Sounds Good

Kevin Lewis

May 25, 2021

Controlling the narrative: Euphemistic language affects judgments of actions while avoiding perceptions of dishonesty
Alexander Walker et al.
Cognition, forthcoming


The present work (N = 1906 U.S. residents) investigates the extent to which peoples' evaluations of actions can be biased by the strategic use of euphemistic (agreeable) and dysphemistic (disagreeable) terms. We find that participants' evaluations of actions are made more favorable by replacing a disagreeable term (e.g., torture) with a semantically related agreeable term (e.g., enhanced interrogation) in an act's description. Notably, the influence of agreeable and disagreeable terms was reduced (but not eliminated) when making actions less ambiguous by providing participants with a detailed description of each action. Despite their influence, participants judged both agreeable and disagreeable action descriptions as largely truthful and distinct from lies, and judged agents using such descriptions as more trustworthy and moral than liars. Overall, the results of the current study suggest that a strategic speaker can, through the careful use of language, sway the opinions of others in a preferred direction while avoiding many of the reputational costs associated with less subtle forms of linguistic manipulation (e.g., lying). Like the much-studied phenomenon of “fake news,” manipulative language can serve as a tool for misleading the public, doing so not with falsehoods but rather the strategic use of language.

Autonomy supportive and reactance supportive inoculations both boost resistance to propaganda, as mediated by state autonomy but not state reactance
Douglas Wilbur, Kennon Sheldon & Glen Cameron
Social Influence, forthcoming


We tested two counter-propaganda strategies for boosting peoples’ resistance to extremist propaganda, one based on Self-Determination Theory and one based on Psychological Reactance theory. Caucasian mTurk worker participants (N = 387) were told they would read extremist messages and were randomly assigned to either a neutral control condition, an autonomy-supportive inoculation condition (‘it is your choice to agree or not’), or a reactance-supportive inoculation condition (‘don’t let them manipulate you’). They then read and rated their agreement with two anti-immigrant extremist messages. Both inoculations produced lower agreement with the extremist messages, compared to the control condition. These effects were independent of participants’ political conservatism and trait reactance, although these person variables were both associated with message agreement. Both the autonomy-support and reactance-support effects were mediated by felt autonomy need-satisfaction, but not by state reactance. Ironically, telling participants that they are free to accept extremist claims may help them to resist such claims.

Beauty of the Beast: Beauty as an important dimension in the moral standing of animals
Christoph Klebl et al.
Journal of Environmental Psychology, forthcoming


Conservationists have sought to identify avenues through which to gain public support for efforts to halt the accelerating decline in animal diversity. Previous research has identified perceived internal qualities of animals that lead people to view them as deserving of protection for their own sake; that is, increase their moral standing. In two studies, we found that perceived beauty is an external aesthetic quality that leads people to attribute moral standing to animals independently from animals’ perceived mental capacities associated with patiency or agency, and dispositional harmfulness, as well as other factors likely to influence moral standing. In Study 1, we found that beauty perceptions predicted moral standing across a wide range of animal species from 12 biological categories independently from perceived patiency, agency, and harmfulness. In Study 2 (pre-registered), we found that beauty causally influenced moral standing attributions to animals independently from animals’ perceived internal qualities, as well as their perceived similarity to humans, familiarity, and edibility. Our findings provide insight into another factor which contributes to the perceived moral status of animals, and therefore may help conservationists to identify the most effective ways to attract funds for conservation efforts.

“Many others are doing it, so why shouldn't I?”: How being in larger competitions leads to more cheating
Celia Chui, Maryam Kouchaki & Francesca Gino
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, May 2021, Pages 102-115


In many spheres of life, from applying for a job to participating in an athletic contest to vying for a date, we face competition. Does the size of the competition pool affect our propensity to behave unethically in our pursuit of the prize? We propose that it does. Across four studies, we found that a larger (vs. smaller) number of competitors led participants to cheat more in a performance task to earn undeserved money. We also explored the psychological mechanisms of competition pool size to explain why and how being in a larger competition pool increases cheating. Our findings reveal a serial mediation pathway whereby having a larger number of competitors increases expectations of the absolute number of cheaters in the competition group, which heightens perceptions that cheating is an acceptable social norm, which leads to more cheating. We also examined and ruled out various alternative psychological mechanisms for this effect. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our finding that being in a large group of competitors can increase people’s propensity to cheat for personal gain.

Strategic Polarization in Group Interactions
Ganesh Iyer & Hema Yoganarasimhan
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming


We study the phenomenon of strategic group polarization in which members take more extreme actions than their preferences. The analysis is relevant for a broad range of formal and informal group settings, including social media, online platforms, sales teams, corporate and academic committees, and political action committees. In our model, agents with private preferences choose a public action (voice opinions), and the mean of their actions represents the group’s realized outcome. They face a trade-off between influencing the group decision and truth-telling. In a simultaneous move game, agents strategically shade their actions towards the extreme. The strategic group influence motive can create substantial polarization in actions and group decisions even when the preferences are relatively moderate. Compared to a simultaneous game, a randomized sequential actions game lowers polarization when agents’ preferences are relatively similar. Sequential actions can even lead to moderation if the later agents have moderate preferences. Endogenizing the order of moves (through a first-price sealed-bid auction) always increases polarization, but it is also welfare enhancing. Our findings can help group leaders, firms, and platforms design mechanisms that moderate polarization, e.g., the choice of speaking order, the group size, and the knowledge members have of others’ preferences and actions.

Biased Benevolence: The Perceived Morality of Effective Altruism Across Social Distance
Kyle Fiore Law, Dylan Campbell & Brendan Gaesser
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Is altruism always morally good, or is the morality of altruism fundamentally shaped by the social opportunity costs that often accompany helping decisions? Across four studies, we reveal that in cases of realistic tradeoffs in social distance for gains in welfare where helping socially distant others necessitates not helping socially closer others with the same resources, helping is deemed as less morally acceptable. Making helping decisions at a cost to socially closer others also negatively affects judgments of relationship quality (Study 2) and in turn, decreases cooperative behavior with the helper (Study 3). Ruling out an alternative explanation of physical distance accounting for the effects in Studies 1 to 3, social distance continued to impact moral acceptability when physical distance across social targets was matched (Study 4). These findings reveal that attempts to decrease biases in helping may have previously unconsidered consequences for moral judgments, relationships, and cooperation.

Shame Broadcasts Social Norms: The Positive Effect of Shame on Norm Acquisition and Normative Behavior in Groups
Rebecca Schaumberg & Samuel Skowronek
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, March 2021


Shame is a growing topic of public concern, igniting critical questions about its effect on adherence to normative standards. Evidence from first-person experiences suggests that shame has little value for this aspect of social cohesion. However, this past work overlooks how one’s shame affects other social actors. We focus on these social effects and identify a reliable route by which shame facilitates social cohesion. Across four studies, with over 3,200 observations of U.S.-based participants, we manipulate whether someone expresses shame, no specific emotion, or other discrete emotions (e.g., sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, or anger) in response to their behavior. We then assess the effect on participants’ norm inferences and norm conforming behavior. We find that shame broadcasts particularly strong signals about social norms, and people adjust their behavior to align with these norms. We discuss how these findings challenge common understanding about shame and its effect on social life.

A chip off the (im)moral block? Lay beliefs about genetic heritability predicts whether family members’ actions affect self‐judgments
Johanna Peetz et al.
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


The idea of heritability may have consequences for individuals’ sense of self by connecting identity to the actions of others who happen to share genetic ties. Across seven experimental studies (total N = 2,628), recalling morally bad or good actions by family members influenced individuals’ moral self among those who endorse a lay belief that moral character is genetically heritable, but not among those who did not endorse this belief (Study 1-5). In contrast, recalling actions by unrelated individuals had no effect, regardless of lay beliefs (Study 2, 5), the endorsement of other relevant lay beliefs did not moderate the effect of parent's actions on self‐judgments (Study 3). Individuals who endorsed heritability beliefs also chose less helpful responses to hypothetical helping scenarios if they had recalled unhelpful (vs. helpful) acts by a genetically‐related family member (Study 5). Taken together, these studies suggest that lay beliefs in the role of genetics are important for self‐perceptions.

A preference for preference: Lack of subjective preference evokes dehumanization
Jessica Lopez, Kaitlin Woolley & Ann McGill
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, May 2021, Pages 52-67


The current research examines the link between subjective preferences and humanity. Six studies (n = 2920) find that people dehumanize others who are perceived to lack subjective preference. Establishing the basic effect, a person without preferences is perceived as less human than someone with preferences, which is driven by the perception that the person lacks a distinct identity (Studies 1-4). The effect occurs regardless of whether the preference is positive or negative (Study 3) and is observed through measured (Studies 1-3) and manipulated distinctiveness (Study 4). Examining downstream consequences, a service representative lacking preference was evaluated more negatively, which was stronger for tasks requiring human mindfulness (i.e., creativity and emotion; Study 5). The dehumanization effect extends beyond person perception to negatively affect perceptions of the work a person produces (Study 6). Overall, the present article identifies a novel determinant of dehumanization and discusses implications for social interactions and impression management.

Categorical Distinctions Facilitate Coordination
Moshe Hoffman et al.
Harvard Working Paper, December 2020


When coordination is required, we often attend closely to categorical distinctions while overlooking continuous variation. For instance, the norm against chemical weapons is based on the type of weapon used and is applied irrespective of the number of civilians killed. Building off the game theory literature on Global Games, and using a standard Nash Equilibrium analysis, we show that it is harder to coordinate on the basis of a continuous variable than a discrete variable whenever the variable is observed with idiosyncratic noise. We demonstrate our result using several stylized signal structures, and also present a general theorem specifying which signal structures permit coordination on the basis of one's signal. We also present dynamic models that do not rely on any rationality assumptions. We end by mapping the model to possible applications, including territoriality, human rights, inefficient altruism, institutionalized racism, territorial disputes, revolutions, and collusion.

Reputational and cooperative benefits of third-party compensation
Nathan Dhaliwal, Indrajeet Patil & Fiery Cushman
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, May 2021, Pages 27-51


Although third-party punishment helps sustain group cooperation, might victim compensation provide third parties with superior reputational benefits? Across 24 studies (N = 21,296), we provide a comprehensive examination of the consequences of the choice between punishment and compensation. What do people infer from, and how do they respond to, the choice of punishment versus compensation? Across various contexts ranging from economic games, to workplace injustice, to people’s own personal experience of witnessing third-party responses in their daily lives, we find that compensating victims leads to greater reputational and partner choice benefits relative to punishing perpetrators. In fact, even people who themselves prefer to punish still prefer social partners who compensate. We also find that the signal that is sent via third-party compensating is an honest signal - people who choose to compensate rather than punish score lower on measures of trait Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Furthermore, we find that the personal decision of whether to compensate or punish is influenced by both injunctive and descriptive norms. These findings provide an extensive analysis of the causes and consequences of third-party responding to moral violations.


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