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Kevin Lewis

January 11, 2018

Targets' facial width-to-height ratio biases pain judgments
Jason Deska & Kurt Hugenberg
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, January 2018, Pages 56-64


The accurate perception of others' pain is important for both perceivers and targets. Yet, like other person perception judgments, pain judgments are prone to biases. Although past work has begun detailing characteristics of targets that can bias pain judgments (e.g., race, gender), the current work examines a novel source of bias inherent to all targets: structural characteristics of the human face. Specifically, we present four studies demonstrating that facial width-to-height ratio, a stable feature of all faces, biases pain judgments. Compared to those with low facial width-to-height ratio, individuals with high facial width-to-height ratio are perceived as experiencing less pain in otherwise identical situations (Studies 1, 2, & 3), and as needing less pain medication to salve their injuries (Study 4). This process was observed for White but not Black targets (Study 2), and manipulations of facial width-to-height ratio affected pain perceptions even when target identity was held constant (Study 4). Together, these findings implicate face structure in judgments of others' pain.

Gender Differences in Emotion Explain Women’s Lower Immoral Intentions and Harsher Moral Condemnation
Sarah Ward & Laura King
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Why do men view morally questionable behaviors as more permissible than women do? Five studies investigated emotional factors as explanations for gender differences in moral decision-making. In Study 1 (N = 324), gender differences in perceptions of moral wrongness were explained by guilt and shame proneness. Studies 2a and 2b (combined N = 562) demonstrated that instructions to adopt an unemotional perspective (vs. standard instructions) led women to have higher immoral intentions, no longer lower than men’s, as they were in the control group. Studies 3 and 4 (N = 834) showed that men expected immoral actions to result in higher positive and lower self-conscious moral emotions than women do. Study 4 (N = 424) showed that these emotional expectancies account for gender differences in immoral intentions. Study 5 (N = 450) showed that women — but not men — experience heightened self-conscious moral emotions and regret when recalling past transgressions done for personal gain.

Straight to Heaven: Rectitude as Spatial Representation of Morality
Maria Giuseppina Pacilli et al.
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


Abundant literature in cognitive sciences has shown that morality is grounded in bodily experience. Four studies tested the perceptual association between the spatial dimension of straightness and the abstract concept of morality. Study 1 (n = 61) employed an IAT and revealed an association between straight figures and moral related words. Study 2 (n = 83) employed a similar paradigm and further revealed that the effect we found in Study 1 cannot be attributable to the general association between straight figures and positivity. Study 3 (n = 64) revealed that participants showed a stronger preference for straight figures after recalling moral (vs. immoral) deeds. Study 4 (n = 183) showed the specific role of morality, in this sense, as recalling sociable (vs. unsociable) deeds had no significant influence on figure preferences. A small-scale meta-analysis confirmed the robustness of our findings. Results are discussed in light of the embodiment theory.

Mirror, mirror on the wall: Increasing young children’s honesty through inducing self-awareness
Jasmine Bender, Alison O'Connor & Angela Evans
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, March 2018, Pages 414-422


Previous studies have shown that in older children, promising to tell the truth increases truth-telling rates; however, in preschool-aged children, this has not been found to be effective. The current study compared promising with a novel technique of increasing children’s self-awareness (by asking children to look at themselves in a mirror). It was predicted that inducing self-awareness would encourage children’s honesty given that self-awareness increases adherence to social and moral norms. Children aged 3 or 4 years (N = 135) completed a modified temptation resistance paradigm where they were asked to not peek at a toy in the absence of an experimenter. Next, children were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: Self-Awareness, Promise, or Control. When questioned about whether they peeked at the toy, children in the Self-Awareness condition were significantly more likely to tell the truth about peeking compared with those in the Promise condition. There was no significant difference between the Promise and Control conditions.

Is pulling the lever sexy? Deontology as a downstream cue to long-term mate quality
Mitch Brown & Donald Sacco
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, forthcoming


Deontological and utilitarian moral decisions have unique communicative functions within the context of group living. Deontology more strongly communicates prosocial intentions, fostering greater perceptions of trust and desirability in general affiliative contexts. This general trustworthiness may extend to perceptions of fidelity in romantic relationships, leading to perceptions of deontological persons as better long-term mates, relative to utilitarians. In two studies, participants indicated desirability of both deontologists and utilitarians in long-term mating (LTM) and short-term mating contexts. In Study 1 (n = 102), women perceived a deontological man as more interested in long-term bonds, more desirable for LTM, and less prone to infidelity, relative to a utilitarian man. However, utilitarian men were undesirable as short-term mates. Study 2 (n = 112) had both men and women rate opposite-sex targets’ desirability after learning of their moral decisions in a trolley problem. We replicated women’s preference for deontological men as long-term mates. Interestingly, both men and women reporting personal deontological motives were particularly sensitive to deontology communicating long-term desirability and fidelity, which could be a product of the general affiliative signal from deontology. Thus, one’s moral basis for decision-making, particularly deontologically motivated moral decisions, may communicate traits valuable in LTM contexts.

Preferences for moral vs. immoral traits in others are conditional
David Melnikoff & April Bailey
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


The preference for morality in others is regarded as a dominant factor in person perception. Moral traits are thought to foster liking, and immoral traits are thought to foster disliking, irrespective of the context in which they are embedded. We report the results of four studies that oppose this view. Using both explicit and implicit measures, we found that the preference for morality vs. immorality in others is conditional on the evaluator’s current goals. Specifically, when immorality was conducive to participants’ current goals, the preference for moral vs. immoral traits in others was eliminated or reversed. The preferences for mercifulness vs. mercilessness (experiment 1), honesty vs. dishonesty (experiment 2), sexual fidelity vs. infidelity (experiment 3), and altruism vs. selfishness (experiment 4) were all found to be conditional. These findings oppose the consensus view that people have a dominant preference for moral vs. immoral traits in others. Our findings also speak to nativist and empiricist theories of social preferences and the stability of the “social contract” underlying productive human societies.

The Silver Screen and Authoritarianism: How Popular Films Activate Latent Personality Dispositions and Affect American Political Attitudes
Jeffrey Glas & Benjamin Taylor
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Do popular films activate authoritarianism? We theorize that, because of the willing suspension of disbelief, films encourage social learning, which primes viewers to respond to messages activating latent personality traits such as authoritarianism. This activation then affects citizens’ political attitudes. To test our theory, we use a 1 × 3 posttest experimental design where treatment groups watch feature-length films. As treatments, subjects watch 300 and V for Vendetta, and the control film is 21 Jump Street. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that 300 activates authoritarianism while V for Vendetta activates antiauthoritarianism. As expected, 21 Jump Street has no effect. In addition, we show that the activation of authoritarianism produces significant differences in attitudes on U.S. primacy, rights of protestors, immigration, and military service. This research demonstrates how the causal mechanism between entertainment media and latent personality activation affects political attitudes, which advances both the American political behavior and media politics literature.

That’s Not How I Remember It: Willfully Ignorant Memory for Ethical Product Attribute Information
Rebecca Walker Reczek et al.
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming


This research documents a systematic bias in memory for ethical attribute information: consumers have better memory for an ethical attribute when a product performs well on the attribute versus when a product performs poorly on the attribute. Because consumers want to avoid emotionally difficult ethical information (e.g., child labor) but believe they should remember it in order to do the right thing, the presence of negative ethical information in a choice or evaluation produces conflict between the want and should selves. Consumers resolve this conflict by letting the want self prevail and forgetting or misremembering the negative ethical information. A series of studies establishes the willfully ignorant memory effect, shows that it only holds for ethical attributes and not for other attributes, and provides process evidence that it is driven by consumers allowing the want self to prevail in order to avoid negative feelings associated with the conflict. We also ameliorate the effect by reducing the amount of pressure exerted by the should self. Lastly, we demonstrate that consumers judge forgetting negative ethical information as more morally acceptable than remembering but ignoring it, suggesting that willfully ignorant memory is a more morally acceptable form of coping with want/should conflict.

Optimality Bias in Moral Judgment
Julian De Freitas & Samuel Johnson
Harvard Working Paper, October 2017


We often make decisions with incomplete knowledge of their consequences. Might people nonetheless expect others to make optimal choices, despite this ignorance? Here, we show that people are sensitive to moral optimality: that people hold moral agents accountable depending on whether they make optimal choices, even when there is no way that the agent could know which choice was optimal. This result held up whether the outcome was positive, negative, inevitable, or unknown, and across within-subjects and between- subjects designs. Participants consistently distinguished between optimal and suboptimal choices, but not between suboptimal choices of varying quality — a signature pattern of the Efficiency Principle found in other areas of cognition. A mediation analysis revealed that the optimality effect occurs because people find suboptimal choices more difficult to explain and assign harsher blame accordingly, while moderation analyses found that the effect does not depend on tacit inferences about the agent’s knowledge or negligence. We argue that this moral optimality bias operates largely out of awareness, reflects broader tendencies in how humans understand one another’s behavior, and has real-world implications.

Reevaluating Moral Disgust: Sensitivity to Many Affective States Predicts Extremity in Many Evaluative Judgments
Justin Landy & Jared Piazza
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Disgust-sensitive individuals are particularly morally critical. Some theorists take this as evidence that disgust has a uniquely moral form: disgust contributes to moralization even of pathogen-free violations, and disgust’s contribution to moralization is unique from other emotional states. We argue that the relationship between disgust sensitivity (DS) and moral judgment is not special in two respects. First, trait sensitivity to many other affective states, beyond disgust, predicts moral evaluations. Second, DS also predicts nonnormative evaluative judgments. Four studies supported these hypotheses, using multiple measures of DS, and judgments of moral violations (Studies 1 and 4), conventional violations (Study 1), imprudent actions (Study 1), competence (Study 2), and aesthetic evaluations (Study 3). Our findings call into question the usefulness of “moral disgust” as a psychological construct by showing that the relationship between DS and moral condemnation is one instantiation of a more general association between affect and judgment.

Paradoxical Effects of Power on Moral Thinking: Why Power Both Increases and Decreases Deontological and Utilitarian Moral Decisions
Alexandra Fleischmann et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


The current research explores the role of power in moral decision-making. Some work suggests that power increases utilitarianism; other work suggests power increases deontological judgments. Conversely, we propose that power can both increase and decrease both deontological and utilitarian decisions by building on two recent insights in moral psychology. First, we utilize the moral orientation scale to assess four thinking styles that jointly predict moral dilemma decisions. Second, we employ process dissociation to assess deontological and utilitarian judgments as orthogonal rather than opposite constructs. We conducted two preregistered confirmatory studies that replicated exploratory findings. In Study 1, power increased three moral thinking styles: integration, deliberation, and rule orientation. In Study 2, these decision-making styles simultaneously mediated the effects of power on utilitarian and deontological responses in opposing ways, leading to null effects overall. These results reconcile previous findings and demonstrate the complex yet systematic effects power has on moral decision-making.

Self-enhancement, righteous anger, and moral grandiosity
Jeffrey Green et al.
Self and Identity, forthcoming


Do people self-enhance by dwelling in righteous anger in an effort to preserve their self-views as pillars of morality? We addressed this question in two experiments. Participants read a story about an injustice (experiencing righteous anger) or grocery shopping (experiencing neutral emotion), indicated their interest in reading injustice-relevant or happiness-relevant newspaper articles, and rated themselves on moral and agentic traits. Participants who experienced righteous anger (vs. neutral emotion) maintained their anger (i.e., exhibited stronger interest in reading injustice- than happiness-relevant articles) and rated themselves more positively on moral, but not on agentic, traits. Furthermore, anger maintenance mediated the effect of righteous anger on moral grandiosity. The findings illustrate tactical self-enhancement: the instrumental use of one’s negative emotions for self-enhancement purposes.

Resting state connectivity mediates the relationship between collectivism and social cognition
Gennady Knyazev et al.
International Journal of Psychophysiology, January 2018, Pages 17-24


Humans are intrinsically social beings and it is natural that self-processing is associated with social cognition. The degree to which the self is perceived as a part of social environment is modulated by cultural stereotypes, such as collectivism and individualism. Here, we tested the hypothesis that individuals who endorse collectivist values would spontaneously think more about their relationships with other people and this association would be mediated by connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the rest of the brain. Connectivity was evaluated based on resting state EEG data using the recently developed methods, which combine beamformer spatial filtering with seed based connectivity estimation. The formal mediation analysis revealed that collectivism is associated with an enhanced connectivity of MPFC with a set of cortical regions that are frequently co-activated in moral reasoning, empathy, and theory of mind tasks and with diminished connectivity with the precuneus\posterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in self-centered cognition. The relationship between collectivism and social cognition was mediated by MPFC connectivity with the left middle temporal gyrus implying that in participants with collectivistic attitude, thinking about relationships with other people may be associated with semantic memory retrieval and reasoning on moral issues and others' intentions.

Retaliation or selfishness? An rTMS investigation of the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in prosocial motives
Jan-Martin Müller-Leinß et al.
Social Neuroscience, forthcoming


Equity, fairness and cooperative behavior are crucial for everyday social interactions. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is involved in the evaluation of violations of fairness rules, though difficulties remain to determine its role in implementing retaliating or forgiving responses to unfairness. Accordingly, we applied repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to the left and right DLPFC and investigated the impact of the DLPFC on retaliation and selfishness using a sequential neuroeconomic task establishing a role reversal. That is, participants first played an Ultimatum Game (in the role of a recipient) against fair or unfair proposers, followed by a Dictator Game in the role of a proposer. Following inhibition of the right DLPFC, subjects showed an increased punishment rate regarding previously unfair opponents. Surprisingly, previously fair opponents were also treated less fairly after rTMS to the right DLPFC, but not after left or sham rTMS. Previous work suggests that the right DLPFC provides “top-down” cognitive control over prepotent emotional responses to unfairness. Our results indicate, however, that the right DLPFC may be involved in controlling selfish behavior and that its suppression leads to maximization of one’s own benefit, regardless of another’s fairness or unfairness in previous encounters.

Deontological Dilemma Response Tendencies and Sensorimotor Representations of Harm to Others
Leonardo Christov-Moore, Paul Conway & Marco Iacoboni
Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, December 2017


The dual process model of moral decision-making suggests that decisions to reject causing harm on moral dilemmas (where causing harm saves lives) reflect concern for others. Recently, some theorists have suggested such decisions actually reflect self-focused concern about causing harm, rather than witnessing others suffering. We examined brain activity while participants witnessed needles pierce another person’s hand, versus similar non-painful stimuli. More than a month later, participants completed moral dilemmas where causing harm either did or did not maximize outcomes. We employed process dissociation to independently assess harm-rejection (deontological) and outcome-maximization (utilitarian) response tendencies. Activity in the posterior inferior frontal cortex (pIFC) while participants witnessed others in pain predicted deontological, but not utilitarian, response tendencies. Previous brain stimulation studies have shown that the pIFC seems crucial for sensorimotor representations of observed harm. Hence, these findings suggest that deontological response tendencies reflect genuine other-oriented concern grounded in sensorimotor representations of harm.

“If Torture Is Wrong, What About 24?” Torture and the Hollywood Effect
Erin Kearns & Joseph Young
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming


Since 9/11, entertainment media has focused on depictions of terrorism and counterterrorism. How do dramatic depictions of counterterrorism practices — specifically torture — affect public opinion and policy? Using a mixed within-subjects and between-subjects experimental design, we examine how framing affects support for torture. Participants (n = 150) were randomly assigned to a condition for dramatic depictions showing torture as (a) effective, (b) ineffective, or (c) not present (control). Participants who saw torture as effective increased their stated support for it. Participants who saw torture — regardless of whether or not it was effective — were more likely to sign a petition on torture. We discuss the policy implications of our findings on how framing affects opinion and action regarding torture.

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