Right for Me

Kevin Lewis

August 10, 2021

Physical attractiveness predicts endorsement of specific evolutionary psychology principles
Andrew Ward, Tammy English & Mark Chin
PLoS ONE, August 2021


Evolutionary psychology has emerged as a controversial discipline, particularly with regard to its claims concerning the biological basis of sex differences in human mate preferences. Drawing on theories of motivated inference, we hypothesized that those who are most likely to be privileged by specific aspects of the theory would be most likely to support the theory. In particular, we predicted that physical attractiveness would be positively associated with endorsement of predictions of evolutionary psychology concerning mating strategies. Two studies confirmed this hypothesis. In Study 1, participants rated as higher in physical attractiveness were more likely to support specific principles of evolutionary psychology. In Study 2, a manipulation designed to boost self-perceived physical attractiveness increased endorsement of those same principles. Observer-rated physical attractiveness generally predicted individuals’ support of the theoretical principles better than did gender, political orientation, or self-esteem. Results suggest that those most likely to benefit according to certain predictions of evolutionary psychology are also those most likely to be sympathetic toward its relevant principles.

Generous with individuals and selfish to the masses
Carlos Alós-Ferrer, Jaume García-Segarra & Alexander Ritschel
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming


The seemingly rampant economic selfishness suggested by many recent corporate scandals is at odds with empirical results from behavioural economics, which demonstrate high levels of prosocial behaviour in bilateral interactions and low levels of dishonest behaviour. We design an experimental setting, the ‘Big Robber’ game, where a ‘robber’ can obtain a large personal gain by appropriating the earnings of a large group of ‘victims’. In a large laboratory experiment (N = 640), more than half of all robbers took as much as possible and almost nobody declined to rob. However, the same participants simultaneously displayed standard, predominantly prosocial behaviour in Dictator, Ultimatum and Trust games. Thus, we provide direct empirical evidence showing that individual selfishness in high-impact decisions affecting a large group is compatible with prosociality in bilateral low-stakes interactions. That is, human beings can simultaneously be generous with others and selfish with large groups.

Empathy, Deservingness, and Preferences for Welfare Assistance: A Large-Scale Online Perspective-Taking Experiment
Alexander Bor & Gábor Simonovits
Political Behavior, forthcoming


Online perspective-taking experiments have demonstrated great potential in reducing prejudice towards disadvantaged groups such as refugees or Roma. These experiments trigger the psychological process of empathy and evoke feelings of compassion. Meanwhile, a growing literature argues that compassion towards the poor is an important predictor of support for social welfare. This paper bridges these two literatures and predicts that perspective-taking with the poor could increase support for welfare assistance. This hypothesis is tested in a pre-registered experiment conducted on a large and diverse online sample of US citizens (N = 3,431). Our results suggest that participants engaged with the perspective-taking exercise, wrote essays expressing strong emotions, but perspective-taking had no meaningful causal effect on general attitudes towards social welfare. We can confidently rule out effects exceeding 2 points on a 100-point scale. These results indicate that perspective-taking with a poor, deserving individual does not necessarily reduce stereotypes about the poor in general; nor does it change views towards redistributive policies.

Of pathogens and party lines: Social conservatism positively associates with COVID-19 precautions among U.S. Democrats but not Republicans
Theodore Samore et al.
PLoS ONE, June 2021


Social liberals tend to be less pathogen-avoidant than social conservatives, a pattern consistent with a model wherein ideological differences stem from differences in threat reactivity. Here we investigate if and how individual responses to a shared threat reflect those patterns of ideological difference. In seeming contradiction to the general association between social conservatism and pathogen avoidance, the more socially conservative political party in the United States has more consistently downplayed the dangers of COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic. This puzzle offers an opportunity to examine the contributions of multiple factors to disease avoidance. We investigated the relationship between social conservatism and COVID-19 precautionary behavior in light of the partisan landscape of the United States. We explored whether consumption of, and attitudes toward, different sources of information, as well as differential evaluation of various threats caused by the pandemic — such as direct health costs versus indirect harms to the economy and individual liberties — shape partisan differences in responses to the pandemic in ways that overwhelm the contributions of social conservatism. In two pre-registered studies, socially conservative attitudes correlate with self-reported COVID-19 prophylactic behaviors, but only among Democrats. Reflecting larger societal divisions, among Republicans and Independents, the absence of a positive relationship between social conservatism and COVID-19 precautions appears driven by lower trust in scientists, lower trust in liberal and moderate sources, lesser consumption of liberal news media, and greater economic conservatism.

The search for predictable moral partners: Predictability and moral (character) preferences
Martin Harry Turpin et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


Across six studies (N = 1988 US residents and 81 traditional people of Papua), participants judged agents acting in sacrificial moral dilemmas. Utilitarian agents, described as opting to sacrifice a single individual for the greater good, were perceived as less predictable and less moral than deontological agents whose inaction resulted in five people being harmed. These effects generalize to a non-Western sample of the Dani people, a traditional indigenous society of Papua, and persist when controlling for homophily and notions of behavioral typicality. Notably, deontological agents are no longer morally preferred when the actions of utilitarian agents are made to seem more predictable. Lastly, we find that peoples' lay theory of predictability is flexible and multi-faceted, but nevertheless understood and used holistically in assessing the moral character of others. On the basis of our findings, we propose that assessments of predictability play an important role when judging the morality of others.

Moral signaling through donations of money and time
Samuel Johnson & Seo Young Park
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, July 2021, Pages 183-196


Prosocial acts typically take the form of time- or money-donations. Do third-parties differ in how they evaluate these different kinds of donations? Here, we show that people view time-donations as more morally praiseworthy and more diagnostic of moral character than money-donations, even when the resource investment is comparable. This moral preference occurs because people perceive time-donations as signaling greater emotional investment in the cause and therefore better moral character; this occurs despite the (correct) belief that time-donations are typically less effective than money-donations (Study 1). This effect in turn is explained by two mechanisms: People believe that time-donations are costlier even when their objective costs are equated, which happens because people rely on a lay theory associating time with the self (Study 2). The more signaling power of time-donations has downstream implications for interpersonal attractiveness in a dating context (Study 3A), employment decisions (Study 3B), and donor decision-making (Study 3). Moreover, donors who are prompted with an affiliation rather (versus dominance) goal are likelier to favor time-donations (Study 4). However, reframing money-donations in terms of time (e.g., donating a week’s salary) reduced and even reversed these effects (Study 5). These results support theories of prosociality that place reputation-signaling as a key motivator of moral behavior. We discuss implications for the charity market and for social movements, such as effective altruism, that seek to maximize the social benefit of altruistic acts.

When the ones we love misbehave: Exploring moral processes within intimate bonds
Rachel Forbes & Jennifer Stellar
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


How do we react when our romantic partners, friends, or family members behave unethically? When close others misbehave, it generates a powerful conflict between observers’ moral values and their cherished relationships. Previous research has almost exclusively studied moral perception in a social vacuum by investigating responses to the transgressions of strangers; therefore, little is known about how these responses unfold in the context of intimate bonds. Here we systematically examine the impact of having a close relationship with a transgressor on perceptions of that transgressor, the relationship, and the self. We predicted less negative emotional and evaluative responses to transgressors and smaller consequences for the relationship, yet more negative emotional and evaluative responses to the self when close others, compared with strangers or acquaintances, transgress. Participants read hypothetical wrongdoings (Study 1), recalled unethical events (Study 2), reported daily transgressions (Study 3; preregistered), and learned of novel immoral behavior (Study 4) committed by close others or comparison groups. Participants reported less other-critical emotions, more lenient moral evaluations, a reduced desire to punish/criticize, and a smaller impact on the relationship (compared with acquaintances) when close others versus strangers or acquaintances transgressed. Simultaneously, participants reported more self-conscious emotions and showed some evidence of harsher moral self-evaluations when close others transgressed. Underlying mechanisms of this process were examined. Our findings demonstrate the deep ambivalence in reacting to close others’ unethical behaviors, revealing a surprising irony—in protecting close others, the self may bear some of the burden of their misbehavior.

Reducing the uncanny valley by dehumanizing humanoid robots
Kai Chi Yam, Yochanan Bigman & Kurt Gray
Computers in Human Behavior, forthcoming


Humanoid robots are often experienced as unnerving, a psychological phenomenon called the “uncanny valley.” Past work reveals that humanlike robots are unnerving in part because they are ascribed humanlike feelings. We leverage this past work to provide a potential solution to the uncanny valley. Three studies reveal that “dehumanizing” humanoid robots -- stripping robots of their apparent capacity for feelings -- can significantly reduce the uncanny valley. Participants high on trait dehumanization (Study 1) or experimentally instructed to dehumanize (Study 2) reported lower feelings of uncanniness when viewing a humanoid robot, an effect mediated by reduced perceptions of feelings. We replicate these effects in an experimental field study where hotel guests interacted with real humanoid robots in Japan, and reveal that dehumanization reduces the uncanny valley without decreasing customers’ satisfaction (Study 3).

Framing an altruistic action in periodic (versus aggregate) terms reduces people's moral evaluation of the act and the actor
Shankha Basu
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


Charities often express altruistic acts as a series of periodic payments (“donate $10 per month”) as opposed to aggregating them over a longer period (“donate $120 per year”). Five experiments (three preregistered, N = 1479) test whether the framing of an altruistic act affects observers' moral judgment of the act and the actor. Observers perceive a donation as less moral (Experiment 1) and the donor to have lower moral character (Experiments 2a & 2b) when altruistic actions are framed in periodic rather than aggregate terms. An aggregate-framed act increases observers' perception of the donors' sacrifice and the perceived magnitude of their help to the beneficiary. Experiment 3 finds that these two factors can explain the effect of framing on moral judgment. However, donors may hold incorrect intuitions about observers' moral judgment. Experiment 4 shows that donors predict that observers' moral judgment would depend on their decision to donate but not on the appeal to which they respond. The results enrich our understanding of the consequences of using periodic framing of donations, a widespread practice in the marketplace.

The Medusa effect reveals levels of mind perception in pictures
Paris Will et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 10 August 2021


Throughout our species history, humans have created pictures. The resulting picture record reveals an overwhelming preference for depicting things with minds. This preference suggests that pictures capture something of the mind that is significant to us, albeit at reduced potency. Here, we show that abstraction dims the perceived mind, even within the same picture. In a series of experiments, people were perceived as more real, and higher in both Agency (ability to do) and Experience (ability to feel), when they were presented as pictures than when they were presented as pictures of pictures. This pattern persisted across different tasks and even when comparators were matched for identity and image size. Viewers spontaneously discriminated between different levels of abstraction during eye tracking and were less willing to share money with a more abstracted person in a dictator game. Given that mind perception underpins moral judgement, our findings suggest that depicted persons will receive greater or lesser ethical consideration, depending on the level of abstraction.

Thanks, but No Thanks: Unpacking the Relationship Between Relative Power and Gratitude
Eric Anicich, Alice Lee & Shi Liu
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Power and gratitude are universal features of social life and impact a wide range of intra- and interpersonal outcomes. Drawing on the social distance theory of power, we report four studies that examine how relative power influences feelings and expressions of gratitude. An archival analysis of author acknowledgements in published academic articles (N = 1,272) revealed that low-power authors expressed more gratitude than high-power authors. A pre-registered experiment (N = 283) involving live conversations online found that having relatively low power caused increased feelings and expressions of gratitude after benefiting from a favor. Another pre-registered experiment (N = 356) demonstrated that increased interpersonal orientation among lower power individuals and increased psychological entitlement among higher power individuals drove these effects. Finally, an archival analysis of conversational exchanges (N = 136,215) among Wikipedia editors revealed that relational history moderated the effect of relative power on gratitude expression. Overall, our findings highlight when and why relative power influences feelings and expressions of gratitude.


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