Sunday, October 10, 2021

The etiology of mental disorders is not fully understood, but one likely contributor is perturbations of neurodevelopment; nonright-handedness is a sign of such perturbations, but psychopaths don't show elevated rates of nonright-handedness

Is Psychopathy a Mental Disorder or an Adaptation? Evidence From a Meta-Analysis of the Association Between Psychopathy and Handedness. Lesleigh E. Pullman, Nabhan Refaie, Martin L. Lalumière, DB Krupp. Evolutionary Psychology, October-December 2021: 1–17. DOI: 10.1177/14747049211040447

Abstract: Psychopathy has historically been conceptualized as a mental disorder, but there is growing evidence that it may instead be an alternative, adaptive life history strategy designed by natural selection. Although the etiology of mental disorders is not fully understood, one likely contributor is perturbations affecting neurodevelopment. Nonright-handedness is a sign of such perturbations, and therefore can be used to test these competing models. If psychopathy is a mental disorder, psychopaths should show elevated rates of nonright-handedness. However, an adaptive strategy perspective expects psychopaths to be neurologically healthy and therefore predicts typical rates of nonright-handedness. We meta-analyzed 16 studies that investigated the association between psychopathy and handedness in various populations. There was no difference in the rates of nonright-handedness between community participants high and low in psychopathy. Furthermore, there was no difference between psychopathic and nonpsychopathic offenders in rates of nonright-handedness, though there was a tendency for offenders scoring higher on the Interpersonal/Affective dimension of psychopathy to have lower rates of nonright-handedness, and for offenders scoring higher on the Behavioral dimension of psychopathy to have higher rates of nonright-handedness. Lastly, there was no difference in rates of nonright-handedness between psychopathic and nonpsychopathic mental health patients. Thus, our results fail to support the mental disorder model and partly support the adaptive strategy model. We discuss limitations of the meta-analysis and implications for theories of the origins of psychopathy.

Keywords: Psychopathy, life history, adaptation, mental disorder, handedness


Children from an early age present a remarkable level of understanding of coronavirus & the COVID-19 disease as a multidimensional construct, covering the SARS-CoV-2 side, & medical, social, & psychological consequences on people’s lives

Children’s conceptions of coronavirus. Fotini Bonoti, Vasilia Christidou, Penelope Papadopoulou. Public Understanding of Science, October 9, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/09636625211049643

Abstract: The present study aimed to examine children’s conceptions of coronavirus as denoted in their verbal descriptions and drawings and whether these vary as a function of children’s age and the mode of expression. Data were collected in Greece during spring 2020 and 344 children aged 4 to 10 years were first asked to verbally describe coronavirus and then to produce a drawing of it. Content analysis of data revealed the following main themes: (a) Coronavirus, (b) Medical, (c) Psychological, and (d) Social. Results showed that children from an early age present a remarkable level of understanding of coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease as a multidimensional construct, which can be designated not only through characteristics of the Sars-Cov-2 but also through its medical, social, and psychological consequences on people’s lives. Moreover, children were found to emphasize different aspects of this construct depending on their age and the mode of expression.

Keywords: children, conceptions, coronavirus, COVID-19, drawings


Twitter has a negative effect on conspiracy beliefs—as opposed to all other platforms under examination which are found to have a positive effect (Messenger, WhatsApp, YouTube, & Facebook)

Does the platform matter? Social media and COVID-19 conspiracy theory beliefs in 17 countries. Yannis Theocharis et al. New Media & Society, October 9, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211045666

Abstract: While the role of social media in the spread of conspiracy theories has received much attention, a key deficit in previous research is the lack of distinction between different types of platforms. This study places the role of social media affordances in facilitating the spread of conspiracy beliefs at the center of its enquiry. We examine the relationship between platform use and conspiracy theory beliefs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Relying on the concept of technological affordances, we theorize that variation across key features make some platforms more fertile places for conspiracy beliefs than others. Using data from a crossnational dataset based on a two-wave online survey conducted in 17 countries before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we show that Twitter has a negative effect on conspiracy beliefs—as opposed to all other platforms under examination which are found to have a positive effect.

Keywords: Affordances, conspiracy theories, COVID-19, misperceptions, social media

While the Internet has always served as a meeting place for fringe groups and conspiracy theorists, social media have added a new layer to this reality. Aided by the platforms’ interactive and networking features, as well as their capacity to deliver different kinds of content to very different audiences, social media have become hotspots for unsubstantiated information and the diffusion of misperceptions. Nevertheless, not all social media platforms should be painted with the same brush as different architectural features and affordances of social media platforms have consequences for how users encounter content and others with whom they can interact and build relationships (Bossetta, 2018).

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to many conspiracy theories, providing us with a unique opportunity to study conspiracy theory proliferation in platforms during the initial phase of the pandemic. We theorized that variation across different features of social media platforms might make some platforms more likely to accommodate conspiracy theory beliefs than others. Our results support the hypothesis that Twitter has a negative effect on conspiracy beliefs, while use of Facebook, YouTube, Messenger, and WhatsApp were found to have positive effects. For Facebook and its private messaging counterpart Messenger, it should, however, be noted that coefficients are only significant for the pooled models, when country effects were not weighted. Although this suggests that effects might not be uniform across countries, scrutinizing country differences is beyond the scope of this study and could make for a valuable endeavor for future research.

Our study makes several contributions. We show that not all social media platforms are the same when it comes to conspiracy theory beliefs about COVID-19. Our findings resonate with the core theoretical tenets of affordances theory, that there is a multifaceted relational structure between a technological tool and the user which might enable (in the case of Facebook, YouTube, and Messenger services) or constrain (in the case of Twitter) behavioral outcomes in a particular context (Evans et al., 2017: 36). This has implications for theory-building. Understanding how the spread of conspiracy theories differs across social media platforms is key to developing strategies to correct misperceptions, as well as to theorizing about how different features lead to different information diffusion dynamics. Our design does not allow us to tease out the specific effect of different affordances which would help understand why precisely we observe these effects, but the main finding lays the ground for future research zooming into individual affordances (network features, type of content, etc.) and studying the particular dynamics they give rise to. Specifically, a number of platform-specific features that we discussed earlier may have a link to how CTB proliferate. Future research focusing on the micro-mechanisms of the effects tied to specific affordances could consider a number of possibilities when studying, for example, Twitter’s distinct effect in comparison to other platforms. Twitter’s users combine higher than average education with a greater tendency for news-seeking and engagement into political discussions than any of the platforms in our study. This could imply that a larger number of users with potentially high-quality information sources were there to create content which, due to the asymmetrical structure of connections on the platform, can reach very far very fast through retweeting that cuts across different types of networks. In this fashion, it is possible that conspiratorial content—when it appeared—could be debunked fast or possibly “drown out” with better quality information or the sheer volume of those willing to quickly jump in and correct misperceptions. This is in contrast to platforms like Facebook or Messenger services, where the networks are not only more homogeneous, but countering opinions may be harder to emerge for different reasons. For example, precisely because of Facebook’s more family-and-friends oriented connections, users might think twice before attempting to correct conspiratorial content, as they are more likely to have to face the cost of jeopardizing social relationships. Indeed, the topic of how to talk to friends and family sharing conspiracy theories on social media became the subject of many articles in reputable news sources once conspiracy theories started to emerge (Warzel, 2020). But while this might be very relevant to Facebook users, it is not a barrier to Twitter users who could have happened upon a conspiratorial content and decided to interject (or hijack) a discussion with their own evidence. The contrast between Twitter also holds for YouTube where, due to the platform’s architecture, upon watching a video users have to move to the comments to encounter any debate about the content, thus possibly having less exposure to corrective information other than those flagged by the platform (when that happenes).

Different approaches to platform governance might have also played a significant role, meaning that some platforms need more oversight than others. Twitter quickly put in place measures such as deprioritizing content that could pose risks to people’s health along with labels and warning messages to content that contained COVID-19 misinformation. Facebook, which eventually instituted similar measures, continues to face criticism for being too slow to act on groups profiting from COVID-19 conspiracy theories (Jackson et al., 2021) and it is possible that related content or groups were able to gain substantial audiences before they were blocked (Marchal and Au, 2020). Finally, as none of the two messenger services has the type of warnings or content removal practices implemented on Twitter or Facebook, letting private conversations (often among large groups) be unmoderated could have increased the likelihood for conspiratorial content to proliferate on these. Zooming into the specific affordance-related mechanisms would help identify which parts of the conspiracy theory diffusion chain platforms need to work harder on to make their products safer, especially when it comes to public health. While the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as an important case study on how platforms react when scientific consensus in relation to content previously labeled as misinformation shifts, our findings add to the mounting evidence enticing social media platforms to self-reflect on the information quality in their environments and its potential broader effects on citizen attitudes and beliefs that are essential for public choices.

While our study has focused on conspiratorial beliefs about COVID-19, there is a little theoretical reason to believe that the effects we uncover would not apply to other types of conspiracy theories. This reasoning implies that our study has applications to a far larger problem than COVID-19-specific conspiracy theories. Future research should re-examine the connection of platform type and conspiracy theory beliefs using other conspiracy theories.

Our study does not come without limitations. The most important one is selection bias, which our data and design do not allow us to settle definitively. We have provided a strong theoretical rationale that platforms’ diverse features might be responsible for the way in which each platform is connected to conspiracy theory beliefs. It is, however, also possible that users’ particular characteristics or motivations may shape their decision to use this or the other platform precisely because it can offer the type of environment that fits their individual or community needs best. In recognition of this limitation, we employed propensity score matching which enabled us to find users with comparable characteristics to non-users across platforms, thus providing an additional test that our assumptions about the role of platforms are robust. This is an important test as, compared to regression-based techniques, this technique at least does not rely on out of data range extrapolations. Nevertheless, the ideal design for disentangling the causal order in this puzzle is, ultimately, a randomized experimental design. Random assignment into platforms could come with significant challenges, however, given the social media saturated environment of our times, and the difficulties of compliance with being active on a singular platform (Theocharis and Lowe, 2016). Ultimately, one would have to trade external validity for internal validity, which is why no single study design can stand alone.

Despite these shortcomings, our study provides important evidence that future studies based on other designs can build upon to address an issue of increasing importance given the role of platforms in people’s media and socialization diets.

Strangers to ourselves: People carelessly neglect habits and latch on to internal states when explaining their own or others' behavior

Mazar, Asaf, and Wendy Wood. 2021. “Illusory Feelings, Elusive Habits: Explanations of Behavior Overlook Habits.” PsyArXiv. October 9. doi:10.31234/osf.io/ug86s

Abstract: Habits underlie much of human behavior. However, people may prefer agentic explanations that overlook habits in favor of inner states such as mood. We tested this misattribution hypothesis in an online experiment of helping behavior as well as an ecological momentary assessment study of college students’ everyday coffee drinking. Both studies revealed a substantial gap between attributed and actual influences on behavior: Habit strength outperformed or matched inner states in predicting behavior, whereas participants’ attributions for their behavior emphasized inner states. Participants continued to overlook habits even when incentivized for accuracy, as well as when making attributions for other people’s behavior. We discuss how this attribution pattern could adversely influence self-regulation.