Bad for Them

Kevin Lewis

May 14, 2024

Perceived Power Polarizes Moral Evaluations
Russell Roberts & Alex Koch
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

We show an interactive effect of perceiver-target similarity in ideological beliefs and target power on impressions of target morality. Consistent with prior research, perceivers rated targets with dissimilar ideologies as less moral than targets with similar ideologies, but this difference in ratings was magnified for powerful targets relative to less powerful targets. We argue that these results emerged because perceivers expected similar-ideology, powerful (vs. powerless) targets to help the self more, and expected dissimilar-ideology, powerful (vs. powerless) targets to hurt the self more. We establish this effect when people evaluate politicians (Study 1), groups, and individuals (Studies 2a-2b); demonstrate its predictive power over other kinds of interpersonal similarity; and show that it affects morality judgments uniquely when compared with other consequential dimensions of social evaluation. Finally, we manipulated power experimentally and showed the interaction when the difference between high- and low-power manipulations was controlled over just $1 (Studies 3-4).

People Endorse Harsher Policies in Principle Than in Practice: Asymmetric Beliefs About Which Errors to Prevent Versus Fix
Eitan Rude & Franklin Shaddy
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Countless policies are crafted with the intention of punishing all who do wrong or rewarding only those who do right. However, this requires accommodating certain mistakes: some who do not deserve to be punished might be, and some who deserve to be rewarded might not be. Six preregistered experiments (N = 3,484 U.S. adults) reveal that people are more willing to accept this trade-off in principle, before errors occur, than in practice, after errors occur. The result is an asymmetry such that for punishments, people believe it is more important to prevent false negatives (e.g., criminals escaping justice) than to fix them, and more important to fix false positives (e.g., wrongful convictions) than to prevent them. For rewards, people believe it is more important to prevent false positives (e.g., welfare fraud) than to fix them and more important to fix false negatives (e.g., improperly denied benefits) than to prevent them.

An experimental test of whether financial incentives constitute undue inducement in decision-making
Sandro Ambuehl
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

Around the world, laws limit the incentives that can be paid for transactions such as human research participation, egg donation or gestational surrogacy. A key reason is concerns about ‘undue inducement’ -- the influential but empirically untested hypothesis that incentives can cause harm by distorting individual decision-making. Here I present two experiments (n = 671 and n = 406), including one based on a highly visceral transaction (eating insects). Incentives caused biased information search -- participants offered a higher incentive to comply more often sought encouragement to do so. However, I demonstrate theoretically that such behaviour does not prove that incentives have harmful effects; it is consistent with Bayesian rationality. Empirically, although a substantial minority of participants made bad decisions, incentives did not magnify them in a way that would suggest allowing a transaction but capping incentives. Under the conditions of this experiment, there was no evidence that higher incentives could undermine welfare for transactions that are permissible at low incentives.

Target Happiness Attenuates Perceivers’ Moral Condemnation of Prejudiced People
Hope Rose et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Five experiments (combined N = 4,915) tested the prediction that the moral boost of happiness would persist for social targets with moral failings. In Studies 1 and 2, White and Black participants, respectively, judged happy (versus unhappy) racist targets more morally good. In Study 3, happy (versus unhappy) racist targets were judged more morally good and less (more) likely to engage in racist (good) behavior. Behavioral expectations explained the link between happiness and moral evaluations. Study 4 replicated Studies 1 to 3 in the context of sexism. In Study 5, happy (versus unhappy) targets who engaged in racially biased behavior were evaluated as more morally good, and this effect was explained by behavioral forecasts. Happiness boosts attributions of moral goodness for prejudiced people and does so via expectations for future behavior. Future directions are discussed.

Most people do not “value the struggle”: Tempted agents are judged as less virtuous than those who were never tempted
Ryan McManus et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2024

Do people judge those who overcome temptation as more virtuous than those who don't feel tempted in the first place? Because prior research provides conflicting answers to this question, the current paper uses an expanded set of methodological and statistical tools to solve this puzzle. First, we replicated results of prior research showing that agents who overcome temptation are seen as less virtuous than non-tempted agents, with 74–78% of people making this judgment. Second, we used participant-generated stimuli and one measure from each of two published papers to rule out stimulus and measurement sampling as explanations for the previous opposite effects. We replicated our original results: 72–75% of people judged agents who overcame temptation as less virtuous than non-tempted agents. Third, we investigated whether judgments were moderated by relationship context. Again, the majority of people judged agents who overcame temptation–that would harm strangers or close others–as less virtuous than non-tempted agents. Additionally, the following interaction effect was the most common (modal) pattern: While judging tempted agents as less virtuous than non-tempted agents within each relationship context, 39% of people judged agents who were tempted to act in a way that would harm close others as even less virtuous than those agents whose temptations would harm strangers. Together, these results provide a detailed moral psychological account of temptation by: resolving a puzzle in the literature, revealing moderation by relationship context, and documenting the pervasiveness of this effect across stimuli, measures, and persons.

“Fighting demons”: Stigma and shifting norms in explicit mention of overdose in obituaries, 2010–2019
Meghann Lucy
Social Science & Medicine, June 2024

Obituaries are often the only published record of an individual's life and elicit community reactions, including stigmatization. Because obituaries are typically written by the bereaved, their content reflects the writer's perceptions of mores governing the social context of the next-of-kin and decedent. When a cause of death is stigmatized, it can influence the way the bereaved write the obituary. However, what constitutes a stigmatized cause of death may change as larger societal discourses of morality shift and conditions or events become framed differently. Using a sample of obituaries (N = 210) from obituary aggregator of “off-time,” or premature, deaths in West Virginia from 2010, 2015, 2017, and 2019, this article explores whether the presentation of overdose deaths in obituaries changes alongside the shift in the public framing of the opioid crisis as medical rather than criminal. I find obituaries including terms associated with drug use and overdose become both more common and explicit over the course of the study period. This suggests that the shift in public framing of the opioid crisis from criminalization to medicalization corresponds with a decrease in drug stigmatization in obituaries. Obituary analysis can be a useful means of exploring the stigmatization of other controversial causes of death, such as suicide, cirrhosis, and lung cancer.

Motives matter more with age: Adult age differences in response to sociomoral violations
Alyssa Minton et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Moral judgments and emotional reactions to sociomoral violations are heavily impacted by a perpetrator’s intentions and desires, which pose a threat to social harmony. Given that older adults are more motivated to maintain interpersonal harmony relative to younger adults, older adults may be more reactive to malicious desires. In three studies, we investigated adult age differences in moral judgments and emotional reactions to sociomoral violations. In all studies, participants read scenarios in which a perpetrator either (a) desired to harm another but nothing happened, or (b) harmed another accidentally without malicious desire. Study 2 incorporated additional scenarios designed to evoke anger and disgust without explicitly implicating another person to evaluate whether age differences emerge only when sociomoral violations against another are salient. In Study 3, we examined the combined effects of malicious desires and harmful outcomes by including scenarios in which (a) harmful desires were coupled with harmful outcomes, and (b) benign desires were coupled with benign outcomes. Predominantly across the studies, older adults judged perpetrators who desired to harm another more harshly but judged perpetrators who accidentally harmed another more leniently than younger adults. Emotional reactions generally corresponded with the differences in judgments. Taken together, this work suggests that desires more strongly impact older relative to younger adults’ judgments and emotional reactions in sociomoral contexts.

Caring for present and future generations alike: Longtermism and moral regard across temporal and social distance
Stylianos Syropoulos, Kyle Fiore Law & Liane Young
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, forthcoming

In a comprehensive investigation involving a reanalysis of an existing study and five new preregistered studies (N = 4,032), we investigate whether empirically identified longtermists, determined by their Longtermism Beliefs Scale (LBS) scores, exhibit heightened moral regard for present and future generations across social distances. Longtermists consistently value future generations, present generations, outgroups, and nature more than the general population does, as measured by the Moral Expansiveness Scale (MES). They also exhibit reduced dehumanization tendencies towards outgroups and future people, alongside greater identification with their community, compatriots, and all humans. Various factors explain the link between longtermism beliefs and moral regard, with moral obligation and identification with all of humanity potentially mediating it. Notably, the LBS maintains its significant impact on moral regard even when considering other future-oriented factors, highlighting its unique predictive power. These findings offer valuable insights into longtermist ethics, bridging theory and practical implications for safeguarding present and future generations amidst existential threats.

Don’t be a rat: An investigation of the taboo against reporting other students for cheating
Tal Waltzer et al.
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, June 2024

This research examines barriers to reporting academic dishonesty in early adulthood (Study 1; N = 92) and adolescence (Study 2; N = 137). Participants were asked to describe a recent time they observed a peer cheating and to reflect on their decision about whether to report the cheating. They also responded to hypothetical scenarios about observing typical cheating actions, and the presence of social motives (e.g., whether people who report tend to gain reputations for being snitches) was manipulated in each scenario. Even though participants judged reporting to be the morally right thing to do, doing so was rare and approval for it was low, especially in adolescence. Participants also tended to say they would rather be friends with people who do not report cheaters than with those who do. Participants reasoned about a variety of social concerns to support their judgments about reporting (e.g., concern about their relationship with the cheater, concerns for others’ welfare), and the manipulated social motives in the hypothetical scenarios significantly influenced judgments about reporting. These findings inform our understanding of the social dynamics that contribute to decisions about policing academic honesty.

The unsettled effect of physical height on political preferences
Barry Burden, Pamela Herd & Donald Moynihan
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming

We revisit Arunachalam and Watson's contention that a person's physical height may be used as instrument for income because it affects economic well-being solely by causing more conservative political preferences among people who are taller. To evaluate whether other early-life and genetic factors might serve as mechanisms connecting height and political preferences, we analyze a unique data source that includes political, economic, and demographic data on same-gender siblings. Models that include fixed effects for siblings provide a strong test of the Arunachalam and Watson thesis. We find that height is not a consistent predictor of political preferences once shared sibling characteristics are controlled in this way, raising doubt about whether height can in fact be used as an instrument for income.


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