Sunday, April 30, 2023

In Defense of Merit in Science

In Defense of Merit in Science. D. Abbot et al. Journal of Controversial Ideas, Apr 28 2023.

Abstract: Merit is a central pillar of liberal epistemology, humanism, and democracy. The scientific enterprise, built on merit, has proven effective in generating scientific and technological advances, reducing suffering, narrowing social gaps, and improving the quality of life globally. This perspective documents the ongoing attempts to undermine the core principles of liberal epistemology and to replace merit with non-scientific, politically motivated criteria. We explain the philosophical origins of this conflict, document the intrusion of ideology into our scientific institutions, discuss the perils of abandoning merit, and offer an alternative, human-centered approach to address existing social inequalities.

Keywords: STEM; Enlightenment; meritocracy; critical social justice; postmodernism; identity politics; Mertonian norms

4. The Perils of Replacing Merit with Social Engineering and Ideological Control
4.1. Lessons from History
The universalism of science does not preclude culture and politics from being involved in funding priorities. Funders, whether government or private, expect to receive a return on their investment. Yet politicians should not dictate how science is done, and political agendas should not replace Mertonian norms. History demonstrates the dangers of replacing merit­based science with ideological control and social engineering.16,17,19 In the Soviet Union (USSR), the aberrations of Trofim Lysenko had catastrophic consequences for science and society.17 An agronomist and “people’s scientist” who came from the “superior” class of poor peasants, Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics because of its supposed inconsistency with Marxist ideology. Dissent from Lysenko’s ideas was outlawed and his opponents were fired or prosecuted. Lysenko’s ideologically infused agricultural ideas were put into practice in the USSR and China, where, in both countries, they led to decreased crop yields and famine.17 Today, biology is again being subjugated to ideology—medical schools deny the biological basis of sex, biology courses avoid teaching the heritability of traits, and so on.29,30 More examples of ideological subversion of science, relevant to physics and chemistry, were discussed in a recent viewpoint.19 Such analysis19 is often dismissed with vague deflections such as “everything is political” and “everyone is biased.” There is an element of truth to these declarations, which can help raise awareness of the potential of scientists to have biases, including biases on politicized topics, and help minimize such biases. However, those making these arguments often use them to impose their own ideological agendas on what can be studied and what kind of answers are permissible.31 It is this sense of the politicization of science that we categorically oppose.
4.2. The Damage Inflicted by Today’s Politicization of Science
The lessons from history are clear: ideological control of the scientific enterprise leads to its decline. The ongoing ideological subversion of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) education is particularly worrying. Ideological changes in the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand are already under way32–34 and are quickly influencing other democracies. The worst excesses of CSJ ideology are spreading to medicine, psychology, and global public health with worldwide implications.25,26,35–37 For example, in global public health, the ideology manifests in the Decolonize Global Health movement, which calls for dismantling global health, questions research­based knowledge, emphasizes intergroup and international antagonisms, and challenges universalism as an ideal for global health, humanitarian aid, and development assistance.37 CSJ­driven pedagogy can be pernicious, even when proposed innovations appear benign. For example, the proposed curriculum decolonization in pharmacology38 involves teaching about drugs developed from folk remedies and focusing on the contributions of non­Europeans. While such topics might be appropriate for a history of medicine course, centering the curriculum around them, as has been proposed, would be detrimental to training health professionals. The vast majority of today’s pharmacopeia is derived from the research and development efforts of the modern pharmaceutical industry; effective treatments derived from traditional medicine are rare, especially in the era of bio­ and immunotherapies. For example, of the over 150 anti­cancer drugs available today, only three are of natural origin (trabectedin, taxanes, and vinca­alkaloids).39 Decolonizing pharmacology also contributes to the public’s infatuation with traditional medicine, while health agencies report numerous therapeutic accidents involving herbal products not validated following “colonial” standards.40 Such pedagogy also reinforces mistrust toward “white medicine,” feeding conspiracy theories against the pharmaceutical industry, as exemplified by campaigns against COVID vaccines, which, sadly, disproportionately impacted minority groups.41 Scientific research requires dedication, intensive technical training, and a commitment to rigor and truth­seeking. Weakening merit­based admissions, created to identify and cultivate the best and brightest, will have long­lasting consequences for the scientific workforce, discouraging or preventing many promising students from entering the field. Signs of this are already evident. The weakening of the workforce in the U.S. has contributed to that country’s recent fall from the position of world leader in science.15 If the movement in North America to replace merit with ideology in funding42–45 and faculty hiring46–50 progresses, further deterioration in the ability to foster excellence in research in the U.S. is all but inevitable. This does not bode well for the future of science and society globally. Enforcing identity­based hiring is discriminatory,51–53 as it deprives some high­achieving individuals, including economically disadvantaged individuals who are not members of politically favored identity groups, of opportunities they have earned,54–57 thereby potentially damaging morale and engagement. In the U.S., this has resulted in the unfair treatment of Asian­American, Jewish, white, male, and foreign students.32,52,53,56–59 Ironically, replacing universalist principles with identity­based selection risks ultimately harming qualified underrepresented researchers by introducing doubt as to whether they merited their position or were hired for ideological reasons. Attempts to demonize, inflict reputational damage, or silence critics of social engineering practices by characterizing them as racists, white supremacists, or worse46,60–63 is particularly detrimental to the open intellectual environment in which scientific inquiry into difficult social problems thrives. For every incident in which a scientist is targeted, thousands get the message and self­censor.60,61,63 Besides directly impacting the scientific enterprise, the ideological capture of scientific institutions19,31,64 has broad consequences for society. Scientists and scientific institutions have a responsibility to enhance understanding and acceptance of the scientific consensus on matters of public importance. As seen with climate change and COVID­19, once a scientific topic becomes politicized, trust in science diminishes, laying the groundwork for science denial, conspiracy theories, and political opportunism.37 Research has consistently shown that public acceptance of a scientific consensus is driven not by scientific literacy (accepters are no more knowledgeable than deniers) but by political ideology and trust in scientific institutions.65 When scientific institutions issue political position statements and adopt identity­based policies, they alienate and lose the trust of large dissenting segments of the public.66 When prominent scientific journals promote these ideologies through editorials and perspective pieces, they magnify the alienation. Conflicting with the Mertonian principles of disinterestedness and universalism, these manifestos undermine the credibility of science as an objective, disinterested, and truth­seeking enterprise.67

5. The Genesis of the Current Attacks on Merit­based Science The ideological basis of the current attacks on science emanates from certain veins of postmodernism and the identity­based ideologies they have spawned: various CSJ theories, including Critical Race Theory (CRT), related theories of structural racism, and postcolonial theory.3–6,14 These ideologies are increasingly finding their way into politics, culture, and education and are negatively affecting science, medicine, technology, psychology, and global health.15,25,26,34,37 They are not imposed by totalitarian regimes, but spread by activists and abetted by university administrators and business leaders who fail to protect their institutions from these illiberal, regressive ideas.60,63,68 The genesis of these ideologies is often obscure to the public or even to their bearers—e.g., administrators trained in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)—who are unlikely to have read Gramsci, Derrida, Foucault, Bell, Crenshaw, and Delgado. But just as a Soviet apparatchik need not have read Das Kapital to have been an agent ensuring conformity to Marxist doctrine, one need not be fully versed in postmodern or CRT­inspired scholarship to be implementing the ideology. The problems emerge from doctrinaire implementation, not from deep knowledge of the scholarship. Critical Theory and CSJ conflict with the liberal Enlightenment. According to Delgado and Stefancic,5 their characteristic elements include anti­rationalism; anti­enlightenment; rejection of equal treatment, philosophical liberalism, and neutrality in law; standpoint epistemology and subjectivism as the basis of knowledge; and intersectionality. Recently, ideas that emerged from Critical Theory have been aggressively disseminated to the public, notably in books by DiAngelo and Kendi,69,70 now promoted as essential reading in many schools and universities. Critical Theories seek to fundamentally change the practice of science.10,14 Figure 3 contrasts CSJ epistemology with the ideas of the liberal Enlightenment.

CSJ is not an empirical theory, because its tenets are maintained despite their being either demonstrably false or unfalsifiable.3,6,7,10,14 The existence of objective reality, for example, which CSJ denies, is attested to by every successful engineering project, from bridges to satellites, from cell phones to electric cars, ever conducted. The fallibility of “lived experience” is attested to by a wealth of psychological research demonstrating errors and biases in self­reports.71 Yet, CSJ has found its way into STEMM, evoking parallels with the ideological corruption of science of past totalitarian regimes.19 As an illustration, The Lancet published a paper in 2020 titled “Adopting an Intersectionality Framework to Address Power and Equity in Medicine”72—a call to adopt CSJ ideology in medical education and practice. This is reminiscent of the ideological control of science16,17,19 and medicine18 in the USSR. In medicine, Marxist ideology manifested itself in “‘workerizing’ ... [the] apparatus [of medical care]” (i.e., selecting future doctors from the working class, rather than the intelligentsia by means of class­based quotas) and prioritizing medical care for citizens based on class (the proletariat was to be given higher priority than the farm workers; the farm workers, higher priority than the intelligentsia; and so on).18 The CSJ view—that institutions of knowledge, art, and law perpetuate systemic racism and, therefore, must be dismantled, and that merit­based criteria in hiring, publishing, and funding must be replaced with CSJ criteria—has been aggressively advanced by many of our academic leadership—university administrators, executive bodies of professional societies, publishers, etc. A search for “racism” in the titles of papers published by the Science and Nature Publishing groups returns hundreds of hits such as “NIH Apologizes for ‘Structural Racism,’ Pledges Change,”73 “Dismantling Systemic Racism in Science,”74 and “Systemic Racism in Higher Education.” This reflects the axiomatic ideological perspective of CSJ that systemic racism is indelibly etched into every Western institution. The perspective is taken as an article of faith, which is why some have argued that CSJ is more a secular religion than an evidence­based science.75 Below we discuss publications making unsupported claims of systemic injustices and attacking merit. Such publications rarely, if ever, provide evidence that observed disproportionalities in the race or gender distribution of a scientific field are the result of present­day structural or systemic racism. Whereas historical events, such as apartheid, slavery, and Jim Crow, are beyond dispute, the extent to which systemic racism influences STEMM or academia today is a contested question.76 Its existence cannot be established by proclamation. In the absence of compelling evidence, these assertions are not scientific; they are dogma. In his book Discrimination and Disparities, 76 Sowell takes to task the central axiom of CSJ—that disparate outcomes for various social groups emerge as a result of discrimination—and presents ample evidence illustrating its fallacy. Sowell’s arguments present compelling counterpoints to the standard set of arguments against meritocracy, such as those presented in The Tyranny of Merit 77 and The Meritocracy Trap.78 Space considerations do not permit a full evaluation of the arguments, many of which boil down to merit systems being imperfect; that is, that there are biases in judgments of merit, that they are not always implemented as promised, and that they risk creating hubris in the successful and despair among the unsuccessful. Our perspective is that, however valid these criticisms, merit­based systems are still immensely superior to alternatives that have either been tried before or are being proposed now.77 Communist systems, for example, which are vastly more egalitarian, produced misery on an unimaginable scale. Can newly proposed alternatives deliver better results? Let us consider an example. In The Tyranny of Merit, 77 Sandel proposes the following approach: identify some minimum standard that constitutes “qualified” for admission to Harvard or Stanford and use a lottery system to select among those. Specifically, he mentions cutoffs that would treat 50–75% of applicants as “qualified,” which stops short of abandoning merit altogether. He justifies these cutoff points by using anecdotal data about athletes who were overlooked by professional teams in early draft rounds, but who went on to have highly successful careers in their sport. But examples of a few overlooked individuals do not imply that merit­based selection is ineffective—indeed, players drafted early are much more likely to go on to professional careers.79 Sandel also seems to presume that identically capable college applicants will suffer if some end up attending lesser schools. However, in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), where education provides objectively assessable technical skills, attendance at a top university provides little advantage in students’ earnings potential. Measured 10 years post­graduation, a top­tier education provided no significant earnings advantage for science majors and at best a marginally significant one for engineering majors.80 Moreover, Sandel seems to be unaware that his strategy, by nature of being based on a lottery, guarantees that many candidates will end up in lesser schools than their equally qualified counterparts, an outcome that a merit system, by its nature, aims to minimize. 

Monday, April 17, 2023

Income raises human well-being indefinitely, but the impacts gradually become marginal with higher income; age consistently slashes well-being

Income raises human well-being indefinitely, but age consistently slashes it. Chao Li & Shunsuke Managi. Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 5905. Apr 11 2023.

Abstract: The relationships among human well-being, income, and age have long been debated. The association between human well-being and income is believed to be U-shaped, although the reasons remain elusive. A recent study shows a turning point in the link between human well-being and income; that is, increased income does not always improve well-being. However, the mechanisms of the effects of income and age on human well-being are unknown. Here, we illustrate the total cumulative effects of income and age on evaluated well-being through all observed causal pathways based on a 1.6-million-observation global dataset and the structural causal model. This is the first study to investigate those casual relationships globally. We find that an increase in age always reduces evaluated well-being, and the adverse effects are aggravated with age. Furthermore, increased income continuously improves human well-being, but the impacts gradually become marginal with higher income. Our results demonstrate that physical health improvement in older people is the most effective way to intervene against the harmful effects of age on well-being. Moreover, increased income may dramatically enhance the well-being of people living close to the poverty line.


This is the first study to investigate the causal relationships among human well-being, income, and age using a global dataset. Intervention for gradually deteriorating health in an aging society is the most effective way to maintain or improve human well-being. While increasing age is not inherently detrimental to human well-being, it can lead to various physical and mental health issues that ultimately harm overall well-being. Additionally, the effectiveness of an increase in income is typically most pronounced when individuals initially have low incomes. Although a turning point in the relationship between well-being and income, such as 60,000 to 75,000 USD/year, regarding life evaluation was not detected, the contribution of increased income to life evaluation beyond these amounts is marginal. Increased income always leads to human well-being improvement because its effects on the direct and indirect factors are always positive in most pathways observed in this study.

Participants had better memory for tweets than news headlines

Memory for tweets versus headlines: Does message consistency matter? Tori Peña, Raeya Maswood, Melissa Chen, Suparna Rajaram. Applied Cognitive Psychology, April 13 2023.

Abstract: People routinely use news outlets and social media platforms to keep up with recent events. While information from these common sources often aligns in the messages conveyed, news headlines and microblogs on social media also frequently provide contradictory messages. In this study, we examined how people recall and recognize tweets and news headlines when these sources provide inconsistent messaging. We tested this question in person (Experiment 1) and online (Experiment 2). Participants studied news headlines and tweets that provided either consistent messaging or inconsistent messaging, then completed a free recall and recognition memory task sequentially, and provided confidence ratings for recognition judgments. Findings were similar across memory tasks and experiments: Participants had better memory for tweets than news headlines regardless of message consistency. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding memory in the digital age where social media use is widespread and messaging across sources is often inconsistent.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Harbingers of failure do exist: Their positive (negative) pre-release movie reviews provide a strong predictive signal that the movie will turn out to be a flop (success)

What reviews foretell about opening weekend box office revenue: the harbinger of failure effect in the movie industry. Pantelis Loupos, Yvette Peng, Sute Li & Hao Hao. Marketing Letters, April 13 2023.

Abstract: We empirically investigate the harbinger of failure phenomenon in the motion picture industry by analyzing the pre-release reviews written on movies by film critics. We find that harbingers of failure do exist. Their positive (negative) pre-release movie reviews provide a strong predictive signal that the movie will turn out to be a flop (success). This signal persists even for the top critic category, which usually consists of professional critics, indicating that having expertise in a professional domain does not necessarily lead to correct predictions. Our findings challenge the current belief that positive reviews always help enhance box office revenue and shed new light on the influencer-predictor hypothesis. We further analyze the writing style of harbingers and provide new insights into their personality traits and cognitive biases.

Conclusions and discussion

Predicting a movie’s box office revenue is one of the most fundamental needs in the motion picture industry. This becomes even more challenging when someone tries to predict the opening weekend box office revenue since there is little to no information available about the wider audience’s reaction. As Cabral and Natividad (2016) show in their work, doing well at the box office during the opening weekend has an economically and statistically significant effect on the movie’s eventual performance. Prior research has explored how different attributes of a movie, such as star inclusion (Elberse, 2007; Karniouchina, 2011; Liu et al., 2014), the activity level of editors and viewers of the movie’s corresponding entry in Wikipedia (Mestyán et al., 2013), and competition among movies that are released at the same time (Ainslie et al., 2005; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2007; Delre et al., 2016), could predict the box office performance. With regard to online movie reviews, Moon et al. (2010) show that movie ratings from professional critics and viewers’ communities are predictive of total box office revenue. Moreover, Basuroy et al. (2003) find that both positive and negative reviews are significantly correlated with box office revenue with the impact of negative reviews (but not positive reviews) diminishing over time. We diverge from this research and propose that a distinction should be made among movie critics because as we demonstrate not all positive (negative) reviews are a signal for success (failure).

More specifically, we combine three different data sources to empirically investigate the harbinger of failure phenomenon in the motion picture industry. We analyze the pre-release reviews written on movies by film critics and find that harbingers of failure do exist. Their positive pre-release reviews provide a strong predictive signal that the movie will turn out to be a flop. Moreover, we find the harbinger effect to be symmetric. That is, there are harbinger critics who give negative reviews and the movie turns out to be successful. These findings shed new light on the influencer-predictor hypothesis. We document that in a pre-release setting, there is a portion of movie critics that neither influence nor predict the right outcome of a movie. On the contrary, the outcome of the movie turns out to be the exact opposite of their prediction.

We further analyze the writing style of film critics and connect them to potential cognitive biases that might give rise to the harbinger phenomenon. We find that harbinger critics engage in an analytical and formal style of writing and have a lower rate of self-reference pronouns compared to non-harbingers. These differences indicate that harbinger critics are less self-reflective about the audience’s opinion compared to non-harbingers and tend to show overconfidence in their abilities. When we stratify the analysis across the critic status category, we find the aforementioned differences between harbingers and non-harbingers to be even more significant. In the cohort of top critics, which usually consists of professional and experienced reviewers, we find that top critic harbingers are also using more adverbs than their counterparts in their positive reviews indicating that they are over-optimistic in their assessments of movies. In the case of negative reviews, we find that the top critic harbingers are significantly more analytical than their counterparts.

Our findings have important managerial implications for the motion picture industry and its key channel entities: movie studios, distribution companies, and movie theaters. First, our research provides a methodology based on pre-release film reviews that allows movie producers and distributors to identify early on which movies are going to perform badly. This will in turn allow them to make better pre-launch marketing decisions and save significant marketing costs on flop movies. It will also allow theaters to better allocate their theater space, a finite resource that is crucial to the success of theaters. Second, film studios can greatly benefit from identifying the harbinger critics and using them during the early stages of production. More specifically, movie studios can use harbinger critics to select the scripts that will maximize their box office revenue instead of using mere guesswork. Our approach complements that of Eliashberg et al. (2007), which uses natural-language processing to select the winning scripts. Third, our approach can potentially serve as a diagnostic for reviewers across fields. It is crucial for companies that employ reviewers to know whether their reviewers’ opinions can be used as a diagnostic tool to determine success or failure. Based on that, companies might want to reclassify who they designate as a “top reviewer” or create a new class of reviewers.

We should acknowledge here the limitations of this work and present potential future research avenues. The main limitation of our research, similar to Anderson et al. (2015) and Simester et al. (2019), is that we do not provide a causal explanation about where the harbingers’ preferences are coming from. However, we do provide insights into their personality traits and cognitive biases based on their writing style. This paves new avenues for further experimental behavioral research about the underlying mechanisms of the harbinger phenomenon. A second potential limitation of our research is that movie producers and distributors could potentially strategically pick which critics to invite to their pre-release screenings. However, there is no substantial evidence that this is happening in the movie industry, as it would jeopardize the reputation of, and confidence in, movie studios and movie critics alike. Last, another possibility, unobserved to the researcher, is that critics are getting influenced by other critics before they submit their review by either reading their reviews or talking to them. Future research might include further contextual variables, such as the choice of movies to review by harbingers, the timing of the reviews, and the lack of learning, to further the theoretical understanding of the harbinger phenomenon in the motion picture industry.

To conclude, does the positive (negative) feedback given by film critics before the release of a movie signal its financial failure (success) instead of its success (failure) as currently believed? Our findings document that this is not always the case. At least in a pre-release movie setting, a distinction should be made among film critics because of the existence of harbinger critics; their endorsement of a movie is a signal of the opposite outcome. 

The origin of pleasant sensations: insight from direct electrical brain stimulation

The origin of pleasant sensations: insight from direct electrical brain stimulation. Cécile Villard et al. Cortex, April 13 2023.

Abstract: Research into the neuroanatomical basis of emotions has resulted in a plethora of studies over the last twenty years. However, studies about positive emotions and pleasant sensations remain rare and their anatomical-functional bases are less understood than that of negative emotions. Pleasant sensations can be evoked by electrical brain stimulations (EBS) during stereotactic electroencephalography (SEEG) performed for pre-surgical exploration in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. We conducted a retrospective analysis of 10 106 EBS performed in 329 patients implanted with SEEG in our epileptology department. We found that 13 EBS in 9 different patients evoked pleasant sensations (0.60% of all responses). By contrast we collected 111 emotional responses of negative valence (i.e., 5.13 % of all responses). EBS evoking pleasant sensations were applied at 50 Hz with an average intensity of 1.4 ± 0.55 mA (range 0.5−2 mA). Pleasant sensations were reported by nine patients of which three patients presented responses to several EBS. We found a male predominance among the patients reporting pleasant sensations and a prominent role of the right cerebral hemisphere. Results show the preponderant role of the dorsal anterior insula and amygdala in the occurrence of pleasant sensations.

Keywords:Brain stimulationPositive emotionstereoelectroencephalographyAmygdalaInsula

4. Discussion

To our knowledge, our study is the first to focus specifically on the generation of pleasant sensations, in the broad meaning of the term, from a large collection of EBS obtained during SEEG recordings (10 106 stimulations in 329 patients). We found that pleasant sensations were exceptional events during EBS, much rarer than negative sensations, as we observed only 13 positives sensations (0.55%, versus 5.13 % for negative feelings). This is possibly a particularity of the mammalian brain, which is more likely to generate negative emotions for rapid adaptive reactions favoring survival of species, e.g. when facing a danger(Phan et al., 2002). Another explanation lies in the largely subcortical and brainstem location of reward networks(Liu et al., 2011Wise, 2002) when compared to the focus of EBS on cortical structures during SEEG for presurgical evaluation of epilepsy (see limitations).

4.1. Amygdala and anterior insula: two core regions for pleasant sensations

Our results identified two brain regions more frequently involved in pleasant sensations: the anterior insula (AI) and the amygdala. The AI is the source of heterogeneous clinical manifestations when it is involved in seizure or stimulated electrically as it can evoke gustatory, olfactory, auditory, somatosensitive, vestibular, viscerosensitive, visceromotor, experiential or emotional sensations(Mazzola et al., 2006201420172019). Functional neuroimaging highlighted the role played by the insula in the integration of information from our environment and the genesis of adapted emotions, showing the notable role of the AI(Kurth et al., 2010). Our data are congruent with previous EBS studies showing the involvement of AI in pleasant emotions and particularly ecstatic sensations (Bartolomei et al., 2019Nencha et al., 2022aOstrowsky et al., 2000). Gschwind and Picard (2016), in a meta-analysis of ecstatic aura, defined ecstatic sensations as the association of "intense positive emotion (bliss)", "improved physical well-being", "increased self-awareness or increased perception of the external world (clarity)". According to a recent neurocognitive theory, the brain would operate on a prediction model (Clark, 2013), comparing real internal and external stimuli with reference theoretical patterns. The insula would be the key structure for processing the internal states of the body through interoceptive signals. Disruption of the predictive role of AI has been proposed as an explanation of the ecstatic auras(Picard et al., 2021). Recently a feeling of time dilation with a sense of pleasant eternity has been reported during AI stimulation (Sheikh et al., 2022).

The role of amygdala in generating negative emotions, especially fear, is well known both from animal and human studies(Davis & Whalen, 2001LeDoux, 2003). However, the amygdala has also been involved in brain circuits related to happiness and pleasant sensations(Garavan et al., 2001Hamann & Mao, 2002Lanteaume et al., 2007Sabatinelli et al., 2011). Animal studies showed that amygdala neurons respond to conditioning stimuli that have been associated with either appetitive or aversive outcomes (reviewed in Fernando et al., 2013). The activation of the amygdala in response to pleasant stimuli is suggested by human fMRI studies, notably when observing a pleasant image, face, word or scene(Garavan et al., 2001Hamann & Mao, 2002Sabatinelli et al., 2011), or during mental imagery of pleasant situations(Costa et al., 2010). On the other hand, only few publications reported pleasant sensations during EBS in the amygdala (see (Guillory & Bujarski, 2014) for review). Lanteaume et al. (2007) reported sensations of "joy" or "happiness" during left amygdala stimulation in a minority of patients, as most EBS resulted in negative sensations. This study quantified subjective responses using a basic emotion scale (Izard scale). A more recent study found that only one out of 150 amygdala stimulation resulted in a subjective feeling of joy (Inman et al., 2020).

Our study also shows that the anterior cingulate gyrus and the temporal pole may also contribute to pleasant sensations. These observations are consistent with some data from EBS of the temporal pole. Analyzing the semiological aspects of temporal pole stimulation, Ostrowsky et al. (2000) reported a sensation of happiness in 4 out of 150 temporal pole stimulation. Meletti et al. (2006) also described a pleasant and relaxing sensation during EBS in the temporal pole. Similarly, experiments involving recollection of positive autobiographical memories and positive emotions revealed the activation of hippocampus and temporo-polar regions(Markowitsch et al., 2003Zotev et al., 2011)Concerning the anterior cingulate gyrus, in his work on the lateralization of affect, Smith et al. (2006a) described an euphoric sensation after its stimulation. Some functional imaging studies highlighted also the role of the anterior cingulate gyrus in the emotional mechanisms of happiness. Studies reported that when participants were asked to recall and attempt to re-experience and re-enact intense personal emotional episodes, there was an activation of the right insula, right somatosensory cortex, bilateral anterior cingulate cortex and right posterior cingulate cortex (Damasio et al., 2000; Suardi et al., 2016).

While our study highlights the predominant role in the conscious expression of positive affect of the AI and amygdala, these structures are likely embedded in a network of neural structures and probably do not act in isolation. There is evidence that direct high-frequency EBS activates a network of regions depending on the stimulation site and the effect produced(Bartolomei et al., 2019Perrone-Bertolotti et al., 2020). As such, a recent study on a manic state induced by EBS of the right lateral prefrontal cortex demonstrated significant increase of functional coupling between the right hemispheric limbic nodes, the temporal pole and the claustrum(Scholly et al., 2022). There is evidence that the genesis of emotions requires the interaction between several brain networks, widely distributed, although none of them seems to be specific to the "emotion function” (Morawetz et al., 2020Pessoa, 2018). Among these networks, the "salience network", which has been widely studied, would be involved in a larger scale network leading to the generation of emotions. The salience network involves, among others, connections between the anterior cingulate gyrus, the AI, the amygdala and the hypothalamus (Kober et al., 2008; Lindquist et al., 2016; Pessoa, 2018). The relative contribution of each of these regions in positive emotion networks remains to be determined.

A network of brain areas underpinning the experience of positive emotions and pleasant sensations could explain why, in two patients, stimulating different structures evoked the same sensations, with for patient P4, stimulation of the right amygdala and temporal pole evoking a feeling of well-being and for patient P8, stimulation of the right amygdala and AI evoking a feeling of well-being and positive emotion. The dense bidirectional connections between the anterior ventral part of the insula and the amygdala(Jakab et al., 2012Mesulam & Mufson, 1982) and between the AI and the anterior cingulate gyrus (Ghaziri et al., 2017) can account for similar sensations evoked by EBS in distant areas within the same functional network.

4.2. Effect of hemispheric laterality and sex

Our study revealed a right-sided predominance of pleasant sensations. A right-side predominance of negative emotional valence induction for right side stimulations has been reported in previous EBS studies (review in (Guillory & Bujarski, 2014)). A left lateralization of positive emotion during amygdala stimulation has been previously suggested (Lanteaume et al., 2007). This apparent contradiction could be linked to the underrepresentation in the previous studies of the anterior insula stimulation which is the prominent site in our experience for pleasant evoked sensations. Smith et al. (2006b) also reported dysphoric responses primarily during right stimulation, but no lateralization for pleasant emotional responses. No clear lateralization effect was found as a function of emotional valence in amygdala activation in a large neuroimaging meta-analysis(Baas et al., 2004).

There was a predominance of pleasant sensations in men in our study. No previous study using EBS has reported such a predominance of positive emotions, which could be related to the small number of patients in most EBS studies when compared to the large sample investigated here. However, regarding negative emotions Meletti et al. (2006) reported that the feeling of fear occurred significantly more in women than in men.

Data in the literature on gender differences in emotion are often inconsistent (Brody & Hall, 2000Wester et al., 2002). There is evidence, primarily from self-report data, that women experience emotions with greater intensity than men(Whittle et al., 2011). Women have been found to be more reactive to emotional stimuli, and particularly to unpleasant, threatening, or traumatic stimuli. Research has also suggested that gender differences in self-report are greater for negative emotions such as fear and jealousy, and some neuroimaging studies support greater brain activation in women for negative stimuli (review in (Whittle et al., 2011)). There is also evidence that males may be physiologically more reactive to certain pleasurable stimuli, particularly erotic ones (Allen et al., 2007). A study reported that males exhibited greater activity than females in the frontal lobe and amygdala during exposure to photo stimuli with positive valence (Wrase et al., 2003).

Further studies are needed to better define the effects of these two factors in the genesis of pleasant sensations.

4.3. Limitations of the study

The first limitation of our study is its retrospective nature. Responses were systematically collected, but subjective reports may not have been exhaustive. Patients may have described their symptoms in a simplified way because of difficulties in expressing their feelings (Cirignotta et al., 1980). Moreover, how to perceive and express these sensations may depend on education, culture, information given to the patients, context of occurrence, the patients ability to introspection, their vocabulary and therefore vary between patients but also within the same patient (Williams, 1956). To overcome these difficulties, quantification by self-administered questionnaires (Lanteaume et al., 2007) is interesting but was not carried out in the majority of patients in the study. Prospective studies using standardized questionnaires will be particularly useful, especially if coupled with objective measures of the autonomic response, such as the electrodermal response(Inman et al., 2020Lanteaume et al., 2007).

The second limitation is related to the spatial sampling of SEEG as it has been estimated that about 10,000 electrode contacts would be necessary to explore the brain volume covered by functional MRI(Lachaux et al., 2003). This limitation is partially counterbalanced by the large cohort of patients included and the large number of EBS considered in our analysis (the highest in the literature to date) that allow a large spatial sampling. In addition, the included patients cover a large temporal period with variations in the number of implanted electrodes and implanted sites. Insular implantations with orthogonal and especially oblique electrodes became more common from 2010 in our center. We can also note that, for feasibility and safety reasons, some regions cannot be explored, in particular the brainstem whose role in emotional processing is important (Venkatraman et al., 2017).

Third, SEEG was performed in patients with epilepsy, and seven of them reported positive sensations belonging to the subjective symptoms of their usual seizures. Moreover, the stimulated sites were part of the epileptogenic zone in 8 out of 13 cases. Indeed, the organization of brain networks and the excitability of the brain of patients with epilepsy may be different from a non-epileptic subject. Nevertheless, direct brain stimulation in the history of neuroscience has allowed progress in the knowledge of the role of certain regions in subjective phenomena generated by the human brain, such as psychosensory or emotional phenomena (reviewed (Trébuchon & Chauvel, 2016). Moreover, these phenomena can be obtained outside the usual clinical semiology of the patients (patients P1 and P7 in the present study) (Nencha et al., 2022b).

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The presumption of innocence, the prohibition against pretrial punishment, and the right to an impartial jury—constitutional bedrocks of the American criminal justice process—are potentially threatened by the practice of “perp walks”

Punishment before trial: public opinion, perp walks, and compensatory justice in the United States.Shanna R. Van Slyke, Leslie A. Corbo & Michael L. Benson. Crime, Law and Social Change volume 79, pages437–452. Nov 17 2022.

Abstract: The presumption of innocence, the prohibition against pretrial punishment, and the right to an impartial jury—constitutional bedrocks of the American criminal justice process—are potentially threatened by the practice of “perp walks.” Justice officials, politicians, and the news media have cited public demand as one justification for this controversial practice. Yet, this justification lacks an empirical basis. Drawing from work on procedural fairness, the present study suggests compensatory justice as a framework for understanding why some American citizens might support perp walks. We extend research on public attitudes towards perp walks with data from an internet survey of 1000 U.S. adults. We find that perp walks are not supported by a majority of the public and that attitudes towards perp walks are influenced by perceptions of the pros and cons of perp walks as well as of the legitimacy of the justice system.

Body odour disgust sensitivity is associated with xenophobia: evidence from nine countries across five continents

Body odour disgust sensitivity is associated with xenophobia: evidence from nine countries across five continents.Marta Z. Zakrzewska et al. Royal Society Open Science, April 12 2023.

Abstract: Body odour disgust sensitivity (BODS) reflects a behavioural disposition to avoid pathogens, and it may also involve social attitudes. Among participants in the USA, high levels of BODS were associated with stronger xenophobia towards a fictitious refugee group. To test the generalizability of this finding, we analysed data from nine countries across five continents (N = 6836). Using structural equation modelling, we found support for our pre-registered hypotheses: higher BODS levels were associated with more xenophobic attitudes; this relationship was partially explained by perceived dissimilarities of the refugees' norms regarding hygiene and food preparation, and general attitudes toward immigration. Our results support a theoretical notion of how pathogen avoidance is associated with social attitudes: ‘traditional norms’ often involve behaviours that limit inter-group contact, social mobility and situations that might lead to pathogen exposure. Our results also indicate that the positive relationship between BODS and xenophobia is robust across cultures.

4. Discussion

Understanding the link between disease detection/avoidance and xenophobia is critical for understanding the psychology of inter-group processes. Here, we focus on BODS, a potent sensory disease avoidance function, and how it is associated with xenophobic attitudes. Specifically, the present research used a large sample and a pre-registered set of hypotheses to extend previous findings of a positive relationship between BODS and explicit xenophobia [16] across countries and continents. Of particular interest was to understand whether or not body odour disgust is linked to negative attitudes to refugees because of the perceived dissimilarity of the refugees. We found that this was the case, and that our findings generalized well across most countries.

Most importantly, we show that how strongly people report to be disgusted by body odours is related to negative attitudes towards a fictitious refugee group (i.e. effect of BODS on xenophobia) and our overall effect size was very similar to previous findings in participants from the USA [16]. In the current study, data were analysed from nine culturally different and large samples in Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. The observed result was partially explained by how respondents perceived the refugee group as different in terms of food, hygiene and sanitary practices, and general attitudes towards immigration. This is in line with the disease avoidance theory that aims to explain suggesting that social behaviours and attitudes are connected to avoiding pathogens. Importantly, our results indicate that the relationship between BODS and xenophobia generalizes across populations, and can be partially explained by perceived outgroup norms. Our results thus provide support for the traditional norms account [2,4,19]. Hence, rather than geographical or genetic difference, perceived similarity in food preparation practices seems to be a driver of xenophobic attitudes, and it partially mediates the relationship between other key elements of disease avoidance (i.e. BODS) and xenophobia.

We extended previous findings by comparing attitudes towards the unfamiliar fictitious group from EA to attitudes towards a potentially more similar (at least for western cultures) fictitious outgroup coming from EE. Indeed, the EA Drashneans were consistently rated by most respondents as more dissimilar compared with the EE Drashneans; with the exception of Kenya, which is located in Eastern Africa. This manipulation potentially allows for better causal inferences, even if it worked on the intermediate variable only (perceived dissimilarity) and not the outcome (xenophobia); the difference in perception did not translate to higher levels of xenophobia for the EA Drashneans. This result is at odds with our hypothesis as we expected that the unfamiliar group would be both perceived as more different and elicit more negative attitudes (hypothesis 8 in Secondary hypotheses). However, even though EA Drashneans were perceived as more dissimilar, both groups were generally rated as being quite dissimilar, which might explain the lack of differences in the attitudes towards the two groups. Hence, while perceived group similarity is important in understanding the link between BODS and social attitudes, understanding the underlying mechanisms by which dissimilarity operates in these processes needs further exploration.

One limitation of the current study is that it is cross-sectional, comparing attitudes of individuals at one point in time. Exploring changing attitudes in a longitudinal perspective would add important knowledge on how the disgust/xenophobia relation evolves. As with most behavioural research, our study is also vulnerable to sample bias. For example, our study might have over-sampled from the more educated portions within the populations of reference. This might have an impact on the overall levels of xenophobia, since education typically is associated with lower levels of prejudice [35]. Similarily, our sample might be selective in terms of personality factors (e.g. openness to experience), which are also known to relate to prejudice (e.g. [36,37]). However, given the strengths of our study (e.g. the size and demographic stratification of the sample) in combination with the fact that results generalized well across nine countries, we are confident in the generalizability of our findings in a global context.

Our study points to several new lines of investigations relevant for future research in the field. Although explored only superficially in this study, there seems to be certain variability in the strength of the relationship between BODS and social attitudes. The effect was largest in Canada, and several other Western, English-speaking countries, but it was absent in Kenya—one East African country in our study. Such variability is not unexpected, as recent multi-country studies show variation even in highly robust findings [38]. It would be interesting to see if this variability is related to specific geographical, cultural or pandemic-related factors. Given the heterogeneity of our surveyed countries, however, such enquiries are outside the scope of the present study. An interesting topic to explore more with regard to pathogens and social interactions would be to see how disease avoidance affects other, less explored senses such as taste and touch. In fact, a recent study suggests that disease history might be related to affective touch diversity towards a close one [39]. Another important area of future research pertains to how individual differences related to disease avoidance mechanisms translate into behaviours during heightened risk of contamination, such as the COVID-19 pandemics. For example, it is unclear whether the COVID-19 pandemic has increased general levels of xenophobia [40]. However, what the current study shows is that the relationship between levels of BODS and xenophobia is similar to relations observed in an earlier, pre-pandemic study. This could suggest that a salient pathogen threat does not necessarily dramatically affect relations between disgust and attitudes towards fictitious outgroups of varying similarity.