Tuesday, July 26, 2022

People discriminate against each other more for their political leanings than for other facets of their identity

Separated by Politics? Disentangling the Dimensions of Discrimination. Alexander G. Theodoridis, Stephen N. Goggin & Maggie Deichert. Political Behavior, Jul 23 2022. https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11109-022-09809-y

Abstract: How rampant is political discrimination in the United States, and how does it compare to other sources of bias in apolitical interactions? We employ a conjoint experiment to juxtapose the discriminatory effects of salient social categories across a range of contexts. The conjoint framework enables identification of social groups’ distinct causal effects, ceteris paribus, and minimizes ‘cheap talk,’ social desirability bias, and spurious conclusions from statistical discrimination. We find pronounced discrimination along the lines of party and ideology, as well as politicized identities such as religion and sexual orientation. We also find desire for homophily along more dimensions, as well as specific out-group negativity. We also find important differences between Democrats and Republicans, with discrimination by partisans often focusing on other groups with political relevance of their own. Perhaps most striking, though, is how much discrimination emerges along political lines – both partisan and ideological. Yet, counter-stereotypic ideological labels can counter, and even erase, the discriminatory consequences of party.

Have beliefs in conspiracy theories increased over time? It seems not.

Have beliefs in conspiracy theories increased over time? Joseph Uscinski et al. PLoS July 20, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0270429

Abstract: The public is convinced that beliefs in conspiracy theories are increasing, and many scholars, journalists, and policymakers agree. Given the associations between conspiracy theories and many non-normative tendencies, lawmakers have called for policies to address these increases. However, little evidence has been provided to demonstrate that beliefs in conspiracy theories have, in fact, increased over time. We address this evidentiary gap. Study 1 investigates change in the proportion of Americans believing 46 conspiracy theories; our observations in some instances span half a century. Study 2 examines change in the proportion of individuals across six European countries believing six conspiracy theories. Study 3 traces beliefs about which groups are conspiring against “us,” while Study 4 tracks generalized conspiracy thinking in the U.S. from 2012 to 2021. In no instance do we observe systematic evidence for an increase in conspiracism, however operationalized. We discuss the theoretical and policy implications of our findings.


Numerous cross-sectional polls show that large numbers of people believe conspiracy theories, and online conspiracy theory content is plentiful. Perhaps because of this, many scholars, journalists, and policymakers are concerned that conspiracism is increasing. However, little systematic evidence demonstrating such increases has been produced. As one journalist at Vox put it, “there’s no hard evidence that conspiracy theories are circulating more widely today than ever before. But…it has certainly seemed like average Americans have bought into them more and more” [40].

The lack of systematic evidence owes to the fact that conspiracy theories became the subject of a sustained research program only around 2010. Regardless, claims about increases in conspiracy theory beliefs must be both testable and falsifiable if they are to be taken seriously. Minimally, hypothesized increases should be detectable using standard methods (such as, but not limited to, polling). If such hypotheses cannot be substantiated with supportive evidence, they should be appropriately qualified, refined to match the available evidence, or abandoned.

Across four studies––including four distinct operationalizations of conspiracism, temporal comparisons spanning between seven months and 55 years, and tens of thousands of observations from seven nations––we find only scant evidence that conspiracism, however operationalized, has increased. Although beliefs in 13 out of 52 conspiracy theories significantly increased over time (including those in both Study 1 and Study 2), these increases do not constitute sufficient evidence against the null hypothesis. In fact, we identified more decreases than increases, and the decreases were larger in magnitude than the increases. That only a quarter of the conspiracy theories we examined found more support over time––none of which involve the COVID-19 pandemic or QAnon––contradicts common wisdom.

The baseline levels of conspiracism we observe are concerning and social scientists should continue efforts at correcting them [e.g., 41]. By the same token, our finding that conspiracy theory beliefs are generally not increasing has implications for public discourse. Claims that beliefs in conspiracy theories are on the rise suggest that a new factor is to blame, or that a meaningful change in an old factor has occurred. In this vein, social media has––perhaps erroneously––taken much of the blame for supposed increases in conspiracy theory beliefs [CBS 7], which has implications for policies regarding content moderation and access.

However, we do not observe supporting evidence that beliefs in conspiracy theories or generalized conspiracy thinking have increased during the Internet/social media era. Instead, our findings comport with arguments that the Internet may be less hospitable to conspiracy theories than is often assumed [42]. Our findings also comport with studies demonstrating that online conspiracy theories, “infodemics,” and echo chambers may not be as widespread [4345] or influential as sometimes claimed [46], and are reflective of studies arguing that people are not engaging with or sharing conspiracy theories online as much as sometimes assumed [4749]. Finally, the patterns we observe align with a broad literature on conspiracy theory beliefs showing that people are unlikely to believe a conspiracy theory unless they are both 1) already disposed to believe conspiracy theories generally, and 2) inclined towards the content of that particular conspiracy theory or the source from which it emanates [39,50,51]. In other words, online conspiracy theories might not persuade as much as reinforce existing views. Our findings are more congruent with the latter process than the former.

That said, our investigation is not without limitations. We are limited to the conspiracy theories polled on previously, and we cannot make claims about conspiracy theories we did not investigate. Still, we expect that we are more likely to observe growth in the types of ideas that researchers thought worthwhile to ask the public about than those they chose to ignore. We acknowledge that the many claims about increases in conspiracism are often vague and could mean numerous things. We have therefore tested several operationalizations of conspiracism in our four studies, but future research should continue testing for increases in other ways as well. We further acknowledge that no single study can poll in all political contexts. Some beliefs not included in Study 2 could be increasing in the six European countries polled; moreover, conspiracy theory beliefs could be increasing in some countries not accounted for here. We note that most polling of conspiracy theory beliefs has taken place in the U.S. during the last decade––efforts to comprehensively measure conspiracy theory beliefs with national polls across the globe are only slowly emerging [e.g., 52]. More work outside the U.S. is needed to test our central hypothesis more comprehensively.

We implore caution in making sweeping inferences from our findings. Our study should not be used to make claims about, or to excuse the behavior of, political elites who weaponize conspiracy theories. Moreover, trends in the coverage of conspiracy theories by news outlets or in the rhetorical use of conspiracy theories by political elites fall outside the purview of our investigation, as do the use of conspiracy theories by fake news purveyors, though we recommend that researchers continue to consider these topics.

Questions regarding the growth in conspiracy theory beliefs are important, with far-reaching normative and empirical implications for our understanding of political culture, free speech, Internet regulation, and radicalization. That we observe little supportive evidence for such growth, however operationalized, should give scholars, journalists, and policymakers pause. This is not to dismiss the availability of conspiracy theories online, the large numbers of people who believe in some conspiracy theories, or the potential consequences of those beliefs; nor is it to preclude the possibility of increases in the future, in ways not tested here, or in other socio-political contexts. It may be that conspiracy theories have been a constant, but that scholars, policymakers, and journalists are only recently beginning to pay appropriate attention to them. Thus, our findings offer both good and bad news: good, in that conspiracy theory beliefs are not increasing across the board; bad, in that conspiracy theories may be a more persistent and ubiquitous feature of human society than is desirable. Scholars still have much to discover about the psychology of conspiracy theory beliefs, as well as the role that elite communication and the information environment play in promoting those beliefs. In the meantime, we recommend caution in sounding alarms regarding the “golden age” of conspiracy theories and the degeneration of society into a “post-truth” era.

The ideomotor principle holds that anticipating the sensory consequences of a movement triggers an associated motor response; paper thinks it is time to generalize this principle

Ideomotor learning: Time to generalize a longstanding principle. Birte Moeller, Roland Pfister. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, July 22 2022, 104782. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2022.104782


• The ideomotor principle is a bedrock of contemporary approaches to action control

• Ideomotor (IM)-learning traditionally focuses on action-effect associations

• We apply the concept of common coding of action and perception to IM-learning

• The same mechanism should result in action-action and stimulus-stimulus learning

• This extension connects and integrates various approaches to human action control

Abstract: The ideomotor principle holds that anticipating the sensory consequences of a movement triggers an associated motor response. Even though this framework dates back to the 19th century, it continues to lie at the heart of many contemporary approaches to human action control. Here we specifically focus on the ideomotor learning mechanism that has to precede action initiation via effect anticipation. Traditional approaches to this learning mechanism focused on establishing novel action-effect (or response-effect) associations. Here we apply the theoretical concept of common coding for action and perception to argue that the same learning principle should result in response-response and stimulus-stimulus associations just as well. Generalizing ideomotor learning in such a way results in a powerful and general framework of ideomotor action control, and it allows for integrating the two seemingly separate fields of ideomotor approaches and hierarchical learning.

Keywords: ideomotor learningaction controlresponse-response associationstimulus-stimulus association

Big discounting... On their fertile days, women are more likely to opt for smaller now than for larger larger later rewards, be it money, food, or sex

Discounting for Money, Food, and Sex, over the Menstrual Cycle. Benjamin T. Vincent, Mariola Sztwiertnia, Rebecca Koomen & Jasmine G. Warren. Evolutionary Psychological Science, Jul 25 2022. https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40806-022-00334-z

Abstract: Sexual desire, physical activity, economic choices and other behaviours fluctuate over the menstrual cycle. However, we have an incomplete understanding of how preferences for smaller sooner or larger later rewards (known as delay discounting) change over the menstrual cycle. In this pre-registered, cross-sectional study, Bayesian linear and quadratic binomial regression analyses provide compelling evidence that delay discounting does change over the menstrual cycle. Data from 203 naturally cycling women show increased discounting (preference for more immediate rewards) mid-cycle, which is at least partially driven by changes in fertility. This study provides evidence for a robust and broad-spectrum increase in delay discounting (Cohen’s h ranging from 0.1 to 0.4) around the fertile point in the menstrual cycle across multiple commodities (money, food, and sex). We also show, for the first time, that discounting changes over the menstrual cycle in a pseudo-control group of 99 women on hormonal contraception. Interestingly, such women increase their discounting of sex toward the end of the menstrual phase — possibly reflecting a prioritisation of bonding-related sexual activity before menstrual onset.


The present study aimed to address three questions. Firstly, we explored whether cycle phase (EF, LF, LP) influences delay discounting across the food, sex, and money commodities in NC women (see Fig. 1). Secondly, by assessing non-linear trends over the cycle for both NC and HC women, we found evidence for a quadratic trend for all commodities and both groups (see Fig. 2). For the NC group, immediate choices increased from the EF to the LF (when most fertile) and then decreased to the LP across all commodities. The same pattern occurred for the HC group for money and food; however, the opposite pattern was shown for sex. Thirdly, we explored whether change in discounting across the cycle could (at least partially) be explained by changes in fertility. This does seem to be the case, as NC women showed a linear increase in immediate choices across all commodities as a function of fertility (see Fig. 3).

The results summarised in Fig. 1 are in line with those of Lucas and Koff (2017). Similar to Lucas and Koff’s (2017) results, the probability of choosing immediate rewards increased from the EF to the LF, followed by a drop again in the LP; however, in contrast to their findings, they remained somewhat elevated compared to the EF phase. Our results go further, however, in that we show this pattern of behaviour generalises across all the commodities tested — money, food, and sex. The present findings did contradict the finding of lower preference for immediate monetary rewards near ovulation (Smith et al., 2014). Although they used hormonal assays to determine cycle phase which is more robust than the count-back method used in the present study, the authors only took measures on 2 days. The findings of the present study match those of Lucas and Koff (2017) which measured day of cycle at multiple timepoints.

Discounting for money, food, and sex changes over the menstrual cycle for NC women, with more immediate choices being made on average around the most fertile LF phase (see Fig. 2), is in line with the ovulatory shift hypothesis. NC individuals would theoretically be expected to optimise resources and immediate choices when conception is at a higher risk (da Matta et al., 2013; Gildersleeve et al., 2014). Additionally, there was support that some of the variation in discounting behaviour in NC women over the menstrual cycle can be attributed to fertility (see Fig. 3). Women who are NC are, on average, more likely to choose immediate rewards at more fertile points in their cycle. NC women should choose immediate rewards at peak fertility, especially sex, as they would be anticipating offspring. Biologically, we know that hormone levels during this point lead to increased impulsivity which is consistent with this result (Diekhof, 2015). The finding of preference for food increasing with fertility contradicts those by Fessler (2003) who reported a decrease in calorie consumption with fertility. However, this could be the result of the present study utilising discounting measures which represent a preference and do not necessarily translate to behaviour. For medium-/high-fertility levels, NC women are more likely to choose immediate lower-quality sex than HC women. This inspires the hypothesis that because HC bodies are more hormonally similar to pregnancy than NC bodies, perhaps higher-quality sex may be preferred as a method of partner bonding over an immediate but low-quality opportunity for intercourse and conception.

Interestingly, HC women discount more for money and food, only matched by NC women at peak fertility. The rise and fall of immediate choices for money and food were even more exaggerated compared to NC women. Most hormonal contraceptives function through simulating pregnancy. Therefore, HC individuals would need resources for offspring. Again, biologically this is plausible as HC hormone levels are most similar to the fertile point of the cycle. The exception to the above was discounting of sex by HC women. The probability of choosing immediate low-quality sex over delayed high-quality sex seemed to be approximately stable but with an increase toward the end of the menstrual cycle. This could be noise that may disappear in a study with more participants or using a longitudinal design. If not, a speculative hypothesis (to be tested in a future study) would be that it represents a desire to have sex before the next menstrual period begins. Given that there is no risk of conception to HC individuals, they may be opportunistically choosing intercourse later in the cycle (LP) to avoid having intercourse during menstruation. Vaginal intercourse during menstruation has medical implications, including an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and endometriosis (Mazokopakis & Samonis, 2018). Another plausible explanation for this result could be that HC can lead to increased libido as it improves PMS and studies have shown increased female-initiated activity later in the pill cycle (LP; Guillebaud, 2017). The quadratic trends seen within the HC group were unexpected, and although hypotheses can be speculated, there is a need for future research to consider the mechanisms underlying these findings, and whether HC type has a role.

Additionally, not comparing different types of HC is problematic as the different types have varying hormonal effects (Hampson, 2020). Further studies should include an HC sample when investigating the menstrual cycle and account for the type and duration of contraceptive use. Both the present study and Lucas and Koff (2017) used cross-sectional designs which is problematic as menstrual cycles vary between females and as such a within-subject design would be beneficial for future research. While the Cohen’s h effect sizes are “small”, this should be interpreted with extreme caution — they are entirely unlike Cohen’s d effect sizes, taking no account of the difference normalised by the degree of variance, nor the sample size. As such, in the context of delay discounting, a change from ~ 7.5 to ~ 20% immediate low-quality over delayed high-quality sex choices (see Fig. 1, top right) could be considered as a behaviourally meaningful change. We do not make strong claims based on our data about the exact shape of this change over the menstrual cycle, nor about the location of the peak of immediate choices. The present study used quadratic regression which has been used before in tracking how variables change over the menstrual cycle (Kuukasjärvi et al., 2004). Future research should continue with this non-linear form of analysis over days (not categorical phases) to encompass changes across the menstrual cycle phases as other analyses may fail to capture its cyclical nature.