Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Matriliny reverses gender disparities in inflammation and hypertension among the Mosuo of China

Matriliny reverses gender disparities in inflammation and hypertension among the Mosuo of China. Adam Z. Reynolds et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 16, 2020.

Significance: Greater autonomy afforded to women in matrilineal societies has been hypothesized to benefit women’s health. Among the Mosuo, a society with both matrilineal and patrilineal subpopulations, we found that gender disparities in chronic disease are not only ameliorated but reversed in matriliny compared with patriliny. Gender disparities in health and chronic disease can thus be tied directly to cultural influences on health, including inequalities in autonomy and resource access between men and women.

Abstract: Women experience higher morbidity than men, despite living longer. This is often attributed to biological differences between the sexes; however, the majority of societies in which these disparities are observed exhibit gender norms that favor men. We tested the hypothesis that female-biased gender norms ameliorate gender disparities in health by comparing gender differences in inflammation and hypertension among the matrilineal and patrilineal Mosuo of China. Widely reported gender disparities in health were reversed among matrilineal Mosuo compared with patrilineal Mosuo, due to substantial improvements in women’s health, with no concomitant detrimental effects on men. These findings offer evidence that gender norms limiting women’s autonomy and biasing inheritance toward men adversely affect the health of women, increasing women’s risk for chronic diseases with tremendous global health impact.

Keywords: gender normshealthchronic diseasematrilineal societies

Examining 60 measures of sociopolitical attitudes: Sexual minorities are significantly more liberal than their heterosexual counterparts across both sexual & non-sexual (civil liberties, environmentalism) domains

Grollman, Eric. 2020. “Does Sexuality Matter? A Comparison of Heterosexuals’ and Sexual Minorities’ Sociopolitical Attitudes.” SocArXiv. November 17. doi:10.31235/

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Few researchers have examined the influence of sexuality on individuals’ sociopolitical attitudes. Using data from the 1991-2012 General Social Surveys (GSS) and 2008 American National Election Survey (ANES), I compare the social and political attitudes of heterosexuals and sexual minorities across a wide array of domains. Examining sixty measures of sociopolitical attitudes in the GSS, I find evidence that sexual minorities are significantly more liberal than their heterosexual counterparts across both sexual (e.g., sexual morality) and non-sexual (e.g., civil liberties, environmentalism) domains. In comparing the effect of sexuality on attitudes to the effects of gender, race, and education, I find that the influence of sexuality is comparable to these other well-documented sociodemographic predictors of attitudes. However, unlike these other sociodemographic characteristics, sexuality consistently predicts more liberal attitudes among sexual minorities compared to heterosexuals. Expanded analyses using 278 attitudinal items in the GSS and 64 in the ANES yield similar results. My findings provide evidence for the necessity to incorporate sexuality in future assessments of sociodemographic predictors of sociopolitical attitudes.

Not Why, But How... "Why We Learn Less from Observing Outgroups"

Why We Learn Less from Observing Outgroups. Pyungwon Kang, Christopher J. Burke, Philippe N. Tobler and Grit Hein. Journal of Neuroscience November 17 2020, JN-RM-0926-20.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Humans are less likely to learn from individuals belonging to a different group (outgroup) than from individuals of their own group (ingroup), yet the source of this societally relevant deficit has remained unclear. Here we used neuroimaging and computational modeling to investigate how people learn from observing the actions and outcomes of ingroup and outgroup demonstrators. Politically left-wing male and female participants performed worse when observing computer-simulated actions they believed were from a right-wing outgroup member compared with those from a left-wing ingroup member. A control experiment in which participants observed choices from a nonhuman agent confirmed that this performance difference reflected an outgroup deficit, rather than an ingroup gain. Accounting for the outgroup deficit, a computational model showed that participants relied less on information from outgroup actions compared with ingroup actions, while learning from outgroup outcomes was not impaired. At the neural level, the differences in observational ingroup versus outgroup learning were reflected in lateral prefrontal activity. The stronger the activity in this region, the more strongly participants weighed ingroup compared with outgroup learning signals (action prediction errors), which formally captured deficits in outgroup learning. Together, our work provides a computational and neural account of why people learn less from observing outgroups.


Learning from observing others is an efficient way to acquire knowledge. In our globalized world, “the others” often are people from a different social group (outgroup). There is evidence that people learn less from observing outgroup individuals compared with individuals from their own group (ingroup). However, the source of this outgroup deficit in observational learning remained unknown, which limits our chances to improve intergroup learning. Our results showed that participants rely less on observed outgroup actions compared with ingroup actions, while learning from outgroup outcomes is not impaired. On the neural level, this outgroup deficit was reflected in the activation of the inferior frontal gyrus. These findings imply that intergroup learning should rely on observing outcomes, rather than actions.

Check also The tribal nature of the human mind leads people to value party dogma over truth; those with political sophistication, science literacy, numeracy abilities, and cognitive reflection are more affected

The Partisan Brain: An Identity-Based Model of Political Belief. Jay J. Van Bavel, Andrea Pereira. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Feb 2018.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Straight men showed significantly stronger preferences for feminized female faces than did gay men; gay men showed significantly stronger preferences for masculinized versions of male faces than did straight men

Shiramizu V, Docherty C, DeBruine LM, Jones BC (2020) Sexual orientation predicts men’s preferences for sexually dimorphic face-shape characteristics: A replication study. PLoS ONE 15(11): e0242262. No 13 2020.

Abstract: Many researchers have proposed that straight men prefer women’s faces displaying feminine shape characteristics at least partly because mating with such women will produce healthier offspring. Although a prediction of this adaptation-for-mate-choice hypothesis is that straight men will show stronger preferences for feminized versus masculinized versions of women’s faces than will gay men, only one previous study has directly tested this prediction. Here we directly replicated that study by comparing 623 gay and 3163 straight men’s preferences for feminized versus masculinized versions of faces. Consistent with the adaptation-for-mate-choice hypothesis of straight men’s femininity preferences, we found that straight men showed significantly stronger preferences for feminized female faces than did gay men. Consistent with previous research suggesting that gay men place a premium on masculinity in potential romantic partners, we also found that gay men showed significantly stronger preferences for masculinized versions of male faces than did straight men. Together, these findings indicate the sexual orientation contributes to individual differences in men’s face preferences.

The results confirmed an exaggeration of eye width and height, lip width, and pupil width in artistic profiles, and the eyes shape was “frontalized”; theory links supernormal stimuli to aesthetic perception

Costa, M., & Bonetti, L. (2020). Eye and lips in artistic profiles. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Nov 2020.

Abstract: Distortions related to eye and lip morphometry were investigated in two studies comparing photographic versus artistic profiles. In the first study, 298 artistic profiles encompassing the whole art history were compared to 300 photographic profiles. The 2 groups were compared for shape with Procrustes analysis and for size by using 8 indexes. Estimated age was inserted as covariate. The results showed that artists exaggerated eye height and width, pupil width, lip height, and width. The triangular shape of the eye view from side perspective was modified toward a more ellipsoidal shape, depicting the eye from a three-quarter and more frontal perspective. In Study 2, 13 students from the College of the Arts–School of Art were requested to draw a profile portrait of a male or female model. The eye and lip morphometric indexes of the model were compared with those extrapolated from the drawings. The results confirmed an exaggeration of eye width and height, lip width, and pupil width in artistic profiles. Additionally, the eyes shape was “frontalized.” The exaggeration of eye and lip size and the distortion in shape are interpreted and discussed according to the theory linking supernormal stimuli to aesthetic perception.

Quantifying Economic Reasoning in Court: I find that judge economics sophistication is positively correlated with a higher frequency of pro-business decisions even after controlling for political ideology & a rich set of other covariates

Quantifying Economic Reasoning in Court: Judge Economics Sophistication and Pro-business Orientation. Siying Cao. November 13, 2020.

Abstract: By applying computational linguistics tools to the analysis of US federal district courts’ decisions from 1932 to 2016, this paper quantifies the rise of economic reasoning in court cases that range from securities regulation to antitrust law. I then relate judges’ level of economic reasoning to their training. I find that significant judge heterogeneity in economics sophistication can be explained by attendance at law schools that have a large presence of the law and economics faculty. Finally, for all regulatory cases from 1970 to 2016, I hand code whether the judge ruled in favor of the business or the government. I find that judge economics sophistication is positively correlated with a higher frequency of pro-business decisions even after controlling for political ideology and a rich set of other judge covariates.

Keywords: law and economics, judicial decision making, text as data

JEL Classification: K0, L5, Z1

This research can be extended in several ways. First, we can look at whether economically sophisticated judges tend to rule in a certain direction along an issue66 in tort, property, and commercial contracts. These are subject areas that have been significantly influenced by the law and economics approach. Second, the hypothesis proposed and analysis conducted in this paper can also be applied to circuit court judges. There we expect to find an even greater impact of economics knowledge because the ideological stakes are typically higher than in lower courts. Furthermore, my results suggest that economics sophistication as a shifter of decision outcome during the first stage can be used as an instrumental variable to investigate the causal effect of such decision on subsequent individual/household/firm outcomes. Finally, I hope my measure of judge economics sophistication will spur future efforts to causally identify the effects of judge knowledge through exogenously generated variation in it. 

This chapter outlines how Robert Trivers’ Parental Investment Theory has progressed from its original publication in Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man through its expansive application to research in evolutionary psychology

Parental Investment Theory. Justin K Mogilski. In The Sage Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. SAGE, November 2020.

Abstract: This chapter outlines how Robert Trivers’ Parental Investment Theory (PIT) has progressed from its original publication in Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man through its expansive application to research in the evolutionary psychological sciences. I begin with an abridged redux of the theory’s claims and predictions as they appeared within the original 1972 publication. After, I review groundbreaking research inspired by PIT and evaluate how well the theory has been empirically supported in the past 50 or so years. I then note several major theoretical advancements and address conflicts with other prominent theories of mating and parenting behavior. The chapter closes with several future directions that may help PIT remain a robust and relevant framework for studying human psychology within an increasingly technologically and socially complex world.

Economically successful participants overweight the role of effort in their success, perceiving high income as more deserved than unsuccessful participants; successful liberals are as meritocratic as conservatives are

Misperceiving Economic Success: Experimental Evidence on Meritocratic Beliefs and Inequality Acceptance. Fehr, Dietmar; Vollmann, Martin. Working paper, Discussion Paper Series / University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics, Volume 695. Nov 13 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Most people tend to equate success with merit, a tendency that is particularly pronounced among conservatives. However, in practice it is exceedingly difficult to discern the relative impact of luck and effort to economic success. Based on a large-scale online study that samples the general US population, we investigate whether individuals misperceive the importance of luck for success, and how this mediates their meritocratic beliefs and acceptance of inequality. We randomly assign participants in pairs to compete in an easy or hard work assignment. The tasks are structured such that working on the easy work assignment almost certainly results in better performance and economic success. We show that economically successful participants overweight the role of effort in their success, perceiving high income as more deserved than unsuccessful participants. Subsequently, they demand less redistributive taxation, and they also show little interest in receiving information about the true determinants of their success. These general findings hold true regardless of political orientation. Successful liberals are as meritocratic as conservatives are, sharing the same beliefs in deservingness and preferences for low redistributive taxes.

Keywords: inequality, deservedness, political views, cognitive dissonance

Monday, November 16, 2020

Austria's 60 years of policy experimentation: Our results show that the enormous expansions of parental leave and child care subsidies have had virtually no impact on gender convergence

Do Family Policies Reduce Gender Inequality? Evidence from 60 Years of Policy Experimentation. Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, Johanna Posch, Andreas Steinhauer & Josef Zweimüller. NBER WP 28082, November 2020.

Abstract: Do family policies reduce gender inequality in the labor market? We contribute to this debate by investigating the joint impact of parental leave and child care, using administrative data covering the labor market and birth histories of Austrian workers over more than half a century. We start by quasi-experimentally identifying the causal effects of all family policy reforms since the 1950s on the full dynamics of male and female earnings. We then map these causal estimates into a decomposition framework a la Kleven, Landais and Søgaard (2019) to compute counterfactual gender gaps. Our results show that the enormous expansions of parental leave and child care subsidies have had virtually no impact on gender convergence.

Paying attention to alternative partners seems associated with engaging in behaviors that undermine relationship fidelity or stability: Monitoring was higher for those who broke up and for those who reported infidelity

Romantic alternative monitoring increases ahead of infidelity and break-up. Lane L. Ritchie et al. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, November 15, 2020.

Abstract: Monitoring alternative partners may be associated with engaging in behaviors that undermine relationship fidelity and/or stability. For example, paying attention to romantic alternatives has been shown to be associated with lower relationship quality. Studies have investigated the association between alternative monitoring and relationship outcomes, but with significant methodological limitations. This study aims to longitudinally explore whether and how alternative monitoring is associated with infidelity and break-up. Participants were 779 individuals drawn from a longitudinal sample of individuals in unmarried different-sex relationships. As hypothesized, alternative monitoring was higher for those who broke up and for those who reported infidelity, compared to those who remained together without infidelity. Additionally, consistent with predictions, increases in alternative monitoring preceded break-up, and particularly large increases in alternative monitoring preceded infidelity, compared to trajectories for those who remained together and did not report infidelity. Results highlight the importance of measuring change in alternative monitoring over time, rather than only considering mean differences at a single timepoint. Clinical implications and future directions are discussed.

Keywords: Alternative monitoring, break-up, commitment, infidelity, psychology

Sunday, November 15, 2020

First impressions are commonly assumed to be particularly important; instead, judgments of the targets in later situations were more strongly associated with overall impressions, indicating an acquaintance effect

There Is No Primacy Effect in Interpersonal Perception: A Series of Preregistered Analyses Using Judgments of Actual Behavior. Anne Wiedenroth, Nele M. Wessels, Daniel Leising. Social Psychological and Personality Science, November 13, 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: First impressions are commonly assumed to be particularly important: Information about a person that we obtain early on may shape our overall impression of that person more strongly than information obtained later. In contrast to previous research, the present series of preregistered analyses uses actual person judgment data to investigate this so-called primacy effect: Perceivers (N = 1,395) judged the videotaped behavior of target persons (N = 200) in 10 different situations. Separate subsamples of about 200 perceivers each were used in moving from exploratory to increasingly confirmatory analyses. Contrary to our expectations, no primacy effect was found. Instead, judgments of the targets in later situations were more strongly associated with overall impressions, indicating an acquaintance effect. Relying on early information seems unreasonable when more comprehensive information is readily available. Early information may, however, affect perceivers’ behavioral reactions to the targets and thus their future interactions, if such interactions are possible.

Keywords: primacy effect, order effects, impression formation, behavior observation, personality judgment

Rolf Degen summarizing... Although dopamine boost the anticipation of rewards in humans, it has little or no effect on felt pleasure during the fulfillment of needs

Using pharmacological manipulations to study the role of dopamine in human reward functioning: A review of studies in healthy adults. Heather E. Webber et al. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, November 14 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:


• The role of dopamine in human reward functioning is highly researched.

• Drug challenge studies are translational and have good experimental control.

• Dopamine drug challenge studies in healthy adults were summarized by reward phase.

• Dopamine drugs have differing effects on various reward phases.

• Drug effects are likely nonlinear and behavioral effects depend on outcome measure.

Abstract: Dopamine (DA) plays a key role in reward processing and is implicated in psychological disorders such as depression, substance use, and schizophrenia. The role of DA in reward processing is an area of highly active research. One approach to this question is drug challenge studies with drugs known to alter DA function. These studies provide good experimental control and can be performed in parallel in laboratory animals and humans. This review aimed to summarize results of studies using pharmacological manipulations of DA in healthy adults. ‘Reward’ is a complex process, so we separated ‘phases’ of reward, including anticipation, evaluation of cost and benefits of upcoming reward, execution of actions to obtain reward, pleasure in response to receiving a reward, and reward learning. Results indicated that i) DAergic drugs have different effects on different phases of reward; ii) the relationship between DA and reward functioning appears unlikely to be linear; iii) our ability to detect the effects of DAergic drugs varies depending on whether subjective, behavioral, imaging measures are used.

Keywords: dopaminereward functioningpharmacological challengeanticipationexecutioninvigorationevaluation of costsmotivationeffortlearningpleasure

Saturday, November 14, 2020

We find that sunlight strongly protects against getting influenza: A 10% increase in relative sunlight decreases the influenza index in September or October by 1.1 points on a 10-point scale

Sunlight and Protection Against Influenza. David J.G. Slusky, Richard J. Zeckhauser. Economics & Human Biology, November 14 2020, 100942.

Rolf Degen's take:


• Medical literature suggests vitamin D protects against respiratory infections.

• Humans exposed to sunlight produce vitamin D directly.

• A 10% increase in relative sunlight decreases fall influenza by 1.1 out of 10.

• This relationship is driven by almost entirely by the H1N1 epidemic in fall 2009.

Abstract: Recent medical literature suggests that vitamin D supplementation protects against acute respiratory tract infection. Humans exposed to sunlight produce vitamin D directly. This paper investigates how differences in sunlight, as measured over several years across states and during the same calendar week, affect influenza incidence. We find that sunlight strongly protects against getting influenza. This relationship is driven almost entirely by the severe H1N1 epidemic in fall 2009. A 10% increase in relative sunlight decreases the influenza index in September or October by 1.1 points on a 10-point scale. A second, complementary study employs a separate data set to study flu incidence in counties in New York State. The results are strongly in accord.

JEL codes: I10I12I18Q5N32

Keywords: Seasonal InfluenzaSunlightVitamin DNatural ExperimentH1N1

Mixed-gender threesomes (MGTs): Sexual minority individuals reported more positive outcomes than did heterosexual individuals; there is a lot of interaction with sexual minority individuals in MGTs

Exploring Variations in North American Adults’ Attitudes, Interest, Experience, and Outcomes Related to Mixed-Gender Threesomes: A Replication and Extension. Ashley E. Thompson, Allison E. Cipriano, Kimberley M. Kirkeby, Delaney Wilder & Justin J. Lehmiller. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Nov 11 2020.

Abstract: Mixed-gender threesomes (MGTs) are a type of consensually nonmonogamous sexual encounter involving three people of more than one gender. Little research has been conducted on MGTs, and what little work does exist is limited to college students, who may actually be less experienced with MGTs than older adults. The present study investigated attitudes toward, interest in, experiences with, and outcomes of MGTs in two samples (college N = 231; online N = 1342), comprised of 907 heterosexual and 666 sexual minority participants in total. Results indicated that participants reported neutral-to-positive attitudes toward and moderate-to-high levels of interest in MGTs (81% indicated some degree of interest). MGTs involving familiar others were preferred to those involving strangers. Men, sexual minority individuals, and participants from the online sample reported more favorable attitudes toward and greater interest in MGTs as compared to women, heterosexual individuals, and participants from the student sample. In addition, 30% of participants indicated having experience with a MGT. Sexual minority individuals reported more experience with MGTs and more positive outcomes than did heterosexual individuals. In addition, on average, participants reported that their MGT experiences “met expectations.” Overall, these results indicate that MGTs are a common sexual behavior that often results in positive outcomes, especially among sexual minority individuals. Additional research on this understudied topic is needed, particularly as it relates to outcomes and the role of MGTs in consensually nonmonogamous relationships.

According to Harden, the more fundamental reason why progressives should embrace social genomics is that it can help to transform how we, as a society, think about public policy altogether

The genes we’re dealt. Erik Parens. Aeon, Nov 10 2020.

The new field of social genomics can be used by progressives to combat racial inequality or by conservatives to excuse it

Long before anyone understood why some twins look nearly identical and others look no more similar than other pairs of siblings, and even before anyone understood the molecular structure of genes, psychologists and social scientists such as Francis Galton turned to inherited differences to explain why human beings behave in different ways and come to occupy different positions in society. It was Galton who, in 1883, coined the term ‘eugenics’ to name the idea that healthy societies should encourage those of ‘good stock’ to breed, and should prevent those of bad stock from doing the same.

Not until the 1960s, however, did a group of psychologists and geneticists, engaged in a field they called ‘behaviour genetics’, begin to systematically exploit basic facts about genetic inheritance to try to explain why human beings behave differently. They used simple study designs that compared identical and fraternal twins, or children raised by their biological parents versus those raised by adoptive parents, and demonstrated that genetic differences offered part of the explanation for observed differences.

One of the most significant achievements here was to overturn the psychoanalytic idea that conditions such as schizophrenia were caused by adverse environments – in particular, by withholding and cold mothers. These researchers put insights from genetics to the thoroughly salutary purpose of showing that it was not only cruel, but scientifically unjustified to blame mothers (and fathers) for their children’s conditions.

However, those same insights and methods were used to explore other traits, including performance on standardised intelligence tests. Among the champions of this research were the political scientist Charles Murray and the psychologist Richard Herrnstein, who wrote The Bell Curve (1994) under the influence of one of the stupidest and most racist of assumptions: that, with the passage of the civil rights laws in the 1960s, the environments of Black and white Americans were about as equal as they could be. Based on that assumption, Murray and Herrnstein suggested that genetic differences could explain why the median test score for white test-takers was higher than for Black ones.

It’s important, however, to distinguish between Murray and Herrnstein’s racist assumption, on the one hand, and their Right-leaning political beliefs, on the other. When we do, it becomes clear that cleansing such research of racism doesn’t cleanse it of its potential to be used by people who hold basic Right-leaning political beliefs. Think what you will of such beliefs, it would be an intellectual and tactical mistake to dismiss them as incoherent or inherently racist.

People who lean Right are fiercely committed to the idea of what Murray’s current employer, the American Enterprise Institute, calls ‘free enterprise’. In accordance with this idea – which has been around since the American founding, and which enjoyed renewed devotion in the US with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 – individuals are entitled to what they achieve with their natural or ‘God-given’ talents. Inequalities in outcomes might be unfortunate, but they aren’t unfair. In the Right-leaning view, the way to improve lives is to get the government out of the way, and to let individuals exert their own wills, playing the genetic hand they were dealt.

Left-leaning thinkers such as Lyndon B Johnson, whose ‘war on poverty’ Reagan was reacting against, of course hold a radically different set of beliefs. In their view, justice requires that the government take steps to reduce social inequalities. The Left-leaning vision emphasises the extent to which where we end up in the social hierarchy is the result of our social histories and our draws in the genetic lottery – and thus the extent to which we are not entitled to where we end up. In this view, inequalities in social outcomes are not only unfortunate, but also unfair.

A cornerstone of social genomics research is the creation of what are called ‘polygenic scores’. Although the amount of computational power needed to pool and analyse the relevant genomic data is unfathomably large, the basic idea is easy to fathom. First, social scientists and geneticists collaborate to identify hundreds or thousands of genetic variants, across the genome, correlated with a given trait, behaviour or outcome. Although the inferred effect of each of those genetic variants is miniscule by itself, the second step is for researchers to add up those many tiny effects to create a polygenic score. This strategy for making predictions about future traits or outcomes is also the cornerstone of ‘precision medicine’, which aspires to tailor medical treatments to individuals’ genomes.

Some well-informed observers think that this new strategy is just the latest in the history of efforts to analyse complex phenomena at the wrong level. To paraphrase the psychologist Eric Turkheimer, looking to genetic variants for insight about complex behaviours and social outcomes is like looking to the chemical composition of rocks to understand plate tectonics. And even those who are most enthusiastic about the eventual utility of these scores are acutely aware that previous efforts to use insights from molecular genetics have been hugely disappointing.

Time will tell whether the sceptics or enthusiasts will be closer to the truth

To their credit, social genomicists have taken the unprecedented and time-intensive step of creating Frequently Asked Questions documents, which accompany their publications and explain, with remarkable frankness, what they have and have not discovered, and what their findings do and do not mean. They are unfailingly clear about the fact that, when they add up the tiny genetic effects, the aggregate is small compared with, say, the total effect of the environment. They are relentless in their rejection of genetic determinism, and vigorous in their reiteration that environments play a huge role in explaining the outcomes they study.

Time will tell whether the sceptics or enthusiasts will be closer to the truth in their estimation of the scientific value of these scores. For this essay, though, I am focused on how such findings could be used, if they became as useful as the enthusiasts envision.

No social genomicist seems more optimistic about the Left-leaning political potential of this work than the psychologist Kathryn Paige Harden. In a New York Times opinion piece, ‘Why Progressives Should Embrace the Genetics of Education’ (2018), Harden described the largest-yet social genomics study, by James Lee and his colleagues, which analysed DNA samples from 1.1 million people of European ancestries. More specifically, the researchers analysed correlations between individuals’ genomic differences and how many years of school they finished. Based on those analyses, the researchers could assign to each individual’s DNA sample a polygenic score.

Those researchers reported that, whereas just more than 10 per cent of people with a low polygenic score completed college, 55 per cent of people with a high polygenic score did. Like other social genomicists, Harden grasps the racist and classist history and implications of such work. But she is also distressed by what she sees as the pervasive and mistaken view on the political Left that social genomics is ‘inimical to the goal of social equality’.

Harden specifies two reasons why people with a Left-leaning political agenda should embrace social genomics. One is that controlling for genetic differences will throw into sharper focus ‘the causal effects of the environment’. She is pained by the human and economic costs when, in their efforts to improve environmental interventions, traditional social scientists fail to control for genetic differences. And she is hopeful that, specifically in the context of education, factoring genes into their analyses will enable social scientists to better alter environments to enable all students to flourish, in accordance with their genetic endowments. In the grandest version of this vision, offered by the psychologist Kathryn Asbury and the behavioural geneticist Robert Plomin in their book G Is for Genes (2013), we would have ‘precision education’, where educational interventions are tailored to children’s genomes.

Given that we currently fail to provide huge numbers of children with anything close to adequate educational settings, much less with interventions tailored to their genetic endowments, it’s not obvious where the political will would come from to implement such environmental changes. But we have to grant that, if such programmes were in principle possible, progressives would have reason to get on board with them. After all, in this vision, polygenic scores would be just a new way to achieve the familiar goal of tailoring educational interventions to fit the unique needs and strengths of each child.

Recognising that none of us merits our genes is perfectly compatible with both Left- and Right-leaning agendas

According to Harden, the more fundamental reason why progressives should embrace social genomics is that it can help to transform how we, as a society, think about public policy altogether. Specifically, Harden suggests that, insofar as this research shows that genes help to explain educational success, and insofar as none of us merits or deserves our genes, we can see more vividly than ever the extent to which none of us merits our success.

So, from the fact that genes help to explain unmerited differences in observed outcomes, Harden makes the generous-hearted but large leap to an ethical and political conclusion. She refers to the Lee study on educational attainment to make her point:

By showing us the links between genes and educational success, this new study reminds us that everyone should share in our national prosperity, regardless of which genetic variants he or she happens to inherit.

The authors of the European Commission report that I mentioned at the start make the nearly identical point (and cite Harden’s article) when they write: ‘the realisation that success in life partly depends on a random draw from the genetic lottery can strengthen arguments in favour of solidarity and redistribution.’

The problem is that recognising that none of us merits or deserves our genes ­– or, for that matter, our families or neighbourhoods or the time we live in – is perfectly compatible with both Left- and Right-leaning political agendas. Yes, people who lean Left contemplate the fact that none of us merits our genes and thus, in an important respect, is not entitled to what we accumulate. They believe that the resulting unequal distribution of goods calls for solidarity and redistribution.

But someone who leans Right also understands perfectly well the sense in which the unequal distribution of goods depends on unmerited, natural or God-given talents. In his recent book Human Diversity (2020), Murray, who avers that ‘life is an IQ test’, says explicitly that ‘merit [has] nothing to do with’ how much ‘general intelligence’ one has. Rather, he says, how much one has of what it takes to perform well in life ‘is a matter of luck’. Those who lean Right think that we’re entitled to what we win when we play the genetic hand we were dealt, and thus deserve the space we end up occupying in the social hierarchy. They are at peace with the thought that, while unequal outcomes might be unfortunate, they are not unfair.

To see how the same set of findings can be recruited to advance a Left- and Right-leaning political agenda, it’s helpful to consider a paper that draws on the same data set as Lee and his colleagues in the educational-attainment study. In this paper, Daniel Belsky and his colleagues investigated correlations between genomic differences and levels of socioeconomic success. One of their innovations was to separate participants from the original educational-attainment study into three groups: those who started out with low socioeconomic status (SES), those who started out with middle SES, and those who started out with high SES.

The figure below represents the central finding of this analysis. (The title of the figure ‘Add Health’ refers to one of the five studies they drew on for their analysis.) The three panels of the figure refer to analyses for those who started out at low, middle and high SES. Each dot represents 50 people. The vertical axis is an index of how much socioeconomic success those people achieved, and the horizontal axis is an index of their polygenic score.

According to the team’s analysis of the data, higher polygenic scores appear to contribute to explaining socioeconomic success across all three groups. But what the figure makes equally obvious is that success achieved by those with the same polygenic score depends on their environments. People with low polygenic scores who grow up in high SES environments enjoy greater socioeconomic success than people with the very same scores who grow up in low SES environments. News flash: in our society, wealthy people with low ‘genetic potential’ for success often do better than poor people with high ‘genetic potential’. (I put the term ‘genetic potential’ in scare quotes because its meaning is contested. There is, however, no concise way for Left- or Right-leaning observers to discuss the data without using that term or a synonym, such as ‘genetic talent’ or ‘natural talent’.)

Left-leaning social genomicists focus on the talent-wasted message. Right-leaning ones focus on the talent-rewarded message

So, these data are wholly compatible with the Left-leaning assumption that impoverished environments make it impossible for huge numbers of people to fulfil their ‘genetic potential’. Or, as two members of the new cohort of social genomicists Nicholas Papageorge and Kevin Thom put it, these data show that huge amounts of genetic talent is being ‘wasted’.

Here’s the rub. People with a Right-leaning political agenda can focus on a different feature of the same set of data. Specifically, they can focus on the dark-blue diamonds on the horizontal axes of those panels, which represent the median polygenic score for each SES group. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the median of the distribution for the scores of the three groups is slightly different. The median polygenic score of people in the low-SES group is slightly lower than (to the left of) the median score of people in the middle-SES group, which is lower than the median score of people in the high-SES group.

When the Belsky paper that included that figure was published, Stephen Hsu, the former senior vice president for research and innovation at Michigan State University, gleefully Tweeted: ‘Game over! … Higher SES families have higher polygenic scores on average.’ Different from the Left-leaning social genomicists who focused on the feature of the data that supports their talent-wasted message, Hsu focused on the feature of the data that is compatible with what we might call the talent-rewarded message. Findings from the Belsky study are consistent with the idea that, on average, people with more ‘genetic potential’ or ‘natural talent’ are entitled to more socioeconomic success. And those facts are wholly consistent with the Right-leaning political belief that although the unequal distribution of genetic potential might be unfortunate for those with poor draws in the genetic lottery, it’s not unfair.

Beyond being compatible with a Right-leaning agenda that accepts social inequalities, findings from social genomics are, more specifically, compatible with a Right-leaning interpretation of what it means to, in the language of the European Commission report, ‘embrace diversity’.

To see how such data are thoroughly compatible with a Right-leaning conception of embracing diversity, there’s no better place to look than Murray’s recent book Human Diversity. In his final chapter, Murray exhorts readers to recognise that all human beings have equal moral worth, and to accept that we all have unequal genetic potential or natural talent. Ignoring differences in genetic potential, he argues, harms those forced to take on social roles that don’t suit them. Doing astrophysics will suit the potential of some but not others, and the same goes for digging ditches. In his view, requiring people with different potentials to receive the same education would be wasteful and inhumane. Instead of ignoring or denying those natural differences, he argues, we need to celebrate them.

Some of what he says actually resembles closely what we Left-leaning advocates for the rights of people with disabilities have been saying for at least 40 years: all of us are thrown into the world with different forms of embodiment and with different natural talents. To paraphrase the disability studies pioneer and bioethicist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in a recent essay, people can flourish in all sorts of bodies. Or, as she could have put it, people can flourish with all sorts of genomes. And in the philosopher Eva Feder Kittay’s essay ‘We Have Seen the Mutants – and They Are Us’ (2020), she gets at that same idea: we are all genetic ‘mutants’, but given the right environments, we can all flourish in our own way. Surely, to recognise this one important similarity doesn’t reduce the profound difference between Murray’s version of embracing diversity and a Left-leaning version.

To understand Murray, it’s useful to distinguish between two elements in his new book: the racist assumption that the contemporary environment doesn’t hurt people of colour, and the coherent, Right-leaning belief that governments are impotent to address social outcomes. (When I say that Murray brings a racist assumption to his analysis, I am referring to his wantonly benighted interpretation of the history of the US, which maintains his social privilege and disadvantages others – Black people in particular. Please notice that I am calling Murray’s assumption racist; I am not calling him a racist. Too often, calling other people racist is a way to indulge in the fantasy that we – any of us – have escaped being racists. As Ibram X Kendi points out in How to Be an Antiracist (2019), that fantasy is counterproductive and can be dangerous.)

For Murray, embracing diversity includes entertaining the hypothesis that Black people have less ‘genetic potential’

Murray’s racist assumption about the nature of the social environment was on display in his and Herrnstein’s book, The Bell Curve. As I mentioned above, in that book they sought to explain why there was an educational-attainment gap between Black and white Americans. Back in 1994, he and Herrnstein allowed that racism was ‘still a factor in American life’. But they suggested that ‘[after] more than a generation of preferential social policies’, and federal legislation such as the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965), the environments of Black and white Americans were sufficiently equal that, if one wanted to explain the Black-white education gap, intellectual integrity drove one to consider genetic differences as the explanation. The policy implication in The Bell Curve was that governments needed to stop investing equal amounts of money in giving the same education to people with diverse genetic potentials.

In his new book, Murray grants, for example, that the Jim Crow laws created barriers to the success of former enslaved people and their descendants. And he allows that, after the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, extralegal means of enforcing segregation – what he calls ‘hard custom’ – continued to create barriers ‘to some degree’. And he even allows that what he calls ‘soft custom’ – such as hostility in the workplace – can be a barrier to success. The good news, according to Murray, is that once explicitly racist laws were removed, and once hard custom surrounding legal segregation was removed, it wouldn’t take long for the hostility of soft custom to die. He suggests that ‘the half-life of [soft custom] is often a matter of years, sometimes a decade or so, but seldom many decades’.

Perhaps you are asking: has Murray considered the possibility that the contemporary environment for Black people is affected by more than the ‘soft’ hostility in the workplace that he grants might still exist in some places? Has he considered the environment that was created by the sinful catastrophe of nearly 250 years of slavery, by what the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones calls ‘the 100-year period of racial apartheid and racial terrorism known as Jim Crow’, and by what the writer Michelle Alexander calls ‘the New Jim Crow’ of mass incarceration? Is he familiar with the idea of structural racism?

Yes, he’s familiar with the idea that the environments of Black and white Americans are unequal. He’s familiar with what he calls the ‘background radiation hypothesis’. But he rejects it as implausible. As he puts it: ‘Everyday experience suggests that the environment confronting blacks in different sectors of American life is not uniformly hostile.’ Actually, when it comes to hostility, what appears to worry him is that it’s increasingly directed against people with socioeconomic privilege. He writes: ‘I am generally sceptical of claims about the power of privilege. Growing up in an upper-middle-class or wealthy home has a variety of potential downsides.’ For Murray, embracing diversity includes entertaining the hypothesis that, on average, Black people have less ‘genetic potential’ for educational attainment than white people.

Left-leaning social genomicists might seek some comfort in noticing that when Murray uses their findings to invoke his version of embracing diversity, he is relying on a fundamental and racist mistake about the facts. After all, mistaken facts can be exposed and, presumably, gotten past. Such comfort, however, would be illusory. That’s because, apart from racism and factual mistakes about the past or present, findings from social genomics can be recruited by people who have the Right-leaning belief that humans are entitled to what they get, and the equally deep belief that governments are largely unable to shape those lives for the better.

Murray’s personal experience and empirical research have persuaded him that the impacts of most government programmes are small and/or transient, at best. And, alas, most government social programmes – including what was to be one of the most powerful weapons in the war on poverty, Head Start for children – don’t seem to have impacts as large or long-lasting as their creators envision. For we who take unjust structures or systems to be at the root of inequalities, the failure of individual programmes to make impacts as large or long-lasting as we would hope is deeply disappointing, but not shocking. Individual programmes alone can’t make structural changes.

Genes alone will never tell us why we are the way that we are, or why we end up where we do

But for people who lean Right, the same facts fit hand-in-glove with their foundational belief that instead of investing our hopes in the federal government, we should invest them in families and local communities. Moreover, those facts fit perfectly with the foundational Right-leaning belief that it’s how individuals choose to play the genetic hands they’re dealt that mostly explains differences in social outcomes. Murray takes that belief to racist and classist places, but others don’t. It isn’t inherently racist or classist to emphasise the idea that human beings can and should aspire to take charge of their own lives, or that they’re entitled to what they win with the genetic hand they’re dealt.

Which political agenda one uses such findings to advance will depend to a large extent on prior philosophical and political beliefs. If we haven’t already noticed the strategic ways that we ourselves use facts and reasons to advance whatever conclusions we have already reached, there’s a vast social psychology literature that documents just that.

Social genomicists are the first to acknowledge that, because genes operate in infinitely complex biopsychosocial systems, genes alone will never tell us why we are the way that we are, or why we end up where we do. But for those who have the privilege to seek to understand such things, studying the role of genes in that mindbogglingly complex story can be deeply interesting. A commitment to scientific freedom means that, in the absence of clear and present social danger, social genomicists have the legal right to pursue ideas that they find inherently interesting.

It’s important, however, to distinguish between the inherent interest of social genomics and its instrumental value. It would be wonderful if, as Left-leaning social genomicists such as Harden hope, their research could enable social scientists to control for genetic differences and thereby do better social science research, leading to more effective social programmes. But even if that vision materialises, Left-leaning social genomicists must face the fact that their big politically relevant insight – that what we achieve is due in part to our draw in the genetic lottery – can readily be recruited by those leaning Right. Today, more than ever, it’s a mistake to soft-pedal that danger, and more important than ever to curb optimism about the political benefits this research will yield.

Together the studies suggest that men have more perceived power in the public domain, however, this domain has a lower preference weighting than the private domain where women have more power than men

Weighting power by preference eliminates gender differences. Sverker Sikström ,Laura Mai Stoinski,Kristina Karlsson,Lotta Stille,Johan Willander. November 5, 2020.

Abstract: Power can be applied in different domains (e.g., politics, work, romantic relationships, family etc.), however, we do not always reflect on which domains we have power in and how important power in these domains is. A dominant idea is that men have more power than women. This notion may be biased because the concept of power is associated with public life. We introduce the concept of preference-weighted power (PWP), a measure of power that includes different domains in life, weighted by the domains’ subjective importance. Two studies investigated power from this perspective. In Study 1, participants generated words related to power, which were quantified/categorized by latent semantic analysis to develop a semantic measure of the power construct. In Study 2, we computed a PWP index by weighting the participants' self-rated power in different power domains with the importance of having power in that domain. Together the studies suggest that men have more perceived power in the public domain, however, this domain has a lower preference weighting than the private domain where women have more power than men. Finally, when preferences for power in different domains were considered, no gender differences were observed. These results emphasize gender difference in different domains and may change how we perceive men’s and women’s power in our society.

General discussion

As discussed in the introduction, people’s concept of power is often biased towards power in public domains (e.g, [8]), where men earn higher salaries than women and fill the majority of powerful positions in work and politics [131536]. This suggests that men hold more public power compared to women and supports the idea that men have more power in general. The goal of the present study was to broaden the current view on power and gender, by introducing the concept of preference-weighted power. Looking at people's preferences suggests that private domains, for example family, friends and romantic relationships, are viewed as being more essential in life. However, these domains have often been neglected from a power perspective. Therefore, we applied the concept of preference-weighted power (PWP). The findings from these measures converge on the idea that women have more perceived power, in social relationships which as shown in Study 1, also were the domains that were most commonly generated as the most important are in life. However, when in Study 2, weighing the relative importance of powers across domains, there were no gender differences in domain-independent power, as measured by PWP.

General power, public and male power. In Study 1 a statistical semantic approach to measure and define people's concepts of power was applied. In particular we investigated how the participants associated men and women with the concepts of power, work power and social relationship power. We hypothesized that the participants’ view of power would be biased towards their concept of work power as well as their concept of male power. Consistent with our hypothesis, the words describing the concept of work power were significantly semantically closer to the words describing power in general, compared to the words describing social relationship power. Thus, supports the notion that people’s idea of power is actually biased toward the public domain (e.g., [7]). Furthermore, the results showed a stronger association between power in general and participants' idea of male power, compared to their view of female power. That people perceive power as stereotypically masculine could imply that the participants associate men with more power than women. The data from the present study thereby confirms a socially conditioned power concept. However, the current paper also provides an opportunity to recondition these social constructs by providing empirical data suggesting that women have power in domains perceived as important independently of gender, e.g., family, friends. In addition, we explored the connection of male and female power to work versus social relationship power. The results suggest that the words created by the participants to describe their view on work power were closer related to their concept of male power compared to female power, implying that people view work power as a stereotypically masculine domain. The opposite was true for social relationship power. Here, the words generated to describe social relationship power were closest related to the participants’ view of female power, suggesting that social relationship power is perceived as a predominantly female domain of power. The results are interesting as they reflected typical gender-role stereotypes, picturing women to anticipate communal goals such as family and other social relationships, while men are expected to possess agentic traits and to pursue goals related to career and work. People often associate power with success in work related domains as well as with people who possess agentic traits. These findings are also consistent with previous literature showing that men are stereotypically perceived as more agentic, as such for example competitive, achievement oriented and assertive (e.g., [37]) and associated to executive positions at work and in politics, where people might perceive men as more powerful than women (e.g., [16173738]). However, these premises might require a revision of how we look at power, as the common held view on power neglects other possible domains where power can be exerted. Thus, the result emphasizes the need to revise the concept of power in the context of gender.

The most important area in life. In study 1, we also investigated the relationship between domains where men and women have power and the domains that people think are important in life. Consistent with our hypothesis, the words female participants used to describe their domains of power were semantically closer to words describing what both genders considered important in life, compared to the words generated by men to describe their domains of power. This suggests that women have more power in domains that are important to people. As the participants primarily described private domains, when asked what is important in life, the findings are well aligned with previous literature [2021]. Previous research highlights the subjective as well as objective importance of private domains in life [21]. Social relationships, such as family, partner and friends are more important for people as well as their well-being and health compared to material needs, and these findings seem to be even stronger for men [101239]. Even though in the last decades men have become increasingly involved in housework and childcare, alongside to women's larger economic and political representation and contribution [364041], women still show a larger involvement in private domains of life (in USA; [42]) where they have power over the majority of decisions associated with family, healthcare, food, daily purchases etc. [4345].

Preference weighted female power and power in social relationships. As addressed in the introduction, power can be defined in many different ways, and different power concepts stress different decision-making domains, depending on the specific interest of the investigation. Further, as indicated in Study 1, people often relate power with work/public power, without reflecting on other domains of power and their personal preference for these domains (e.g., [8]). Moreover, although previous research has highlighted the subjective and objective significance of private domains in life, very little prior research has been conducted in which personal preferences for these domains have been investigated (e.g., [21]). Therefore, we introduced the concept of preference weighted power in Study 2, and measured it by weighting the participants’ self-rated power with their preferences for specific domains. Consistent with our hypothesis, women had relatively more perceived power in social relationships compared to the work domains. When testing gender differences, women showed significantly higher perceived private power than men. Again, the results reflect the notion of women's larger power in private domains. This is consistent with the concept of women’s larger dyadic power, defined as the power to influence others in close relationships (e.g., [835]). This study did not demonstrate men’s larger PWP power compared to women. However, men had relatively more perceived power in public compared to private domains, which is consistent with the results of Study 1, suggesting that work power is perceived as a male domain of power.

An additional focus of the study was to investigate gender differences in the domain independent PWP scores, including both private and public domains. Previous literature has often neglected private domains of power and hence attributed more power to men [16174648]. In contrast, no significant gender difference became apparent when using PWP as a power measure in this study and the results were consistent, regardless of the applied approach to compute the preference weights. Thus, by extending the concept of power to private domains (e.g, social relationships) and by taking preferences for specific power domains into consideration, we were able to demonstrate the possibility that men and women have similar amounts of power. This shows that, despite the still prevalent inequalities in public power, women are not powerless.

Power was investigated using common self-report measures as well as semantics. Here, including statistical semantics improved the study’s sensitivity beyond mere keyword counting. Further, we used factor analyses to assess the underlying structure of the PWP scores in Study 2. Serving as a manipulation check, the analyses supported the notion that power can be divided into public versus private power, thus enabling us to study the powers separately. In addition, applying different approaches to compute the PWP scores allowed us to control possible artefacts (e.g. response biases).

Methodological considerations. The results of the present study suggest that, despite gender differences in domain specific kinds of power, men and women do not differ in preference weighted power. However, the current project of course also has a number of limitations and shortcomings. First, as the majority of participants resided in the US, generalising the results of the study to other cultural contexts is difficult. For example, traditional gender role stereotypes, reflected by the concepts of male and female power measured in Study 1, could be even stronger pronounced in less gender-equal societies, while being less prominent in high-parity nations that are closer to achieving gender equality than the US (e.g., in the Scandinavian countries, [49]). The traditional division of labor between the genders has undergone great changes over time. As fathers perceive a growing desire to play an active part in childcare [50], the number of stay-home-fathers has increased together with an overall greater involvement in domestic tasks [5152]. Simultaneously, a rise in women’s economic contributions has been observed, reducing the likelihood of fathers to be the family’s main or even sole source of income [4041]. As men and women’s roles become more similar, people’s gender role stereotypes might change concurrently (see Social Role Theory; [5354]). These changes could improve gender parity, as traditional gender role stereotypes play an important part at maintaining inequalities between men and women in society [5556]. Additionally, to the extent that observers perceive these social roles and gender stereotypes to develop, they might also perceive power disparity between men and women to diminish (see also; [8]). Thus, prevalent gender differences in public as well as private powers might be less pronounced in future societies. However, many men still fill in the role of the major financial provider, while women adapt the role as the main caretaker in the family [42], earn less than men for comparable work and are underrepresented in high status positions at work and politics [131536]. Therefore, diminishing inequities in public domains as well as raising awareness of these problems is still of major importance.

Second, internet users are not completely representative of the general population [5758]. Since the studies were conducted via Mechanical Turk, the generalizability of our finding to the whole US population might be limited. As we neither included a measure of the participant’s gender role attitudes, nor investigated other potential influences like age, education or social status, the results might look different when comparing people of different age, educational and financial backgrounds. For example, previous research suggests that younger age as well as higher education and income is associated with more egalitarian or critical attitudes towards traditional gender roles [5559]. However, despite the generalizability problems of internet-based studies, previous research has shown that internet users are still more representative than the more commonly used convenience samples [5758]. Finally, the large sample sizes ensured a sufficiently high statistical power.

Finally, as noticed by the various definitions of general power, the traditional use of the concept as delineated by Townsend et al. [3] refers to different forms of power, in particular ‘power over’ and be ‘powered by’. To elaborate the matter further, power is exercised on many levels, such as between and within areas of life (e.g., [236061]). For example, a person might have high power over decisions made in their private life (e.g., parenting), while simultaneously having to obey the orders from their supervisor in a work setting. Furthermore, decision-making can also differ within domains; for example, one member of a romantic dyad could have control over the economy, and the other make decisions on how to manage specific household tasks and children's education. Thus, power is a complex construct. In the present work, forms and levels of power were not explicitly addressed. Participants freely interpreted the concept of power in general and in relation to gender, social relationships, and work. Using the same method, it would be of interest to explicitly investigate different forms and levels of perceived power.

Furthermore, semantic analyses of power could be expanded. In the present study, LSA was used to analyze power associations. LSA also enables analysis of more extensive collections of text then we collected in the present study. In a study by Townsend and colleagues [3], Mexican women’s manifestly described power experiences were analyzed with a qualitative approach. In research by Karlsson et al. [28], two quantitative methods were used to analyze women's and men's memory reports. LSA to measure the latently described (i.e., the underlying meaning in the expressed words) and linguistic inquiry word count (LIWC; e.g. [62]) to measure the manifestly described (i.e., the actual words said). In line with the present work, it was found that the female participants latently were oriented towards social relationships in their memory descriptions than the male participants were. Thus, there are many analytic methodologies that could shed further light on the dimensions of power.

In sum, the results illustrate how people’s definition of power is biased towards public domains, which are further stronger associated with men than women. However, it was also found that women have more perceived power in the private domain. This highlights the need to broaden our perception of power, as power can be exerted in many important domains in life. Because when considering many different domains of power, weighted by their relative importance (PWP), we demonstrated a lack of domain-independent gender differences in preference weighted power. Taken together, the results of this project may significantly change how we perceive power.

Stimulating reflection on organ donation reduces reported registrations as donors; a commitment nudge does not increase the willingness to become an organ donor, & reduces procrastination reasons for not becoming one

Thinking about and deciding to be an organ donor: An experimental analysis. Justin Buffat, Lorenz Goette, Simona Grassi. Social Science & Medicine, November 13 2020, 113504.

Rolf Degen's take:


-  Two lab-in-the-field experiments on the decision to become an organ donor

-  Stimulating reflection on organ donation reduces reported registrations as donors

-  A commitment nudge does not increase the willingness to become an organ donor

-  A commitment nudge reduces procrastination reasons for not becoming a donor

Friday, November 13, 2020

The marginalization of children and childhood, it is proposed, has obscured our understanding of how cultural forms emerge and why they are sustained

From 2002... Why Don't Anthropologists Like Children? Lawrence A. Hirschfeld. American Anthropologist, June 2002.

Abstract: Few major works in anthropology focus specifically on children, a curious state of affairs given that virtually all contemporary anthropology is based on the premise that culture is learned, not inherited. Although children have a remarkable and undisputed capacity for learning generally, and learning culture in particular, in significant measure anthropology has shown little interest in them and their lives. This article examines the reasons for this lamentable lacunae and offers theoretical and empirical reasons for repudiating it. Resistance to child‐focused scholarship, it is argued, is a byproduct of (1) an impoverished view of cultural learning that overestimates the role adults play and underestimates the contribution that children make to cultural reproduction, and (2) a lack of appreciation of the scope and force of children's culture, particularly in shaping adult culture. The marginalization of children and childhood, it is proposed, has obscured our understanding of how cultural forms emerge and why they are sustained. Two case studies, exploring North American children's beliefs about social contamination, illustrate these points. 

Keywords: anthropology of childhood, children's culture, acquisition of cultural knowledge, race

David Schmitt summarizing... Very skinny men are viewed as a little more likely to be "kinky" or "prudish" (wait, what?)

The Influence of Body Shape on Impressions of Sexual Traits. Flora Oswald, Amanda Champion & Cory L. Pedersen. The Journal of Sex Research, Nov 12 2020.

David Schmitt's take:

Abstract: The assumptions people make from body shape can have serious implications for the well-being of the individuals inhabiting such bodies. Fat people are subject to pervasive and resilient social stigma and discrimination, leading to negative mental and physical health outcomes, including negative sexuality-related outcomes. Though previous studies have examined the personality traits attributed to, or the sexual attractiveness of, varying body shapes, no research has asked participants to make attributions of sexual traits to varying body shapes. The purpose of this study was thus to examine sexuality-related trait inferences made from body shapes. Participants (N = 891, 70% women, M age = 25.28) were randomly assigned to view 5 computer-generated 3-dimensional body models of varying shapes developed using the skinned multi-person linear model. Participants rated their sexual attraction to each body and the degree to which each of 30 traits (10 personality and 20 sexual) applied. Results demonstrated that larger bodies are generally viewed as less sexually attractive. Further, constellations of sexuality traits were predicted reliably by body shape, demonstrating that people hold sexual stereotypes about a diverse range of body shapes. This study provides an initial comprehensive demonstration of the sexuality-specific traits associated with varying body shapes.

The sexual selection of young American females may have shifted via exposure to media images of extreme male physiques; they seem to prefer mating with better bodies than before, as men already did

Does Exercise Make Me More Attractive? Exploring the Relations Between Exercise and Mate Value. Urska Dobersek, Bridget Stallings, Gabrielle C. Wy, Charleen R. Case & Jon K. Maner. Evolutionary Psychological Science, Nov 13 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Sexual selection in human evolution is well-established. Females are relatively more inclined than males to prefer mates that exhibit physical and social dominance (e.g., muscular, financially successful men); whereas males are relatively more inclined than females to seek mates displaying signs of high reproductive potential (e.g., young, attractive women). Given that physical training has the potential to improve traits related to sexual selection in both males and females, we examined if exercise habits altered assessments of mate value in a cross-sectional analysis of 265 undergraduate students. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, an “Exercise Habits Inventory,” and a “Mate Value Inventory” for the assessment of the characteristics desired in their “ideal” mates and for self-perceptions of intrinsic mate value. Consistent with prior research, females preferred mates who were independent and generous, and both males and females preferred physically attractive mates. Females, independent of exercise frequency, were more selective than males as evidenced by a desire for “ideal” partners with a significantly higher mate value. Moreover, more frequent exercisers, independent of sex, had significantly higher self-perceived mate value than less frequent exercisers. Finally, a pattern consistent with theories of assortative mating was demonstrated via a significant positive relation between self-perceptions and the mate value of “ideal” partners.


Those who had a therapist discuss the possibility of repressed memory were 28.6 times more likely to report recovered memories; of those who reported recovered memories, 60% cut off contact with some of their family

Reports of Recovered Memories in Therapy in Undergraduate Students. Lawrence Patihis et al. Psychological Reports, November 11, 2020.

Abstract: Psychologists have debated the wisdom of recovering traumatic memories in therapy that were previously unknown to the client, with some concerns over accuracy and memory distortions. The current study surveyed a sample of 576 undergraduates in the south of the United States. Of 188 who reported attending therapy or counselling, 8% reported coming to remember memories of abuse, without any prior recollection of that abuse before therapy. Of those who reported recovered memories, 60% cut off contact with some of their family. Within those who received therapy, those who had a therapist discuss the possibility of repressed memory were 28.6 times more likely to report recovered memories, compared to those who received therapy without such discussion. These findings mirror a previous survey of US adults and suggest attempts to recover repressed memories in therapy may continue in the forthcoming generation of adults.

Keywords: Recovered memory, childhood abuse, psychotherapy, memory wars, repressed memory, dissociative amnesia

Moral Outrage and Punishment in Response to (even Minor) Alterations to Rituals

Stein, Daniel, Juliana Schroeder, Nick Hobson, Francesca Gino, and Michael I. Norton. 2020. “When Alterations Are Violations: Moral Outrage and Punishment in Response to (even Minor) Alterations to Rituals.” PsyArXiv. November 12. doi:10.1037/pspi0000352.supp

Abstract: From Catholics performing the sign of the cross since the fourth century to Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance since the 1890s, group rituals (i.e., predefined sequences of symbolic actions) have strikingly consistent features over time. Seven studies (N = 4,213) document the sacrosanct nature of rituals: Because group rituals symbolize sacred group values, even minor alterations to them provoke moral outrage and punishment. In Pilot Studies A and B, fraternity members who failed to complete initiation activities that were more ritualistic elicited relatively greater moral outrage and hazing from their fraternity brothers. Study 1 uses secular holiday rituals to explore the dimensions of ritual alteration—both physical and psychological—that elicit moral outrage. Study 2 demonstrates that altering a ritual elicits outrage even beyond the extent to which the ritual alteration is seen as violating descriptive and injunctive norms. In Study 3, group members who viewed male circumcision as more ritualistic (i.e., Jewish versus Muslim participants) expressed greater moral outrage in response to a proposal to alter circumcision to make it safer. Study 4 uses the Pledge of Allegiance ritual to explore how the intentions of the person altering the ritual influence observers’ moral outrage and punishment. Finally, in Study 5, even minor alterations elicited comparable levels of moral outrage to major alterations of the Jewish Passover ritual. Across both religious and secular rituals, the more ingroup members believed that rituals symbolize sacred group values, the more they protected their rituals—by punishing those who violate them.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Plausible deniability: People often attribute rumours to an individual in a knowledgeable position two steps removed from them (a credible friend of a friend)

It happened to a friend of a friend: inaccurate source reporting in rumour diffusion. Sacha Altay, Nicolas Claidière and Hugo Mercier. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 22020, e49, November 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: People often attribute rumours to an individual in a knowledgeable position two steps removed from them (a credible friend of a friend), such as ‘my friend's father, who's a cop, told me about a serial killer in town’. Little is known about the influence of such attributions on rumour propagation, or how they are maintained when the rumour is transmitted. In four studies (N = 1824) participants exposed to a rumour and asked to transmit it overwhelmingly attributed it either to a credible friend of a friend, or to a generic friend (e.g. ‘a friend told me about a serial killer in town’). In both cases, participants engaged in source shortening: e.g. when told by a friend that ‘a friend told me …’ they shared the rumour as coming from ‘a friend’ instead of ‘a friend of friend’. Source shortening and reliance on credible sources boosted rumour propagation by increasing the rumours’ perceived plausibility and participants’ willingness to share them. Models show that, in linear transmission chains, the generic friend attribution dominates, but that allowing each individual to be exposed to the rumour from several sources enables the maintenance of the credible friend of a friend attribution.

Check also Altay, Sacha, Anne-Sophie Hacquin, and Hugo Mercier. 2019. “Why Do so Few People Share Fake News? It Hurts Their Reputation.” PsyArXiv. October 1.

The evolution of mate choice: A key mechanism may be the sense of beauty—the feeling whose function it is to reward attention to, and engagement with, attractive objects

Back to the Basics of Mate Choice: The Evolutionary Importance of Darwin’s Sense of Beauty. Rafael Lucas Rodríguez. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Volume 95, Number 4, Dec 2020.

Abstract: There is a simple and general explanation for the evolution of mate choice that does not rely on benefits to be gained from favoring some potential mates over others, nor on ornament-preference genetic correlations (but that can help establish such benefits and correlations). Mate choice necessarily arises from competition to engage the powerful but discriminating reward mechanisms that regulate sexual interactions. Progress in understanding the evolution of mate choice will come from analyzing the subjective nature of the cognitive-emotional mechanisms that regulate its expression. A key mechanism may be the sense of beauty—the feeling whose function it is to reward attention to, and engagement with, attractive objects. Any animal whose behavior and decision-making are regulated by mechanisms of emotion and feeling may possess the sense of beauty. Competition to be perceived as beautiful engages brain-generated, top-down influences on perception and subjective experience, adding manifold ways to improve ornament attractiveness. In this paper, I discuss the evolutionary consequences of mate choice involving the sense of beauty and how to test for it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Both face and body images were rated as being more attractive when presented in groups than when presented in isolation, demonstrating that the cheerleader effect is not restricted to faces

The ‘cheerleader effect’ in facial and bodily attractiveness: A result of memory bias and not perceptual encoding. Jean Y J Hsieh et al. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, November 11, 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Individual faces are rated as more attractive when presented in a group compared to when presented individually; a finding dubbed the ‘cheerleader effect’. As a relatively recent discovery, the conditions necessary to observe the effect are not clearly understood. We sought to better define these conditions by examining two parameters associated with the effect. Our first aim was to determine whether the effect is specific to faces or occurs also for human bodies. Both face and body images were rated as being more attractive when presented in groups than when presented in isolation, demonstrating that the cheerleader effect is not restricted to faces. Further, the effect was significantly larger for bodies than faces. Our second aim was to determine whether the cheerleader effect originates from a bias in memory or occurs during perceptual encoding. Participants in the ‘memory’ condition provided attractiveness ratings after images had been removed from the testing screen, whereas participants in the ‘perceptual’ condition provided ratings while the images remained visible, thereby eliminating the memory components of the paradigm. Significant cheerleader effects were only observed in the memory condition. We conclude that the cheerleader effect for faces and bodies is due to a bias in memory and does not occur at an initial stage of perceptual encoding.

Keywords: body perception, cheerleader effect, memory bias, attractiveness, perceptual encoding