Something's not right

Kevin Lewis

April 14, 2016

Neuromodulation of group prejudice and religious belief

Colin Holbrook et al.

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, March 2016, Pages 387-394

People cleave to ideological convictions with greater intensity in the aftermath of threat. The posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) plays a key role in both detecting discrepancies between desired and current conditions and adjusting subsequent behavior to resolve such conflicts. Building on prior literature examining the role of the pMFC in shifts in relatively low-level decision processes, we demonstrate that the pMFC mediates adjustments in adherence to political and religious ideologies. We presented participants with a reminder of death and a critique of their in-group ostensibly written by a member of an out-group, then experimentally decreased both avowed belief in God and out-group derogation by downregulating pMFC activity via transcranial magnetic stimulation. The results provide the first evidence that group prejudice and religious belief are susceptible to targeted neuromodulation, and point to a shared cognitive mechanism underlying concrete and abstract decision processes. We discuss the implications of these findings for further research characterizing the cognitive and affective mechanisms at play.


No match for money: Even in intimate relationships and collectivistic cultures, reminders of money weaken sociomoral responses

Krishna Savani et al.

Self and Identity, May/June 2016, Pages 342-355

The present research tested two competing hypotheses: (1) as money cues activate an exchange orientation to social relations, money cues harm prosocial responses in communal and collectivistic settings; (2) as money can be used to help close others, money cues increase helping in communal or collectivistic settings. In a culture, characterized by strong helping norms, money cues reduced the quality of help given (Experiment 1), and lowered perceived moral obligation to help (Experiment 2). In communal relationships, money reminders decreased willingness to help romantic partners (Experiment 3). This effect was attenuated among people high on communal strength, although money cues made them upset with help requests (Experiment 4). Thus, the harmful effects of money on prosocial responses appear robust.


Moral consequences of becoming unemployed

Abigail Barr, Luis Miller & Paloma Ubeda

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

We test the conjecture that becoming unemployed erodes the extent to which a person acknowledges earned entitlement. We use behavioral experiments to generate incentive-compatible measures of individuals' tendencies to acknowledge earned entitlement and incorporate these experiments in a two-stage study. In the first stage, participants' acknowledgment of earned entitlement was measured by engaging them in the behavioral experiments, and their individual employment status and other relevant socioeconomic characteristics were recorded. In the second stage, a year later, the process was repeated using the same instruments. The combination of the experimentally generated data and the longitudinal design allows us to investigate our conjecture using a difference-in-difference approach, while ruling out the pure self-interest confound. We report evidence consistent with a large, negative effect of becoming unemployed on the acknowledgment of earned entitlement.


Alteration of Political Belief by Non-invasive Brain Stimulation

Caroline Chawke & Ryota Kanai

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, January 2016

People generally have imperfect introspective access to the mechanisms underlying their political beliefs, yet can confidently communicate the reasoning that goes into their decision making process. An innate desire for certainty and security in ones beliefs may play an important and somewhat automatic role in motivating the maintenance or rejection of partisan support. The aim of the current study was to clarify the role of the DLPFC in the alteration of political beliefs. Recent neuroimaging studies have focused on the association between the DLPFC (a region involved in the regulation of cognitive conflict and error feedback processing) and reduced affiliation with opposing political candidates. As such, this study used a method of non-invasive brain simulation (tRNS) to enhance activity of the bilateral DLPFC during the incorporation of political campaign information. These findings indicate a crucial role for this region in political belief formation. However, enhanced activation of DLPFC does not necessarily result in the specific rejection of political beliefs. In contrast to the hypothesis the results appear to indicate a significant increase in conservative values regardless of participant's initial political orientation and the political campaign advertisement they were exposed to.


Inference of Trustworthiness From Intuitive Moral Judgments

Jim Everett, David Pizarro & Molly Crockett

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Moral judgments play a critical role in motivating and enforcing human cooperation, and research on the proximate mechanisms of moral judgments highlights the importance of intuitive, automatic processes in forming such judgments. Intuitive moral judgments often share characteristics with deontological theories in normative ethics, which argue that certain acts (such as killing) are absolutely wrong, regardless of their consequences. Why do moral intuitions typically follow deontological prescriptions, as opposed to those of other ethical theories? Here, we test a functional explanation for this phenomenon by investigating whether agents who express deontological moral judgments are more valued as social partners. Across 5 studies, we show that people who make characteristically deontological judgments are preferred as social partners, perceived as more moral and trustworthy, and are trusted more in economic games. These findings provide empirical support for a partner choice account of moral intuitions whereby typically deontological judgments confer an adaptive function by increasing a person's likelihood of being chosen as a cooperation partner. Therefore, deontological moral intuitions may represent an evolutionarily prescribed prior that was selected for through partner choice mechanisms.


Incomplete professional identity goals override moral concerns

Michael Marquardt et al.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2016, Pages 31-41

According to self-completion theory (SCT; Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982), people committed to identity goals (e.g., being a lawyer or a business manager) strive for goal attainment by collecting indicators of completeness (e.g., relevant achievements). When the completeness of an identity goal becomes threatened, people are driven to engage in self-symbolizing to compensate. In two studies, we found that committed individuals endorsed immoral behaviors displayed by professional businessmen (Study 1) and lawyers (Study 2) after having received bogus negative feedback about their aptitude for the respective profession. When high school seniors committed to pursuing a STEM profession received bogus negative (vs. positive) feedback on possessing relevant cognitive abilities (Study 3), they were observed to self-ascribe personality traits associated with professional success but also with engaging in immoral behavior. Strategies for ameliorating negative compensation behavior, differences from general self-affirmation, and implications for understanding immoral behavior are discussed.


Bad is freer than good: Positive-negative asymmetry in attributions of free will

Gilad Feldman, Kin Fai Ellick Wong & Roy Baumeister

Consciousness and Cognition, May 2016, Pages 26-40

Recent findings support the idea that the belief in free will serves as the basis for moral responsibility, thus promoting the punishment of immoral agents. We theorized that free will extends beyond morality to serve as the basis for accountability and the capacity for change more broadly, not only for others but also for the self. Five experiments showed that people attributed higher freedom of will to negative than to positive valence, regardless of morality or intent, for both self and others. In recalling everyday life situations and in classical decision making paradigms, negative actions, negatives outcomes, and negative framing were attributed higher free will than positive ones. Free will attributions were mainly driven by action or outcome valence, but not intent. These findings show consistent support for the idea that free will underlies laypersons' sense-making for accountability and change under negative circumstances.


Why controllers compromise on their fiduciary duties: EEG evidence on the role of the human mirror neuron system

Philip Eskenazi, Frank Hartmann & Wim Rietdijk

Accounting, Organizations and Society, forthcoming

Business unit (BU) controllers play a fiduciary role to ensure the integrity of financial reporting. However, they often face social pressure from their BU managers to misreport. Drawing on the literature on the human mirror neuron system, this paper investigates whether controllers' ability to withstand such pressure has a neurobiological basis. We expect that mirror neuron system functionality determines controllers' inclination to succumb to social pressure exerted by self-interested managers to engage in misreporting. We measure mirror neuron system functionality using electroencephalographic (EEG) data from 29 professional controllers during an emotional expressions observation task. The controllers' inclination to misreport was measured using scenarios in which controllers were being pressed by their manager to misreport. We find a positive association between controllers' mirror neuron system functionality and their inclination to yield to managerial pressure. In line with our expectation, we find that this association existed specifically for scenarios in which managers pressed their controllers out of personal rather than organizational interests. We conclude that BU controllers' neurobiological characteristics are involved in financial misreporting behavior and discuss the implications for accounting research and practice.


Maybe Holier, But Definitely Less Evil, Than You: Bounded Self-Righteousness in Social Judgment

Nadav Klein & Nicholas Epley

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Few biases in human judgment are easier to demonstrate than self-righteousness: the tendency to believe one is more moral than others. Existing research, however, has overlooked an important ambiguity in evaluations of one's own and others' moral behavior that could lead to an overly simplistic characterization of self-righteousness. In particular, moral behavior spans a broad spectrum ranging from doing good to doing bad. Self-righteousness could indicate believing that one is more likely to do good than others, less likely to do bad, or both. Based on cognitive and motivational mechanisms, we predicted an asymmetry in the degree of self-righteousness such that it would be larger when considering unethical actions (doing bad) than when considering ethical actions (doing good). A series of experiments confirmed this prediction. A final experiment suggests that this asymmetry is partly produced by the difference in perspectives that people adopt when evaluating themselves and others (Experiment 8). These results all suggest a bounded sense of self-righteousness. Believing one "less evil than thou" seems more reliable than believing one is "holier than thou."


Judging the actions of "whistle-blowers" versus "leakers": Labels influence perceptions of dissenters who expose group misconduct

Kimberly Rios & Zig Ingraffia

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, forthcoming

Although moral and collective concerns have been found to predict expressions of dissent, little research has examined conditions under which dissenters are perceived as acting out of such concerns. Three studies tested whether judgments of dissenters who expose group misconduct can depend on subtle labeling differences. In Study 1, participants rated their actions as more morally based, and themselves as more likely to express dissent, after reading a scenario in which they were labeled a "whistle-blower" (vs. "leaker"). In Studies 2-3, participants who read a passage describing an employee of an organization (Study 2) or a well-known individual (Edward Snowden, Study 3) as a "whistle-blower," relative to "leaker," viewed these individuals as more morally and collectively concerned, which in turn mediated perceived deservingness of punishment. Implications for the factors that lead dissenters to be judged positively, for psychological effects of labels, and for generalizability across contexts are discussed.


Normative Judgments and Individual Essence

Julian De Freitas et al.

Cognitive Science, forthcoming

A growing body of research has examined how people judge the persistence of identity over time - that is, how they decide that a particular individual is the same entity from one time to the next. While a great deal of progress has been made in understanding the types of features that people typically consider when making such judgments, to date, existing work has not explored how these judgments may be shaped by normative considerations. The present studies demonstrate that normative beliefs do appear to play an important role in people's beliefs about persistence. Specifically, people are more likely to judge that the identity of a given entity (e.g., a hypothetical nation) remains the same when its features improve (e.g., the nation becomes more egalitarian) than when its features deteriorate (e.g., the nation becomes more discriminatory). Study 1 provides a basic demonstration of this effect. Study 2 shows that this effect is moderated by individual differences in normative beliefs. Study 3 examines the underlying mechanism, which is the belief that, in general, various entities are essentially good. Study 4 directly manipulates beliefs about essence to show that the positivity bias regarding essences is causally responsible for the effect.


Humanizing Outgroups Through Multiple Categorization: The Roles of Individuation and Threat

Francesca Prati et al.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, April 2016, Pages 526-539

In three studies, we examined the impact of multiple categorization on intergroup dehumanization. Study 1 showed that perceiving members of a rival university along multiple versus simple categorical dimensions enhanced the tendency to attribute human traits to this group. Study 2 showed that multiple versus simple categorization of immigrants increased the attribution of uniquely human emotions to them. This effect was explained by the sequential mediation of increased individuation of the outgroup and reduced outgroup threat. Study 3 replicated this sequential mediation model and introduced a novel way of measuring humanization in which participants generated attributes corresponding to the outgroup in a free response format. Participants generated more uniquely human traits in the multiple versus simple categorization conditions. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings and consider their role in informing and improving efforts to ameliorate contemporary forms of intergroup discrimination.


The behavioral benefits of other people's deviance

Brian Gunia & Sun Young Kim

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, forthcoming

Employees who violate significant organizational norms are organizational deviants engaged in organizational deviance. Yet, few acts of organizational deviance involve all members of an organization; in many cases, many people are uninvolved. The current research examined the responses of the nondeviant actors. Several literatures led us to predict that organizational deviance would cause nondeviants to experience cognitive dissonance, especially its vicarious form, and redouble their own work effort in response. Yet, we also predicted that low levels of identification with the deviant actors would weaken this effect. Three studies with multiple samples and methods supported these predictions, showing that nondeviants experience deviants' dissonance and increase their own work effort, but only when more rather than less identified with deviants. In addition to extending and connecting theories of deviance and dissonance, these findings suggest that organizational deviance may have unexpected benefits for groups and organizations.


"I Don't Want to Be Near You, Unless...": The Interactive Effect of Unethical Behavior and Performance onto Relationship Conflict and Workplace Ostracism

Matthew Quade, Rebecca Greenbaum & Oleg Petrenko

Personnel Psychology, forthcoming

Examined through the lens of moral psychology, we investigate when and why employees' unethical behaviors may be tolerated versus rejected. Specifically, we examine the interactive effect of employees' unethical behaviors and job performance onto relationship conflict, and whether such conflict eventuates in workplace ostracism. Although employees' unethical behaviors typically go against moral norms, high job performance may provide a motivated reason to ignore moral violations. In this regard, we predict that job performance will mitigate the relationship between employee unethical behavior and workplace ostracism, as mediated by relationship conflict. Study 1, a multi-source field study, tests and provides support for Hypotheses 1 and 2. Study 2, also a multi-source field study, provides support for our fully specified model. Study 3, a time-lagged field study, provides support for our theoretical model while controlling for employees' negative affectivity and ethical environment. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


The Immoral Assumption Effect: Moralization Drives Negative Trait Attributions

Peter Meindl, Kate Johnson & Jesse Graham

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, April 2016, Pages 540-553

Jumping to negative conclusions about other people's traits is judged as morally bad by many people. Despite this, across six experiments (total N = 2,151), we find that multiple types of moral evaluations - even evaluations related to open-mindedness, tolerance, and compassion - play a causal role in these potentially pernicious trait assumptions. Our results also indicate that moralization affects negative - but not positive - trait assumptions, and that the effect of morality on negative assumptions cannot be explained merely by people's general (nonmoral) preferences or other factors that distinguish moral and nonmoral traits, such as controllability or desirability. Together, these results suggest that one of the more destructive human tendencies - making negative assumptions about others - can be caused by the better angels of our nature.


No country for girly men: High instrumentality men express empathic concern when caring is "manly"

Christopher Burris, Kristina Schrage & John Rempel

Motivation and Emotion, April 2016, Pages 278-289

Two studies explored the relationship between men's gender role identity (as measured by the Bem Sex Role Inventory) and their experience of empathic concern (situational empathy). In both, participants read of a man coping with his friend's death while being exposed to one of three subliminal primes: "real men care"/"caring is strength," "girly men care"/"caring is weakness," or "people are walking." Congruent with previous research, higher femininity (expressivity) predicted greater empathic concern irrespective of prime. The real men/strength primes tended to: (1) increase empathic concern among high instrumentality men; and (2) link empathic concern to predominantly positive projected coping responses when participants thought of themselves in the survivor's situation, consistent with the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Thus, subtly framing empathic concern as a positive emotional response that is congruent with an agentic self-appraisal seems to boost traditionally masculine men's willingness to experience it.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.