Too bad

Kevin Lewis

November 28, 2017

Anxiety Reduces Empathy Toward Outgroup Members But Not Ingroup Members
Kevin Arceneaux
Journal of Experimental Political Science, Spring 2017, Pages 68-80

Substantial research concludes that favoritism toward members of people's ingroup, or ingroup bias, motivates people to oppose public programs that assist needy outgroup individuals. I argue that a gap in the empathic capacity for ingroup and outgroup members motivates and maintains ingroup bias in helping behavior and is sensitive to contextual cues that trigger anxiety. Using a novel experimental design, Study 1 demonstrates that anxiety exacerbates the outgroup empathy gap. Study 2 replicates these findings with an explicit measure of outgroup empathy. Study 3 shows that the outgroup empathy gap causes individuals to become less supportive of helping needy outgroup members. These studies suggest that opposition to welfare programs may go beyond simple prejudice.

The Humanizing Voice: Speech Reveals, and Text Conceals, a More Thoughtful Mind in the Midst of Disagreement
Juliana Schroeder, Michael Kardas & Nicholas Epley
Psychological Science, forthcoming

A person’s speech communicates his or her thoughts and feelings. We predicted that beyond conveying the contents of a person’s mind, a person’s speech also conveys mental capacity, such that hearing a person explain his or her beliefs makes the person seem more mentally capable — and therefore seem to possess more uniquely human mental traits — than reading the same content. We expected this effect to emerge when people are perceived as relatively mindless, such as when they disagree with the evaluator’s own beliefs. Three experiments involving polarizing attitudinal issues and political opinions supported these hypotheses. A fourth experiment identified paralinguistic cues in the human voice that convey basic mental capacities. These results suggest that the medium through which people communicate may systematically influence the impressions they form of each other. The tendency to denigrate the minds of the opposition may be tempered by giving them, quite literally, a voice.

Heading right and judging harsher: Spatial orientation toward the right side and moral judgments
Tina Glaser & Jens Hellmann
Social Psychology, September/October 2017, Pages 253-264

The term right may imply different meanings, for example, right can be the direction opposite to left, but right can also mean the opposite of wrong. In three experiments, we investigated whether orientation toward the right versus left direction can influence how individuals judge situational moral transgressions. Mental spatial orientation was manipulated by placing the text of moral transgressions on the left versus right side of the screen (Experiment 1) or by presenting different landscape pictures depicting paths that either lead to the left versus to the right (Experiments 2 and 3). In Experiment 3, we also manipulated participants’ physical spatial orientation. Results confirmed our main prediction that a mental rightward (vs. leftward) orientation can trigger relatively harsher moral judgments.

Is utilitarian sacrifice becoming more morally permissible?
Ivar Hannikainen, Edouard Machery & Fiery Cushman
Cognition, January 2018, Pages 95-101

A central tenet of contemporary moral psychology is that people typically reject active forms of utilitarian sacrifice. Yet, evidence for secularization and declining empathic concern in recent decades suggests the possibility of systematic change in this attitude. In the present study, we employ hypothetical dilemmas to investigate whether judgments of utilitarian sacrifice are becoming more permissive over time. In a cross-sectional design, age negatively predicted utilitarian moral judgment (Study 1). To examine whether this pattern reflected processes of maturation, we asked a panel to re-evaluate several moral dilemmas after an eight-year interval but observed no overall change (Study 2). In contrast, a more recent age-matched sample revealed greater endorsement of utilitarian sacrifice in a time-lag design (Study 3). Taken together, these results suggest that today’s younger cohorts increasingly endorse a utilitarian resolution of sacrificial moral dilemmas.

Stranger Danger: When and Why Consumer Dyads Behave Less Ethically Than Individuals
Hristina Nikolova, Cait Lamberton & Nicole Verrochi Coleman
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

While joint ethical violations are fairly common in the marketplace, workplace, sports teams, and academic settings, little research has studied such collaborative wrongdoings. This work compares the joint ethical decisions of pairs of people (i.e., dyads) to those of individual decision-makers. Four experiments demonstrate that dyads in which the partners do not share a social bond with each other behave less ethically than individuals do. The authors propose that this effect occurs because joint ethical violations offer a means to socially bond with others. Consistent with this theory, they demonstrate that the dyads’ sub-ethicality relative to individuals is attenuated (1) if the dyad partners establish rapport prior to the joint decision-making, and (2) in decision-making contexts in which social bonding goals are less active, that making a decision with an out-group versus in-group member. Taken together, this research provides novel theoretical insights into the social aspects of unethical behavior, offers suggestions to improve ethicality in joint decisions, and raises important questions for future research.

Partners in Crime: Diffusion of Responsibility in Antisocial Behaviors
Sascha Behnk, Li Hao & Ernesto Reuben
NYU Working Paper, September 2017

Using a series of sender-receiver games, we find that two senders acting together are willing to behave more antisocially towards the receiver than single senders. This result is robust in two contexts: when antisocial messages are dishonest and when they are honest but unfavorable. Our results suggest that diffusion of responsibility is the primary reason for the increased antisocial behavior as our experimental design eliminates competing explanations. With a partner in crime, senders think that behaving antisocially is more acceptable and experience less guilt. Importantly, we identify a crucial condition for the increased antisocial behavior by groups: the partner in crime must actively participate in the decision-making. Our results have important implications for institutional design and promoting prosocial behaviors.

Do Older Adults Hate Video Games until they Play them? A Proof-of-Concept Study
Christopher Ferguson, Rune Nielsen & Ryan Maguire
Current Psychology, December 2017, Pages 919–926

The issue of negative video game influences on youth remains contentious in public debate, the scholarly community and among policy makers. Recent research has indicated that negative attitudes toward video games are, in part, generational in nature with older adults more inclined to endorse negative beliefs about video games. The current mixed design study examined the impact of exposure to games on beliefs about video games in a small (n = 34) sample of older adults. Results indicated that older adults were more concerned about video games as an abstract concept but when exposed to a particular video game, even an M-rated violent game, expressed fewer concerns about that specific video game. Results support the hypothesis that negative attitudes toward video games exists mainly in the abstract and do not survive direct exposure to individual games. Further, older adults were not uniform in their condemnation of video games with older adults having varying opinions about the harmfulness of video games. Related to specific concerns, older adults tended to worry more about issues such as addiction than they did violent content.

Differential Discounting and Present Impact of Past Information
Laura Brandimarte, Joachim Vosgerau & Alessandro Acquisti
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

How does information about a person’s past, accessed now, affect individuals’ impressions of that person? In 2 survey experiments and 2 experiments with actual incentives, we compare whether, when evaluating a person, information about that person’s past greedy or immoral behaviors is discounted similarly to information about her past generous or moral behaviors. We find that, no matter how far in the past a person behaved greedily or immorally, information about her negative behaviors is hardly discounted at all. In contrast, information about her past positive behaviors is discounted heavily: recent behaviors are much more influential than behaviors that occurred a long time ago. The lesser discounting of information about immoral and greedy behaviors is not caused by these behaviors being more influential, memorable, extreme, or attention-grabbing; rather, they are perceived as more diagnostic of a person’s character than past moral or generous behaviors. The phenomenon of differential discounting of past information has particular relevance in the digital age, where information about people’s past is easily retrieved. Our findings have significant implications for theories of impression formation and social information processing.

I appreciate your effort: Asymmetric effects of actors' exertion on observers' consequentialist versus deontological judgments
Jeffrey Robinson Elizabeth Page-Gould & Jason Plaks
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2017, Pages 50-64

Moral judgment research has often assumed that when laypeople evaluate a moral dilemma, they focus on answering the question “Is action X wrong?” An alternative approach, inspired by virtue ethics, asserts that, in addition, laypeople seek to answer the question: “Would a good person do X?” As such, moral observers are sensitive to information that signals character. One important source of character information is the actor's level of exertion. In four studies, participants evaluated an actor who made either a consequentialist or deontological decision. In all studies, when the actor made the decision with little effort, participants rated the deontological decision more moral than the consequentialist decision. However, when the actor made the decision following high effort, this difference was attenuated. In Study 3, the pattern replicated most clearly when exertion was operationalized as effort to gain knowledge (versus emotional strain). These results highlight the important role that moral actors' effort plays on observers' moral and character judgments.

Allowing for reflection time does not change behavior in dictator and cheating games
Steffen Andersen et al.
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, January 2018, Pages 24–33

Reaction time, usually measured in seconds, has been shown to be correlated with decisions in experimental games. In this paper, we study how allowing for a full day of “reflection time” alters behavior. We compare behavior in dictator and cheating games when participants make immediate choices with behavior when participants have an extra day to decide, and find that allowing for more time does not affect behavior.

General Belief in a Just World Is Positively Associated with Dishonest Behavior
Kristin Wenzel, Simon Schindler & Marc-André Reinhard
Frontiers in Psychology, October 2017

According to the just-world theory, people need to – or rather want to – believe that they live in a just world where they will receive what they earn and consequently earn what they receive. In the present work, we examined the influence of people’s general and personal beliefs in a just world (BJW) on their (dis)honest behavior. Given that general BJW was found to be linked to antisocial tendencies, we expected stronger general BJW to be linked to more dishonesty. Given that personal BJW was found to be correlated with trust and justice striving, a negative link with dishonesty could be assumed. In one study (N = 501), we applied a common coin-toss paradigm to assess dishonesty. General BJW significantly predicted the probability of tossing the target outcome, that is, higher general BJW was linked to more dishonest behavior. This effect was found to be independent from personal BJW and self-reported importance of religion. Unexpectedly, there was no significant relationship between personal BJW and levels of dishonesty. These findings imply that although BJW normally serves an adaptive function, at least the facet general BJW has maladaptive side-effects.

Can Science Explain the Human Mind? Intuitive Judgments About the Limits of Science
Sara Gottlieb & Tania Lombrozo
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Can science explain romantic love, morality, and religious belief? We documented intuitive beliefs about the limits of science in explaining the human mind. We considered both epistemic evaluations (concerning whether science could possibly fully explain a given psychological phenomenon) and nonepistemic judgments (concerning whether scientific explanations for a given phenomenon would generate discomfort), and we identified factors that characterize phenomena judged to fall beyond the scope of science. Across six studies, we found that participants were more likely to judge scientific explanations for psychological phenomena to be impossible and uncomfortable when, among other factors, they support first-person, introspective access (e.g., feeling empathetic as opposed to reaching for objects), contribute to making humans exceptional (e.g., appreciating music as opposed to forgetfulness), and involve conscious will (e.g., acting immorally as opposed to having headaches). These judgments about the scope of science have implications for science education, policy, and the public reception of psychological science.

From incidental harms to moral elevation: The positive effect of experiencing unintentional, uncontrollable, and unavoidable harms on perceived moral character
Rebecca Schaumberg & Elizabeth Mullen
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2017, Pages 86-96

We contend that unintentional, uncontrollable, and unavoidable (i.e., incidental) hardships boost perceptions of volunteers' moral character because observers have a reflexive positive response to people who endure personal costs while serving others. Five experiments support this prediction. Participants judged a volunteer who suffered an incidental hardship (got stung by a bee, hit by a falling shingle, or unknowingly missed a fun opportunity while volunteering) to have greater moral character than a volunteer who did not experience these incidental hardships (Studies 1–4a). Observers' feelings of empathy emerged as a driver of this positive effect of incidental hardship on volunteers' perceived moral character (Studies 3 and 4a), and the prosociality of the target's activity (volunteering vs. not volunteering) moderated the effect (Study 2). A comparison of judgments in separate and joint evaluation contexts suggested that the effect is not due to a normative belief that volunteers should be praised for enduring incidental hardships (Studies 4a–4b). We address alternative explanations for the findings such as differences in the foreseeability of the hardship, task difficulty, and volunteers' perseverance. We discuss the implications of these findings for models of moral judgment and the processes by which people form impressions of others' positive moral character.

Demons with firepower: How belief in pure evil relates to perceptions and punishments of gun violence perpetrators
Dominic Vasturia, Russell Webster & Donald Saucier
Personality and Individual Differences, February 2018, Pages 13-18

Mass shootings have received widespread media attention due to their extreme violence. People who report greater belief in pure evil (BPE; the tendency to attribute harmdoing to dispositionally sadistic individuals) generally favor harsher criminal punishment, regardless of whether criminals exhibit stereotypically “evil” traits. We examined whether BPE predicted evaluations of gun violence perpetrators despite different situational factors related to the shooter's and crime's circumstances. An online, national sample (N = 275) read an allegedly real USA Today article about a mall shooting. We manipulated the shooter's evilness; whether the shooter exhibited a brain tumor, which could have accounted for his violent behavior; and, whether the event was a mass shooting. Results showed that individuals who reported greater BPE demonized, dehumanized, and punished the shooter more across all experimental conditions. Thus, results indicate that stronger pre-existing beliefs in pure evil may override key situational information when punishing violent offenders.

Preliminary Evidence for How the Behavioral Immune System Predicts Juror Decision-Making
Mitch Brown et al.
Evolutionary Psychological Science, December 2017, Pages 325–334

The behavioral immune system (BIS) is comprised of a variety of psychological and behavioral defenses designed to protect against pathogenic threats. These processes predict various affective and behavioral responses in myriad human contexts, including putative decisions to mitigate exposure to environmental pathogens. We investigated whether the strength of BIS responses predicted jurors’ verdicts in a sexual assault trial, wherein strength of the evidence against the defendant was manipulated (ambiguous vs. strong) to determine the extent to which chronic activation of BIS predicted derogation of the defendant. Subsequent mediation analyses indicated that dispositionally activated BIS (as indexed by perceived vulnerability to disease) predicted greater likelihood of conviction by way of affective experiences of disgust, which in turn influenced participants’ cognitive appraisals of diagnostic evidence. Furthermore, such responses also elicited greater desire for social distance with the defendant. Evidence strength, however, did not moderate these effects. Findings provide preliminary evidence for how BIS responses may influence legal proceedings.

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