Monday, June 20, 2022

While overall sexual activity among young adults has been found to be declining, experimentation with non-committed relationships has increased, particularly among females

Gender, Sex, & Emerging Adulthood. Katarina Andrea Reyes. Polytechnic State University, Calif. BS in Psychology, Jun 2022.

Abstract/Summary: Emerging adulthood is a key developmental period when individuals explore and make meaning of their intimate relationships. National trends suggest that experimentation with non-committed relationships has increased (Olmstead, 2020), particularly for females (Netting & Reynolds, 2018). Young women utilize casual sex to explore sex, while men use sex for pleasure (Sizemore & Olmstead, 2017). Moreover, the double sexual standard impacts women’s sexual satisfaction and self-esteem (Williams & Jovanovic, 2018). Little research has examined how sex influences emerging adult’s self-esteem. Previous research has primarily relied on survey data to understand women’s and men’s experiences. Narrative identity scholars posit that individuals can make meaning of their experiences when given the opportunity to construct their life in story-like or narrative terms (McAdams, 2013, Adler et al. 2017). Using a well-established narrative identity instrument, the Love Life Story Interview (Dunlop et al., 2018), we analyze the love life stories of 31 emerging adults (15 males, 15 females, and 1 transgender male; 41% White; 83% Heterosexual) in order to understand how sex impacts emerging adult’s intimacy development. Our study indicates that women and men both view sex as an opportunity for exploration, yet men are more likely to conclude that sex is not a priority in relationships whereas women strive to achieve empowerment in their sexual relationships. Our findings suggest that although today’s emerging adults may have more freedom to assert their sexual desires, women’s sexual agency is still dictated by social norms (Uecker & Martinez, 2017). This may, in part, explain why women’s but not men’s self-esteem is integral to their sexual experiences (Heinrichs et al., 2009; Thompson & Donaghue, 2014).

Millet, Rice, and Isolation: Origins and Persistence of the World's Most Enduring Mega-State

Kung, James Kai-sing and Özak, Ömer and Putterman, Louis and Shi, Shuang, Millet, Rice, and Isolation: Origins and Persistence of the World's Most Enduring Mega-State. IZA Discussion Paper No. 15348. SSRN:

Abstract: We propose and test empirically a theory describing the endogenous formation and persistence of mega-states, using China as an example. We suggest that the relative timing of the emergence of agricultural societies, and their distance from each other, set off a race between their autochthonous state-building projects, which determines their extent and persistence. Using a novel dataset describing the historical presence of Chinese states, prehistoric development, the diffusion of agriculture, and migratory distance across 1° × 1° grid cells in eastern Asia, we find that cells that adopted agriculture earlier and were close to Erlitou – the earliest political center in eastern Asia – remained under Chinese control for longer and continue to be a part of China today. By contrast, cells that adopted agriculture early and were located further from Erlitou developed into independent states, as agriculture provided the fertile ground for state-formation, while isolation provided time for them to develop and confront the expanding Chinese empire. Our study sheds important light on why eastern Asia kept reproducing a mega-state in the area that became China and on the determinants of its borders with other states.

Keywords: state, agriculture, isolation, social complexity, stickiness to China, Erlitou, East Asia

JEL Classification: F50, F59, H70, H79, N90, O10, R10, Z10, Z13

The majority preferred quashing harmful misinformation over protecting free speech; Republicans were consistently less willing than Democrats or Independents to delete posts or penalize the accounts that posted them

Kozyreva, Anastasia, Stefan M. Herzog, Stephan Lewandowsky, Ralph Hertwig, Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Mark Leiser, and Jason Reifler. 2022. “Free Speech Vs. Harmful Misinformation: Moral Dilemmas in Online Content Moderation.” PsyArXiv. June 18. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: When moderating content online, two key values may come into conflict: protecting freedom of expression and preventing harm. Robust rules based in part on how citizens think about these moral dilemmas are necessary to deal with the unprecedented scale and urgency of this conflict in a principled way. Yet little is known about people's judgments and preferences around content moderation. We examined such moral dilemmas in a conjoint survey experiment where respondents (N = 2,564) indicated whether they would remove problematic social media posts on election denial, anti-vaccination, Holocaust denial, and climate change denial and whether they would take punitive action against the accounts. Respondents were shown key information about the user and their post, as well as the consequences of the misinformation. The majority preferred quashing harmful misinformation over protecting free speech. Respondents were more likely to remove posts and suspend accounts if the consequences were severe and if it was a repeated offence. Features related to the account itself (the person behind the account, their partisanship, and number of followers) had little to no effect on respondents' decisions. Content moderation of harmful misinformation was a partisan issue: Across all four scenarios, Republicans were consistently less willing than Democrats or Independents to delete posts or penalize the accounts that posted them. Our results can inform the design of transparent rules of content moderation for human and algorithmic moderators.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Believing in conspiracy theories is related to non-normative tendencies, such as lower social and political engament, or lower adherence to norms guiding everyday interactions such as holding the door for someone who has a lot to carry

Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Non-normative Behavior. Lotte Pummerer. Current Opinion in Psychology, June 18 2022, 101394.


• Believing in conspiracy theories is related to non-normative behaviors.

• This non-normative behavior is a natural consequence of a different social reality.

• This social reality is characterized by distrust and a different perception of norms.

• Taking into account the social reality of conspiracy belief can improve interventions.

Abstract: There are many examples of people believing in conspiracy theories showing non-normative behaviors. But why is this the case? The current contribution proposes that the non-normative behavior of people believing in conspiracy theories is a natural consequence of a different social reality that is associated with the belief in conspiracy theories. This social reality is characterized by a tendency for distinction and distrust in social relationships, a different perception of descriptive norms, a questioning of the injunctive norms regarding specific behaviors, lower trust in institutions and traditional authorities, as well as alternative norms among people believing in conspiracy theories.

Keywords: conspiracy theoryconspiracy mentalitysocial normsnon-normative behaviorcollective actionintervention

Contrary to the number of books at home, the number of ebooks did not contribute to students’ academic language comprehension

Number of books at home as an indicator of socioeconomic status: Examining its extensions and their incremental validity for academic achievement. Birgit Heppt, Melanie Olczyk & Anna Volodina. Social Psychology of Education, Jun 17 2022.

Abstract: The present study investigates the incremental validity of the traditional books-at-home measure and selected extensions (i.e., number of children’s books and number of ebooks) for explaining students’ academic achievement as measured by their academic language comprehension. Using multiple linear regressions, we additionally explore the role of the source of information (i.e., whether information is given by parents or children). Based on cross-sectional data of a German sample of 2353 elementary school children from Grades 2 through 4, we found that parents’ information on the number of books and children’s books contributed to students’ academic language comprehension over and above parental occupation and education. Children’s information on the number of books did not further increase the amount of explained variance, and the effects were smaller than those for parents’ information. Yet, when investigated separately, both parents’ and children’s information on the number of books and children’s books at home predicted students’ academic language comprehension and mediated the relationship between more distal structural features of socioeconomic status (i.e., parents’ occupational status and education) and the outcome variable. No effect emerged for the number of ebooks. Our findings point to the robustness of the traditional books-at-home measure when used in parent questionnaires.


The current study investigated the incremental validity of the books-at-home measure beyond other commonly used SES indicators (i.e., parents’ occupational status and education) in explaining academic language comprehension. In particular, we examined whether selected extensions of the traditional books-at-home measure, namely, the number of children’s books and the number of ebooks, increase the validity of the books-at-home measure and whether the predictive value of the number of books and the number of children’s books differs by information source (i.e., whether parents or children answered the question). Additional analyses examined whether the number of books and children’s books as indicated by both parents and children mediated the relation between more distal structural SES features and students’ academic language comprehension.

Predictive validity of the books-at-home measure and its extensions

We found that parents’ information on the number of books and children’s books at home significantly increased the amount of explained variance in students’ academic language comprehension, even when considering parental education and occupational status (HISEI). The number of ebooks, however, did not contribute to the explanation of students’ academic language comprehension. A similar pattern of results emerged when using children’s information instead of parents’ information. Thus, children’s estimates, which were only assessed for the number of books and the number of their own books but not for the number of ebooks, contributed significantly to the explanation of their academic language comprehension. Moreover, parents’ books and children’s books, both when assessed by parents and by children, mediated the relationship between parents’ occupational status and education as well as students’ academic language comprehension. When simultaneously considering parents’ and children’s estimates of the number of books at home, however, only parents’ information on the number of books and the number of children’s books remained significant. The results thus show that children’s information on the number of books at home is of limited predictive value compared to parents’ information for explaining student achievement (see Table S5 in the Supplemental Material for additional findings in support of this interpretation). Overall, the findings indicate that when used in the parent questionnaire, the validity of the traditional books-at-home measure is not compromised by the greater availability of ebooks and can be slightly increased by additionally considering the number of children’s books at home.

The present study’s results corroborate previous findings that confirm the interrelatedness of different SES indicators while underlining their distinctiveness (e.g., Bukodi & Goldthorpe, 2013). Thus, although the different measures for assessing a family’s SES showed substantial amounts of shared variance, parental occupation status (HISEI), parental education, number of books, and number of children’s books all contributed independently to the explanation of student achievement. This suggests that they capture slightly different aspects of SES and cannot be used interchangeably. Simultaneously, the present study adds to the literature by examining the importance of the number of children’s books and the number of ebooks as well as the role of the respondent (parents vs. children) in increasing the predictive value of the traditional books-at-home measure. Furthermore, mediation analyses’ results confirmed and extended prior research that pointed to the mediating role of combined indices of the number of books and children’s books for the relation between different SES measures and students’ academic achievement (e.g., McElvany et al., 2009; McMullin et al., 2020; Myrberg & Rosén, 2009). The present findings thus further support the assumption that parents’ occupational status and education should be conceived of as distal structural features of SES whose impact on students’ learning outcomes can at least partly be explained by more proximal process-oriented features such as the learning stimulation tied to books and children’s books available at home (cf. Gustafsson et al., 2011; McElvany et al., 2009).

In terms of underlying mechanisms, which help to explain the relation between the number of books at home and student academic achievement, theoretical considerations suggest that the number of children’s books may be a better proxy for learning stimulation and joint reading activities than the number of parents’ books and, thus, may be an even more valid indicator of students’ cultural capital and learning resources. However, remarkably, this measure is not typically considered in large-scale assessments (with the exception of TIMSS and PIRLS), and its individual effects in predicting student achievement (i.e., net of the number of parents’ books) are usually not investigated. Hence, whereas prior research mostly used combined measures of the number of parents’ and children’s books and found that they were positively related to, for instance, students’ reading comprehension (Gustafsson et al., 2011; McElvany et al., 2009), we established the number of children’s books as an independent predictor of students’ academic language comprehension.

For the number of ebooks, the present findings challenge the assumption that the process of digitalization and the greater availability of digital devices threaten the validity of the traditional books-at-home measure (cf. Schwippert, 2019). In line with prior studies on media use (Kinder-Medien-Studie, 2018; Statista, 2021) that did not report widespread use of ebooks, the vast majority of parents in our study indicated owning 0 to 10 ebooks or chose not to answer the question. We suspect that this very uneven distribution and resulting variance restriction, which differed sharply from all the other books-at-home indicators (Fig. S1 in the Supplemental Material), is the driving force for explaining the null effects in the present study (for convergent findings, see Pagel, 2016). Potential differences in the use of ebooks and printed books in joint interactions among parents and children (cf. Krcmar & Cingel, 2014; Ross et al., 2016) might additionally have come into play.

The present study is among the very few to examine parents’ and children’s ratings of the number of books at home (e.g., Engzell, 2018; Jerrim & Micklewright, 2014) and, to the best of our knowledge, is the first to compare the predictive value of the number of books and the number of children’s books for these different information sources. In line with the studies by Engzell (2018) and Jerrim and Micklewright (2014), for instance, we found exceptionally low agreement between parents’ and children’s information on parents’ books and children’s books. Although it is not possible to determine which ratings are more accurate, we have reason to assume that elementary school children are the less reliable information source given their limited capacity for estimating amounts (Harel et al., 2007). Additionally, considering the stronger relations between parents’ estimates and students’ academic achievement compared to students’ estimates, our findings support the inclusion of the books-at-home measure in the parent questionnaire rather than in the student questionnaire (see Hovestadt & Schneider, 2021, for convergent findings regarding parental education).

Limitations, future directions, and conclusion

Several limitations exist in the current study. First, no information was available on the processes that occur within families, which might help to explain the effects of the number of books and the number of children’s books on students’ learning outcomes. While it can reasonably be assumed that books at home form an important basis for home literacy activities, such as joint reading activities or talking about reading experiences (e.g., Martin & Mullis, 2013; McElvany et al., 2009), future studies should deliberately assess students’ home literacy activities to inform our understanding of the role of parents’ books compared to children’s books for student outcomes.

Second, the present analyses are based on cross-sectional data and, thus, do not allow for drawing causal inferences. We assumed and modeled the various SES indicators as predictors of students’ academic language comprehension and can reasonably exclude reverse causality for most relations. Parents’ number of books and, in particular, their occupational status and education are most likely unaffected by their children’s academic language comprehension. However, reciprocal relations may occur between academic language comprehension and children’s own books, as children with greater mastery of the academic register may demand and be supplied with more books than students who are less proficient in academic language comprehension (cf. Mol & Bus, 2011).

Third, students’ academic language comprehension was the only outcome measure involved in our analyses. Academic language proficiency has been shown to be substantially related to competencies in a variety of domains, such as reading comprehension, mathematics, and science (e.g., Schuth et al., 2017; Volodina et al., 2021b), thus confirming it as a meaningful variable for investigating social inequalities in student achievement. However, the predictive value of the books-at-home measure and its extensions might be smaller for less language-bound measures.

Fourth, although we controlled for parents’ occupational status and education, which are both substantially related to the various books-at-home measures and students’ academic language comprehension, further measures that might help capture an even more nuanced picture of the relation between the number of books at home and student achievement were not considered. Specifically, information on parents’ home ownership, living space, and recent or upcoming moves, which all may relate to the number of books at home were not included in the dataset. In particular, frequent relocations may pair with a diminished personal book stock independent of a person’s occupational status and education.

Despite these limitations and open questions, which are subject to future research, the present study’s results may serve as an important basis for selecting and assessing SES indicators in social research. In particular, they increase our knowledge of the validity of the books-at-home measure, which is ubiquitously used in surveys and large-scale assessments but the quality of which has only rarely been scrutinized.

Author: The main obstacle to understanding the mechanisms of memory is the generally accepted hypothesis that memory is formed and stored in the form of modifications of synaptic connections

Memory: Synaptic or Cellular, That Is the Question. Yuri I. Arshavsky. The Neuroscientist, June 17, 2022.

Abstract: According to the commonly accepted opinion, memory engrams are formed and stored at the level of neural networks due to a change in the strength of synaptic connections between neurons. This hypothesis of synaptic plasticity (HSP), formulated by Donald Hebb in the 1940s, continues to dominate the directions of experimental studies and the interpretations of experimental results in the field. The universal acceptance of the HSP has transformed it from a hypothesis into an incontrovertible theory. In this article, I show that the entire body of experimental and clinical data obtained in studies of long-term memory in mammals and humans is inconsistent with the HSP. Instead, these data suggest that long-term memory is formed and stored at the intracellular level where it is reliably protected from ongoing synaptic activity, including pathological epileptic activity. It seems that the generally accepted HSP became a serious obstacle to understanding the mechanisms of memory and that progress in this field requires rethinking this doctrine and shifting experimental efforts toward exploring the intracellular mechanisms.

Keywords: declarative memory, synaptic plasticity, long-term potentiation, synaptic stability, epilepsy, concept neurons, epigenetics

Perceptions and correspondence of climate change beliefs and behavior among romantic couples: Beliefs and behaviors often differ between romantic partners

Perceptions and correspondence of climate change beliefs and behavior among romantic couples. Matthew H.Goldberg et al. Journal of Environmental Psychology, June 18 2022, 101836.


• Climate change beliefs and behaviors often differ between romantic partners.

• People are both accurate and biased in their perceptions of their partner's climate change beliefs/behavior.

• Partners who discuss climate change are more accurate in their understanding of each other's climate beliefs/behavior.

• People higher in attachment anxiety are more accurate in their perceptions of their partner's climate behavior.

Abstract: Romantic partners influence each other's beliefs and behaviors. However, little is known about the dynamics of climate change beliefs and behaviors within romantic couples. We surveyed 758 romantic couples (N = 1,516 individuals) to investigate (a) correspondence between partners' climate change beliefs/behaviors, (b) accuracy and bias in people's perceptions of their partner's beliefs/behaviors, (c) whether a person's perceptions of their partner's beliefs/behaviors are more strongly predicted by that partner's actual beliefs/behaviors or by projections of one's own beliefs/behaviors, and (d) how perceptual accuracy varies across moderating variables such as frequency of discussion about global warming. We find that climate change beliefs and behaviors often differ between romantic partners. Moreover, people's perceptions of their partner's beliefs/behaviors are predicted by their own beliefs and behaviors (assumed similarity), independently from the predictive effect of their partner's actual beliefs and behaviors (accuracy). We identify opportunities for future research on relationship-based climate change interventions.

Keywords: Climate changeGlobal warmingClimate change communicationRomantic relationshipPro-environmental behavior

Saturday, June 18, 2022

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Keywords: Pain ratingsStereotypesDisparitiesPain communicationCultural narratives

Identifying Objects and Remembering Images: Insights From Deep Neural Networks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Play, Learning, and Niche Construction

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

Play, Playfulness, and Mood

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

Further Implications and Future Directions

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