Sunday, December 11, 2022

Aversion toward broken patterns of simple geometric shapes predicted greater adherence to social norms

Deviancy Aversion and Social Norms. Anton Gollwitzer et al. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, December 10, 2022.

Abstract: We propose that deviancy aversion—people’s domain-general discomfort toward the distortion of patterns (repeated forms or models)—contributes to the strength and prevalence of social norms in society. Five studies (N = 2,390) supported this hypothesis. In Study 1, individuals’ deviancy aversion, for instance, their aversion toward broken patterns of simple geometric shapes, predicted negative affect toward norm violations (affect), greater self-reported norm following (behavior), and judging norms as more valuable (belief). Supporting generalizability, deviancy aversion additionally predicted greater conformity on accuracy-orientated estimation tasks (Study 2), adherence to physical distancing norms during COVID-19 (Study 3), and increased following of fairness norms (Study 4). Finally, experimentally heightening deviancy aversion increased participants’ negative affect toward norm violations and self-reported norm behavior, but did not convincingly heighten belief-based norm judgments (Study 5). We conclude that a human sensitivity to pattern distortion functions as a low-level affective process that promotes and maintains social norms in society

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Anton Gollwitzer et al. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 160, 1 July 2020, 109810.

And: Clone images elicited higher eeriness than individuals with different faces; related to distinguishableness of each face, the duplication of identity, avoidance reactions based on disgust sensitivity, inter alia:

Yonemitsu F, Sasaki K, Gobara A, Yamada Y (2021) The clone devaluation effect: A new uncanny phenomenon concerning facial identity. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0254396. Jul 13 2021.

General Discussion

We find that something as simple as deviancy aversion—people’s sensitivity to the distortion of patterns—contributes to the prevalence and strength of social norms in society. In Study 1, participants’ aversion toward nonsocial pattern distortion (e.g., broken patterns of geometric shapes) predicted negative affect toward social norm violations (Affect), self-reported social norm following (Behavior), and judging social norms as important (Belief). Supporting generalizability, deviancy aversion also predicted greater conformity on accuracy-oriented estimation tasks (Study 2), greater following of physical distancing norms during COVID-19 (Study 3), and greater following of fairness norms in terms of not repeating a survey for additional payment (Study 4). Finally, deviancy aversion causally heightened social norm indicators, including negative affect toward social norm violations and self-reported social norm following, but did not impact more cognitive, belief-based norm measures, such as judging norms as important and desiring tighter social norms in society (Study 5).
Our findings suggest that a low-level affective factor—deviancy aversion—plays a meaningful role in the power of social norms in society. People’s discomfort in response to pattern distortion appeared to lead them to experience norm violations as affectively aversive, in turn motivating norm adherence and conformity. Given the important role of social norms in cooperation and group functioning (e.g., Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004aSherif, 1936), deviancy aversion may be a low-level affective factor that contributes to social functioning in human societies.


Our findings are robust. First, controlling for third variables, including need for closure, intolerance for ambiguity, disgust, political orientation, aversion toward unbroken patterns, novelty aversion, negativity aversion, and social desirability did not change our results (Studies 1–5). Moreover, none of these potential confounds predicted social norms as consistently as deviancy aversion did (and some failed to predict it at all; Tables 15).
Second, our findings are unlikely to have been driven by anthropomorphism or by participants imbuing our stimuli with agency or social content (e.g., Heider & Simmel, 1944). Past research has not found anthropomorphism to moderate links between deviancy aversion and social constructs, and in Study 5, anthropomorphism did not moderate our findings either. In addition, in Study S1, which like Study 5 examined the causal impact of deviancy aversion on social norms, only 10% to 20% of participants spontaneously generated social content or attributed agency to the broken patterns of geometric shapes (and such content did not moderate our findings; see Study S1).
Third, demand or response bias is unlikely to account for our results. Socially desirable responding did not moderate any of our results. In addition, our results remained when excluding participants who had predicted our hypothesis in Study 3, and when controlling for participants’ self-reported motivation to perform well on the deviancy word-task in Study 5. Moreover, regarding response bias, our findings remained when reverse-scaling numerous measures and when accounting for closely matched control measures, for instance, participants’ aversion toward unbroken patterns.

Theoretical Contribution

The present findings theoretically advance our understanding of social norms. Researchers have explicitly noted that affective or cognitive processes underpinning social norms are largely undiscovered despite being theoretically founded (e.g., Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004b). While researchers have shown that low-level affective processes play a large role in other domains (e.g., moral judgment; Gollwitzer, Martel, Bargh, & Chang, 2020Haidt, 2001), such processes are still on the periphery when it comes to explaining social norms. Addressing this research gap, we find that a simple aversion to pattern distortion may be one simple affective pathway via which social norms and conformity are encouraged. Moreover, combined with past research indicating that deviancy aversion activates “intuitionist” (affective) pathways to moral judgment (Gollwitzer, Martel, Bargh, & Chang, 2020), deviancy aversion may qualify as an emotional response that is activated at the very start of the process of norm responding (e.g., when deciding whether to follow a norm or responding to norm violations). Deviancy aversion may thus qualify as an efficient affective heuristic that predisposes individuals to follow norms and denigrate norm violators (one that can only be overridden by self-regulation or deliberation; see Gollwitzer, Martel, Bargh, & Chang, 2020).
Deviancy aversion may also help explain why people so flexibly conform to norms around them. For example, on the 1962 TV Show, Candid Camera, individual people entered an elevator of occupants all facing backward. Many of these individual people conformed and joined the rather unusual behavior of staring at an elevator wall (Kent, n.d.). Outside of this staged example, norms differ depending on culture and context, and people often adapt to new norms unintentionally (see Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Similarly to how social norms are situational, what is “patterned” or regular is also situational. Deviancy aversion may thus be a key ingredient of why people can so flexibly follow social norms. By experiencing aversion toward the violation of behavioral patterns in a specific context, people can quickly adapt to that specific environment. Indeed, this theorizing aligns with past work showing that deviancy aversion predicts context-dependent social responding in a different social domain—prejudice (prejudice against Black individuals when the majority is White, prejudice against White individuals when the majority is Black; Gollwitzer, Marshall, & Bargh, 2020). Future work should test whether deviancy aversion underlies humans’ suprising ability to flexibly and automatically adapt to the regularities and social norms in a given context.
Our findings may also inform social norms at the cultural level. Gelfand and colleagues (2011) identified nations as varying in the prevalence and rigidity of social norms—loose versus more tight societies. Although we did not find deviancy aversion to causally impact a desire for looseness vs. tightness (Study 5), past work has found higher levels of deviancy aversion in tighter cultures (China) than in looser ones (United States; Gollwitzer et al., 2017). Future research should seek to explain these contradictory findings, and more carefully examine whether loose vs. tight cultures overlap with lower vs. higher levels of deviancy aversion. If so, tight vs. loose cultures may extend beyond social norms to other domains as well; for instance, tight societies may have more rigid and patterned architecture than more loose societies.
Our findings also shed light on more specific questions. For instance, deviancy aversion may help explain why people engage in normative behaviors even when these behaviors are not clearly motivated; for example, cooperative norms that are harmful for one’s own personal gain (e.g., cooperating in a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma; Cooper et al., 1996), or descriptive norms that are not motivated by social or extrinsic factors (e.g., random trends; e.g., Muldoon et al., 2014Schwartz & Howard, 1984). In addition, deviancy aversion may help explain why extremely positive norm-violations—such as donating one’s kidney to a stranger—are often denigrated by others (e.g., Herrmann et al., 2008MacFarquhar, 2015). Indeed, past work has not only linked deviancy aversion to prejudice against stigmatized social outliers, but also “positive” social outliers (e.g., very smart individuals; Gollwitzer et al., 2017). Finally, deviancy aversion may help explain why even infants correct nonconforming others (Schmidt et al., 2019) and expect group-based social norms (Powell & Spelke, 2013). Given that such responses are unlikely to be driven by more conscious factors (e.g., punishment, reasoning), and that deviancy aversion has been found even in 3-year-olds, an affective discomfort toward pattern distortion may motivate such infant norm-based responding.
Our findings also directly extend research on deviancy aversion. For instance, we find deviancy aversion to impact a social construct aside from prejudice (Gollwitzer et al., 2017Gollwitzer, Marshall, & Bargh, 2020) and moral judgment (Gollwitzer, Martel, Bargh, & Chang, 2020). In addition, we find deviancy aversion to not only relate to social norms but also have a causal impact on heightening social norm indicators (Study 5). Moreover, deviancy aversion predicted self-reported and objective behaviors that have substantial consequences, for instance, conforming to others’ judgments (Study 2), engaging in greater physical distancing norms during COVID-19 (Study 3), and reduced cheating when doing so violates fairness norms (Study 4). In doing so, we extend the potential outcomes of deviancy aversion to health (Study 2), conformity (Study 3), and fairness (Study 4) domains. Finally, we found that deviancy aversion links to social judgments even for participants who do not predict these links (Study 3), impacts social responding outside of awareness (Study 5), and fails to influence individuals’ more cognitive, belief-based judgments (Study 5). Taken together, these findings provide a new theoretical framework of deviancy aversion as an unintentional affective heuristic that influences social responding across domains by inducing negative affect toward social irregularities outside of people’s awareness.
Finally, past work finds that approximately 15% of people exhibit a stable preference for pattern distortion instead of an aversion (Gollwitzer, 2021). This 15% aligns fairly well with the percent of participants in conformity studies who refuse to conform (e.g., ~25% in Asch, 1951). Potentially, this minority group of deviancy preferers, also referred to as “rebels,” “rule-breakers,” or “trend-setters,” functions evolutionarily to motivate social norm change as well as promote opposition against social norms that are harmful (e.g., normative prejudice against minority groups, authoritarian rules).

Limitations and Caveats

First, and perhaps most importantly, though deviancy aversion positively correlated with judging social norms as valuable (Study 1), it did not causally heighten this type of more belief-based norm judgment (Study 5). Several explanations exist. In line with deviancy aversion impacting individuals’ affective responses toward norms and norm violations, these results may be driven by the norm espousal and tightness measures in Study 5 assessing more cognitive, belief-based attitudes toward social norms. This explanation aligns with the link between deviancy aversion and norm espousal being quite small in Study 1 (β = .176), and additionally, with past research indicating that deviancy aversion appears to impact social judgment via affective pathways (e.g., Gollwitzer, Martel, Bargh, & Chang, 2020).
Second, Study 5 did not include a no-treatment condition. It is thus unclear whether deviancy aversion or pattern ‘positivity’ heightens social norm indicators (or both). Supporting the former, participants’ responses to unbroken patterns did not consistently predict social norm indicators (Studies 1–4) and, in a supplemental study, deviancy aversion heightened social norms compared to a negativity aversion control condition (see Study S2). Third, the Flurp social norm measures are limited as participants may perceive the Flurps as “objects” rather than social agents. Fourth, deviancy aversion is not the only factor underlying social norms (e.g., avoiding punishment), and likely interacts with other factors to predict social norms. Fifth, the generalizability of our findings is limited. It remains unclear whether deviancy aversion predicts social norm indicators cross-culturally, predicts social norms in noisier field contexts, and predicts conformity if conformity opposes a known answer (akin to Asch’s line studies; Asch, 1951). Finally, deviancy aversion may also influence perceptions of simple statistical regularities that are not necessarily social norms (Bicchieri, 2005). This would not discount the observed effects, however. Instead, these results would align with the proposed mechanism—that social norms are regular, patterned behaviors.

Good-looking people report higher meaning in life

Pretty, meaningful lives: physical attractiveness and experienced and perceived meaning in life. Christopher A. Sanders, Alexis T. Jenkins & Laura A. King. The Journal of Positive Psychology, Dec 9 2022.

Abstract: Three studies examined the association between physical attractiveness and meaning in life. Study 1 (N = 305 college students) showed that self-reported physical attractiveness positively correlated with meaning in life. Study 2 (N = 598 noncollege adults) replicated the association between self-reported physical attractiveness and meaning in life and extended those findings, demonstrating that outside perceptions of attractiveness are linked to outside perceptions of how meaningful a person’s life is. Study 3 (N = 331 targets, 97 raters) replicated these findings and probed the nuances of the relationships between outside ratings and self-reports of attractiveness and meaning in life. Across the studies, existential significance, or the feeling that one’s life matters, was the facet of meaning that primarily explained the link between attractiveness and meaning in life. In addition, a person’s view of their own attractiveness is more indicative of their well-being than outsider ratings. Implications for our understanding of meaning in life are discussed.

Keywords: Existential meaningnatural beauty