Your Behavior

Kevin Lewis

July 26, 2022

The authentic catch-22: Following the true self promotes decision satisfaction in moral dilemmas
Kaiyuan Chen et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming 

The current research presents five experiments (N = 1298) that examine what decision-making strategies lead to satisfying decisions in moral dilemmas. Past research in other contexts suggests that when people believe that they are using the true self as a guide (TSAG) to make decisions, they experience more decision satisfaction. However, it was unclear whether this past work would generalize to moral dilemmas given that people believe their true selves are morally good and moral dilemmas require a violation of at least one moral code to be resolved. However, results of five studies suggested that TSAG effects extend to moral dilemmas. Studies 1-3 indicated that when participants were given instructions for how to solve moral dilemmas, TSAG instructions led to more satisfying decisions relative to rational thinking, intuition, or no instruction conditions. In Study 4, all participants received non-true self instructions (rational thinking or intuition) during the decision-making process, but half were asked to reframe their decision as being guided by the true self after the decision was made. We found that this reframing facilitated decision satisfaction even though the decision was actually made using alternative instructions, suggesting that perceptions of TSAG may directly drive the observed effects on decision satisfaction as opposed to actual use of the true self per se. Finally, in Study 5, we found evidence that the effect of TSAG instructions was more robust in moral (vs. nonmoral) dilemmas and not contingent on the dilemmas being easy or difficult. 

Did cooperation among strangers decline in the United States? A cross-temporal meta-analysis of social dilemmas (1956-2017)
Mingliang Yuan et al.
Psychological Bulletin, March-April 2022, Pages 129-157

Cooperation among strangers has been hypothesized to have declined in the United States over the past several decades, an alarming trend that has potential far-reaching societal consequences. To date, most research that supports a decline in cooperation has relied on self-report measures or archival data. Here, we utilize the history of experimental research on cooperation in situations involving conflicting interests (i.e., social dilemmas). We meta-analyzed 511 studies conducted between 1956 and 2017 with 660 unique samples and effect sizes involving 63,342 participants to test whether the average level of cooperation observed in these studies had declined over time. We found no evidence for a decline in cooperation over the 61-year period. Instead, we found a slight increase in cooperation over time. In addition, some societal indicators (e.g., income inequality, societal wealth, urbanization level, and percentage of people living alone) measured 10 to 5 years prior to measures of cooperation were found to be positively associated with cooperation, suggesting that they may be potential societal underpinnings of increases in cooperation. These findings challenge the idea that social capital and civic cooperation among strangers have declined in the United States over time, and we offer directions for future research to understand causes of an increase in cooperation. 

Enhanced endogenous oxytocin signaling in the brain modulates neural responses to social misalignment and promotes conformity in humans: A multi-locus genetic profile approach
Minwoo Lee et al.
Psychoneuroendocrinology, forthcoming

The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is known to promote social conformity. However, the specific neurocognitive mechanisms underlying OT-induced conformity remain unclear. We aimed to address this gap by examining how genetic variation in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is linked with behavioral conformity and its underlying neural systems. Specifically, we utilized the genotype-tissue expression database (GTEx) to create a novel multi-locus genetic profile score (MPS) that reflects the level of OXTR expression in the human brain. A total of 194 participants (Neuroimaging N=50, Behavioral N=144) performed a novel conformity task in which they viewed a series of word pairs depicting various moral values and virtues widely recognized in the United States. In each trial, participants indicated the relative importance of these words and subsequently learned about the majority opinion. Participants later rated the same word pairs a second time. Changes in participants' ratings between the first and second sessions were measured and analyzed with respect to social feedback, blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals, and OXTR MPS. We found that participants adjusted their ratings in accordance with the majority opinions. Social misalignment between self and others activated the brain areas such as the striatum and the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC). However, unlike most findings from previous studies, activation in the pMFC during the inconsistent social feedback negatively, rather than positively, predicted behavioral conformity. Notably, those with higher OXTR MPS had reduced pMFC activation in the face of social misalignment, which led to greater conformity. Our findings suggest that OT may promote conformity by dampening the conflict-related signals in the pMFC. They also show that OXTR MPS may be useful for studying the effect of genes on highly complex human social traits, such as conformity.

Collective transcendence beliefs shape the sacredness of objects: The case of art
Siyin Chen, Rachel Ruttan & Matthew Feinberg
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Many objects are viewed as sacred even though few people have a strong personal connection to them. To explain this phenomenon, we used art as a case study to develop and test a theory wherein collective transcendence beliefs - beliefs that an object links the collective to something larger and more important than the self, spanning space and time - are a key determinant of the sacredness of objects. Initial inductive studies pointed to perceptions of collective spirituality, collective meaning, and historical significance to humanity as the primary collective transcendence beliefs underlying the sacredness of art (Study 1), and subsequent exploration indicated that collective meaning was a mechanism by which collective spirituality and historical significance to humanity influenced sacredness judgments (Study 2). In support of this, six experimental studies demonstrated that heightening the collective spirituality and historical significance of an artwork resulted in participants viewing the artwork as more collectively meaningful, and subsequently more sacred (Studies 3-6), worthy of protection from the profane (Studies 3c and 6), and eliciting moral outrage in the face of desecration (Study 5). In all, across these studies (N = 5,304), we found converging evidence that collective transcendence beliefs elevate various forms of art (sculpture, music, and painting) to be held as sacred, even an amateur sketch done by the first author. Our findings uncover a novel mechanism underlying sacredness judgments, theoretically advancing our understanding of the sacred while pointing to a number of important real-world implications.

Moral Expansiveness Around the World: The Role of Societal Factors Across 36 Countries
Kelly Kirkland et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

What are the things that we think matter morally, and how do societal factors influence this? To date, research has explored several individual-level and historical factors that influence the size of our 'moral circles.' There has, however, been less attention focused on which societal factors play a role. We present the first multi-national exploration of moral expansiveness - that is, the size of people's moral circles across countries. We found low generalized trust, greater perceptions of a breakdown in the social fabric of society, and greater perceived economic inequality were associated with smaller moral circles. Generalized trust also helped explain the effects of perceived inequality on lower levels of moral inclusiveness. Other inequality indicators (i.e., Gini coefficients) were, however, unrelated to moral expansiveness. These findings suggest that societal factors, especially those associated with generalized trust, may influence the size of our moral circles. 

Genetic essentialist beliefs about criminality predict harshness of recommended punishment
Meredith Meyer et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Genetic essentialism is a set of beliefs holding that certain categories have a heritable, intrinsic, and biological basis. The current studies explore people's genetic essentialist beliefs about criminality, how such essentialism relates to beliefs about appropriate punishment, and the kinds of judgments and motivations that underlie these associations. Study 1 validated a novel task, in which respondents estimated how possible it would be for a child to inherit criminal behavior from a sperm donor with whom they had no contact. Studies 2-4 used this task to address how genetic essentialist beliefs related to the harmfulness of a crime and the harshness of recommended punishment. Results indicated a tendency to essentialize both low- and high-harm crimes, though genetic essentialism was higher for more harmful crimes. Moreover, genetic essentialist beliefs predicted recommendations for harsher punishments, with retributive and protective motivations, as well as perceptions of recidivism risk, partially mediating this association. Further, Studies 3 and 4 found that genetic essentialism positively predicted support for harsh punishments such as the death penalty, as well as support for directing financial resources more toward law enforcement and less toward social support. Lay theories about criminality may have profound implications for decisions about appropriate punishment for wrongdoers, as well as broader policy decisions about crime, punishment, and resource allocation.

Value computation in humans
Daniel Sznycer
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming

Things afford positive, neutral, or negative long-run effects on the replicative probability of the focal individual's genes. At the most general level, values are internal estimates of those effects. Value information steers physiology and behavior in the right direction: approach apple, avoid lion. Thus, value computation is of paramount biological importance. Task analysis suggests there are many prerequisites for valuing things aptly. Here, I focus on two: the need to compute value accurately, and the need to properly feed and integrate value information into the various systems that use value information (e.g., emotion systems). For example, the subjective food value imputed to an apple needs to reflect the nutrient content of the apple (accuracy); the intensity of gratitude aroused if someone gave you an apple needs to reflect the food value imputed to the apple (integration). Here, I evaluate these hypotheses with two preregistered studies. Consistent with the integration hypothesis, there are close correspondences between (i) the food values that participants impute to each of 40 food items (Study 1; goods) and (ii) the social values and the social emotions (including: gratitude, anger, shame, and pride) that result when those food items occur as constituents of broader social events. Similar correspondences are observed when participants evaluate each of 28 diseases and injuries (Study 2; bads). Consistent with the accuracy hypothesis, exploratory analyses indicate that the food values, the social values, and the social emotions elicited by the food items all track the nutrient content of those food items. Valuation is inherently a computational process. For this reason, a computational-functionalist perspective is distinctively suited to spur progress in our understanding of human values.

Attributing ownership to hold others accountable
Emily Elizabeth Stonehouse & Ori Friedman
Cognition, forthcoming 

Ownership is often viewed as demarcating who can use resources and who is restricted from using them. This paper explores another side of ownership - ownership may be attributed to mark individuals as accountable and responsible for causing harm. Across eight experiments, participants (total N = 2517) read vignettes where an agent's actions led resources to be deposited on others' land (Experiments 1-5) or on unowned land (Experiments 6-8). The resources benefitted, harmed, or had no effect on the landowners, or on plants and animals on the land. This manipulation caused an asymmetry between harms and benefits in ownership judgments. Participants more strongly endorsed the agent as owner for harmful resources than beneficial ones, and they also judged it more acceptable for the agent to retrieve harmful resources from others' land. In contrast, participants more strongly endorsed resources as belonging to landowners or to no one when they were beneficial rather than harmful. We also found that participants endorsed the agent as owning harmful resources even when other means were available for conveying the agent was accountable. Together, our findings show that ownership serves functions besides rewarding individuals with rights over property and besides ensuring individuals are responsible for harm caused by their property - people also attribute ownership to ensure that wrongdoers remain connected and accountable for harm they cause. We discuss implications for theories of ownership, and how our findings relate to other asymmetries between harms and benefits.

When the poor give more than the rich: The role of resource evaluability on relative giving
Andrea Pittarello et al.
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, forthcoming

Five experiments examined the role of resource evaluability on giving. We systematically varied participants' resources they and another potential donor received and whether they could donate to a recipient either by themselves or with the other donor. Participants in the relative advantage condition received more resources than the other donor, and those in the relative disadvantage condition received fewer resources than the other donor. The presence of the other donor made participants' resources evaluable and shaped giving: Relatively disadvantaged participants were proportionally more generous than advantaged participants but only when they could evaluate their resources. Neither the mere presence of others nor reputational concerns could explain the results. Exploratory mediation and moderation analyses further showed that relatively disadvantaged participants give proportionally more the higher and the more equal they perceive their status to the advantaged donor. This shows that the generosity of those who have less does depend on how they evaluate their status compared to other donors. Our results provide insights into the question of why and when resource asymmetries between donors result in prosocial giving and can influence fundraising strategies of charitable organizations.


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