Wednesday, September 21, 2022

How much a person laughs in conversation appears to be a stable trait associated with being relatable, and is not necessarily reflective of enjoyment, since laughter negatively predicted conversation enjoyment

Tendency to laugh is a stable trait: findings from a round-robin conversation study. Adrienne Wood, Emma Templeton, Jessica Morrel, Frederick Schubert and Thalia Wheatley. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. September 21 2022.

Abstract: People often laugh during conversation. Who is more responsible for the laughter, the person laughing or their partner for eliciting it? We used a round-robin design where participants (N = 66) engaged in 10 different conversations with 10 same-gender strangers and counted the instances of laughter for each person in each conversation. After each conversation, participants rated their perceived similarity with their partner and how much they enjoyed the conversation. More than half the variability in the amount a person laughed was attributable to the person laughing—some people tend to laugh more than others. By contrast, less than 5% of the variability was attributable to the laugher's partner. We also found that the more a person laughed, the more their partners felt similar to them. Counterintuitively, laughter negatively predicted conversation enjoyment. These findings suggest that, in conversations between strangers, laughter may not be a straightforward signal of amusement, but rather a social tool. We did not find any personality predictors of how much a person laughs or elicits laughter. In summary, how much a person laughs in conversation appears to be a stable trait associated with being relatable, and is not necessarily reflective of enjoyment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Sophisticated deviants: Intelligence and radical economic attitudes

Sophisticated deviants: Intelligence and radical economic attitudes. Chien-AnLin, Timothy C.Bates. Intelligence, Volume 95, November–December 2022, 101699.


• Tested links of higher cognitive ability to more economic extremism.

• Two N = 700 pre-registered studies and a UK national cohort (N = 11,563).

• Cognitive ability predicted economic extremism (β = 0.4 to 0.12).

• Predicts intellectuals falling far left and right of the mainstream.

• Heterodox values needed to avoid runaway capture in intellectual groups.

Abstract: Conservative economic attitudes have been theorized as symptoms of low cognitive ability. Studies suggest the opposite, linking more conservative views weakly to higher, not lower, cognitive ability, but with very large between-study variability. Here, we propose and replicate a new model linking cognitive ability not to liberal or conservative economics, but to economic extremism: How far individuals deviate from prevailing centrist views. Two large pre-registered studies in the UK (N = 700 & 700) and the British Cohort Study dataset (N = 11,563) replicated the predicted association of intelligence with economic deviance (β = 0.4 to 0.12). These findings were robust and expand the role of cognitive ability from tracking the economic consensus to influencing support for (relatively) extremist views. They suggest opportunities to understand the generation and mainstreaming of radical fringe social attitudes.

Keywords: Economic ideologyEconomic conservatismIntelligenceRedistributionContext theoryExtremism theory

1. Introduction

Intellectuals are responsible for economic and philosophical ideas as divergent as communism, fascism, nihilism, anarchism, and libertarianism, and often in extreme forms (Sesardic, 2016). If cognitive ability has any association with intellectual output, the question arises: How might cognitive ability be associated with such apparently divergent intellectual extremes? Recently, a productive model for studying this question has developed around measures of economic conservatism and support for economic redistribution. While this reveals motives such as malicious envy accounting for around half of support for redistribution (Lin & Bates, 2021Lin & Bates, 2022Sznycer et al., 2017), research has also implicated higher cognitive ability as reducing support for economic redistribution (Caplan & Miller, 2010Carl, 2014Lewis & Bates, 2018Mollerstrom & Seim, 2014Oskarsson et al., 2015). Other studies, however, have found no association or even the reverse association (Choma, Sumantry, & Hanoch, 2019Pennycook, Cheyne, Barr, Koehler, & Fugelsang, 2014Sterling, Jost, & Pennycook, 2016). A recent meta-analysis supports a small but significant net association in favour of economic conservatism (Jedinger & Burger, 2021). This program of existing research has been restricted, however, to treating economic attitudes as a single increasing or decreasing function of cognitive ability. Here, we propose and test a quite different linkage of cognitive ability to economic attitudes: That intelligence is associated with deviance of view, with equal likelihood of extreme support for economic conservatism and dramatic opposition to economic conservatism. Before presenting three tests of this idea, we briefly background existing research linking cognitive ability to economic attitudes.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Overperception of Moral Outrage in Online Social Networks Inflates Beliefs About Hostility

 Brady, William J., Killian L. McLoughlin, Mark Torres, Kara Luo, Maria Gendron, and Molly Crockett. 2022. “Overperception of Moral Outrage in Online Social Networks Inflates Beliefs About Intergroup Hostility.” OSF Preprints. September 19. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: As individuals and political leaders increasingly interact in online social networks, it is important to understand how the affordances of social media shape social knowledge of morality and politics. Here, we propose that social media users overperceive levels of moral outrage felt by individuals and groups, inflating beliefs about intergroup hostility. Utilizing a Twitter field survey, we measured authors’ moral outrage in real time and compared authors’ reports to observers’ judgments of the authors’ moral outrage. We find that observers systematically overperceive moral outrage in authors, inferring more intense moral outrage experiences from messages than the authors of those messages actually reported. This effect was stronger in participants who spent more time on social media to learn about politics. Pre-registered confirmatory behavioral experiments found that overperception of individuals’ moral outrage causes overperception of collective moral outrage and inflates beliefs about hostile communication norms, group affective polarization and ideological extremity. Together, these results highlight how individual-level overperceptions of online moral outrage produce collective overperceptions that have the potential to warp our social knowledge of moral and political attitudes.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Inconsistencies: According to our simulations, there is a very high probability that most published criminological research findings are false-positives, and therefore wrong; the primary factor contributing to this problem is the poor quality of theory

Niemeyer, Richard E., K. R. Proctor, Joseph Schwartz, and Robert G. Niemeyer. 2022. “Are Most Published Criminological Research Findings Wrong? Taking Stock of Criminological Research Using a Bayesian Simulation Approach.” OSF Preprints. September 17. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: This study uses Bayesian simulations to estimate the probability that published criminological research findings are wrong. Toward this end, we employ two equations originally popularized in John P.A. Ioannidis’ (in)famous article, “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.” Values for relevant parameters were determined using recent estimates for the field’s average level of statistical power, level of research bias, level of factionalization, and quality of theory. According to our simulations, there is a very high probability that most published criminological research findings are false-positives, and therefore wrong. Further, we demonstrate that the primary factor contributing to this problem is the poor quality of theory. Stated differently, even when the overall level of research bias is extremely low and overall statistical power is extremely high, we find that poor theory still results in a high rate of false positives. We conclude with suggestions for improving the validity of criminological research claims.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

From 1991 to 2015, seat belt use was about 3.3% higher each survey cycle compared with the previous survey cycle, adjusting for gender, race/ethnicity, and age; after 2015, seat belt use was about 1.8% lower each survey cycle

Trends in Passenger Seat Belt Use Among High School Students—United States, 1991–2019. Alexander Evans et al. Journal of Adolescent Health, September 7 2022.


Purpose: Despite having the highest risk per miles driven for motor vehicle crash involvement, only 57% of US high school students reported always using a seat belt when riding in a car with another driver in 2019.

Methods: Data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted biennially from 1991 to 2019 were used to assess trends in seat belt use. Modified Poisson regression with robust variance estimates and linear splines was used to examine seat belt use trend changes overall and by gender, race/ethnicity, and grade.

Results: From 1991 to 2015, seat belt use was about 3.3% higher each survey cycle compared with the previous survey cycle, adjusting for gender, race/ethnicity, and age. After 2015, seat belt use was about 1.8% lower each survey cycle than the previous survey cycle, adjusting for the same covariates.

Discussion: New and effective strategies should be considered for promoting consistent seat belt use among US high school students.

Keywords: Seat belt useYouth Risk Behavior SurveyHigh school students

Friday, September 16, 2022

Sadder, but not wiser: Another psychology classic, the popular idea of "depressive realism," bites the dust in failed replication

Dev, Amelia S., Don A. Moore, Sheri L. Johnson, and Karin Garrett. 2022. “Sadder ≠ Wiser: Depressive Realism Is Not Robust to Replication.” PsyArXiv. September 15. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: The theory of depressive realism holds that depressed individuals are less prone to optimistic bias, and are thus more realistic, in assessing their control or performance. Since the theory was proposed 40 years ago, many innovations have been validated for testing cognitive accuracy, including improved measures of bias in perceived control and performance. We incorporate several of those innovations in a well-powered, pre-registered study designed to identify depressive realism. Amazon MTurk workers (N = 246) and undergraduate students (N = 134) completed a classic contingency task, an overconfidence task, and measures of mental health constructs, including depression and anxiety. We measured perceived control throughout the contingency task, allowing us to compare control estimates at the trial-level to estimates assessed at task conclusion. We found no evidence that depressive symptoms relate to illusory control or to overconfidence. Our results suggest that despite its popular acceptance, depressive realism is not replicable.

Psychopathy: Significant gaps in the empirical support for the theorized role of the amygdala

How reliable are amygdala findings in psychopathy? A systematic review of MRI studies. Philip Deming, Mickela Heilicher, Michael Koenigs. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, September 15 2022, 104875.

• Reviewed 134 MRI studies of relationships between amygdala and psychopathy

• Null relationships more common than significant positive or negative relationships

• Negative relationships more common for studies with low power

• Many peak coordinates labeled “amygdala” in original paper outside the amygdala

Abstract: The amygdala is a key component in predominant neural circuitry models of psychopathy. Yet, after two decades of neuroimaging research on psychopathy, the reproducibility of amygdala findings is questionable. We systematically reviewed MRI studies (81 of adults, 53 of juveniles) to determine the consistency of amygdala findings across studies, as well as within specific types of experimental tasks, community versus forensic populations, and the lowest- versus highest-powered studies. Three primary findings emerged. First, the majority of studies found null relationships between psychopathy and amygdala structure and function, even in the context of theoretically relevant tasks. Second, findings of reduced amygdala activity were more common in studies with low compared to high statistical power. Third, the majority of peak coordinates of reduced amygdala activity did not fall primarily within the anatomical bounds of the amygdala. Collectively, these findings demonstrate significant gaps in the empirical support for the theorized role of the amygdala in psychopathy and indicate the need for novel research perspectives and approaches in this field.

Keywords: psychopathycallous-unemotionalamygdalaneuroimagingMRI

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Middle-aged citizens in developed countries are close to their peak earnings, have typically experienced little or no illness, & are in safe countries, but suffer of more sleeping problems, alcohol dependence, concentration difficulties, memory problems, intense job strain, disabling headaches, suicidal feelings, and extreme depression

The Midlife Crisis. Osea Giuntella, Sally McManus, Redzo Mujcic, Andrew J. Oswald, Nattavudh Powdthavee & Ahmed Tohamy. NBER Working Paper 30442, September 2022. DOI 10.3386/w30442

Abstract: This paper documents a longitudinal crisis of midlife among the inhabitants of rich nations. Yet middle-aged citizens in our data sets are close to their peak earnings, have typically experienced little or no illness, reside in some of the safest countries in the world, and live in the most prosperous era in human history. This is paradoxical and troubling. The finding is consistent, however, with the prediction – one little-known to economists – of Elliott Jaques (1965). Our analysis does not rest on elementary cross-sectional analysis. Instead the paper uses panel and through-time data on, in total, approximately 500,000 individuals. It checks that the key results are not due to cohort effects. Nor do we rely on simple life-satisfaction measures. The paper shows that there are approximately quadratic hill-shaped patterns in data on midlife suicide, sleeping problems, alcohol dependence, concentration difficulties, memory problems, intense job strain, disabling headaches, suicidal feelings, and extreme depression. We believe the seriousness of this societal problem has not been grasped by the affluent world’s policy-makers.



The human midlife crisis seems to be an important and under-recognized phenomenon.
We document longitudinal evidence of extreme distress among middle-aged adults in affluent
countries. These individuals are close to their peak lifetime earnings and in general have
experienced no serious illness. Our findings therefore appear to point to a disturbing paradox
within modern society.

Using eight different measures, an approximate hump-shape in severe distress over the
life cycle emerges in data from industrialized nations such as the UK, Australia, and the USA.
This paper's methods go beyond cross-sectional analyses based on simple measures of
subjective wellbeing (for example, Graham and Pozuelo 2017). As far as we know, our
recurring longitudinal patterns -- they are to be thought of as a collection of complementary
types of evidence -- are not widely known by policymakers.

The late Elliott Jaques (1965) is believed to have coined the term 'midlife crisis' in the
year 1965. He offered anecdotal evidence, and psychoanalytic arguments, for it. Using modern data sets and conventional statistical methods, this paper explores, and provides empirical support consistent with, the hypothesis advanced by Jaques. The paper's analysis finds hill-shaped patterns in data on:

x suicide,
x sleeping problems,
x extreme depression,
x intense job strain,
x disabling headaches,
x suicidal feelings,
x concentration and memory problems,
x alcohol dependence.

In some cases a particular mental-distress marker is available in many nations; in other cases
it is available only for a few nations.

The explanation for the midlife shape currently remains open. Could the paper¶V
empirical result be the product of the stresses of having dependent children, or a country-
specific or new phenomenon, or something to do with selection effects, or an illusion caused
by cohort effects? These are natural and important possibilities. Nevertheless, the balance of
our evidence appears to suggest not. It also does not seem that envy of others causes the midlife shape (Mujcic and Oswald 2018 test for that possibility, although not with extreme distress measures as the dependent variable). The notion of unmet aspirations as part of the explanation does, however, have intuitive appeal, in our judgment (see particularly Schwandt 2016).

Perhaps so also, more speculatively, does some role for rising 'wisdom' seem possible (Jeste and Oswald 2014) in the observed reduction in distress levels later in life.

There is some published evidence for a midlife psychological low in data on
chimpanzees and orangutans (Weiss et al. 2012). So sheer ageing biology in primates may
play some kind of role. That would take the ultimate explanation out of the social sciences and
into the natural sciences. Much is still to be understood.

Scientific caution remains appropriate. The evidence described here is based on a
particular, if large, set of indicators. It is possible to think of objections to those indicators. A
caveat on that, however, should arguably also be entered. It would be incumbent upon a critic
of our chosen extreme-distress measures to suggest what would count instead as a set of better markers of human crisis. Most especially, it would not seem scientifically acceptable to
suggest something like μindicator X is less than perfect so I reject the repeated pattern of these multiple indicators¶.

Finally, we believe it is not currently clear whether:

(i) there is a timeless and innate form of human middle-aged crisis, or
(ii) the midlife pattern documented here is some kind of perplexing, and perhaps temporary, byproduct of today's affluent world.

Whichever of these turns out to be true, the hill-shaped pattern of extreme distress over the
human life-course in rich countries appears to constitute a foundational puzzle for economists,
behavioral scientists, and perhaps other kinds of scientific research

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Contrary to prior research, and to our own expectations, we find that providing a belief distribution usually increases overconfidence, because doing so seems to reinforce people’s prior beliefs

Hu, B., & Simmons, J. P. (2022). Does constructing a belief distribution truly reduce overconfidence? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Sep 2022.

Abstract: Can overconfidence be reduced by asking people to provide a belief distribution over all possible outcomes—that is, by asking them to indicate how likely all possible outcomes are? Although prior research suggests that the answer is “yes,” that research suffers from methodological confounds that muddle its interpretation. In our research, we remove these confounds to investigate whether providing a belief distribution truly reduces overconfidence. In 10 studies, participants made predictions about upcoming sports games or other participants’ preferences, and then indicated their confidence in these predictions using rating scales, likelihood judgments, and/or incentivized wagers. Contrary to prior research, and to our own expectations, we find that providing a belief distribution usually increases overconfidence, because doing so seems to reinforce people’s prior beliefs.

Policy Experimentation: While China’s bureaucratic and institutional conditions make policy experimentation at big scale possible, the complex political environments can also limit the scope and bias the direction of policy learning

Policy Experimentation in China: the Political Economy of Policy Learning. Shaoda Wang & David Y. Yang. NBER Working Paper 29402. October 2021. DOI 10.3386/w29402

Abstract: Many governments have engaged in policy experimentation in various forms to resolve uncertainty and facilitate learning. However, little is understood about the characteristics of policy experimentation, and how the structure of experimentation may affect policy learning and policy outcomes. We aim to describe and understand China’s policy experimentation since 1980, among the largest and most systematic in recent history. We collect comprehensive data on policy experimentation conducted in China over the past four decades. We find three main results. First, more than 80% of the experiments exhibit positive sample selection in terms of a locality’s economic development, and much of this can be attributed to misaligned incentives across political hierarchies. Second, local politicians allocate more resources to ensure the experiments’ success, and such effort is not replicable when policies roll out to the entire country. Third, the presence of sample selection and strategic effort is not fully accounted for by the central government, thus affecting policy learning and distorting national policies originating from the experimentation. Taken together, these results suggest that while China’s bureaucratic and institutional conditions make policy experimentation at such scale possible, the complex political environments can also limit the scope and bias the direction of policy learning.

Not as good as intented: Home buyers for whom the purchase of the home is a main reason for moving systematically overestimate the long-term satisfaction gain of living in their dwelling

Does the Dream of Home Ownership Rest Upon Biased Beliefs? A Test Based on Predicted and Realized Life Satisfaction. Reto Odermatt & Alois Stutzer. Journal of Happiness Studies, September 14 2022.

Abstract: The belief that home ownership makes people happy is probably one of the most widespread intuitive theories of happiness. However, whether it is accurate is an open question. Based on individual panel data, we explore whether home buyers systematically overestimate the life satisfaction associated with moving to their privately owned property. To identify potential prediction errors, we compare people’s forecasts of their life satisfaction in 5 years’ time with their current realizations. We find that home buyers for whom the purchase of the home is a main reason for moving, on average, systematically overestimate the long-term satisfaction gain of living in their dwelling. The misprediction therein is driven by home buyers who follow extrinsically-oriented life goals, highlighting biased beliefs regarding own preferences as a relevant mechanism in the prediction errors.


This study explores whether home owners systematically overestimate the well-being derived from living in a privately owned house. For this, we jointly analyze people’s expectations regarding their future satisfaction and their actually experienced satisfaction with life later on. This allows us to study whether home buyers, on average, hold accurate beliefs—a cornerstone of standard economics—when facing the house purchase.

The results offer evidence in line with our hypothesis that home buyers systematically overestimate their future life satisfaction just before as well as just after having relocated to their acquired dwelling. This provides support for the speculation that home buyers potentially rely on biased beliefs regarding the long-term benefits of home ownership in the decision-making process, at least if they consider the purchase of property as a main reason for moving. The finding backs the general notion that people overestimate the satisfaction consequences of certain life achievements. From this observation, it is, however, difficult to assess whether the prediction errors are primarily driven by biased beliefs people hold, for example, about their individual preferences. We therefore investigate the heterogeneity in prediction errors across groups with different life goals, reflecting differences in underlying beliefs about preferences or, more generally, what goals should be pursued in life to satisfy needs. Specifically, we study differences regarding the preferability of extrinsic versus intrinsic life goals. We find that home buyers with extrinsically oriented life goals compared to those with intrinsically oriented ones tend to make bigger prediction errors. This result provides evidence for biased beliefs and demonstrates the crucial role of the heterogeneity in people’s beliefs regarding the well-being consequences of certain decisions.

Our study questions the ancillary role that is ascribed to beliefs in most economic applications. If people predict the utility from decision outcomes based on beliefs about their preferences, individuals’ choices would not reveal true preferences, but rather beliefs regarding preferences. Our findings provide evidence in this direction by showing that the accuracy of people’s predictions depends on their belief system. A further investigation of the role of beliefs is a promising topic for future research, as it affects fundamental theoretical assumptions of the economic approach. For example, one could study to what extent beliefs about the utility derived from goods or experiences are influenced by factors such as culture and formal institutions, advertising or, on the individual level, parenting and education. Such endogeneity of people’s beliefs complements what has up to now been discussed under the notion of endogenous preferences in economics [see, e.g., (Bowles, 1998)].

Another perspective on the role of beliefs in economics is that the formation of beliefs plays a fundamental role in the process when people are trying to achieve short- and long-term goals in life. In this process, accuracy might not be the only objective, as beliefs also serve the important purpose of motivating people so that they persevere in applying effort to achieve goals (see (Bénabou & Tirole, 2016) or (Epley & Gilovich, 2016) on motivated beliefs). This instrumental aspect emphasizing the enhancement of self-efficacy is complemented by other motives, as people might want to share beliefs in accordance with their peer group or their self-image. Other reasons for belief distortions are discussed by Brunnermeier and Parker (2005), who argue that a small bias in subjective beliefs can lead to first-order gains due to increased anticipatory utility (see also (Loewenstein & Molnar, 2018) for a review on belief-based utility). Accordingly, people might (implicitly) trade-off belief-based utility in the short-term for accuracy in the long-term. Whether this trade-off is sub-optimal, reducing individuals’ welfare overall, is difficult to judge however, also within our framework. The less people value and consume the dream of home ownership per se beforehand, the more likely will mispredicted utility be related to a welfare loss due to inaccurate beliefs.

From a general perspective, it is crucial that economic analysis gains a better understanding of the role of individuals’ beliefs as a driver of mispredicted utility and potentially sub-optimal behavior. Such a research enterprise also involves the forces and actors that influence people’s (life) goals and thus their beliefs. If these actors pursue private interests, influence might translate into attempts at manipulation. It is thus important that the conditions under which biased beliefs evolve and influence decision-making processes are identified, an account that economics has not offered so far.

Recognition of Masked Faces in the Era of the Pandemic: No Improvement Despite Extensive Natural Exposure

Recognition of Masked Faces in the Era of the Pandemic: No Improvement Despite Extensive Natural Exposure. Erez Freud et al. Psychological Science, September 12, 2022.

Abstract: Face masks, which became prevalent across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic, have had a negative impact on face recognition despite the availability of critical information from uncovered face parts, especially the eyes. An outstanding question is whether face-mask effects would be attenuated following extended natural exposure. This question also pertains, more generally, to face-recognition training protocols. We used the Cambridge Face Memory Test in a cross-sectional study (N = 1,732 adults) at six different time points over a 20-month period, alongside a 12-month longitudinal study (N = 208). The results of the experiments revealed persistent deficits in recognition of masked faces and no sign of improvement across time points. Additional experiments verified that the amount of individual experience with masked faces was not correlated with the mask effect. These findings provide compelling evidence that the face-processing system does not easily adapt to visual changes in face stimuli, even following prolonged real-life exposure.


Face masks were an important tool in the effort to minimize COVID-19 virus transmission (Cheng et al., 2020). Accordingly, the years 2020 to 2022 provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine the effects of prolonged and frequent exposure to occluded faces on recognition abilities. Here, we have documented persistent quantitative and qualitative alterations in face-processing abilities for masked versus nonmasked faces, with no evidence of improvement in the processing of masked faces over time. Using a combined cross-sectional and longitudinal approach, we found that the CFMT scores for upright faces decreased by approximately 15% when masks were added to the faces. This reduction remained statistically constant across 20 months, a period of extensive exposure to masked faces. This finding suggests that the matured face-processing system did not benefit from the prolonged exposure. Additional experiments and analyses confirmed and extended this conclusion and showed that the consistent decrement in face processing of masked faces was evident even when individual differences in exposure to these faces were considered.
Another key finding is the consistent and robust reduction of the face-inversion effect for masked faces across all time points. In particular, the inversion effect was roughly 43% smaller for masked faces. The inversion effect is suggested to reflect difficulties extracting the configural relationships between face parts (Farah et al., 1995; Freire et al., 2000). Hence, the smaller inversion effect for masked faces may be taken as evidence that holistic processing is largely reduced (although not entirely abolished). This qualitative change in the processing of masked faces was consistent across time points, providing additional evidence for the rigidity of the matured face-processing system.

Why is there no improvement in masked-face recognition?

The consistent effect of masks across time points could reflect the rigidity of the matured face-processing system. In particular, face perception rapidly develops in infancy but is then subject to a prolonged developmental trajectory (Pascalis et al., 2011, 2020). In early childhood, face processing is shaped by experience with other faces (Bate et al., 2020). One of the best examples of this malleability comes from the other-race effect, which is evident early in life (Kelly et al., 2009) but could be reversed or disappear if a child is regularly exposed to other-race faces (De Heering et al., 2010; Sangrigoli et al., 2005). In contrast, in adulthood, face-processing mechanisms are already in place and are less likely to be affected by experience (Pascalis et al., 2020; White, Kemp, Jenkins, Matheson, & Burton, 2014; Yovel et al., 2012). Here, we show that even extensive, naturalistic exposure to masked faces is not sufficient to facilitate the recognition of these faces, even though the eyes region, which is disproportionally critical for face recognition (Butler et al., 2010; Caldara et al., 2005; Royer et al., 2018; Tardif et al., 2019), remains uncovered.
An additional account for the lack of improvement in recognizing masked faces relates to the nature of the interaction. One can argue that mere exposure to masked unfamiliar faces may not suffice to revamp face-processing mechanisms. However, we note that daily encounters with masked people typically include more than just passive viewing. For example, in the grocery store, a person may need to identify their neighbor or their preferred cashier. An office worker needs to recognize peers and customers. Parents who pick up their children from school interact with other parents, children, and teachers. Hence, daily experiences provide a rich arena of exposures and the need to recognize masked faces. Yet our data suggest that such naturalistic exposures and interactions might be insufficient in eliciting adaptation of the face-processing system. A more refined view is that improvement in face-processing abilities in adulthood depends on deliberate, systematic training programs and does not rely on naturalistic exposure. This view is supported by recent studies that show effects of systematic training programs that include individuation tasks (McGugin et al., 2011; Yovel et al., 2012) and ongoing feedback (White, Kemp, Jenkins, & Burton, 2014). Note, however, that even these systematic training programs bring only very moderate improvement in face recognition.
The results could also be attributed to another intriguing possible mechanism; the current situation may be part of a vicious circle, one that reduces the chances to improve. On the one hand, there is massive exposure to masked faces, which, in many cases, require effective recognition. On the other hand, however, people have the chance to meet and to encounter nonmasked people in the privacy of their homes or via electronic media. It is possible, therefore, that such a hybrid state of affairs provides the system with a convenient escape from effectively dealing with masked faces. In other words, the current situation may limit the system’s ability to adapt, even in the face of a clear need to do so. This proposed mechanism could account for the lack of improvement that we report (almost) 2 years into the pandemic. An intriguing question is for how long such lack of improvement could persist. This, of course, depends on the extent and length of the pandemic.
Finally, the observed limited malleability of the matured face-processing system raises important questions about the ability of children to improve in recognizing masked faces. A recent study reported that in school-age children, masks hinder face-processing ability to a similar or even greater extent compared with adults (Stajduhar et al., 2022). Whether children exhibit improved masked-face recognition following prolonged exposure to masked faces in everyday life remains to be determined.


The current investigation is timely and unique and benefits from the large sample size and combination of approaches. However, there are still important limitations that should be addressed in future studies. First, although the CFMT is a reliable test that has been used extensively over the past two decades (Bobak et al., 2016; Russell et al., 2009), the faces included in this test are all Caucasian men. Given the gender effect observed in our data as well as by other groups (Bobak et al., 2016), it is important to examine the reported effects using other, more diverse tests (Scherf et al., 2017). Another concern regards the ecological validity of the CFMT. Specifically, external face cues, which are important for real-life face recognition, are not available in this test. This concern might be more detrimental in the case of masked faces. However, it is important to note that previous studies reported correlations between CFMT scores and subjective reports of face-recognition abilities (Shah, Gaule, et al., 2015), between the CFMT and other measurements of face-processing abilities (DeGutis et al., 2013; Russell et al., 2009), and, most importantly, between CFMT scores and naturalistic assessments of face-perception abilities (Balas & Saville, 2017). It is also worth noting that previous studies demonstrated the existence of the mask effect for other test and image sets, including the GFMT (Carragher & Hancock, 2020; see also the control experiment described above) and the Karolinska Directed Emotional Faces (Marini et al., 2021), in which external face cues are preserved.
The concern regarding ecological validity also applies to the absence of other cues that might facilitate person recognition, such as motion, voice, and body shape. Importantly, however, it is established that faces play a superior role in person recognition even when other cues are available (Hahn et al., 2016). This is demonstrated in cases of prosopagnosia, which is experienced in daily life even when all cues are available.
Another limitation of the current image set (as well as other image sets used in previous studies) is that the masks were added to existing pictures in an artificial manner. This might lead to an omission of face shape cues that are normally available and plausibly critical for recognizing masked faces in naturalistic settings. Although we cannot rule out the detrimental effect of the artificial mask on face perception, a recent study by Marini and colleagues (2021) demonstrated the existence of a mask effect even for transparent masks that reveal important cues from the lower part of the face. Hence, it is unlikely that the mask effect observed here, especially the lack of improvement in face perception for masked faces, is solely due to the nature of the stimuli.

Converging theoretical and empirical evidence points to suicide being a fundamentally aleatory event – that risk of suicide is opaque to useful assessment at the level of the individual

On the Randomness of Suicide: An Evolutionary, Clinical Call to Transcend Suicide Risk Assessment. C. A. Soper, Pablo Malo Ocejo and Matthew M. Large. Chp 9 in Evolutionary Psychiatry: Current Perspectives on Evolution and Mental Health. Cambridge University Press, September 8 2022.

Summary: Converging theoretical and empirical evidence points to suicide being a fundamentally aleatory event – that risk of suicide is opaque to useful assessment at the level of the individual. This chapter presents an integrated evolutionary and clinical argument that the time has come to transcend efforts to categorise peoples’ risk of taking their own lives. A brighter future awaits mental healthcare if the behaviour’s essential non-predictability is understood and accepted. The pain-brain evolutionary theory of suicide predicts inter alia that all intellectually competent humans carry the potential for suicide, and that suicides will occur largely at random. The randomness arises because, over an evolutionary timescale, selection of adaptive defences will have sought out and exploited all operative correlates of suicide and will thus have exhausted those correlates’ predictive power. Completed suicides are therefore statistical residuals – events intrinsically devoid of informational cues by which the organism could have avoided self-destruction. Empirical evidence supports this theoretical expectation. Suicide resists useful prediction at the level of the individual. Regardless of the means by which the assessment is made, people rated ‘high risk’ seldom take their own lives, even over extended periods. Consequently, if a prevention treatment is sufficiently safe and effective to be worth allotting to the ‘high-risk’ subset of a cohort of patients, it will be just as worthwhile for the rest. Prevention measures will offer the greatest prospects for success where the aleatory nature of suicide is accepted, acknowledging that ‘fault’ for rare, near-random, self-induced death resides not within the individual but as a universal human potentiality. A realistic, evolution-informed, clinical approach is proposed that focuses on risk communication in place of risk assessment. All normally sapient humans carry a vanishingly small daily risk of taking their own lives but are very well adapted to avoiding that outcome. Almost all of us nearly always find other solutions to the stresses of living.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Voter bias against women cannot explain female underrepresentation in American politics; if anything, voters prefer women over men

Poutvaara, Panu; Graefe, Andreas (2022) : Do Americans Favor Female or Male Politicians? Evidence from Experimental Elections, Beiträge zur Jahrestagung des Vereins für Socialpolitik 2022: Big Data in Economics, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, Kiel, Hamburg.

Abstract: Women are severely underrepresented in American politics, especially among Republicans. This under-representation can arise from women being less willing to run for office, from voter bias against women, or from political structures that make it more difficult for women to compete. Here we show to what extent support for female candidates varies by voters’ party affiliation and gender. We carried out hypothetical elections in which participants made vote choices solely based on politicians’ faces. When deciding between candidates of different genders, Democrats, and particularly Democratic women, preferred female candidates, while Republicans chose female and male candidates equally often. These patterns remained when controlling for respondents’ education, age, and political knowledge and for candidates’ age, attractiveness, and perceived conservativeness. Our results suggest that voter bias against women cannot explain female under-representation. On the contrary, American voters appear ready to further narrow the gender gap in politics.

Keywords: Gender; Elections; Gender discrimination; Political candidates
JEL: D72; J16

5 Conclusion

Major gender gaps have opened in American politics in recent decades. Women are more likely than men to support Democrats (Gillion et al., 2020), Democratic voters are more likely than Republicans to support female candidates (Schwarz & Coppock, 2021), and the female share of congressional Democrats is almost three times that of congressional Republicans (Fig. 1B). We carried out hypothetical elections in 2016 and 2020 to disentangle how voter gender and partisanship interact in support for female candidates. Our results show that Democrats generally favored female candidates, and that preference for female candidates was particularly strong among Democratic women. In our 2020 survey, Democratic women chose the female candidate three times as often as the male candidate. Republican respondents, instead, chose female and male candidates about equally often. Our findings suggest that voter bias against women cannot explain female under-representation in American politics, even among Republicans. If anything, voters, on average, prefer women over men.

Our approach to study gender discrimination in voting complements vignette and conjoint survey experiments, which have become an established practice in political science research (Hainmueller et al., 2015; Hainmueller et al., 2014). In these studies, respondents state their preferences based on short, standardized descriptions of hypothetical candidates. Vignette and conjoint survey experiments allow studying simultaneously the effects of different cues, like gender, age, and reported experience. However, this comes at the cost that researchers define the characteristics that are presented to respondents, and how these are presented. Our approach of asking respondents to make vote choices based on candidate photographs does not require researchers to specify what textual cues are provided to respondents and in which order. Instead, we collected vote choices for hypothetical elections among all 736 Members of the European Parliament. One advantage of using MEPs was that they are real and elected politicians. Hence, the photographs likely incorporate cues that are relevant in politics, which may not be the case when using stock photographs. Another advantage of using MEPs was that American respondents are unlikely to recognize the candidates, which could have introduced bias. Finally, previous research has shown that evaluations of politicians’ photographs help to predict election outcomes around the world, providing external validity for using photographs (Antonakis & Dalgas, 2009; Ballew & Todorov, 2007; Berggren et al., 2010; Lawson et al., 2010; Todorov et al., 2005).

A major concern in all surveys is that subjects might change their behavior due to cues about what constitutes appropriate behavior (Zizzo, 2010). In our setting, the concern is that respondents would find supporting female candidates in hypothetical elections the appropriate choice, even if they would not vote for the female candidate in a real election. Our study design alleviates these concerns by randomizing gender combinations in hypothetical elections. We also did not refer to gender – but only to voting under very little information – in our task description. Furthermore, recent research has found that experimenter demand effects are small in online surveys even when respondents are provided a hint on the hypothesis that researchers are testing (de Quidt et al., 2018; Mummolo & Peterson, 2019). Comparing conjoint and vignette experiments with real referendums in Switzerland also suggests that estimates from survey experiments perform remarkably well in predicting actual voting outcomes (Hainmueller et al., 2014).

Our results emphasize the critical role of supply side factors as remaining barriers to closing the gender gap in political representation, such as women’s reluctance to enter politics and discrimination by party elites and donors, as well as the weight of historical f emale under-representation through incumbency advantage. Given that voters with prior exposure to female leaders are more likely to vote for women (Baskaran & Hessami, 2018; Beaman et al., 2009; Bhavnani, 2009), recent increases in the share of elected female politicians, and the election of Kamala Harris as the first female Vice President of the United States, could foreshadow a narrowing gender gap in years to come.

Moralization of rationality can actually stimulate the spread of news hostile to political opponents 'cause status seeking individuals moralize rationality as a form of grandstanding and use it to spread hostile information, in order to sound relevant

Marie, Antoine, and Michael Bang Petersen. 2022. “Moralization of Rationality Can Stimulate, but Intellectual Humility Inhibits, Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors.” OSF Preprints. March 4. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: Many assume that if citizens became more inclined to moralize the values of evidence-based and logical thinking, political hostility and conspiracy theories would be less widespread. Across two large surveys (N = 3675) run in the U.S. of 2021 (one exploratory and one pre-registered), we provide the first demonstration that moralization of rationality can actually stimulate the spread of news hostile to political opponents. We provide further evidence that this counter-intuitive finding reflects that status seeking individuals moralize rationality as a form of grandstanding and use it to spread hostile information, in order to sound relevant. In contrast to such moral grandstanding with respect to rationality, our studies find robust evidence that intellectual humility—i.e., the awareness that intuitions are fallible, and that trusting others is often desirable—may protect people from both sharing and believing hostile news. Those associations generalized to all hostile news, independently of whether they are “fake” or anchored in real events.

Effect of urbanicity (metro v nonmetro) on life satisfaction, or Subjective WellBeing: The negative effect of metro vs nonmetro is equivalent to the effect of one’s health deteriorating about a third from "fair" to "poor"

Unhappy Metros: Panel Evidence. Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn. Applied Research in Quality of Life, Sep 13 2022.

Abstract: We study the effect of urbanicity (metro v nonmetro) on life satisfaction, or Subjective WellBeing (SWB). The literature agrees that residents of metropolitan areas tend to be less satisfied with their lives than residents of smaller settlements in the developed world. But the existing evidence is cross-sectional only. This is the first study using longitudinal dataset to test the “unhappy metro” hypothesis. Using the 2009–2019 US Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), we find support for the cross-sectional findings: metros are less happy than nonmetros. The effect size is practically significant, the negative effect of metro v nonmetro is equivalent to the effect of one’s health deteriorating about a third from “fair” to “poor.” Given extremely large scale of urbanization, projected 6b of people from 1950 to 2050, the combined effect of urbanicity on human wellbeing is large.

1    Interestingly, neuroscience is becoming interested in urbanism (Adli et al., 2017; Pykett et al., 2020), and initial empirical results indicate negative effect of urbanism on human brain (Lederbogen et al., 2011).

2    Yet, on the other hand, in a city there can be community, a neighborhood village, that at least in some ways can simulate a more natural habitat for a human (Fischer 1995, 1975, Jacobs ([1961] 1993).

3    There is a debate whether utility is happiness and it is beyond the scope of this study, for discussion see Van Der Deijl (2018), Welsh (2016), Hirschauer et al. (2015), Kenny (2011), Ng (2011), Clark et al. (2008), Frey et al. (2008), Becker and Rayo (2008), Kahneman and Krueger (2006), Kimball and Willis (2006), Kahneman and Thaler (2006), Stutzer et al. (2004), Frey and Stutzer (2002), Kahneman (2000), Frey and Stutzer (2000), Kahneman et al. (1997), Ng (1997), Kahneman and Thaler (1991), Scitovsky (1976).

4    Burger et al. (2020) also uses faulty Gallup data as elaborated in Okulicz-Kozaryn and Valente (2021)–in general, one should avoid Gallup happiness data–Gallup charges $30,000 for access (per one year), clearly “happiness industry,” not happiness research (Davies 2015).

Twitter use is related to decreased well-being, increased polarization, and increased sense of belonging with effect sizes with practical significance

de Mello, Victoria O., Felix Cheung, and Michael Inzlicht. 2022. “Twitter Use in the Everyday Life: Exploring How Twitter Use Predicts Well-being, Polarization, and Sense of Belonging.” PsyArXiv. September 12. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Twitter has the potential to influence public decision-making, as it is the platform used by elites in journalism, entertainment, and politics. How are users affected by Twitter? How are different effects moderated by different characteristics of the user (such as personality) and the use (such as purpose of usage)?  We conducted an experience sampling study to address these questions. We found that Twitter use is related to decreased well-being, increased polarization, and increased sense of belonging with effect sizes with practical significance. All effects had considerable heterogeneity. We did not find any evidence for interaction effects with personality, age, or gender. We found that specific usage purposes are linked to different user outcomes. Finally, we found that most of the variance in the effects was mostly driven by within-subjects effects, suggesting that these effects are not caused by third variables.

Monday, September 12, 2022

There were no differences in political orientation between incels and non-incels; approx. 38pct reported a right-leaning political affiliation, 44pct a left-leaning affiliation

Levels of Well-Being Among Men Who Are Incel (Involuntarily Celibate). William Costello, Vania Rolon, Andrew G. Thomas & David Schmitt. Evolutionary Psychological Science, Sep 12 2022.

Abstract: Incels (involuntary celibates) are a subculture community of men who build their identity around their perceived inability to form sexual or romantic relationships. To address the dearth of primary data collected from incels, this study compared a sample (n = 151) of self-identified male incels with similarly aged non-incel males (n = 378) across a range of measures related to mental well-being. We also examined the role of sociosexuality and tendency for interpersonal victimhood as potential moderators of incel status and its links with mental health. Compared to non-incels, incels were found to have a greater tendency for interpersonal victimhood, higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness, and lower levels of life satisfaction. As predicted, incels also scored higher on levels of sociosexual desire, but this did not appear to moderate the relationship between incel status and mental well-being. Tendency for interpersonal victimhood only moderated the relationship between incel self-identification and loneliness, yet not in the predicted manner. These novel findings are some of the earliest data based on primary responses from self-identified incels and suggest that incels represent a newly identified “at-risk” group to target for mental health interventions, possibly informed by evolutionary psychology. Potential applications of the findings for mental health professionals as well as directions for future research are discussed.

Garett Jones: Defends that full assimilation in a generation or two is a myth, against a consensus that a nation's economic and political institutions won't be changed by immigration

The Culture Transplant: How Migrants Make the Economies They Move To a Lot Like the Ones They Left. Garett Jones. 2022.


Over the last two decades, as economists began using big datasets and modern computing power to reveal the sources of national prosperity, their statistical results kept pointing toward the power of culture to drive the wealth of nations. In The Culture Transplant, Garett Jones documents the cultural foundations of cross-country income differences, showing that immigrants import cultural attitudes from their homelands―toward saving, toward trust, and toward the role of government―that persist for decades, and likely for centuries, in their new national homes. Full assimilation in a generation or two, Jones reports, is a myth. And the cultural traits migrants bring to their new homes have enduring effects upon a nation's economic potential.

Built upon mainstream, well-reviewed academic research that hasn't pierced the public consciousness, this book offers a compelling refutation of an unspoken consensus that a nation's economic and political institutions won't be changed by immigration. Jones refutes the common view that we can discuss migration policy without considering whether migration can, over a few generations, substantially transform the economic and political institutions of a nation. And since most of the world's technological innovations come from just a handful of nations, Jones concludes, the entire world has a stake in whether migration policy will help or hurt the quality of government and thus the quality of scientific breakthroughs in those rare innovation powerhouses.

Rolf Degen summarizing... Neuroscience's cherished idea that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is crucially involved in the exertion of self-control flunks the replication test

Can we have a second helping? A preregistered direct replication study on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying self-control. Christin Scholz, Hang-Yee Chan, Russell A. Poldrack, Denise T. D. de Ridder, Ale Smidts, Laura Nynke van der Laan. Human Brain Mapping, September 9 2022.

Abstract: Self-control is of vital importance for human wellbeing. Hare et al. (2009) were among the first to provide empirical evidence on the neural correlates of self-control. This seminal study profoundly impacted theory and empirical work across multiple fields. To solidify the empirical evidence supporting self-control theory, we conducted a preregistered replication of this work. Further, we tested the robustness of the findings across analytic strategies. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while rating 50 food items on healthiness and tastiness and making choices about food consumption. We closely replicated the original analysis pipeline and supplemented it with additional exploratory analyses to follow-up on unexpected findings and to test the sensitivity of results to key analytical choices. Our replication data provide support for the notion that decisions are associated with a value signal in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which integrates relevant choice attributes to inform a final decision. We found that vmPFC activity was correlated with goal values regardless of the amount of self-control and it correlated with both taste and health in self-controllers but only taste in non-self-controllers. We did not find strong support for the hypothesized role of left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in self-control. The absence of statistically significant group differences in dlPFC activity during successful self-control in our sample contrasts with the notion that dlPFC involvement is required in order to effectively integrate longer-term goals into subjective value judgments. Exploratory analyses highlight the sensitivity of results (in terms of effect size) to the analytical strategy, for instance, concerning the approach to region-of-interest analysis.


Hare et al. (2009) were among the first to provide empirical evidence on the neural correlates of self-control. Since then, this seminal study has had profound impact on theory and empirical work across multiple fields, but it has never been directly replicated. We performed a preregistered, direct replication of this experiment with two goals: (1) to further strengthen the evidence base for self-control theory and research, and (2) to test the robustness of the original results across analytical choices. The results of the four key hypothesis tests are summarized in Table 2.

TABLE 2. Hypothesis test overview
Hypothesis (quoted from Hare et al., 2009, p. 646)Replication findings
  1. [Activity] in vmPFC should be correlated with participants' goal values regardless of whether or not they exercise self-control
  1. [A]ctivity in the vmPFC should reflect the health ratings in the SC group but not in the NSC group.
Supported, with reservations
  1. [T]he dlPFC should be more active during successful than failed self-control trials.
Not supported
  1. dlPFC and vmPFC should exhibit functional connectivity during self-control trials.
Mixed evidence
  • Abbreviations: dlPFC, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; NSC, non-self-controllers; SC, self-controllers; vmPFC, ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Our data provide further support for the now widely accepted notion that decisions are associated with a value signal in vmPFC, which integrates relevant choice attributes to inform a final decision (Hypotheses 1 and 2; Table 2). Specifically, like Hare et al. (2009), we found positive correlations between participants' goal values (choices for food items) and activity within vmPFC, regardless of whether participants exercised self-control. We were also able to replicate findings which were reported in the original study in support of the idea that vmPFC prioritizes choice attributes that are consistent with each individual's subjective values. Specifically, as in the original study, activity in vmPFC was associated with the perceived healthiness of food items in participants who were relatively more successful at exercising self-control in the experimental task but not in participants who were relatively less successful. However, we did not find evidence of significant differences between the two groups. Overall, these results are in line with a broader set of literature in neuroeconomics, which has described the role of vmPFC in valuation across diverse types of stimuli (e.g., money, consumer goods, etc., for a review see (Bartra et al., 2013)). The present study is the first to provide a direct replication of this effect in the context of food-related decision-making. Thus, this replication study increases the confidence in choice models of self-control which describe self-control as a value-based choice (Berkman et al., 2017).

In addition to the replication of the originally reported analyses, we added several analysis branches to further test the robustness of these results. First, in a follow-up analysis to the whole-brain search for brain regions associated with goal value (Figure 4), Hare et al. (2009) highlight the fact that individual scale points (−2 –2) of goal value are neatly distinguished in a step-wise pattern in their vmPFC ROI, suggesting that the ROI can be used to precisely distinguish and predict choices. However, the original analysis approach was optimized to demonstrate this effect and requires individual-level choice data to identify individual peak-voxels within a larger vmPFC ROI. In addition, this analysis supports the limited conclusion that, on average, most study participants show this step-wise encoding of goal value in at least one voxel within a larger vmPFC area. We added an alternative analysis approach by averaging signal extracted from all voxels within the vmPFC ROI in which activity was associated with goal value in our replication sample. We show that the step-wise encoding of choice behavior is largely preserved in this more general analysis, but that the effect size is substantially smaller. Similarly, when examining relationships between health and taste ratings and average signal within vmPFC, we do not find significant encoding of health ratings in the SC group despite the relatively large size of this replication sample. In other words, future studies that are interested in reusing these vmPFC ROIs as indicators of goal value without the luxury of an individual-level localizer task that allows them to identify individual peak voxels per person likely require a much larger sample to be appropriately powered than implied by the original publication.

Further, next to vmPFC and in contrast to the original study, we identified positive associations between goal value and activity in clusters within the striatum at a relatively lenient statistical threshold (p < .001, uncorrected) used in the original study. This discovery is likely a function of the increased power in the larger replication sample and largely in line with the neuroeconomics literature on subjective valuation which regularly identifies clusters in both vmPFC and striatum (Bartra et al., 2013). Following up on this finding, we found some evidence of differentiation between individual levels of goal value, even within our caudate ROI when applying the optimized analysis procedure reported in the original study. This adds to the findings in prior work suggesting that vmPFC is not the exclusive locus of goal value representation in the human brain.

We did not find strong evidence in support of the second set of hypotheses (Hypotheses 3 and 4, Table 2) proposed by Hare et al. (2009), which highlight the role of left dlPFC in self-control. First, we examined average activity levels in left dlPFC. Even though there were clear (and replicated) behavioral differences between participants who were relatively more and those who were relatively less successful at exercising self-control in the scanner task, we did not find hypothesized, statistically significant group differences in dlPFC activity during successful self-control trials in a whole-brain analysis. Instead, we observed relative deactivation across multiple brain regions in NSC relative to SC, including, but not limited to, areas that are involved in processing of subjective values such as vmPFC. One possible alternative hypothesis supported by our data thus is that SC do not rely on more intensive executive processing indicated by higher dlPFC activity to downregulate subjective value in self-control situations, they simply perceive less intensive subjective value for “tempting” food items to begin with. Another alternative explanation is that this null finding is due to power limitations in our data, given that only 15 participants (compared to 19 in the original sample) qualified as SC. In other words, there is a possibility that positive activations in dlPFC during self-control are simply more subtle than the resulting deactivation in value-related areas. Although we cannot conclusively disentangle these contradictory ideas, note that we exclusively found negative (although nonsignificant) coefficients within dlPFC in this sample.

Next, we followed procedures reported by Hare et al. (2009) to examine the role of dlPFC in self-control in terms of its functional connectivity with brain activity in vmPFC. Since we were unable to identify a functionally defined dlPFC cluster in which average activity was involved in self-control in the replication sample, we relied on a meta-analytically defined map from (Yarkoni et al., 2011) associated with the term “self-control” and intersected it with an anatomical, left dlPFC mask. Our analyses which fully replicated the original work by focusing exclusively on processes in participants who were relatively more successful SC during the scanner task did not replicate the original findings which suggested a negative indirect relationship between dlPFC and vmPFC activity through IFG/BA46 during self-control. We followed up on this null-result by rerunning the PPI on the full sample of participants who exercised any self-control in the scanner task (N = 59) to address concerns about statistical power. This path was chosen given the absence of strong theoretical arguments that the mechanisms that drive successful self-control differ qualitatively (rather than just in intensity) between people who are successful more often and those who are successful relatively less often. Indeed, in this larger sample, we do find some evidence of replication. Stronger still, we found evidence of direct, negative correlations between activity within our meta-analytic left dlPFC seed and an area within vmPFC, which was hypothesized, but not found by Hare et al. (2009). It is important to note, however, that we simultaneously found evidence for unexpected positive associations between activity in the left dlPFC ROI and another, more dorsal MPFC cluster. Of note here is that the whole-brain table for this analysis in the original publication revealed a similar positive association with an MPFC cluster in almost the exact same location (see Figure 11). While there was (minimal) overlap between the unexpected MPFC cluster that showed positive functional connectivity with left dlPFC and the vmPFC ROI that was associated with goal value in our sample, we did not find such overlap between the vmPFC cluster that showed the hypothesized negative association with dlPFC. In other words, the first PPI, at best, provides mixed evidence regarding the nature of the relationship between dlPFC and vmPFC activity during self-control. Hare et al. (2009) proceeded to follow-up on the lack of a negative direct association between dlPFC and vmPFC in their first PPI by identifying a cluster in BA46 that was negatively associated with dlPFC as the seed region for a second PPI. Following this analysis approach, we were able to replicate the original findings, identifying a cluster in vmPFC that was positively associated the BA46 seed identified in PP1 based on the full replication sample (N=59) and thus indirectly negatively associated with the meta-analytic dlPFC ROI. In sum, our replication data provides mixed evidence with regards to Hypothesis 4 regarding a negative relationship between dlPFC and dlPFC activity during self-control.

These mixed results highlight the need for additional work to fully understand the role of the dlPFC in food-related decision-making and in theories of self-control more generally. Overall, our findings are most in line with a conceptualization of self-control as a simple form of value-based decision-making in which different choice attributes (here health and taste considerations) are encoded and integrated in vmPFC according to subjective values of the decision-maker (Berkman et al., 2017). This contrasts with the model that the findings of Hare gave rise to, wherein longer-term goals (here health considerations) required dlPFC involvement in order to be effectively integrated into subjective value judgments (Hare et al., 2009).

A frequently voiced explanation for failed replications is that the (cultural) context differed between the original and replication study (Zwaan et al., 2018). In our case, the original study was performed in the United States before 2009 and the replication in the Netherlands, approximately 10 years later. Thus far, we are not aware of any strong theoretical or empirical claims that the brains or fundamental psychological processes surrounding self-control of US subjects are different from those of Dutch study participants or that the basic neural processes of valuation and self-control have changed over the past decade. However, what could differ between US and Dutch individuals and what could have changed over the past decade is the role of food and dieting in society, and more specifically, to what extent food choices can generate a self-control conflict and how people cope with that. This may—in theory—influence the way in which people respond to the task and stimuli. Naturally, for a self-control dilemma to occur one should have the goal to diet or eat healthy. It could be argued that stronger goal commitment may strengthen attempts of overruling impulses and therefore amplify control-related responses. Observational studies showed that the prevalence of dieting is higher in Europe than in the United States (Santos et al., 2017) and a large proportion of the Dutch population self-reports to diet or actively restrain their food intake (de Ridder et al., 2014). This would speak against this being an explanation for the null finding. It should however be noted that self-reports of dieting and dietary restraint have been shown to be unrelated or weakly related to actual intake (de Ridder et al., 2014; Stice et al., 2004) which casts doubt on this measure being a reliable proxy of goal strength. We cannot rule out but we also cannot support that goal commitment was stronger for the successful SC in the original study compared to the current replication study.

Another important conclusion from this project is that analytical flexibility can influence fMRI results. Specifically, for H1 and H2 we presented two sets of results produced using two different analysis strategies. While the overall patterns of results remained similar, increasing confidence in the directionality of effects, effect sizes differed significantly. This has important implications for follow-up research which may rely on existing work for power calculations. Previous work has shown that not only analytical flexibility but also different preprocessing approaches to the fMRI data (e.g., different software packages and varying parameters) may affect task-based fMRI results (Bowring et al., 2022; Mikl et al., 2008; Triana et al., 2020). In this replication study we employed a state-of-the-art, standardized, and optimized preprocessing pipeline provided by fMRIprep, which was not available to the authors of the original study (Esteban, Markiewicz, et al., 2018). As much as possible, we chose parameters similar to those used in the original study (e.g., the same smoothing kernel). Though submitting the data through different preprocessing pipelines was outside of the scope of the current study, we acknowledge that doing so could potentially further inform the field about the (in)variability of individual results to specific choices made by the researchers. Unpreprocessed data for this project is available on OpenNeuro and would support such an investigation for those interested.

4.1 Impact on theory

Our findings are relevant for future theorizing on self-control. Specifically, this replication data set supports the conceptualization of self-control as either a very simple form of value-based decision-making (Berkman et al., 2017) or as automatic “effortless” self-control (Gillebaart & de Ridder, 2015) rather than a dual-system which involves conscious effortful control.

In psychology, self-control has traditionally been explained with dual-system theories (e.g., Hofmann et al., 2008; Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999). These theories are characterized by the notion of two (competing) systems for processing information, namely a “hot”/automatic/impulsive system and a “cold”/rational/reflective system. According to these dual-system models, self-control is successful when the impulses arising from the “hot” system are overcome and, consequently, behavior is in line with long-term goals. In this traditional approach, the dilemma first must be identified and, subsequently, effortful and conscious inhibition is required to overcome it (Fujita, 2011). A neurobiological parallel to these dual-system models has been proposed in which self-control involves a balance between brain regions representing the reward, salience and emotional value of a stimulus and prefrontal regions associated with (effortful) inhibition and cognitive control (Heatherton & Wagner, 2011). In this traditional perspective, effortful and conscious impulse inhibition is a necessary or defining feature of (successful) self-control.

A major criticism of this traditional perspective is that successful self-control does not always require effortful inhibition or conscious control. It has been proposed that there are many different routes to self-control, only some of which involve effortful inhibition (Fujita, 2011). Research has indicated that people can automate goal-striving behaviors in response to contextual cues (Bargh et al., 2001; Chartrand & Bargh, 1996). For instance, providing cues related to the long-term goal (e.g., dieting cues) promotes goal-congruent choices through goal priming (Fishbach et al., 2003; Papies, 2016; Van der Laan et al., 2017), which is thought to occur without requiring conscious deliberation or effort. Further, by systematically repeating (healthy) behaviors (healthy) habits can be created. It has been shown that successful SC do not necessarily exert more effort; they perform healthy behaviors automatical because of healthy habits (Galla & Duckworth, 2015; Gillebaart, 2018).

This has led to alternative conceptualizations of self-control which do not include or at least attenuate the role of effortful inhibition. As mentioned, recently, successful self-control has been conceptualized as being at least partly an automatic process in which responses to environmental cues that are routinized (or automatically triggered) in the direction that is in line with their long-term goals (Fujita, 2011; Gillebaart, 2018). A second theory, which recently has gained more traction, is to consider self-control as a simple value-based choice (Berkman et al., 2017). Value-based decision-making involves choosing an option from a set based on its relative subjective value. This process involves calculating a value for each option by evaluating various attributes—gains (e.g., improved health) and costs (e.g., less food enjoyment), assigning weights to these attributes, and enacting the most valued option. It should be noted that this is a dynamic process. That is, the weight of each attribute is sensitive to attentional shifts (e.g., being explicitly guided toward certain attributes like health), contextual effects and framing of the choice set. Within this conceptualization of self-control, there is nothing special about long-term goals: attributes related to short- and long-term goals treated similar in this equation though the relative weights may be different based on the aforementioned factors. This discussion in psychology intersects with the ongoing debate in decision neuroscience and temporal discounting where Kable and Glimcher (2007) suggested there is one common valuation in vmPFC while McClure et al. (2004) suggested that separate neural systems encode value for immediate versus longer-term attributes.

The study of Hare conceptualizes self-control as a value-based decision (H1, H2) but in line with traditional dual-system models it still posi that there are dual motives and that the future part is “special”: integrating longer-term considerations into the value system, that is, changing the weight of long-term attributes, requires involvement from control-related areas (i.e., the dlPFC; H3, H4). Their hypothesis about the role of the dlPFC had its basis in the role of dlPFC in cognitive control and emotion regulation. The authors speculated that vmPFC originally evolved to predict the short-term value of stimuli and that humans developed the ability to incorporate long-term considerations into values by giving structures such as the dlPFC the ability to modulate this value.

Our mixed findings regarding dlPFC involvement highlight the need for more research to understand the role of dlPFC in assigning weight to these longer-term consequences. The replication results rather point to the conceptualization of self-control as either automatic and “effortless” or as a (simple) form of value-based decision-making. At a minimum, our results support the idea that that it is not the dlPFC that is responsible for increasing the weight of the longer-term attributes into the choice. In support of the latter: when comparing successful to unsuccessful trials that required self-control in all participants, we observed a deactivation of vmPFC, which suggests that successful self-control in this sample may be driven by a weaker subjective value for a given food item rather than by more intensive control driven by dlPFC. The finding, that in successful SC, vmPFC reflects health ratings, even though dlPFC is not active, suggests that dlPFC activation is not needed to incorporate health into the vmPFC value signal. Thus indeed, in line with the proposition of self-control as a simple form of value-based decision-making (Berkman et al., 2017), decisions may just be the result of multiple single value-calculations.