Thursday, February 17, 2022

Behavioral consistency in the digital age: The activity profile of our smartphones reveals a lot about us

Behavioral Consistency in the Digital Age. Heather Shaw et al. Psychological Science, February 17,

Abstract: Efforts to infer personality from digital footprints have focused on behavioral stability at the trait level without considering situational dependency. We repeated a classic study of intraindividual consistency with secondary data (five data sets) containing 28,692 days of smartphone usage from 780 people. Using per-app measures of pickup frequency and usage duration, we found that profiles of daily smartphone usage were significantly more consistent when taken from the same user than from different users (d > 1.46). Random-forest models trained on 6 days of behavior identified each of the 780 users in test data with 35.8% accuracy for pickup frequency and 38.5% accuracy for duration frequency. This increased to 73.5% and 75.3%, respectively, when success was taken as the user appearing in the top 10 predictions (i.e., top 1%). Thus, situation-dependent stability in behavior is present in our digital lives, and its uniqueness provides both opportunities and risks to privacy.

Keywords: behavioral consistency, personality, digital footprint, intraindividual, open data, preregistered

It has been almost five decades since Mischel (1973) outlined an interactionist conception of behavioral dispositions, yet most evidence for the theory comes from observations of off-line interactions. Here, we considered consistency in digital behaviors, through studying the variation of engagement (a behavior) across several nominal situations (apps), collected unobtrusively every second across several days. We found that smartphone users have unique patterns of behaviors for 21 different apps and the cues they present to the user. These usage profiles showed a degree of intraindividual consistency over repeated daily observations that was far greater than equivalent interindividual comparisons (e.g., a person consistently uses Facebook the most and Calculator the least every day). This was true for the daily duration of app use but also the simpler measure of daily app pickups—how many times you open each app per day. It was also true for profiles derived from individual days and profiles aggregated across multiple days. Therefore, by adopting an interactionist approach in personality research, we can predict a person’s future behavior from digital traces while mapping the unique characteristics of a particular individual. Research indicates that people spend on average 4 hr per day on their smartphone and pick up their smartphone on average 85 times per day (Ellis et al., 2019). It is important that theories can adapt to the way people behave presently in digital environments.

It may be considered a limitation that when examining if-then statements, we did not examine within-app behaviors (e.g., posts and comments) that result from experiencing the active ingredients of a particular digital situation. In future studies, researchers may wish to explore data that can be retrieved from different apps that share similar behaviors (e.g., posts across different social media sites). Instead, we examined the cross-situational engagement (a behavior) with each app (situation), which is a comparatively simple digital trace that can be collected easily and unobtrusively, to demonstrate that this alone has within-user consistency.

Consequently, the extent to which our daily smartphone use could act as a digital fingerprint, sufficient to betray our privacy in anonymized data or across devices (e.g., personal phone vs. work phone), is an increasing ethical concern. Our study adds value to the existing literature by illustrating how engagement with apps alone shows within-user consistency that can identify an individual. We modeled users’ unique behaviors by training random forests and then used their exported predictions to assign them to a top-10 candidate pool in separate data with 75.25% accuracy. Thus, an app that is granted access to a smartphone’s standard activity logging could render a reasonable prediction about a user’s identity even when they are logged out of their account. Similarly, if an app receives usage data from several third-party apps, our findings show that this can be used to profile a user and provide a signature that is separate from the device ID or username. So, for example, a law enforcement investigation to identify a criminal’s new phone from knowledge of their historic phone use could reduce a candidate pool of approximately 1,000 phones to 10 phones, with a 25% risk of missing them.

Pertinently, this identification is possible with no monitoring of the conversations or behaviors within the apps themselves and without triangulation of other data, such as geo-location. Perhaps this should come as no surprise. It is consistent with other research that shows how simple metadata can be used to make inferences about a particular user, such as assessing their personality from the smartphone operating system used (Shaw et al., 2016) and determining their home location from sparse call logs (Mayer et al., 2016), as well as identifying a particular user from installed apps (Tu et al., 2018). Given that many websites and apps collect these metadata from their users, it is important to acknowledge that usage alone can be sufficient to identify a user. It underscores the need for researchers collecting digital-trace data to ensure that usage profiles cannot be reverse engineered to determine participants’ identities, particularly if data are to be shared widely. Thus, context-dependent intraindividual stability in behavior extends into our digital lives, and its uniqueness affords both opportunities and risks.

Self-identified incels are resistant to seeking or accepting mental health treatment, often because they perceive that practitioners will blame them for their inceldom, rather than societal forces such as 'lookism'

Self-reported psychiatric disorder and perceived psychological symptom rates among involuntary celibates (incels) and their perceptions of mental health treatment. Anne Speckhard & Molly Ellenberg. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Feb 16 2022.

Abstract: This study explores the prevalence of self-reported formal diagnoses and informally identified symptoms of psychological challenges among involuntary celibates (incels). Incels are increasingly becoming a topic of research, primarily focused on their potential for violence. However, there has not been a large study of the mental health antecedents to and results of inceldom, nor has there been extensive investigation of potential psychosocial interventions for incels. This study of 272 self-identified incels found a higher self-reported prevalence of formal psychological diagnoses than in the general population. Some diagnoses and associated symptoms, like depression and anxiety, may be the result of repeated rejection by potential partners, but others, namely autism spectrum disorder, are antecedent to inceldom and may actually contribute to an individual’s difficulties in establishing sexual and romantic relationships. Despite the high self-reported prevalence of these psychosocial challenges, this study found that self-identified incels are resistant to seeking or accepting mental health treatment, often because they perceive that practitioners will blame them for their inceldom, rather than societal forces such as ‘lookism.’ The results indicate that online forums may be effective mediums for providing or advertising non-judgmental mental health treatment and exploring creative ways of helping incels achieve a better quality of life.

Keywords: Incelmen’s mental healthonline interventionsresistance to mental health treatment

In couples: Largely divergent patterns of emotional expression that predict the long-term symptoms of psychopathology of men and women

Weber, D. M., Fischer, M. S., Baucom, D. H., Baucom, B. R. W., Engl, J., Thurmaier, F., Wojda, A. K., Carrino, E. A., & Hahlweg, K. (2022). For better or worse: Associations among psychopathology symptoms, interpersonal emotion dynamics, and gender in couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 36(2), 246–257. Feb 2022.

Communication has long been associated with the well-being of a couple’s relationship, and it is also important to explore associations with individual well-being. This study examined the associations between emotions communicated within couple interactions and each partner’s psychopathology symptoms concurrently and up to 3 years later. Vocally-encoded emotional arousal (f₀) was measured during couples’ (N = 56) conversations. Analyses examined each partner’s trajectories of f₀ and how each partner influenced the other’s f₀ across the conversation. The findings indicated that women experienced higher symptoms if they (a) decreased more steeply in f₀ overall and (b) returned to their baseline in f₀ more quickly. Moreover, women had higher symptoms if they had a steeper return to baseline because of men’s elevated f₀. In contrast, men experienced higher symptoms when men (a) more slowly returned to baseline and (b) changed their f₀ trajectory because of women’s elevated f₀. That is, women who expressed less emotional arousal, independently and as a result of the influence of their male partner, experienced more symptoms. In contrast, men’s symptoms were differentially associated with their own independent experience of emotional arousal (in which he experienced fewer symptoms when changing arousal more quickly) from how they responded to women’s arousal. Given how differently men’s and women’s psychopathology were associated with emotional expression, these findings raise questions about how partners can communicate to protect their own and their partner’s mental health in the short- and long-term. 

Ocean acidification effect on fish: The vast majority of large effect studies tend to be characterized by low sample sizes, yet are published in high-impact journals & have a disproportionate influence on the field in terms of citations

Meta-analysis reveals an extreme “decline effect” in the impacts of ocean acidification on fish behavior. Jeff C. Clements, Josefin Sundin, Timothy D. Clark, Fredrik Jutfelt. PLoS Biology, February 3, 2022.

Abstract: Ocean acidification—decreasing oceanic pH resulting from the uptake of excess atmospheric CO2—has the potential to affect marine life in the future. Among the possible consequences, a series of studies on coral reef fish suggested that the direct effects of acidification on fish behavior may be extreme and have broad ecological ramifications. Recent studies documenting a lack of effect of experimental ocean acidification on fish behavior, however, call this prediction into question. Indeed, the phenomenon of decreasing effect sizes over time is not uncommon and is typically referred to as the “decline effect.” Here, we explore the consistency and robustness of scientific evidence over the past decade regarding direct effects of ocean acidification on fish behavior. Using a systematic review and meta-analysis of 91 studies empirically testing effects of ocean acidification on fish behavior, we provide quantitative evidence that the research to date on this topic is characterized by a decline effect, where large effects in initial studies have all but disappeared in subsequent studies over a decade. The decline effect in this field cannot be explained by 3 likely biological explanations, including increasing proportions of studies examining (1) cold-water species; (2) nonolfactory-associated behaviors; and (3) nonlarval life stages. Furthermore, the vast majority of studies with large effect sizes in this field tend to be characterized by low sample sizes, yet are published in high-impact journals and have a disproportionate influence on the field in terms of citations. We contend that ocean acidification has a negligible direct impact on fish behavior, and we advocate for improved approaches to minimize the potential for a decline effect in future avenues of research.

About one in three extremists reported being absolutely (i.e., 100%) certain of the correctness of their political beliefs, whereas about one in 15 non-extremists reported being absolutely certain

Absolute Certainty and Political Ideology: A Systematic Test of Curvilinearity. Thomas H. Costello, Shauna M. Bowes. Social Psychological and Personality Science, February 15, 2022.

Abstract: The present investigation examined curvilinear relations between political ideology, on the one hand, and absolute certainty and dogmatism, on the other, across six online samples (N = 2,889). Ideological extremists were more likely than others to be absolutely certain: About one in three extremists reported being absolutely (i.e., 100%) certain of the correctness of their political beliefs, whereas about one in 15 non-extremists reported being absolutely certain. Although absolute political certainty was relatively symmetrical across the political left and right, conservatives tended to report greater domain-general dogmatism than liberals. Extremism effects for domain-general dogmatism were also present, however; and ideological asymmetries in dogmatism appeared to be driven by social, rather than economic, ideology. Taken together, these findings underscore the complexity of relations between absolute certainty, dogmatism, and ideology, ultimately challenging the sufficiency of contemporary psychological accounts of ideological (a)symmetries to describe our complex political reality.

Keywords: dogmatism, extremism, certainty, political psychology, rigidity-of-the-right

On average, women’s experiences of sex are of substantially lower quality than men’s

Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality. Terri D. Conley, Verena Klein. Perspectives on Psychological Science, Feb 16, 2022.

Abstract: Gender differences in sexuality have gained considerable attention both within and outside of the scientific community. We argue that one of the main unacknowledged reasons for these differences is simply that women experience substantially worse sex than men do. Thus, in examinations of the etiology of gender differences in sexuality, a confound has largely been unacknowledged: Women and men are treated to different experiences of what is called “sexuality” and “having sex.” We discuss four arenas in which women’s experience of sexuality may often be worse than men’s: (a) anatomical differences, (b) sexual violence, (c) stigma, and (d) masculine cultures of sexuality. Then we consider how each disparity might explain well-known gender differences in sexuality.

Keywords: gender differences, sexuality, stigma, inequality