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Kevin Lewis

October 10, 2017

Facing Humanness: Facial Width-to-Height Ratio Predicts Ascriptions of Humanity
Jason Deska, Paige Lloyd & Kurt Hugenberg
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


The ascription of mind to others is central to social cognition. Most research on the ascription of mind has focused on motivated, top-down processes. The current work provides novel evidence that facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR) serves as a bottom-up perceptual signal of humanness. Using a range of well-validated operational definitions of humanness, we provide evidence across 5 studies that target faces with relatively greater fWHR are seen as less than fully human compared with their relatively lower fWHR counterparts. We then present 2 ancillary studies exploring whether the fWHR-to-humanness link is mediated by previously established fWHR-trait links in the literature. Finally, 3 additional studies extend this fWHR-humanness link beyond measurements of humanness, demonstrating that the fWHR-humanness link has consequences for downstream social judgments including the sorts of crimes people are perceived to be guilty of and the social tasks for which they seem helpful. In short, we provide evidence for the hypothesis that individuals with relatively greater facial width-to-height ratio are routinely denied sophisticated, humanlike minds.

Reasons Probably Won’t Change Your Mind: The Role of Reasons in Revising Moral Decisions
Matthew Stanley et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming


Although many philosophers argue that making and revising moral decisions ought to be a matter of deliberating over reasons, the extent to which the consideration of reasons informs people’s moral decisions and prompts them to change their decisions remains unclear. Here, after making an initial decision in 2-option moral dilemmas, participants examined reasons for only the option initially chosen (affirming reasons), reasons for only the option not initially chosen (opposing reasons), or reasons for both options. Although participants were more likely to change their initial decisions when presented with only opposing reasons compared with only affirming reasons, these effect sizes were consistently small. After evaluating reasons, participants were significantly more likely not to change their initial decisions than to change them, regardless of the set of reasons they considered. The initial decision accounted for most of the variance in predicting the final decision, whereas the reasons evaluated accounted for a relatively small proportion of the variance in predicting the final decision. This resistance to changing moral decisions is at least partly attributable to a biased, motivated evaluation of the available reasons: participants rated the reasons supporting their initial decisions more favorably than the reasons opposing their initial decisions, regardless of the reported strategy used to make the initial decision. Overall, our results suggest that the consideration of reasons rarely induces people to change their initial decisions in moral dilemmas.

In a moral dilemma, choose the one you love: Impartial actors are seen as less moral than partial ones
Jamie Hughes
British Journal of Social Psychology, September 2017, Pages 561–577


Although impartiality and concern for the greater good are lauded by utilitarian philosophies, it was predicted that when values conflict, those who acted impartially rather than partially would be viewed as less moral. Across four studies, using life-or-death scenarios and more mundane ones, support for the idea that relationship obligations are important in moral attribution was found. In Studies 1–3, participants rated an impartial actor as less morally good and his or her action as less moral compared to a partial actor. Experimental and correlational evidence showed the effect was driven by inferences about an actor's capacity for empathy and compassion. In Study 4, the relationship obligation hypothesis was refined. The data suggested that violations of relationship obligations are perceived as moral as long as strong alternative justifications sanction them. Discussion centres on the importance of relationships in understanding moral attributions.

Belief in free will affects causal attributions when judging others’ behavior
Oliver Genschow, Davide Rigoni & Marcel Brass
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 19 September 2017, Pages 10071–10076


Free will is a cornerstone of our society, and psychological research demonstrates that questioning its existence impacts social behavior. In six studies, we tested whether believing in free will is related to the correspondence bias, which reflects people’s automatic tendency to overestimate the influence of internal as compared to external factors when interpreting others’ behavior. All studies demonstrate a positive relationship between the strength of the belief in free will and the correspondence bias. Moreover, in two experimental studies, we showed that weakening participants’ belief in free will leads to a reduction of the correspondence bias. Finally, the last study demonstrates that believing in free will predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior, and that this relation is mediated by the correspondence bias. Overall, these studies show that believing in free will impacts fundamental social-cognitive processes that are involved in the understanding of others’ behavior.

On Disease and Deontology: Multiple Tests of the Influence of Disease Threat on Moral Vigilance
Damian Murray, Nicholas Kerry & Will Gervais
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Threat has been linked to certain facets of moral cognition, but the specific implications of disease threat for moral judgment remain poorly understood. Across three studies, we investigated the role of perceived disease threat in shaping moral judgment and hypothesized that perceived disease threat would cause people to be more sensitive to moral violations (or more “morally vigilant”). All three studies found a positive relationship between dispositional worry about disease transmission and moral vigilance. Additional analyses suggested that this worry was more strongly related to vigilance toward binding moral foundations. Study 3 demonstrated that moral vigilance was higher in individuals for whom the threat of disease was experimentally made salient, relative to individuals in both a neutral and a nondisease threat condition. Taken together, these results suggest that perceived disease threat may influence people’s moral vigilance across moral domains.

Disgust and Deontology: Trait Sensitivity to Contamination Promotes a Preference for Order, Hierarchy, and Rule-Based Moral Judgment
Jeffrey Robinson, Xiaowen Xu & Jason Plaks
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Models of moral judgment have linked generalized emotionality with deontological moral judgment. The evidence, however, is mixed. Other research has linked the specific emotion of disgust with generalized moral condemnation. Here too, the evidence is mixed. We suggest that a synthesis of these two literatures points to one specific emotion (disgust) that reliably predicts one specific type of moral judgment (deontological). In all three studies, we found that trait disgust sensitivity predicted more extreme deontological judgment. In Study 3, with deontological endorsement and consequentialist endorsement operationalized as independent constructs, we found that disgust was positively associated with deontological endorsement but was unrelated to consequentialist endorsement. Across studies, the disgust–deontology link was mediated by individual difference variables related to preference for order (right-wing authoritarianism and intolerance for ambiguity). These data suggest a more precise model of emotion and moral judgment that identifies specific emotions, specific types of moral judgment, and specific motivational pathways.

Sex differences in empathy for pain: What is the role of autonomic regulation?
Lincoln Tracy & Melita Giummarra
Psychophysiology, October 2017, Pages 1549–1558


Empathy involves both affective and cognitive components whereby we understand, and express concerns for, the experiences of others. Women typically have superior trait empathy compared with men, which seems to have a neurological basis with sex differences in the structure and function of neural networks involved in empathy. This study investigated sex differences in empathy for pain using the Empathy for Pain Scale, and examined whether these trait differences were associated with disruptions in autonomic regulation, specifically via the parasympathetic nervous system (measured through the square root of the mean squared differences of successive R-R intervals; RMSSD) both at rest and during a socioevaluative stress task (i.e., the serial sevens task). Compared with men, women reported higher empathic concern (Cohen's r = .25) and affective distress (Cohen's d = 0.65) toward another in pain. In both men and women, there was a decrease in lnRMSSD in the stress task compared to rest. Sex moderated the relationship between resting lnRMSSD and self-reported empathic concern. Specifically, there was no clear association between empathic concern and lnRMSSD in men whereas in women there was a negative relationship, with lower resting lnRMSSD associated with higher empathic concern, and higher lnRMSSD associated with lower levels of empathic concern that were similar to men. These findings suggest that empathic feelings may result from poorer psychophysiological regulation, and concur with previous research displaying sex-specific relationships between resting heart rate variability and emotion regulation abilities.

The Wisdom in Virtue: Pursuit of Virtue Predicts Wise Reasoning About Personal Conflicts
Alex Huynh et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Most people can reason relatively wisely about others’ social conflicts, but often struggle to do so about their own (i.e., Solomon’s paradox). We suggest that true wisdom should involve the ability to reason wisely about both others’ and one’s own social conflicts, and we investigated the pursuit of virtue as a construct that predicts this broader capacity for wisdom. Results across two studies support prior findings regarding Solomon’s paradox: Participants (N = 623) more strongly endorsed wise-reasoning strategies (e.g., intellectual humility, adopting an outsider’s perspective) for resolving other people’s social conflicts than for resolving their own. The pursuit of virtue (e.g., pursuing personal ideals and contributing to other people) moderated this effect of conflict type. In both studies, greater endorsement of the pursuit of virtue was associated with greater endorsement of wise-reasoning strategies for one’s own personal conflicts; as a result, participants who highly endorsed the pursuit of virtue endorsed wise-reasoning strategies at similar levels for resolving their own social conflicts and resolving other people’s social conflicts. Implications of these results and underlying mechanisms are explored and discussed.

Retribution as hierarchy regulation: Hierarchy preferences moderate the effect of offender socioeconomic status on support for retribution
Liz Redford & Kate Ratliff
British Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


People punish others for various reasons, including deterring future crime, incapacitating the offender, and retribution, or payback. The current research focuses on retribution, testing whether support for retribution is motivated by the desire to maintain social hierarchies. If so, then the retributive tendencies of hierarchy enhancers or hierarchy attenuators should depend on whether offenders are relatively lower or higher in status, respectively. Three studies showed that hierarchy attenuators were more retributive against high-status offenders than for low-status offenders, that hierarchy enhancers showed a stronger orientation towards retributive justice, and that relationship was stronger for low-status, rather than high-status, criminal offenders. These findings clarify the purpose and function of retributive punishment. They also reveal how hierarchy-regulating motives underlie retribution, motives which, if allowed to influence judgements, may contribute to biased or ineffective justice systems.

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