specifically, in line with suggestions from previous work and case studies of public communications during the early stages of the pandemic, we predicted that endorsing instrumental harm would decrease trust in leaders, while endorsing impartial beneficence would increase trust. Experiments conducted during November–December 2020 in 22 countries across six continents (total N = 23,929; valid sample for self-report task 17,591; valid sample for behavioural task 12,638) provided robust support for our hypothesis. In the context of five realistic pandemic dilemmas, participants reported lower trust in leaders who endorsed instrumental sacrifices for the greater good and higher trust in leaders who advocated for impartially maximizing the welfare of everyone equally. In a behavioural measure of trust, only 28% of participants preferred to vote for a utilitarian leader who endorsed instrumental harm, while 60% voted for an impartially beneficent utilitarian leader. These findings were robust to controlling for a variety of demographic characteristics as well as participants’ own policy preferences regarding the dilemmas. Although we observed some variation in effect sizes across the countries we sampled, the overall pattern of results was highly robust across countries. Our results suggest that endorsing utilitarian approaches to moral dilemmas can both erode and enhance trust in leaders across the globe, depending on the type of utilitarian morality.

We designed our set of dilemmas to rule out several alternative explanations for our findings, such as a general preference for less restrictive leaders (Supplementary Note 7), leaders who treat everyone equally (Supplementary Note 8) and leaders who seek to minimize COVID-19-related deaths (Supplementary Note 9). In addition, all of our results survived planned robustness checks to account for the possibility that local policies related to lockdowns or contact tracing could bias participants’ responses. Post hoc analyses demonstrated that our findings were highly consistent across the different dilemmas for instrumental harm (Lockdown, Tracing and Ventilators) and impartial beneficence (Medicine and PPE).

While the robustness of our findings across countries speaks to their broad cultural generalizability, further work is needed to understand the observed variations in effect sizes across countries. It seems plausible that both economic (for example, gross domestic product or socio-economic inequality) and cultural (for example, social network structure) differences across countries could explain some of the observed variations. One possibility, for example, is that country-level variations in tightness–looseness72, which have been associated with countries’ success in limiting cases in the COVID-19 pandemic73, might moderate the effects of moral arguments on trust in leaders. Another direction for future research could be to explore how country-level social network structure might influence our results. Individuals in countries with a higher kinship index74 and a more family-oriented social network structure, for example, might be less likely to trust utilitarian leaders, especially when the utilitarian solution conflicts with more local moral obligations.

There are several important limitations to the generalizability of our findings. First, although our samples were broadly nationally representative for age and gender (with some exceptions; see Results), we did not assess representativeness of our samples on a number of other factors including education, income and geographic location. Second, while our results do concord with the limited existing research examining the effects of endorsing instrumental harm and impartial beneficence on perceived suitability as a leader37, and held across different examples of our pandemic-specific dilemmas, it of course remains possible that different results would be seen when judging leaders’ responses in other types of crises (for example, violent conflicts, natural disasters or economic crises) or at different stages of a crisis (for example, at the beginning versus later stages). Third, the reported experiments tested how responses to moral dilemmas influenced trust in anonymous, hypothetical political leaders. In the real world, however, people form and update impressions of known leaders with a history of political opinions and behaviours, and it is plausible that inferences of trustworthiness depend not just on a leader’s recent decisions but also on their history of behaviour, just as classic work on impression formation shows that the same information can lead to different impressions depending on prior knowledge about the target person75. Furthermore, we did not specify the gender of the leaders in our experiments (except in the voting task for China and for the Hebrew and Arabic translations, where it is not possible to indicate ‘leader’ without including a gendered pronoun; here it was translated in the masculine form). Past work conducted in the United States suggests that participants may default to an assumption that the leader is a man76, but it will be important for future work to assess whether men and women leaders are judged differentially for their moral decisions. Because women are typically stereotyped as being warmer and more communal than men77, it is plausible that women leaders would face more backlash for making ‘cold’ utilitarian decisions, especially in the domain of instrumental harm. Fourth, because the current work focused on trust in political leaders, it remains unclear how utilitarianism would impact trust in people who occupy other social roles, such as medical workers or ordinary citizens. Fifth, and finally, it could be interesting to explore further the connection between impartial beneficence and intergroup psychology, especially with regards to teasing apart ‘impartiality’ and ‘beneficence’. For example, even holding beneficence constant, a leader who advocates for impartially sharing resources with a rival country may be perceived differently from one who impartially shares with an allied country (and, while speculative, this distinction might explain why Israel was an outlier in impartial beneficence, being a country in a region with ongoing local conflicts).

Our results have clear implications for how leaders’ responses to moral dilemmas can impact how they are trusted. In times of global crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders will necessarily face real, urgent and serious dilemmas. Faced with such dilemmas, decisions have to be made, and our findings suggest that how leaders make these judgements can have important consequences, not just for whether they are trusted on the issue in question but also more generally. Importantly, this will be the case even when the leader has little direct control over the resolution. While a national leader (for example, a president or prime minister) has the power and responsibility to resolve some moral dilemmas with policy decisions, not all political leaders (for example, as in our study, local mayors) have that power. A leader with little ability to directly impact the resolution of a moral dilemma might consider that voicing an opinion on that dilemma could reduce their credibility on other issues that they have more power to control.

To conclude, we investigated how trust in leaders is sensitive to how they resolve conflicts between utilitarian and non-utilitarian ethical principles in moral dilemmas during a global pandemic. Our results provide robust evidence that utilitarian responses to dilemmas can both erode and enhance trust in leaders: advocating for sacrificing some people to save many others (that is, instrumental harm) reduces trust, while arguing that we ought to impartially maximize the welfare of everyone equally (that is, impartial beneficence) increases trust. Our work advances understanding of trust in political leaders and shows that, across a variety of cultures, it depends not just on whether they make moral decisions but also which specific moral principles they endorse.

From an Evolutionary Perspective... Sex Differences in Voyeuristic and Exhibitionistic Interests: Exploring the Mediating Roles of Sociosexuality and Sexual Compulsivity

Sex Differences in Voyeuristic and Exhibitionistic Interests: Exploring the Mediating Roles of Sociosexuality and Sexual Compulsivity from an Evolutionary Perspective. Andrew George Thomas, Bridie Stone, Paul Bennett, Steve Stewart-Williams & Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Jul 6 2021.

Abstract: Sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity predict sex differences in voyeuristic interest in the population. In this study, we used a sample of 1113 participants from the UK (46% men) to consider whether sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity interacted to explain these sex differences and whether this relationship extended to the related domain of exhibitionism. In doing so, we tested novel predictions derived from an evolutionary perspective which views voyeuristic and exhibitionistic interest as manifestations of a short-term mating strategy. Participants reported their levels of repulsion toward voyeurism and exhibitionism and their interest in performing such acts under different levels of risk. There were clear sex differences in voyeuristic and exhibitionistic repulsion that were partially mediated by the serial combination of sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity. Examining the sexes separately revealed qualitatively different relationships between sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity when predicting exhibitionistic, but not voyeuristic, repulsion. Combined, sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity also mediated the sex difference in willingness to commit acts of voyeurism, but not exhibitionism, which was equally low for both sexes. The results highlight the role sociosexuality plays in voyeuristic and exhibitionistic interest, which coupled with an evolutionary perspective, may have implications for how we view courtship disorders.


Our investigation into the role of sociosexuality in voyeuristic and exhibitionistic interest yielded four key findings. (1) There were clear sex differences in voyeuristic and exhibitionistic repulsion within the normal population. (2) These differences were partially mediated by the serial combination of sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity. (3) There were sex-specific relationships between sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity when predicting exhibitionistic repulsion. Finally, (4) the sex differences and mediational role of sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity found for repulsion also applied to willingness to commit acts of voyeurism, but not exhibitionism. We now explore these findings in turn.

Sex Differences in Repulsion within the Normal Population

Most participants reported feelings of repulsion, rather than arousal, when thinking about voyeurism and exhibitionism. Yet, there was still variance among the sample, with some considering these acts either neutral or arousing. These individuals constituted approximately 29.7% and 8.9% of the sample for voyeurism and exhibitionism, respectively. These figures are fairly consistent with literature from other Western cultures (Ahlers et al., 2011; Joyal & Carpentier, 2017) though the proportion was a touch smaller for the latter and larger for the former. Importantly, we also found a sex difference: Men were less repulsed by the idea of voyeurism and exhibitionism, on average, than women were. These differences were large in the case of voyeurism and medium in the case of exhibitionism, which is in line with previous research in other countries (Dawson et al., 2016; Iwawaki & Wilson, 1983; Makanjuola et al., 2008; Oliveira Júnior & Abdo, 2010). When sex differences in mating interests and motivations transcend cultural boundaries and persist across a variety of contexts, this suggests that their development is fairly canalized (Thomas et al., 2020). Thus, it is important to consider what insights evolutionary theory may provide when investigating such differences.

Sociosexuality and Sexual Compulsivity as Partial Mediators

Using mediation analyses, we found that a combination of sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity accounted for a large portion of the sex difference in voyeuristic (31%) and exhibitionistic (56%) repulsion. These findings complement previous research which has demonstrated that paraphilic interests are linked to sociosexuality and are partially mediated by sexual compulsivity (Dawson et al., 2016).

Uniquely, we used a model that specified a serial relationship between sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity, with the former driving the latter. This prediction was grounded in evolutionary thinking (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Gangestad & Simpson, 2000) that views sociosexuality as a proxy for mating strategy. From this perspective, the long evolutionary history of sexual asymmetry in the reproductive costs and benefits associated with short-term mating has led men to develop a greater interest in it on average. Indeed, the sex difference in sociosexual desire is among one of the largest found in psychology (d = 0.88 in the present study). Thus, one’s sex impacts one’s mating strategy, which in turn leads to the activation of psychological adaptations designed to facilitate that strategy, including increased sexual compulsion and greater arousal at the thought of engaging in spontaneous sexual acts with strangers. Together, these findings have implications for the way we view some courtship disorders. If sex differences in voyeuristic and exhibitionistic interests are a consequence of sex differences in sociosexuality, then men may be better represented among those with extreme versions of such interests (i.e., those with paraphilic disorders) because moderate sex differences in means translate into large sex differences at the extremes (Stewart-Williams & Thomas, 2013a).

An evolutionary approach to this issue also allows us to make predictions about what should influence voyeuristic and exhibitionistic repulsion. For example, if these interests reflect mating strategy, then we would expect them to covary with other factors associated with short-term mating. Thus, an evolutionary account of these phenomena would predict attitudes toward voyeurism to be more relaxed when resources are abundant or in stressful environments where the benefits of paternal investment are lower (Quinlan, 2007; Thomas & Stewart-Williams, 2018). There is also scope to explore the role mating strategy plays in other sex differences, such as responses to visual sexual stimuli. As in the present study, we might expect sociosexuality to mediate this difference and that responses to visual sexual stimuli may moderate interest in voyeuristic or exhibitionistic activity (Rupp & Wallen, 2008).

Of course, a major premise of this study is that sociosexuality is a reliable proxy of short-term mating strategy. This assumption is not unique to our study, and others have used sociosexuality as a proxy for mating effort (e.g., Dawson et al., 2016). We chose the SOI-R as our key measure because it is one of the most widely used and validated measures of the preference for uncommitted sex. Yet, the use of this measure comes with limitations, it forces us to assume that short- and long-term strategies lie on a spectrum rather than being activated separately (Thomas & Stewart-Williams, 2018) and it neglects to measure the time and resources dedicated to mating effort (Albert et al., 2021). Future research could use a wider array of measures to assess whether similar patterns are observed when using different proxies of mating strategy and reproductive success. Other measures of sex drive should also be considered to overcome some of the limitations of the SCS. At its core, the scale captures the extent to which sexual thoughts and behaviors interfere with one’s daily life. While research using the scale demonstrates its usefulness as a measure of individual difference in the general population (e.g., Carvalho et al., 2015; Muise et al., 2013), it is possible that other measures of sex drive would capture more variance. Finally, while we recorded repulsion toward a large array of paraphilia through use of the Paraphilia Scale (Seto et al., 2012), we only sought to explain sex differences in the two for which we had a priori hypotheses. It may be worth considering what evolutionary insights might bring to other paraphilia, unrelated to the early stage of courtship process in the future. Those involving elements of control (e.g., sadism and masochism), for example, may reflect other evolved aspects of our mating psychology such as paternity certainty and mate guarding (Goetz et al., 2008).

Sex-Specific Patterns of Predictors

We expected both voyeuristic and exhibitionistic repulsion to have similar relationships with sociosexuality and sexual compulsion as they share a common root in their spontaneous and opportunistic approach to courtship. Our sex-specific models revealed that sociosexuality was a positive predictor of repulsion for both acts in men and women alike. However, we did find some variation in the role of sexual compulsivity in predicting exhibitionistic repulsion. For men, sociosexuality predicted unique variance in exhibitionistic repulsion even when controlling for sexual compulsivity, while for women sexual compulsivity fully mediated the effect of sociosexuality. Given our theoretical stance that sexual compulsivity is primarily a product of mating strategy rather than the cause, the results can be interpreted as follows: Men with unrestricted sociosexuality find exhibitionism more appealing for reasons that include but are not limited to their increased drive toward sex. Unrestricted women, in contrast, find exhibitionism more appealing because of their increased sexual compulsivity. Together, this suggests that the way in which mating strategy gives rise to exhibitionistic interest may be more nuanced for men than women, possibly reflecting different selection pressures.

From Feelings to Action

When participants actually considered committing acts of voyeurism, they were heavily influenced by the risk of getting caught. However, a sex difference also emerged that reached its peak (d = 0.27) when risk was negligible. This sex by risk interaction was not found in previous studies, likely due to low power (Rye & Meaney, 2007). This effect size indicates that sex differences in voyeuristic interest decrease when moving from repulsion toward anticipated action. When we controlled for sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity, this sex difference disappeared. Thus, while these two variables only partially mediate repulsion, they fully mediate anticipated action. Put another way, the combination of sociosexuality and sexual compulsivity is only one of several explanatory factors of the sex difference in voyeuristic repulsion, but is the key factor when explaining willingness to engage in a voyeuristic act.

The findings for exhibitionism were markedly different. Sex differences at the level of repulsion were not replicated when examining anticipated action. Essentially, there was a large floor effect with both sexes showing considerably less interest in performing an act of exhibitionism. While a small effect of risk was found, there were no sex differences to explain. Previous research has shown sex differences in general paraphilic behavior to be moderated by sexual compulsivity (Bouchard et al., 2017). Our findings highlight the importance of considering paraphilia separately as this relationship may not generalize across all behaviors, even when they fall within similar domains (i.e., courtship).

Interest in exhibitionistic behavior increases (as do sex differences) when the definition is expanded to include more passive behavior, such as performing sexual acts with a partner in locations where a stranger is likely to see (Joyal & Carpentier, 2017) rather than actively exposing oneself to a stranger. Thus, repeating the task using this context might reveal sex differences. If so, this would suggest that willingness to commit these acts depends on the level of involvement as well as risk. Future research may also want to consider more contemporary exhibitionistic behavior—such as sending a digital photograph of one’s genitalia to an opposite sex stranger (an increasingly common practice; Mandau, 2020).

The present study aimed to determine whether there is a relationship between superstition and the placebo effect, and whether this relationship affects human cognition and behaviour

The role of superstition in the placebo effect on memory performance. Sieun An, Viraj Dhiren Malani & Aanchal Setia. Cognitive Processing, Jul 6 2021.

Abstract: Superstitions and the placebo effect have each been found to influence human behaviour. The present study aimed to determine whether there is a relationship between superstition and the placebo effect, and whether this relationship affects human cognition and behaviour. We hypothesized that more superstitious people would be more prone to the placebo effect and that it would improve their performance on cognitive tasks. Results showed that in the placebo condition, more superstitious people memorized more words than less superstitious people. However, in the control condition, less superstitious people memorized more words than more superstitious people. Overall, the findings supported our hypothesis. The findings of the study are important, as they draw a link between the placebo effect and superstition, and further show that these two elements impact human performance in cognitive ability tasks.