Monday, October 31, 2022

People's political views predict which alternatives to reality they will find most plausible, will be most likely to spontaneously imagine, and will view as sufficient evidence of a conclusion

Polarized imagination: partisanship influences the direction and consequences of counterfactual thinking. Kai Epstude, Daniel A. Effron and Neal J. Roese. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. October 31 2022.

Abstract: Four studies examine how political partisanship qualifies previously documented regularities in people's counterfactual thinking (n = 1186 Democrats and Republicans). First, whereas prior work finds that people generally prefer to think about how things could have been better instead of worse (i.e. entertain counterfactuals in an upward versus downward direction), studies 1a–2 find that partisans are more likely to generate and endorse counterfactuals in whichever direction best aligns with their political views. Second, previous research finds that the closer someone comes to causing a negative event, the more blame that person receives; study 3 finds that this effect is more pronounced among partisans who oppose (versus support) a leader who ‘almost' caused a negative event. Thus, partisan reasoning may influence which alternatives to reality people will find most plausible, will be most likely to imagine spontaneously, and will view as sufficient grounds for blame.

5. General discussion

Our four studies shed new light on how partisan beliefs relate to counterfactual thinking. Partisans find a given counterfactual more plausible when it aligns with their views (studies 1a and 1b), selectively generate counterfactuals that align with their views (study 2), and deploy counterfactuals that support preferred moral judgements about leaders (study 3). In summary, partisanship predicts both the content and the conclusions of counterfactual thoughts.

Our research makes several theoretical contributions. Our main contribution is to demonstrate how partisanship qualifies two empirical regularities in the counterfactual thinking literature. First, whereas previous research demonstrated an overwhelming preference for upward over downward counterfactuals (e.g. [31]), studies 1a–2 found a complete reversal of this preference when downward counterfactuals aligned with participants' views. That is, partisans in our studies flexibly generated and endorsed counterfactuals in whichever direction best aligned with their political views on a particular issue (supporting H1a over H1b). One explanation is that prior research tended to examine situations in which people were motivated by a desire to discover ‘how things could be better,' whereas partisans tend to be more motivated by a desire to justify and defend their political views.

The second empirical regularity we qualify is that the closer someone comes to causing a negative event, the more blame that person receives (e.g. [19]). Study 3 replicated this effect, but also showed that it is more pronounced among partisans who oppose (versus support) a leader who ‘almost' caused a negative event (supporting H2). One explanation is that when people dislike a leader, they lower their standards for what constitutes evidence of that leader's blameworthiness, giving more weight to imagined events—what could have happened under the leader's watch.

In short, partisan reasoning may influence which alternatives to reality people will find most plausible, will be most likely to spontaneously imagine, and will view as sufficient grounds for blame—thus creating important boundary conditions on previously documented effects.

Another theoretical contribution is that study 3 advances understanding of counterfactual thinking's role in moral judgement [32]. In some cases, downward counterfactual thinking connects to more-lenient moral judgements [33]—a contrast effect. For example, participants felt licensed to act in a less-than-virtuous manner after they reflected on the sinful actions they could have (but did not) performed [25,26]. In other cases, downward counterfactual thinking results in harsher moral judgements [34]—an assimilation effect. Study 3 suggests that the extent to which downward counterfactual thinking produces harsher moral judgements depends on partisanship. When partisans disliked a president, downward counterfactual thinking was more tightly associated with blaming that president. That is, the closer people thought a negative event came to occurring, the more likely they were to blame the president, especially if the president was opposed by the partisan. Our findings thus raise the possibility that motivation influences how much of an assimilation effect result from downward counterfactual thinking. Future research should further examine this possibility.

Third, our results contribute to a debate about whether conservatives are more prone to cognitive biases than are liberals (cf. [1,35,36]). Our results suggest that partisanship connects to counterfactual thinking among people at both ends of the political spectrum (i.e. Democrats and Republicans). That said, our results contain nuance. In studies 1a–2, Democrats and Republicans alike were more inclined to endorse and generate counterfactuals that were aligned (versus misaligned) with their views—but this effect was larger among Democrats. In study 3, people's tendency to blame a president they opposed for negative events that nearly happened was larger among Trump supporters than Biden supporters—but participants' tendency to praise a president they supported for having averted negative events was larger among Biden than Trump supporters. Future research should assess the generality of these patterns and pinpoint why they emerge. However, our results do not support the possibility that, when it comes to counterfactual thinking, conservatives show more partisan bias than do liberals.

As noted, our results are consistent with the idea that partisans engage in motivated counterfactual thinking. That is, the content and conclusions of their counterfactual thinking may reflect their desire to justify their political beliefs and to blame leaders they oppose. However, like most partisan effects in political psychology [16], ours could also be explained by non-motivated processes. For example, Republicans could be more likely than Democrats to think that ‘things would have been better’ without a particular Democratic policy because Republicans have been exposed to more information about that policy's shortcomings. Meanwhile, Democrats could be more likely than Republicans to blame Trump for ‘almost' causing war with North Korea because only Democrats are more likely to have the prior that Trump makes bad decisions. Of course, the priors and indeed the information to which partisans have been exposed may themselves have motivated origins, which illustrates the challenge of distinguishing motivated from purely cognitive processes [17]. In practice, both types of processes may work together [37].

Representing alternatives (self-generated possibilities, hypotheticals, simulations and non-actualities) to actual present experience is itself essential to the hippocampus

Imagination as a fundamental function of the hippocampus. Alison E. Comrie, Loren M. Frank and Kenneth Kay. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. October 31 2022.

Abstract: Imagination is a biological function that is vital to human experience and advanced cognition. Despite this importance, it remains unknown how imagination is realized in the brain. Substantial research focusing on the hippocampus, a brain structure traditionally linked to memory, indicates that firing patterns in spatially tuned neurons can represent previous and upcoming paths in space. This work has generally been interpreted under standard views that the hippocampus implements cognitive abilities primarily related to actual experience, whether in the past (e.g. recollection, consolidation), present (e.g. spatial mapping) or future (e.g. planning). However, relatively recent findings in rodents identify robust patterns of hippocampal firing corresponding to a variety of alternatives to actual experience, in many cases without overt reference to the past, present or future. Given these findings, and others on hippocampal contributions to human imagination, we suggest that a fundamental function of the hippocampus is to generate a wealth of hypothetical experiences and thoughts. Under this view, traditional accounts of hippocampal function in episodic memory and spatial navigation can be understood as particular applications of a more general system for imagination. This view also suggests that the hippocampus contributes to a wider range of cognitive abilities than previously thought.

5. Organization and origin of generative activity in the brain

Having reviewed multiple types of generative neural activity in the hippocampus, we turn to our next question of how generative representations may be organized and ‘parsed’ from representations of actual, ongoing experience. One would expect that neural processes are in place to separate actual and generative activity to avoid their confusion, reminiscent of the subject-level ability to internally distinguish actual from imagined experience [4]. Multiple organizational schemes are possible; different sets of neurons could participate in actual versus generative representations, these representations could occur at different relative times, or some combination of these schemes could take place.

Findings in the rodent hippocampus indicate that neural firing corresponding to actual and generative representations occur at different relative times that are internally determined [105]. Generative representations tend to occur not only with temporal separation from representations of actuality, but also in alignment with underlying network-level activity patterns in the hippocampus that are internally generated: SWRs and the theta rhythm (figure 3a) [68,106]. This results in a serial alternation of neural firing corresponding to actuality and generativity, or a temporal ‘multiplexing’ of actual and generative representations in the brain.

This serial alternation is present across behavioural states. During immobility, neural firing corresponding to the animal's actual present location is maintained for prolonged periods, transiently suppressed during SWR events that typically contain generative replays (tens to hundreds of milliseconds), and then subsequently restored (figure 3) [106,107].

Similarly, during movement and exploratory behaviours, neural firing corresponding to actual present and non-actual alternative experience, or actual and generative representations, occurs serially and in alignment with characteristic phases of the theta rhythm [3,68]. More specifically, early phases characteristically contain representations of the animal's actual past and present experience, while late phases may contain firing corresponding to a variety of hypothetical experiences, resulting in alternating actual and generative representations (examples in figure 2, schematic in figure 3) [68]. Furthermore, there are multiple levels of alternation between actual and generative activity during movement—representations not only alternate within approximately 125 ms theta cycles (e.g. actual and upcoming position), but also across consecutive theta cycles (e.g. alternation of two possible paths ahead; figure 2) [68]. Additional findings are also consistent with the idea that multiple representations can be accommodated in the hippocampus via serial alternation at a sub-second timescale. For instance, studies in the rat hippocampus have reported theta-modulated ‘flickering’ between representations of two environmental contexts, as well as dynamic switching between two spatial reference frames, and separate reverse and forward-ordered location sequences within theta cycles [108110].

The organization of actual and generative neural firing in the hippocampus also extends to other brain areas, consistent with the engagement of a distributed network in these representations [20,111,112]. Network-level neural activity patterns underlying generative representations can be coherent across the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex during replays and along the theta rhythm, with some reports of concurrent expression of actual versus alternative location representations across both regions [107,113117]. Additionally, some generative firing events in the hippocampus are not only coordinated with but also predicted by the activity of cells in the medial prefrontal cortex [70]. Numerous other cortical and subcortical areas also share coordinated firing patterns with the hippocampus, during both replay events and the theta rhythm [67,118125]. Recruitment of a large network of brain areas during activity related to actual and generative experience appears to reflect brain-wide organization, and the question of how firing patterns in other regions across the brain specifically contribute and respond to generative representations in the hippocampus remains an active area of research [113,122].

How might organized generative neural firing patterns in the hippocampus come about through hippocampal and extrahippocampal processes? This remains largely unknown, but some initial points can be made. First, one would expect generative firing patterns, which do not correspond to immediately ongoing circumstances, to arise primarily from internally driven activity patterns, as opposed neural activity driven directly by external stimuli. Consistent with this, generative events are observed during SWRs and in association with the theta rhythm—and both of these activity patterns are generated internally in the brain (spontaneously) rather than elicited by external stimuli [76,126]. More specifically, SWRs spontaneously occur during sleep in the absence of dynamic sensory stimuli and can be intrinsically generated in isolated hippocampal slices in vitro [76]. Hippocampal theta oscillations arise in vivo in coordination with a rhythm generator region, the medial septum, and can also be generated in isolated rodent hippocampus in vitro [127,128]. Furthermore, late phases of theta, during which generative representations tend to occur, are associated with increased recurrent network activity from within the hippocampus, and relatively weaker influence from cortical areas that are thought to provide multimodal information to the hippocampus [63,67,129,130].

While SWR and theta oscillations are understood to be internally generated and are associated with the occurrence of generative neural firing patterns in the hippocampus, the question of how specific groups of neurons (such as place cells with overlapping place fields) are recruited during generative events remains open [131]. In addition to mechanisms that support SWR and theta generation, it is likely the case that input from brain regions beyond the hippocampus have a role in this process [67]. One possibility is that the activation of particular sets of spatially tuned neurons during generative events is guided by extrahippocampal areas, such as the prefrontal cortex, that are also implicated in the default mode network [20]. This possibility is consistent with evidence that cortical activity can predict generative spiking during theta oscillations several cycles in advance, as well as SWR activity during sleep, and would argue against the idea that hippocampal ensembles are activated by exclusively unstructured input [70,125]. Studies focusing on the internal correlates of generative activity within the brain, over external behavioural correlates, may be especially important to understand what determines the generative neural firing patterns observed in the hippocampus.

The segregation of generative and actual representations in the hippocampus also raises the question of whether the hippocampus further differentiates subtypes of generative representations. For example, are events that reflect veridical experience from the past somehow distinguished from those that reflect constructed alternatives, or those that are predictive of future choices? At the level of neural firing, it remains unclear whether or how the hippocampus might separate these possible representations. However, two points of reference in the human literature offer clues that the relevant neural substrates may be outside the hippocampus. First, patients with hippocampal amnesia can entertain thoughts that distinguish the past or the future, despite impairments in episodic memory [132,133]. Additionally, hippocampal activation during mental simulations without temporal placement versus those specifically set in the future result in similar activation levels in the medial temporal lobe and default mode network [132,134]. These results are consistent with the idea that temporally differentiating representations related to the past or the future may not be hippocampally dependent. Second, healthy human subjects can subjectively discriminate internally and externally derived information, an ability known as reality monitoring [135]. Based on functional imaging studies in both healthy subjects and patients with schizophrenia who experience hallucinations, reality monitoring is thought to rely primarily on prefrontal cortical networks [112]. By contrast, another study reports that hippocampal activation was similar across cases of true and false recognition memory [136], further suggesting that this ability does not strictly rely on the hippocampus. Although probing reality monitoring in rodents is not straightforward, it would be notable if, for example, frontal cortical firing patterns systematically differed based on the representation of possibilities in the hippocampus that reflected veridical experience versus constructed alternatives. Such a result would be consistent with the idea that the hippocampus alone may not distinguish subcategories of generative events, but that the brain may do so via the engagement of prefrontal circuits.

Looking beyond rodents, it remains an open question as to which patterns of generative activity in the hippocampus are shared across species [137]. On the one hand, SWRs have been observed in a range of vertebrates, as have neural reactivation patterns suggestive of replay [138144]. In humans, replay and replay-like patterns have also been reported, including activity patterns consistent with reactivating prior experience, as well as inferred sequential activity that is not simply recapitulative [145149]. By contrast to the ubiquity of SWRs across vertebrates, the theta rhythm appears to be more prominent and continuous in the rodent hippocampus than in various other species [137]. A notable example is the bat hippocampus, which shows network-level activity fluctuations that are not generally rhythmic yet still organize place cell firing according to phase [140,150153]. This may suggest that actual and generative representations can be organized via temporal multiplexing even in the absence of strong rhythmicity. In nonhuman primates and humans, the hippocampal theta rhythm appears to occur in intermittent bouts and at a lower frequency [140,150153]. Recently, theta phase coding has also been shown in single cells in human subjects [154,155]. In all, these results indicate some conservation across species of the organization of neural firing with respect to network-level hippocampal activity. More generally, they leave open the possibility that the brains of many species temporally multiplex actual versus generative internal representations.

Conspiracy theories explain distressing events as malevolent actions by powerful groups. Why do people believe in secret plots when other explanations are more probable?

Do Conspiracy Theorists Think Too Much or Too Little? Nadia M. Brashier. Current Opinion in Psychology, October 31 2022, 101504.

Abstract: Conspiracy theories explain distressing events as malevolent actions by powerful groups. Why do people believe in secret plots when other explanations are more probable? On the one hand, conspiracy theorists seem to disregard accuracy; they tend to endorse mutually incompatible conspiracies, think intuitively, use heuristics, and hold other irrational beliefs. But by definition, conspiracy theorists reject the mainstream explanation for an event, often in favor of a more complex account. They exhibit a general distrust of others and expend considerable effort to find ‘evidence’ supporting their beliefs. In searching for answers, conspiracy theorists likely expose themselves to misleading information online and overestimate their own knowledge. Understanding when elaboration and cognitive effort might backfire is crucial, as conspiracy beliefs lead to political disengagement, environmental inaction, prejudice, and support for violence.

Keywords: conspiracy beliefscognitive effortheuristicsdeliberationinformation seeking

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Modeling Female Sexual Desire

Modeling Female Sexual Desire: An Overview and Commentary. Abigail L. Kohut-Jackson, Johnathan M. Borland and Robert L. Meisel. In Sexual Disorders and Dysfunctions, Ed. Dhastagir Sultan Sheriff, October 25th, 2022.

Abstract: Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in women is a condition of low sexual desire that develops over time. Sexual desire normally diminishes over long-term relationships, but is also negatively affected by a demanding lifestyle, poor self-esteem and body image, and loss of intimacy in a relationship. HSDD elevates to a disorder when it is a concern for the woman, arising from conflict with a partner who is interested in a greater frequency of sexual interaction. Two drugs have been marketed (Addyi and Vyleesi) to treat HSDD. Neither drug was originally developed for this purpose, nor is either drug particularly effective. The lack of rational development of drugs to treat sexual disorders in women is due to the mistaken belief that components of female sexuality, such as sexual desire, cannot be effectively modeled in animals. To the contrary, sexual interest, desire, arousal, and reward are measurable aspects of sexual behavior in female rodents. Going forward, basic research using these pre-clinical models should be the starting point for drug development. At the same time, it is not clear that drug development represents the primary therapeutic approach to the problem, with behavioral therapies providing good options for first line of treatments for HSDD.

Keywords: sexual arousalsexual interestsexual rewardhypoactive sexual desire disorderAddyiVyleesianimal modelsmesolimbic systemnucleus accumbensdopamineglutamatemelanocortin receptors

6. Commentary

Nappi [7] presented an expert opinion on the relative lack of drugs to treat female sexual dysfunction. She highlighted the wide range of causes for sexual dysfunction in women, as opposed to simply erectile dysfunction in men. She noted that we still have an incomplete understanding of a woman’s sexuality, which is a prerequisite to developing treatments. She also pointed out that female sexual dysfunction is not a life-threatening clinical problem, so that it is important to balance the clinical effectiveness of drugs with the drug’s safety for the women taking them. Finally, Nappi [7] was concerned with drugs that needed to be taken chronically (e.g., Addyi), and hoped that on-demand medications (e.g., Vyleesi) could be developed. Nappi’s commentary is still very current and meaningful, and rational drug development (in her view) will only be achieved through the cooperative partnership of sexual experts, pharmaceutical companies and medical agencies [7].

6.1 A rational approach to drug development

In Section 4 we described how Addyi and Vyleesi went to clinical trials with remarkably little preclinical data supporting their effects on sexual behavior in animal models. If developing drugs to treat sexual dysfunction in women is an important endeavor, the starting point has to be investment in basic research in both the public and pharmaceutical sectors. This research should be designed to take advantage of current animal models (and develop new animal models [81]) to identify potential molecular targets for therapeutics. This is how drug development begins for essentially all diseases and is only emphasized here because this message clearly was lost in the development and marketing of drugs for HSDD in women.

6.2 Pathologizing the normal

Basson et al. [9] developed a comprehensive model of female sexuality that emphasized the complexity of a woman’s sexual response. At the same time that this model is a valuable contribution to understanding female sexuality, it also highlights the individual variability in sexual responses among women, making it difficult to define what a normal response pattern is. If we cannot define a normal sexual response, then how do we define sexual dysfunction in women [82, 83, 84]. Basson et al. [82] disagree with DSM criteria that quantify numbers of sexual fantasies or whether a woman initiates sexual activity as determinants of sexual dysfunction. They assert that few or no sexual fantasies are not a pathology, nor is it pathological if a woman does not initiate sexual activity.

Based on earlier arguments, Meixel et al. [84] lay out a historical account of the many examples of the drug industry’s marketing strategy of “condition branding”. With condition branding, the drug company creates a medical condition to support the development of a drug. In the example of Addyi, HSDD was elevated in significance as a treatable source of distress as part of the rebranding of the drug to address the disparity in the treatment of sexual dysfunction in men and women. It is disturbing that drug-company supported continuing medical education (CME) modules were developed to “educate” clinicians about this disorder. Meixel et al. [84] note (p. 860):

“Specific marketing messages that we identified within the CME modules included the following:

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is very common and underdiagnosed.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder can have a profound effect on quality of life.

Women may not be aware that they are sick or distressed.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder and distress can have other names.

Clinicians should initiate conversation with their patients about their sexual health.

Clinicians find it difficult to discuss their patients’ sexual concerns and lack training and confidence in the diagnosis of sexual problems.

Clinicians need tools and resources to help them diagnose hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

Simple tools, including the decreased sexual desire screener (DSDS) and Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) can assist clinicians in diagnosing hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

A major barrier to clinicians talking about hypoactive sexual desire disorder/female sexual dysfunction is the lack of medications.

It is problematic that there are medicines available to treat sexual problems for men but not women.”

Key elements in the continuing education modules to be noted here are that the lack (at the time) of medications for HSDD was an impediment for physicians to have discussions about sexual desire with their patients and that women may have HSDD even if they are unaware of it.

6.3 Therapeutic approaches

A starting point for therapy may lie in reassuring women that their sexual feelings are not abnormal and are shared by many other women [82]. This does not alleviate tensions and conflict in a relationship, but can more effectively set the stage for other therapeutic approaches. For example, changing a women’s view of herself can aid in communication with her partner about her sexuality to alleviate interpersonal conflicts [82]. Knowing that her feelings are normal and shared will boost self-esteem and relieve personal insecurities, both of which are barriers to promoting relationship satisfaction and feeling sexually desirable. This is clearly a simplistic approach that in isolation will not be sufficient for most women [85]. Still, this is an important component of any therapeutic plan.

Given that fatigue is a key factor underlying low sexual desire in women, approaches to reduce lifestyle stress and fatigue may be helpful. Mindfulness strategies can be helpful in this regard [86, 87, 88, 89] and have the advantage of being easy to apply and are inexpensive. Presumably other lifestyle approaches may also be beneficial when HSDD results from these types of life events.

Cognitive processes impact HSDD when women view their own behavior, rather than relationship issues, as central to their levels of sexual desire. A rather thorough review [90] supports a role of cognitive behavioral therapies in treating women with HSDD. The goals of these approaches are straightforward, aiming to increasing the rewarding experiences for women and improve relationships through cognitive restructuring and communication. As with mindfulness strategies, cognitive behavioral therapy can be conducted through online training as well as in person.

Drugs should be a last line of treatment [2, 91], and used perhaps in conjunction with behavioral therapies. The worry with drug therapies is that they necessarily carry side effects that vary in severity. This is unavoidable with any compound that affects neurotransmission, as there will be direct and indirect effects on chemical transmission that are spread throughout the central nervous system, beyond the specific circuits targeting the behaviors in question [36].

Today’s Older Adults Are Cognitively Fitter Than Older Adults Were 20 Years Ago, but When and How They Decline Is No Different Than in the Past

Today’s Older Adults Are Cognitively Fitter Than Older Adults Were 20 Years Ago, but When and How They Decline Is No Different Than in the Past. Denis Gerstorf et al. Psychological Science, October 25, 2022.

Abstract: History-graded increases in older adults’ levels of cognitive performance are well documented, but little is known about historical shifts in within-person change: cognitive decline and onset of decline. We combined harmonized perceptual-motor speed data from independent samples recruited in 1990 and 2010 to obtain 2,008 age-matched longitudinal observations (M = 78 years, 50% women) from 228 participants in the Berlin Aging Study (BASE) and 583 participants in the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II). We used nonlinear growth models that orthogonalized within- and between-person age effects and controlled for retest effects. At age 78, the later-born BASE-II cohort substantially outperformed the earlier-born BASE cohort (d = 1.20; 25 years of age difference). Age trajectories, however, were parallel, and there was no evidence of cohort differences in the amount or rate of decline and the onset of decline. Cognitive functioning has shifted to higher levels, but cognitive decline in old age appears to proceed similarly as it did two decades ago.


Our findings indicate that later-born older Berliners tested in the 2010s outperformed their earlier-born age peers tested in the 1990s. Contrary to our hypotheses, results showed that later-born older adults did not exhibit shallower declines on perceptual-motor speed or a later onset of decline. The later born cohort’s cognitive performance was shifted upward from the earlier-born cohort’s, but trajectories of cognitive aging were parallel.

Historical change in cognitive performance

Consistent with the Flynn effect (Pietschnig & Voracek, 2015), results from our carefully matched longitudinal data obtained from same-aged older adults tested two decades apart provide more evidence of historical change in levels of performance. The effect size (d = 1.20) is striking and even larger than that obtained in our earlier time-lagged cross-sectional analysis of a subset of participants (Gerstorf et al., 2015d = 0.85). This constitutes one more set of evidence that cultural changes over the last 30 years, including better access to individual resources (e.g., quantity and quality of education) and innovations in science and technology (e.g., advances in medicine and nutrition; Drewelies et al., 2019), have contributed to improved cognitive performance in old age. Future work should detail how the many different mechanisms that drive improvements in unique and specific resource constellations can further improve cognitive functioning (and productivity) of older adults.

Are old-age cognitive declines today shallower or postponed to later ages?

Our results parallel those of studies that did not find history-graded improvements in cognitive aging trajectories (e.g., Brailean et al., 2018) but differ from studies that had found such improvements (e.g., Dodge et al., 2014). Beyond similarities in the calendar years participants were born and tested, the discrepant findings may result from country-level differences in health care and differences in the studies’ measurement and analysis procedures.
In the 1990s, studies had documented that elevated blood pressure in midlife (rather than old age) is predictive of steeper cognitive declines in old age (Launer et al., 1995). Since then, widespread prescription and use of effective anti-hypertensive medication may have weakened those links. However, implementation in Germany occurred about a decade later than in the United States and other nations (Wolf-Maier et al., 2003). Consequently, our later-born older Berliners may have already been too old to have benefitted from widespread changes in delivery of health care. Back when this generation of older adults was in midlife, blood pressure treatment had not yet improved (Koenig et al., 2018). Going forward, cross-national studies can be used to test hypotheses about long-latency treatment effects of midlife blood pressure for cognitive decline in old age.
Interestingly, studies that reported cohort differences in rates of cognitive decline either did not include perceptual speed measures (Dodge et al., 2017 and Gerstorf et al., 2011: reasoning, verbal meaning, and memory), did not find cohort effects on perceptual speed measures (but on verbal fluency and working memory; Grasset et al., 2018), or found that cohort differences in perceptual speed measures were smaller than for other measures (executive functions; Dodge et al., 2014). Although measures of perceptual speed capture age-related declines well, they may not be very sensitive to history-graded changes in decline. More systematic charting of how cohort differences manifest across a wider set of aging-sensitive (e.g., memory) and more aging-resilient (e.g., crystallized) abilities is needed.
Our analytic approach also differed from approaches used in other studies. The nonlinear growth-modeling framework allowed us to account for a variety of potential confounds. First, the observation-level age matching between BASE and BASE-II samples drawn from the same underlying population provided a strong foundation for testing differences between same-age observations obtained from different cohorts. Second, we modeled and accounted for retest effects that often emerge with repeated test taking. Third, our model explicitly separated between-person from within-person age effects (age gradients vs. intraindividual change), allowing for more precise testing of hypotheses about history-graded shifts in cognitive aging—a distinctly intraindividual process.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to directly test cohort differences in the age of onset of cognitive decline. Contrary to the cognitive-reserve hypothesis, results showed no evidence for a shift in the onset of decline. However, this finding is consistent with both the preserved-differentiation perspective (Salthouse, 2006), by which level differences established in early life are maintained and carried forward into old age, and recent meta-analyses showing that differences in education have substantial effects on levels of cognitive functioning but null effects on rates of cognitive aging (Lövdén et al., 2020) or brain aging (Nyberg et al., 2021). It seems that history-graded improvements resulting from early-life education, cognitive stimulation, and health care persist into old age, but not because aging processes have been any kinder.

Limitations and future directions

Several limitations in our design and sample must also be noted. A time window of two decades may suffice to identify historical change in levels of perceptual-motor speed but may not be long enough to identify historical change in key features of cognitive aging trajectories. Further, because our assessments were obtained only in old age, we were unable to disentangle late-life processes from those unfolding during early life and mid-life. With the Flynn effect reversing among young men (Bratsberg & Rogeberg, 2018), future research should systematically examine how history-graded changes may proceed differentially throughout life.
Participants were drawn from one geographical region and represent a positively selected population segment. One key question is whether our findings apply to resource-poor population segments. Conceptual perspectives on manufactured survival (Olshansky & Carnes, 2019) suggest that some older adults today carry disease burdens longer than did older adults in the past. Future research should carefully examine whether cohort differences in decline emerge in more diverse samples and are moderated by access to resources.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Partisanship and the trolley problem: Partisan willingness to sacrifice members of the other party

Partisanship and the trolley problem: Partisan willingness to sacrifice members of the other party. Michael Barber and Ryan Davis. Research & Politics, October 28, 2022.

Abstract: Do partisans view members of the other party as having lower moral status? While research shows that partisans view the out-group quite poorly, we show that affective polarization extends to expressing a willingness to sacrifice an out-partisan’s life. We report the first study to consider partisanship in the classic “trolley problem” in which respondents are asked whether they would sacrifice an individual’s life in order to save the life of five individuals. We explore this issue with a nationally representative survey experiment in the United States, inquiring about politicized variants of the trolley problem case. First, we vary the political affiliations of both the group of five (to be saved by turning the trolley) and the single individual (to be sacrificed by turning the trolley). We find that individuals are less willing to sacrifice a co-partisan for the sake of a group of out-partisans. These findings go beyond earlier work by suggesting that partisans not only hold negative attitudes and judgments toward political out-groups but also they will at least signal approval of differing moral treatment. We take stock of how these results bear on normative questions in democratic theory.


Our findings offer evidence that partisan loyalties do extend to moral judgments. Negative partisan attitudes appear reactive—directed toward opposing partisans themselves, rather than merely targeting circumstances of inter-partisan interaction. Finally, these attitudes appear quite serious. People treat out-partisans comparably to other dehumanized and denigrated groups. Partiality to co-partisans cannot explain the comparison between out-partisans and the most extreme outgroups we considered. Congruent with other findings affirming the pervasiveness of negative partisanship, our results appear driven at least in part by negative attitudes toward political opponents. In our case, these negative attitudes include not only affect but also the judgment (at least, the expressed judgment) that out-partisans occupy a lower moral status.
Our result considers the total effect of partisan identity. Because stereotypes about opposing partisans are unreliable (Ahler and Sood, 2018) and negative affect may be partly driven by partisan misperception (Lees and Cikara, 2021), further work would be needed to determine how much the result results from partisanship alone—independent of overlapping identity categories.
Partisan violence is not a new phenomenon in American politics (e.g., Kalmoe (2020)). What, if anything, might justify political violence (or threats of such violence) is, of course, a further normative question. At the outset, we noted a normative aspiration to civic friendship as an ideal of shared citizenship. Our results tend toward pessimism about this normative ideal. There is little indication that partisans invest much positive value in shared citizenship. The idea that co-citizens, even of opposing political tribes, share a common project of ruling together, and further that this common project gives them special obligations to each other, is absent from our picture (Scheffler, 2010Kolodny, 2014). Insofar as they require that opposing partisans share a valuing relationship (Scheffler, 2005Rawls, 2005Viehoff, 2014), normative theories of citizenship look untethered from political reality.
However, other normative theorists affirm a distinctive normative value to partisan attachment. These theorists see partisanship as an expression of a political commitment that makes ongoing political action possible (Ypi, 2016). Our results offer grounds for a more sanguine perspective on this value; however, our findings also offer a cautionary note for proponents of partisan loyalty. Such bonds appear not to be constituted merely by partiality to one’s political allies or ideas. They include, as well, a willingness to compare opponents with disliked and even reviled groups. This may extend to seeing them as less deserving of moral concern. The partisan ideal may be one about which one might be appropriately cautious—and not only when approaching a trolley crossing.

As expected, women denigratory posts derogate women’s sexuality, personality, and mothering qualities, but also found derogations about women’s resource extraction, mate poaching, and substance use

She’s a Gold-Digger, Bad Mom, and Drug-Using Floozy: Women’s Rivalry Gets “Dirty.” Maryanne L. Fisher, Mackenzie Zinck, Jaedan Link, Jessica Savoie & Arianna Conrod. Evolutionary Psychological Science, Oct 28 2022.

Abstract: Gossip is an inherent part of human sociality and can be used to manipulate other’s reputations. Women’s reputations in particular are the subject of derogatory gossip, and are more vulnerable, compared to men’s reputations (Hess & Hagen, 2002, 2006; Reynolds et al., 2018). Here, we explore how women’s reputations are presented via anonymous posts on the gossip website, The Dirty. Using a qualitative analysis, trained blind coders performed thematic analysis of 25 posts about women for each of the five most populous cities in Canada and the USA (N = 250). We support our prediction that posts derogate women’s sexuality, personality, and mothering qualities, but also found derogations about women’s resource extraction, mate poaching, and substance use. As well, posts often contained a direct warning about associating with the woman. Sexuality was the most commonly mentioned aspect, followed by personality, and warnings, while resource extraction, mate poaching, and substance use were equally derogated, and mothering qualities least mentioned. We review these findings in light of women’s intrasexual mating competition and the importance of women’s reputations.

The Simbari people & their semen ingestion practices

Simbari people

As of today, the article says:

The Simbari people (also known as the Simbari Anga,[1] called Sambia by Herdt[2]) are a tribe of mountain-dwelling, hunting and horticultural people who inhabit the fringes of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, and are extensively described by the American anthropologist Gilbert Herdt.[3][4] The Simbari – a pseudonym created by Herdt himself – are known by cultural anthropologists for their acts of "ritualised homosexuality" and semen ingestion practices with pubescent boys. In his studies of the Simbari, Herdt describes the people in light of their sexual culture and how their practices shape the masculinity of adolescent Simbari boys.[3]

Video: Sambia Tribe of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific's have a weird and strange Initiation of boys to manhood.

But things changed... From the same article above:


In 2006, Gilbert Herdt updated his studies of the Simbari with the publication of The Simbari: Ritual, Sexuality, and Change in Papua New Guinea. He noted that a sexual revolution had overtaken the Simbari in the previous decade. "To go from absolute gender segregation and arranged marriages, with universal ritual initiation that controlled sexual and gender development and imposed the radical practice of boy-insemination, to abandoning initiation, seeing adolescent boys and girls kiss and hold hands in public, arranging their own marriages, and building square houses with one bed for the newlyweds, as the Simbari have done, is revolutionary."[9]

Personality Traits of Sex Workers: higher scores of conscientiousness, openness, & Machiavellianism; earlier age of first menarche, earlier age of first drug use

Personality Traits of Sex Workers. John E. Edlund, Zachary Carter & Nathaly Cabrera. Sexuality & Culture, Sep 29 2022.

Abstract: Although numerous studies have looked at what lay people think of sex workers, comparatively few studies have directly looked at the sex workers themselves. The current study compared a cohort of predominantly female sex workers with a matched control across several personality constructs (including the Big Five, the Dark Triad, and Life History). Some of the observed differences in personality included higher scores of conscientiousness and higher scores of openness to experience in the sex worker group. The sex worker group also showed higher scores in machiavellianism. A variety of indicators of a faster Life History Strategy were also found in the sex worker cohort including an earlier age of first menarche and age of first drug use.


Results revealed negative attitudes toward civil liberties among leftist participants, with left-wing self-identification, radical-cultural feminism and left-wing authoritarianism negatively predicting support for civil liberties

Attitudes Toward Civil Liberties and Rights Among Politically Charged Online Groups. Angelo Fasce and Diego Avendaño. Volume 53, Issue 4, on-line October 27, 2022.

Abstract: Civil liberties and rights such as freedom of expression, press, thought, religion, association, lifestyle, and equality against the law are being subjected to controversies in Western countries. We developed two hypotheses aimed at explaining divergent attitudes toward civil liberties among politically charged online communities on each side of the political spectrum. A study using a cross-sectional sample of social media users (N = 902) suggests that, as expected by our hypotheses, support for civil liberties tend to be higher among online groups of rightists – with economic conservatism being the only direct positive predictor and left-wing authoritarianism being a strong negative predictor. These results are discussed in relation to polarization over civil liberties and perceived power imbalances between online groups.