Saturday, June 18, 2022

A common cultural belief is that that others generally exaggerate their pain, contrary with the normative behavior of being as accurate as possible

Over-rating pain is overrated: A fundamental self-other bias in pain reporting behavior. Brandon L.Boring et al. The Journal of Pain, June 18 2022.


• A common cultural belief is that that others generally exaggerate their pain.

• Normative pain reporting behavior is to be as accurate as possible.

• Counter-stereotypical patterns of reporting in populations with pain disparities.

• Fundamental pain bias: a false belief others exaggerate contrary to personal norms.

• Broader implications: cultural pain stigma, patient-provider trust, pain outcomes.

Abstract: Wide-spread cultural beliefs influence personal experiences and clinical treatment of pain, yet are often unexamined and unchallenged in the pain literature. The common cultural belief that people generally over-report or exaggerate pain is familiar, reflected in discordant patient-provider pain assessments, and compounded in the context of disparities in pain treatment. However, no studies have directly measured the prevalence of this belief among the general population, nor challenged the validity of this assumption by assessing normative pain reporting in clinical settings. Results of an initial and replication study suggest that reporting pain accurately “as-is” is the norm, yet most people still believe that others normatively over-report pain. We refer to the phenomenon by which most people report their pain as they experience it while paradoxically believing that others over-report their pain as the fundamental pain bias, and suggest this false perception may contribute to larger scale pain stigma and poor outcomes for people in pain. We also identify counter-stereotypical patterns of pain reporting among groups (i.e., women, Latinx Americans) that face more disparate care. Results reinforce the need for respecting patient pain reports, and suggest that distrust surrounding others’ pain experiences is prevalent in society.

Keywords: Pain ratingsStereotypesDisparitiesPain communicationCultural narratives

Identifying Objects and Remembering Images: Insights From Deep Neural Networks

Identifying Objects and Remembering Images: Insights From Deep Neural Networks. Nicole C. Rust, Barnes G. L. Jannuzi. Current Directions in Psychological Science, June 17, 2022.

Abstract: People have a remarkable ability to identify the objects that they are looking at, as well as remember the images that they have seen. Researchers know that high-level visual cortex contributes in important ways to supporting both of these functions, but developing models that describe how processing in high-level visual cortex supports these behaviors has been challenging. Recent breakthroughs in this modeling effort have arrived by way of the illustration that deep artificial neural networks trained to categorize objects, developed for computer vision purposes, reflect brainlike patterns of activity. Here we summarize how deep artificial neural networks have been used to gain important insights into the contributions of high-level visual cortex to object identification, as well as one characteristic of visual memory behavior: image memorability, the systematic variation with which some images are remembered better than others.

Keywords: object recognition, visual memory, recognition memory, neural network, visual cortex

What is play in predictive minds: A mechanism of prediction error minimization, whereby the brain attempts to reduce the mismatch between how it predicts the world to be and how the world actually is

Play in Predictive Minds: A Cognitive Theory of Play. Marc Malmdorf Andersen email the author, Julian Kiverstein, Mark Miller, Andreas Roepstorff. Psychological Review. jun 2022.

Abstract: In this article, we argue that a predictive processing framework (PP) may provide elements for a proximate model of play in children and adults. We propose that play is a behavior in which the agent, in contexts of freedom from the demands of certain competing cognitive systems, deliberately seeks out or creates surprising situations that gravitate toward sweet-spots of relative complexity with the goal of resolving surprise. We further propose that play is experientially associated with a feel-good quality because the agent is reducing significant levels of prediction error (i.e., surprise) faster than expected. We argue that this framework can unify a range of well-established findings in play and developmental research that highlights the role of play in learning, and that casts children as Bayesian learners. The theory integrates the role of positive valence in play (i.e., explaining why play is fun); and what it is to be in a playful mood. Central to the account is the idea that playful agents may create and establish an environment tailored to the generation and further resolution of surprise and uncertainty. Play emerges here as a variety of niche construction where the organism modulates its physical and social environment in order to maximize the productive potential of surprise.

Keywords: play, learning, predictive processing, surprise, niche construction


If play is, at its core, the deliberate seeking and creation of surprising situations, this has important implications for learning, niche construction; for current understandings of playfulness as a general mood state; as well as methodological implications for future research on play in humans.

Play, Learning, and Niche Construction

Humans in general, and children in particular, play not only to chase slopes of error reduction but also to actively build and create such slopes of error reduction. This perspective may be relevant for recent work in evolutionary biology that addresses predictive processing and niche construction. Predictive processing extends to nonhuman animals as well because prediction error minimization is believed to be a universal biological process in which organisms attempt to keep themselves within expected sensory and physiological states given their species-specific prestructuring and the niche they inhabit (Friston, 2010). In evolutionary biology, niche construction refers to the process of organisms modifying their environment, thereby steering their own and others’ evolutionary trajectory (Laland et al., 2015). Recent arguments suggest that the mathematics of predictive processing can be used to model the effect of niche construction on biological evolutionary processes (Constant et al., 2018).
From this perspective, niche construction is a way for organisms to efficiently minimize prediction error by manipulating the environment to conform to their own expected states. Thus, an organism’s species-specific prestructuring may prompt it to build a nest or a burrow, ensuring that expectations about things such as wind speed or temperature are effectively met. Niche construction may therefore be seen as a form of active inference, where the organism manipulates the environment to fit its own expectations. In many cases, animals are born into an already altered environment fit to suit their species-specific prestructured expectations, for example, ants in an anthill; beavers in a lodge; or humans in a house (Constant et al., 2018). What this account may have overlooked, however, is that a handful of species, notably the most intelligent, regularly engage in playful behavior after their basic expectations have been met. Human children actively seek and create situations that they expect to be surprising in an effort to reduce uncertainty. When the environment offers no uncertainty, children will readily modulate it in such a way that it becomes error-inducing.
It is an open question as to whether this may also be the case for certain nonhuman species famous for their playful inclinations. Dolphins, for instance, can often be seen creating bubble rings by exhaling air through their blowholes, which they subsequently play with in a variety of ways. Some dolphins have even been observed to produce multiple rings that they then join together, or push one through another (Janik, 2015). Similarly, several populations of Bornean orangutans have been documented building nests for social play, and object-substitution and pretend play have been documented in both chimpanzees and gorillas (Jensvold & Fouts, 1993Ramsey & McGrew, 2005). The motivation for such behaviors is not obvious from the perspective of existing work on niche construction in the predictive processing framework, because these behaviors do not involve the identification and resolution of preexisting environmental uncertainties. Rather, we speculate that these behaviors could result from efforts to create uncertainty and surprise in environments in which they are lacking.
Interestingly, there is an apparent cross-species relationship between playfulness and the capacity for culture. Some of the most playful species, including dolphins, great apes, crows, monkeys, and, of course, humans, show highly diverse culturally patterned practices (e.g., Hunt & Gray, 2003Kuczaj & Highfill, 2005Whiten et al., 1999). While we recognize that this relationship is likely to be mediated by intelligence and general cognitive capacity among other things, we speculate that proneness to boredom and a proclivity to play may act as a creative stimulus for cultural innovation. Numerous researchers have already argued that human play facilitates creativity and innovation (e.g., Bateson & Martin, 2013Russ, 2014). Whether this argument can be extended to other playful species remains to be seen. If these species modulate the environment so that surprises may be extracted from it, this could galvanize the emergence of new behaviors which, if they persisted over time and were transmitted between individuals, could be added to the cultural repertoires of their populations.

Play, Playfulness, and Mood

In addition to elegantly integrating emotion, cognition, and perception, recent predictive processing accounts have also emerged to include overall mood states into the framework (Clark et al., 2018Kiverstein et al., 2020). Moods are often described as “generalized emotions,” emotions that are directed at the world as a whole rather than any one particular object (Solomon, 1993, 71). Moods are further distinguished from emotions by being longer in duration, providing a persistent “background” feeling tone to our transitory, short-lived emotional experiences (Ekman & Davidson, 1994). Like feelings, moods are also believed to structure our experiences by way of anticipation-fulfillment dynamics (Kiverstein et al., 2020Ratcliffe, 2008).
From a predictive processing perspective, affective valence acts as a metacognitive signal within the predictive system, informing it of how well or poorly it is predicting in some specific local context. Moods by contrast are global background expectations about the slopes of error reduction the agent is likely to encounter. A positive mood, then, can be understood as the product of a series of experiences where the organism has reduced error faster than expected. This in turn leads to a general upward biasing of our expectations of positive valence going forward. In other words, agents that are in a good mood expect error slopes to incrementally improve (Kiverstein et al., 2020; cf. Clark et al., 2018Eldar et al., 20162021Rutledge et al., 2014).
Playfulness has previously been recognized as a positive mood state that is frequently manifested in observable behavior during play (Bateson & Martin, 2013). While this mood state is believed to often accompany play, it is also believed to sometimes facilitate it. In the predictive processing theory of mood, repeated experiences of better-than-expected error slopes improves mood (Rutledge et al., 2014), making the agent more optimistic, and expect attractive opportunities to reduce error (Cools et al., 2011Niv et al., 2006Somerville et al., 2013Wang et al., 2013). This is supported by laboratory findings that positive mood has been shown to induce risk-taking behavior (Arkes et al., 1988Isen & Patrick, 1983) as well as in real-world settings (Bassi et al., 2013Edmans et al., 2007), in which positive mood has been shown to bias the expectation of future positive outcomes (Wright & Bower, 1992).
Notice the effect that this positive biasing can have in an environment like ours where opportunities for error reduction tend to rise and fall together. The upward biasing of the agent’s expectations about the rate at which error is reduced makes it more likely for the system to expend energy to confirm predictions about error reduction slopes (Eldar et al., 2016). The optimistic agent is therefore more likely to find better than expected opportunities in their environment when they are available, which in turn perpetuates the positive mood. In this perspective, moods reflect a sort of emotional “momentum”—when the agent feels rewarded for doing better than expected, it increasingly expects such rewards to keep on coming (and conversely, when agents are doing worse than expected, it incrementally expects more bad times ahead, Eldar et al., 20162021Kiverstein et al., 2020Rutledge et al., 2014).
Consider a child who has previously enjoyed a visit to a theme park. At the theme park, the child repeatedly experienced reducing error faster than expected where what is expected relates to the child’s preferred states, the satisfactions of its needs and desires, and the fulfillment of its goals (e.g., eating ice creams and candy floss that increase glucose blood levels faster than expected; the roller coaster rides that create and resolve error faster than the family car). That child is likely to become in a good and playful mood when being told that the family again this year is going to visit the park on the weekend. According to the model, this is because the child anticipates encountering a plethora of attractive error reduction slopes when reaching the theme park. In other words, the child is in a good mood then because it expects to encounter rewarding possibilities and the good mood will be sustained as long as this expectation is fulfilled. Mood is therefore a form of generalized summary of expectations that relates to how well or badly the agent has been faring in the world as a prediction error minimizing organism, which in turn shapes its anticipation of the trend of rewards going forward.
However, as the opportunities to reduce error begin to fall away, as will inevitably happen in an environment offering finite resources, the agent’s positive mood will likewise diminish. The theme park, for instance, offers a rich abundance of opportunities for the child to fulfill their desires until the park closes and a long drive home awaits them. Many studies suggest that a negative mood is associated with biasing of predictions for negative error slopes—anticipation of doing worse than expected in error reduction, biasing perception of negative outcomes (Badcock et al., 2017Fabry, 2020Kiverstein et al., 2020Kube et al., 2020Paulus et al., 2019Ramstead et al., 2021). For instance, in depression, a state characterized by a persistent negative mood, there is a loss of confidence that any policy will succeed in reducing error (Badcock et al., 2017). This sometimes creates a perpetuating negative spiral, where the expectation of encountering worse than expected slopes for error reduction leads the agent to sample the environment for evidence, which in turn confirms and supports the negative belief. In that sense, playfulness as a mood can be thought of along the same lines as the famous words of Brian Sutton-Smith, who stated that the opposite of play is not work; it is depression (Sutton-Smith, 1997, p. 198)

Further Implications and Future Directions

The central role of positive valence in a predictive processing account of play may provide important new directions for future studies. Methodologically, it implies that zooming in on surprise dynamics over time may allow play researchers to get an important and empirically well-founded picture of the cognitive and physiological fluctuations that happen when children and adults engage in playful activities. At the same time, this may also provide play researchers with an alternative to unrefined between-group designs, given that surprise by definition is a reflection of the knowledge of the given participant. The framework’s emphasis and focus on predictions and prediction errors may lend itself to an increased focus on within-subject measures of agents’ real-time patterns of prediction on various time scales in different play settings. Recent technological advances may help here. Mobile eye tracking, for instance, is a particularly strong candidate for gathering behavioral proxies for predictions in ecologically valid playful situations (e.g., Andersen et al., 2019), and pupil dilation has been shown to signal uncertainty and surprise (e.g., Lavín et al., 2014).
Some of these methodological approaches are already widespread in the study of infant cognition, but grow increasingly absent in research paradigms as children acquire language and motor skills. Indeed, one of the most widely used approaches to study infant cognition has been to treat surprise or its absence as the main measure by observing whether children express expectation or surprise in various experimental contexts (e.g., Baillargeon et al., 1985Scherer et al., 2004Werker et al., 1997). Using such measures, efforts to systematically map what types of predictions children make in different forms of play could prove beneficial. Other behavioral measures can serve as proxies or indicators for surprise as well, and one could, for instance, use pitch levels in verbal utterances (e.g., Ververidis et al., 2004) or facial expression (e.g., Cohn et al., 1998) as behavioral proxies for surprise. The same goes for physiological measures such as heart rate variability (Andersen et al., 2020Sukalla et al., 2016), which nowadays can be easily measured in real-life settings in noninvasive ways.
Future studies may benefit from tracking the relationship between various slopes of actual and expected surprise reduction over time and their effects on valence and motivation in play. For example, researchers might utilize an unfamiliar toy type, such as a drone controlled by hand gestures, designed to respond to the playing individual with various levels of unpredictability controlled by the experimenter. By tracking the gaze and hands of the playing individuals as well as the ongoing changes in distance from the hands to the toy, which is already possible with available technology, researchers will be able to get measures of how well participants predict the movements of such a toy over time and how predictions improve or worsen. Such measures may be then related to measures of interest, such as enjoyment or motivational measures, which could be obtained by showing the participant the first-person view video of their play and continuously rating it for how fun or engaging it was.
Simpler setups may also work. For instance, Doan and colleagues presented 4-year-olds with a puzzle that they were told was either easy or hard (or, in the baseline condition, where they received no information). When the 4-year-olds completed the puzzle that they were told was hard (i.e., presumably completed the puzzle faster than expected), they spent more time exploring and attempted more different interventions with a subsequent novel toy compared to when they were told that the puzzle was easy or at baseline when no difficulty information was provided. Thus, experimenters may take advantage of the possibility to manipulate the relationship between expected and actual surprise reduction over time. They could also investigate the effects of encountering several such instances, where agents do better than expected, which is hypothesized to positively affect their playful mood and overall risk taking.
For pretend play, researchers may consider taking advantage of the rise in popularity of online streamed tabletop roleplaying games, where older children and adults pretend to be characters in fictional settings. Through the use of automated voice recognition software, some of which is already implemented in larger online platforms (e.g., YouTube), researchers have access to vast datasets of dialog in the form of subtitles from pretend settings. Through the use of natural language processing (NLP) methods (e.g., Jurafsky & Martin, 2000), it is possible to characterize the moment-to-moment development of variables such as novelty and recurrence, syntactic complexity and narrative arc, while relating these measures to proxies for enjoyment like popularity, view count, or positive sentiment in language use in viewers of the stream. This, in other words, allows researchers to look at proxies for surprise/renewal and enjoyment and their intertwined relationships as they unfold over time whilst being completely in the sphere of imaginary forms of play.
Future studies may also investigate how the seeking, creating, and resolving of error slopes in play is mediated and modulated during playful interactions with other agents. We know from other studies of playful parent–child interaction, for example, that parents actively guide and manipulate expectations by signaling surprise to their children at appropriate moments. Mothers of toddlers have been shown to increase their mean fundamental frequency and use a wider pitch range in playful situations compared to nonplayful situations (Reissland & Snow, 1996). Similarly, another study involving mothers and infants interacting together with a surprise-inducing toy found that the mothers’ exclamations of surprise became more high-pitched when they noticed that their children did not react with surprise to the toy (Reissland et al., 2002). Along similar lines, Wu and Gweon (2021) introduced 3- to 4-year-old children to a novel toy with one salient casual function that the children first learned about. The children then saw an adult play with the toy. Intriguingly, children explored the toy more when the adult expressed surprise compared to when she expressed happiness, but only when the children knew that the adult already knew about the toy’s salient function. As Wu & Gweon argues, these results suggest that “children consider others’ knowledge and selectively interpret others’ surprise as vicarious prediction error to guide their own exploration” (p. 862). Thus, it may be that when agents have fun together, they do so by collaboratively reducing error for each other.

The "Duchenne smile", which exposes your crow's feet, was once thought to be an authentic and forgery-proof expression of positive emotion, but it is not so.

More What Duchenne Smiles Do, Less What They Express. Eva G. Krumhuber, Arvid Kappas. Perspectives on Psychological Science, June 17, 2022.

Abstract: We comment on an article by Sheldon et al. from a previous issue of Perspectives (May 2021). They argued that the presence of positive emotion (Hypothesis 1), the intensity of positive emotion (Hypothesis 2), and chronic positive mood (Hypothesis 3) are reliably signaled by the Duchenne smile (DS). We reexamined the cited literature in support of each hypothesis and show that the study findings were mostly inconclusive, irrelevant, incomplete, and/or misread. In fact, there is no single (empirical) article that would unanimously support the idea that DSs function solely as indicators of felt positive affect. Additional evidence is reviewed, suggesting that DSs can be—and often are—displayed deliberately and in the absence of positive feelings. Although DSs may lead to favorable interpersonal perceptions and positive emotional responses in the observer, we propose a functional view that focuses on what facial actions—here specifically DSs—do rather than what they express.

Keywords: Duchenne, smile, facial expression, emotion

What mattered for mental health was not the absolute number of likes received on social media, but whether expectations for likes were met

Are You Getting Likes as Anticipated? Untangling the Relationship between Received Likes, Social Support from Friends, and Mental Health via Expectancy Violation Theory. Jack Lipei Tang. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Jun 16 2022.

Abstract: There is a pressing need to understand whether using social media might be linked to mental health and if yes, how. The findings of this study (N = 475) show that individuals who received more Likes on social media posts reported more friend support. However, what matters to mental health is the level of expectancy violation of the number of received Likes. The two dimensions of expectancy violation of receiving Likes (number vs. responder) have different effects on the outcome variables. Theoretical and practical implications about how social media influences friend support and mental health for young adults are discussed.

In the absence of research, we need not presuppose that sextech/digisexuality (human–sex robot relationships) will increase hegemonic or toxic forms of masculinity, compared to carbonsexuality

Plastic fantastic: Sex robots and/as sexual fantasy. Lara Karaian. Sexualities, June 12, 2022.

Abstract: This article provides an interdisciplinary and intersectional analysis of sex robots and/as sexual fantasy. I demonstrate that sexual fantasy is a highly complex and salient vector of analysis for any discussion of love and sex with robots. First, I introduce contemporary North American sex robots and offer a brief sketch of their ontology as relates to sex toys and pornography. Next, I provide a short but instructive mapping of sexual fantasy scholarship from across the fields of experimental psychology, media and cultural studies, post-colonial, psychoanalytic, feminist, queer and critical race theory. My goal here is to demonstrate sexual fantasy’s polymorphous and productive nature and its complex relationship to reality. Drawing on the theories of sexual fantasy canvassed herein, I examine the role of fantasy to sex robots’ inception, marketing, and consumption. From here I offer an appraisal of radical feminist, new materialist, and disabled queer and trans feminists’ critiques of sex robots and their users. I argue that theorizing sex robots through the lens(es) of sexual fantasy is necessary given efforts to stigmatize, regulate, and criminalize sexual fantasy and sextech users in the post/digital age. Future scholarship is encouraged to further examine the sex robot/sexual fantasy nexus and to consider whether and how their intersections impede or facilitate the development of alternative “networks of affection” including those that lie between the platonic and romantic or between “carbonsexuality” and technosexuality/digisexuality.

Keywords: sex robot, sexual fantasy, sextech, intersectional, digisexuality

To a degree, the assumption that sex doll and robot users are a relatively privileged group, not the sexual subjects who have historically been socially and psychically abjected, dominated, and “punished most viciously for seeking out the pleasures of perverse sexual license” (Rodriguez, 2011: 336), is correct. Despite the growing number of people who fantasize about and express a willingness to have sex with robots (Lehmiller, 2018Rajnerowicz, 2021), approximately 80% of sex doll owners are a majority cis-gender, white, men (Su et al., 2019), with a degree of financial privilege (given the high cost of realistic sex dolls and doll-bots), while 20% are couples and females (Döring et al., 2020: 13). Emerging research on sex doll users suggests that while a minority of consumers are “Men Going Their Own Way” men’s rights activists, the majority of users reject misogynistic views of women as well as heterosexual and monogamous constraints placed upon their sexual and intimate needs (Hanson, 2021).

Extrapolating further from existing sex doll literature, these men are privileged in that they are no more lonely, desperate, or socially inept than those in the general US population (Szczuka and Krämer, 2017), nor do they exhibit significantly higher rates of mental-illness (Valverde, 2012). Any attempts to condemn them based on the assumption that male use of sexual objects deviates from “statistical sexual norms” (Szczuka and Krämer, 2017: 4) or that users are “fetishists” (De Fren, 2009Valverde, 2012) ignores the fact that both object fetishism (“sexual arousal from the erotic use of inanimate, nonliving objects”) (Rees and Garcia, 2017) and men’s use of flesh lights (Lampen, 2017) and vibrators (Reece et al., 2009) is relatively common and positively experienced within the North American context. Although sex doll users have been found to experience “above-average problems with sexual functioning” (Valverde, 2012: 30), this is arguable a normative evaluation that reifies the primacy of the ejaculatory penis above other organs, acts, pleasures, and intimacies, and ignores the growing destigmatization and usage of “erectile dysfunction” drug for medical and recreational purposes (Marsh and readers, 2017).

Notwithstanding their privileges, these men are also deviantized and marginalized in mainstream narratives (Borenstein and Arkin, 2019Di Nucci, 2017), where they are regularly depicted as deprived victim-loners (CBC News, 2019), sicko “creeps” (Tiehen, 2018); pervy “johns” (Amin, 2019Comella, 2018), and pre-criminals (Douthat, 2018). Although the source of their abjection is multifaceted, evidence suggests that this abjection flows, in large part, from the explicit parallels drawn between them and rapists, porn consumers, and sex work clients. That is, to the extent that sex robots are understood as commercialized manifest fantasy and as a means of playing out (common) S/M and rape fantasies, the men who consume them have been framed as users and abusers; as perpetrators of rape culture, as yet another source or symptom of a pornographic “public health crisis” (Blunt and Stardust, 2021); and/or as “unworthy” clients of commercial sex (Pheterson, 1993) who must be shamed, stigmatized, and criminalized (Weitzer, 2018).

In this context it is worth considering whether sex robot consumers can be understood as deviantized or even as queer sexual subjects in the same way some have suggested that “deviantized” sex work clients should be theorized (Khan, 2019). Indeed, additional support for the queerness and homosociality of sex robot users is evidenced by emerging analyses of male sex doll users and communities (Burr-Miller and Aoki, 2013Middleweek, 2021Su et al., 2019), as well as within the personal narratives of female sex robot consumers such as that of queer artist Amber Hawk Swanson. For instance, grappling with her difficulty finding a female partner, Hawk Swanson found herself admiring, sympathizing, and identifying with the online community of “doll husbands”—men who owned and loved their own RealDolls—and in 2006 commissioned a life-size RealDoll (not a robot) in her own image. Of her art, Getsy writes that Hawk Swanson disrupts “clichéd (heterosexual) fantasies of lesbian desire and of twin sexuality, both of which repeatedly surface as erotic ideals in popular culture as well as mainstream pornography” (2013: 469) while also complicating the boundary between “victimizing owner and victimized image” thus exposing “the anxious interdependence of self-objectification and self-realization” (2013: 474 and 475). Hawk Swanson’s subsequent conversations with doll users in her collection entitled Doll Closet (2017), draws on the closet metaphor to signify the stigmatization that keeps doll owners hidden, while also acknowledging the closet as a necessary space for sex doll/bots that must be hung to avoid being damaged. Of the iDollators she speaks with at least one is racialized—the internationally known Davecat—whereas others gender-bend and express their own heterosexual desires alongside a disidentification with heteronormativity. To this resource we can add the growing body of media coverage that exposes sex doll users as running the gamut from heterosexual married couples, to interracial poly couples and single queer men (Beck, 2013Pemberton, 2020). Taken together with qualitative analysis of male users of a major sex doll forums, it thus begs considering how, “in the absence of empirical research otherwise, we need not presuppose that human–sex robot relationships will increase hegemonic or toxic forms of masculinity” and whether “these new relationship configurations may usher in new identities, communities or “liberated forms of sexuality” that enhance our lives with novel forms of mechanized pleasure” (Middleweek, 2021: 383). To the extent that emerging studies of sex dollbot and their users help to reveal the “myth of a natural, monolithic heterosexuality… [and the] capriciousness of its logic” (Burr-Miller and Aoki, 2013: 386), it becomes possible to view the idea of the “hegemonic sex robot user” as itself a fantasy6 and to question the construction of sex robot consumers as singularly privileged male users and abusers with oppressive sexual fantasies.

The attitudes that we believe a good person should or shouldn’t hold are tremendously diverse & reliably connected to a sense of self; also, we are very good at making peace with our own "bad" attitudes

A Good Person Shouldn’t Feel This Way: Moralized Attitudes, Identity, and Self-Esteem. Pierce Ekstrom, Calvin Lai. Collabra: Psychology (2022) 8 (1): 36344. Jun 16 2022.

Abstract: Moralized attitudes are the attitudes that people construe as matters of right and wrong. In this study, we examine how moralized attitudes relate to how people evaluate themselves using the Attitudes, Identities, and Individual Differences (AIID) dataset—a survey of over 200,000 individuals asked to report their attitudes in one of 95 domains. In pre-registered analyses that were based on exploratory analyses of a subset of the data, we found that the specific attitudes that people moralize differ greatly from individual to individual and that moralized attitudes are more central to one’s identity than non-moralized attitudes. We also examined whether mental conflict between identity-central attitudes and gut feelings about the corresponding attitude objects would be related to lower self-esteem, finding mixed and weak evidence supporting that claim. Together, our findings indicate that the attitudes that people moralize are tremendously diverse and are reliably connected to a sense of self. At the same time, peoples’ self-esteem may be resilient to specific instances in which their gut feelings fall short of the attitudes that are central to their identity.

Keywords:Morality, Attitudes, Self-Esteem, The Self

Summary of Results

Our analyses yielded three key results. First, our descriptive analyses suggest that the attitudes that people perceive to be matters of right and wrong are extraordinarily diverse. Some participants saw room for debate concerning attitudes and behavior that most people would consider to be unequivocally moral. For example, a handful of participants “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that “Because of my personal values, I believe that making negative judgments about giving is acceptable” (6.3% of those who saw the question). At the same time, some participants passed stark judgment on some attitudes and behavior that most people would perceive as matters of taste. For example, some participants “strongly agreed” that “Because of my personal values, I believe that making negative judgments about Harry Potter is unacceptable” (8.5% of participants who saw the question). The descriptive statistics presented in Figure 4 illustrate this diversity. The end result is that there are probably very few (if any) attitudes or behaviors that all people would agree to be moral, immoral, or morally neutral. This diversity is in its own right an interesting characteristic of moral psychology, but it also suggests that researchers interested in how people think and feel about morally charged stimuli cannot always safely assume that their participants will construe a given stimulus in moral (or non-moral) terms.

Second, our results yield robust support for the Morality-Identity hypothesis. We found that when participants perceived their attitudes to be connected to their personal values, they were more likely to identify with those attitudes. They were also more likely to identify with the targets of those attitudes implicitly and explicitly (e.g., to see Harry Potter or Christians as part of their self-concept rather than to merely identify as someone who likes Harry Potter or Christians). This evidence is consistent with our prediction that people would perceive their idiosyncratic beliefs about right and wrong as a defining feature of who they are.

Finally, our results yield weak and inconsistent support for the Identity Rubric hypothesis. We find that our participants did not consistently evaluate themselves on the basis of whether their gut feelings were consistent with the “actual” attitudes that they cherish as defining features of their identity. Our first analysis found some evidence suggestive of this phenomenon; when participants reported negative gut feelings about targets with which they identified, they also reported slightly lower self-esteem. However, this may be because negative gut feelings about identity-central targets are, in and of themselves, negative gut feelings about the self. For example, negative gut feelings about Christians, Jews, European Americans, and African Americans could easily translate to negative self-evaluations among people who are themselves Christian, Jewish, European American, or African American—regardless of whether they think it is morally “wrong” or “acceptable” to judge people from these groups positively. Other models were more directly inconsistent with our predictions. When participants reported negative gut feelings about targets that they thought they ought to like, their reported self-esteem was almost identical to that of participants whose gut feelings and explicit attitudes were perfectly consistent. We observed a similar null effect for implicit identification with targets and for every other indicator of attitude strength that we analyzed. Participants generally did not have lower self-esteem when their gut feelings were inconsistent with moralized, important, certain, or extreme attitudes.

Based on these findings, our initial theory requires significant revision. We hypothesized that moralized attitudes inform self-evaluation because they structure individuals’ self-concepts. Although we did find that moralized attitudes were relatively central to participants’ identities (consistent with the Morality-Identity hypothesis), we found little if any connection between participants’ self-esteem and the extent to which their gut feelings were consistent with those attitudes. Participants did not report feeling meaningfully worse about themselves when they were attracted to things they believed they shouldn’t like or repulsed by things they believed they ought to accept.


That said, our study has several limitations that complicate this test of our theory.

Mixed evidence for key measures’ validity. The evidence from our validity study was mixed and weaker than we had anticipated. The most widely used measure of attitude moralization (moral conviction) only sometimes predicted responses to the AIID items. For one item, the relation was what we predicted for both positive and negative attitudes, though those relations were weak. For the other three items, the relation was only present either for positive or negative attitudes. We encountered similar problems with the AIID measures of attitude identity centrality. Despite this limitation, we remain confident in our conclusions for three reasons.

First, despite evidence that some measures were more valid than others and more or less valid for positive versus negative attitudes, we find no evidence that our results depended on which AIID items we used to assess attitude moralization or attitude identity centrality. Second, although the measures we used to assess the validity of the AIID items are certainly more widely used and better established as measures of the target constructs, they are still just measures, not perfect reflections of the constructs of interest. Given that the AIID measures each make explicit reference to their respective target constructs (e.g., “personal values,” decisions about what is “wrong” or “acceptable,” whether reactions are “important to” and “inconsistent with” the “self-concept”), these measures may capture aspects of moralization and identity centrality that other measures do not. Finally, we found converging evidence for our conclusions with analyses that does not rely on the AIID measures. To do this, we used the validation study to conduct an additional un-pre-registered test of the Morality-Identity hypothesis. Our theory would predict that Skitka and colleagues’ moral conviction measure would be related to Luhtanen and Crocker’s (1992) measure of identity centrality for the 20 attitude targets in this study. It was (b = 0.32, 95% CI: [0.27, 0.37], p < 0.001), even controlling for the effect of importance. In addition, the analyses described in Table 9 suggest that alternative measures of moralization or identification would probably not yield any stronger support for the Identity Rubric hypothesis. Participants’ self-esteem was basically unmoved regardless of how severely their gut feelings contradicted certain, important, extreme, “identity-central,” or “moralized” attitudes. Even if we have failed to find a direct, precise measure of moralization or identity centrality, surely at least one of these indices of attitude strength would at least be correlated with such a measure. If the Identity Rubric hypothesis were true, then, it seems unlikely that all of these tests would be so uniformly null.

Still, our validity study offers an important caveat for our own and future work. We cannot safely assume that when people say that their attitude is moral or important to who they are, they will also say that the opposite attitude is immoral or anathema to their self-concept. Although we might say people “moralize” an attitude when they judge it to be desirable, acceptable, or wrong, these judgments probably do not lie along a single dimension.

Narrow threats to the self and a broad measure of self-esteem. In hindsight, our predictions may have presumed self-esteem to be too fragile. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale is intended to measure self-esteem as a global trait. Meanwhile, we analyzed participants’ gut feelings and attitudes toward only one or two targets. Contradictions so narrow and specific may be insufficient to impact global trait-level self-esteem in a meaningful way.

On the one hand, narrower measures of self-esteem might prove to be more malleable. People’s thoughts and behavior during a particular event or time period might affect how they feel about themselves during that specific time. On the other hand, more frequent, numerous, or chronically salient contradictions between people’s gut feelings and the attitudes they believe to be appropriate might have a stronger impact on self-esteem than the one or two attitudes we were able to assess.

Some scholars have conducted experiments to confront participants with moral failures and trace their impact on self-evaluations (see Wojciszke, 2005). These participants often end these experiments feeling just fine. These results are consistent with decades of social-psychological research have documented individuals’ capacity to rationalize their behaviors and what they might consider to be failures to practice what they preach, and scholars have often argued that the point of this rationalization is to protect people’s positive self-images (e.g., Aronson, 1969; Kunda, 1990).

Small wonder, then, that slight divergences between “gut feelings” and “actual” attitudes in a single attitude domain failed to leave a dent in our participants’ self-esteem. Our study leaves open the possibility that some attitude-inconsistent feelings or behavior may be more uncomfortable than others, and that measures of more specific or shorter-term self-evaluation might be more likely to change in the wake of these behaviors. Future work might find that when people behave in ways that are clearly at odds with multiple important, moralized, or identity-central attitudes, they briefly feel worse about themselves.

Correlational Design. We have tested a multi-step causal framework with a correlational dataset, which cannot permit strong causal inferences. For example, we cannot know whether people come to identify with certain attitudes because they see them in moral terms, moralize attitudes because they are central to their identity, or come to moralize and identify with their attitudes simultaneously as a part of some larger process. The reality is probably a combination of these possibilities. For example, someone may come to identify with their pro-choice attitude because they see abortion access as a moral issue and also come to moralize their attitude toward Britney Spears, 50 Cent, or Harry Potter because they identify as a fan. Regardless, our evidence suggests that these processes are connected. At the same time, the latter part of the model proposed in Figure 1 is now less plausible, as our correlational evidence was inconsistent with the Identity Rubric hypothesis.