“In the Eye of the Beholder: Parochial Altruism, Radicalization, and Extremism” By Zoey Reeve [The Evolution Institute]

“In the Eye of the Beholder: Parochial Altruism, Radicalization, and Extremism

By Zoey Reeve

Zoey Reeve has a background in Psychology, Terrorism Studies and Political Science, and is a VOX-Pol Fellow.  Her research focuses on the social-evolutionary psychology of radicalization and terrorism in both online and offline spheres.

In the Eye of the Beholder: Parochial Altruism, Radicalization, and Extremism

(…)

However, this stance inhibits our capacity to understand the radicalization process because it exceptionalizes people on the basis of what can be, admittedly, a set of rather exceptional behaviors (i.e. suicide terrorism), though often also increasingly includes unexceptional behaviors (i.e. providing funding, logistics, or even just online support for certain groups). Radicalization and extremism are thus little more than labels. The ‘in the eye of the beholder’ philosophy is a luxury that some cannot afford, and perhaps many are unable to stomach. But it leaves us better equipped to understand why (some) people may engage in what we currently think of as extremism and violent extremism because it looks to normal psychological processes and mechanisms that are involved in the radicalization process, rather focusing on the qualities that we have labeled as exceptional.

One such psychological mechanism is Parochial Altruism. Parochial altruism is the propensity for humans to engage in costly-to-self behavior to protect group members from non-group members.2 One (of many) causes of death in ancestral times was outgroups. Whether due to resource encroachment, the spread of disease and parasites, or overt aggression, the mere presence of outgroups would have been enough to trigger parochial altruism. Parochial altruistic responses include fear, withdrawal or fleeing, withholding benefits/resources, and overt hostility and aggression. Presuming that an individual belongs to a sufficiently important group, perceptions of threat to that group will stir parochial altruism in modern humans, despite these conditions being unlikely to manifest in the potential existential threat that may have occurred during ancestral times. This is known as mismatch.3″

“The Evolutionary Psychology of Mass Mobilization: How Disinformation and Demagogues Coordinate Rather Than Manipulate by Michael Bang Petersen [Current Opinion in Psychology, 20 February 2020]

“The Evolutionary Psychology of Mass Mobilization: How Disinformation and Demagogues Coordinate Rather Than Manipulate

Michael Bang Petersen

Current Opinion in Psychology

Available online 20 February 2020

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X20300208

Highlights

• Violent mobilization is often attributed to manipulation from, for example, demagogues.

• The human mind contains psychological defenses against manipulation, also in politics.

• Mass mobilization requires that the attention of group members is coordinated.

• Demagogues and disinformation can be explained as tools for achieving coordination.

• Mobilized individuals are predisposed for conflict rather than manipulated into conflict.

Large-scale mobilization is often accompanied by the emergence of demagogic leaders and the circulation of unverified rumors, especially if the mobilization happens in support of violent or disruptive projects. In those circumstances, researchers and commentators frequently explain the mobilization as a result of mass manipulation. Against this view, evolutionary psychologists have provided evidence that human psychology contains mechanisms for avoiding manipulation and new studies suggest that political manipulation attempts are, in general, ineffective. Instead, we can understand decisions to follow demagogic leaders and circulate fringe rumors as attempts to solve a social problem inherent to mobilization processes: The coordination problem. Essentially, these decisions reflect attempts to align the attention of individuals already disposed for conflict.

(…)

In this review, I ask: What are the psychological processes underlying large-scale mobilization of individuals for conflict-oriented projects? The focus is on the specific psychological role fulfilled by (a) strong leaders, (b) propaganda and (c) fringe beliefs in the context of successful mobilization processes. Understanding this role is of essential importance in current political climates where we witness a combination of political conflict, the emergence of populist leaders and concerns about the circulation of “fake news” on social media platforms.

A frequently-cited perspective is that large-scale mobilization for conflict-oriented projects reflects the use of propaganda by demagogues to manipulate the opinions of lay individuals by exploiting their reasoning deficiencies. Here, I review the emerging evidence for an alternative perspective, promoted especially within evolutionary psychology, which suggests that the primary function of leaders and information-circulation is to coordinate individuals already predisposed for conflict (1, 2**, 3). As reviewed below, human psychology contains sophisticated defenses against manipulation (4**) and, hence, it is extremely difficult to attain large-scale mobilization without the widespread existence of prior beliefs that such mobilization is beneficially. Furthermore, a range of counter-intuitive features about demagogues, disinformation and distorted beliefs is readily explained by a coordination perspective.

(…)

In general, leadership and followership evolved to solve coordination problems (21, 27) and there are reasons to expect that authoritarian leaders will solve these coordination problems to the benefit of those who seek aggression (19). Authoritarian leaders often have aggressive personalities themselves and, hence, are more likely to choose this focal point rather than others. Also, authoritarian leaders are more likely to aggressively enforce collection action, thereby also providing a solution to the free-rider problem. Consistent with this coordination-for-aggression perspective on preferences for dominant leaders, such leader preferences are specifically predicted by feelings of anger rather than, for example, fear (28, 29, 30), suggesting that people decide to follow dominant leaders to commit to an offensive strategy against the target group (28).

This perspective also explains highly counter-intuitive features of the appeal of demagogues. If followers search for the optimal leader to solve conflict-related problems of coordination, they will seek out candidates who are willing to violate normative expectations by engaging in obvious lying (31**) and who displays a personality oriented towards conflict, even if such personalities under other circumstances would be considered unappealing (2**).

(…)

Another propaganda tactic is moralistic in nature. Thus, in less violent forms of groupbased conflict, including in the context of modern social media discussions, an often-used tactic is to direct attention towards a group’s or person’s violation of moral principles. Moral principles are effective tools for large-scale coordination because they suggest that the target behavior is universally relevant (1, 34*, 35). Consistent with the coordination perspective, however, recent research suggests that the motivations to broadcast such violations can reflect attempts to mobilize others for self-interested causes. Thus, the airing of such moral principles, referred to as moralgrandstanding, is strongly motivated by status-seeking (36*) and there is increasing evidence that the acceptance of moral principles shifts flexibly with changes in self-interest (37).

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Consistent with this, recent evidence shows that political affiliation is a strong predictor of statements of belief in fringe stories such as conspiracy theories and “fake news” (3, 42**).

(…)

Overall, the effects of the coordination problem on mobilization processes are dual. On the one hand, the existence of the coordination problem means that groups and societies can be stable even if they contain large minority segments of individuals who share disruptive, violent or prejudiced view. On the other hand, the existence of the coordination problem also implies that this stability can be quickly undermined if suddenly coordination is achieved. Not because people are manipulated; but because a sufficient number of them direct attention to a particular set of preferences simultaneously.”

“Find something morally sickening? Take a ginger pill” – Jessica Tracy [aeon]

“Find something morally sickening? Take a ginger pill

Jessica Tracy

is a professor of psychology and a Sauder Distinguished Scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She is the director of the Self and Emotion Lab at UBC, and an associate editor at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. She is also the author of Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success (2016).

https://aeon.co/ideas/find-something-morally-sickening-take-a-ginger-pill

(…)

“This gap in scientific knowledge led my former graduate student Conor Steckler to come up with a brilliant idea. As those prone to motion sickness might know, ginger root can reduce nausea. Steckler suggested we feed people ginger pills, then ask them to weigh in on morally questionable scenarios – behaviours such as peeing in a public pool, or buying a sex doll that looks like one’s receptionist. If people’s moral beliefs are wrapped up in their bodily sensations, then giving them a pill that reduces some of those sensations might reduce how wrong those behaviours seem.

In my psychology lab at the University of British Columbia, we filled empty gel capsules with either ginger powder or sugar (for randomly assigned control participants); in a double-blind design, neither the participants nor the researchers running the study knew who received which pill. After swallowing their pills and waiting 40 minutes for them to metabolise, participants were asked to read scenarios describing a range of possible moral infractions, and tell us how morally wrong they believed each to be. Sure enough, as we reported in an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2019, we found the predicted difference. Those who ingested ginger decided that some of those violations, such as someone peeing in your swimming pool, were not so wrong after all. Blocking their nausea changed our participants’ moral beliefs.

(…)

The violations that were affected by ginger, in contrast, centred on maintaining the purity of one’s own body. These transgressions are ones that have, historically, carried a high likelihood of transmitting disease. As a result, it is evolutionarily adaptive for us to feel disgusted by, and consequently avoid, close contact with dead bodies, human faeces and certain unsafe sex practices. Throughout human evolutionary history, moralising these behaviours, along with others that protect the sanctity of the body, might have been a useful way for societies to shield their members from dangerous germs they had no cognitive awareness of. According to the psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues, in many cultures this presumably adaptive tendency morphed into a broader ethic that uses concepts such as purity, sanctity and sin to discourage behaviours perceived to cause some manner of bodily degradation. In many cultures, these rules have stretched far beyond their original adaptive purposes; today, across the globe, societies regulate individuals’ purity-related behaviours by invoking morality in ways that sometimes do – but just as often do not – lead to actual health or social benefits.

We were able to shift people’s sanctity beliefs simply by giving them ginger. A moral view that changes on the basis of how nauseous we feel is probably not one that we want to put a lot of stake in.”

***

“The physiological basis of psychological disgust and moral judgments.

Tracy, Jessica L. Steckler, Conor M. Heltzel, Gordon

[Tracy, J. L., Steckler, C. M., & Heltzel, G. (2019). The physiological basis of psychological disgust and moral judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(1), 15–32. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000141

Abstract

To address ongoing debates about whether feelings of disgust are causally related to moral judgments, we pharmacologically inhibited spontaneous disgust responses to moral infractions and examined effects on moral thinking. Findings demonstrated, first, that the antiemetic ginger (Zingiber officinale), known to inhibit nausea, reduces feelings of disgust toward nonmoral purity-offending stimuli (e.g., bodily fluids), providing the first experimental evidence that disgust is causally rooted in physiological nausea (Study 1). Second, this same physiological experience was causally related to moral thinking: ginger reduced the severity of judgments toward purity-based moral violations (Studies 2 and 4) or eliminated the tendency for people higher in bodily sensation awareness to make harsher moral judgments than those low in this dispositional tendency (Study 3). In all studies, effects were restricted to moderately severe purity-offending stimuli, consistent with preregistered predictions. Together, findings provide the first evidence that psychological disgust can be disrupted by an antiemetic and that doing so has consequences for moral judgments. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)”

Petersen, Michael Bang. “The evolutionary psychology of mass politics”. In Applied Evolutionary Psychology (Oxford, 2012)

Applied Evolutionary Psychology

S. Craig Roberts (ed.)

Print ISBN-13: 9780199586073

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

Chapter 8 – The evolutionary psychology of mass politics

Michael Bang Petersen

https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586073.001.0001/acprof-9780199586073-chapter-0008

A number of modern political issues mimic ancestral problems of social living. By implication, our evolved social psychology is engaged by mass politics and helps facilitate the formation of public opinion and behaviour. Yet, the contextual differences between ancestral small-scale interaction and mass politics are many in terms of scale. On the one hand, the automatic operations of our evolved psychology prompt individuals to disregard these differences: individuals effectively think about mass political issues as small-scale social problems. On other hand, in the large-scale setting of mass politics, individuals cannot rely on directly available cues but are left with cues provided by media and political elites or, when these too are absent, on internally-generated cues. In these situations, our evolved social psychology will not so much facilitate a clear choice as produce ambivalence and attitudinal inconsistencies.

Keywords: evolutionary politics, leadership, voting, social behaviour

***

“Whenever an individualturns on the television, picks up a newspaper, or browses the Internet, it is likely that he or she willbe confronted with the developments in national or international politics. In this chapter, I will investigate how lay individuals process these developments and form opinions on them using evolved decision-making mechanisms. As will be seen, ancestral life in small hunter/gatherer groups has selected for a suite of mechanisms that are engaged by mass politics, but at the sametime these mechanisms evolved to function within a radically different context. By implication, whenever a mass political problem engages the evolved mind, it seems to be psychologically reduced to a problem of small-scale interaction.

(…)

The political animal

As group-living animals, a range of social problems such as sharing decisions, formation of collective action, punishment of free-riders, management of intergroup relations, and hierarchy formation would directly have impinged on the survival and reproduction of our ancestors (Buss 2005). The evidence supporting this assertion is overwhelming. Anthropologists have, for example, carefully compiled a list of human universals (i.e. traits that are present in all known human cultures). This list features inherently collective traits such collective identities, conflict, conflict mediation, cooperation, ethnocentrism, government, group living, law, leaders, property, sanctions for crime, and trade (Pinker 2002). Furthermore, the fossil record provides evidence that many of these activities are not only universal but have deep evolutionary roots. Hence, archaeological findings document that our ancestors have cared for the crippled and injured at least since 1.77 million years ago (Hublin 2009), have had elements of social organization at least since 750,000 years ago (Alperson-Afil et al. 2009), have hunted cooperatively and shared meat within groups at least since 400,000 years ago (Stiner et al . 2009), and have used weapons to engage inconspecific aggression since at least the Middle Palaeolithic (Walker 2001).

(…)

These insights from evolutionary psychology are important for our understanding of political behaviour because ancestral problems related to social living carry structural similarities to modern political problems such as welfare, tax payments, criminal sanctions, immigration, warfare, race relations, and redistribution (Alford and Hibbing 2004; Schreiber 2006; Petersen 2009). Both sets of problems are, essentially, about distributions of costs and benefits within and between groups. By implication it is plausible that, during normal development, the human mind builds a tool box of mental programs directly applicable to the issues of mass politics. This toolbox should facilitate the formation of political attitudes and the execution of political decisions.

To the evolved mind, all politics is local

Our social decision-making apparatus was designed by natural selection to produce decisions that would constitute adaptive ‘best bets’ in the particular environment in which it evolved (Toobyand Cosmides 1992). In this respect, it is notable and important that modern politics is played out in large-scale nation states comprising millions of individuals, because large-scale societies are extremely recent evolutionary phenomena. States first emerged in the world around 5000 before present (BP) and, while state technology rapidly diffused to some parts of the world, states inother parts of the world were only formed within the last centuries (Petersen and Skaaning 2010).For millions of years prior to that, human evolved as hunters and gatherers in small-scale groups with between 25 and 200 individuals (Kelly 1995). Most parts of our species-typical social decision-making apparatus are, in other words, designed to be operative within the causal structure of a small-scale social environment rather than a large-scale mass society. This implies, first,that the input this apparatus is designed to extract and process from decision-making contexts would be cues causally relevant for adaptive choice in small-scale interaction and, second, that the cognitive and motivational output this apparatus produces is that which would solve a given problem in a small-scale context.

We have no reason to believe that modern individuals should be particularly aware of these built-in assumptions and, hence, they may not be able to correct for them. Rather, prior research in other fields suggests that evolved decision-rules operate in an automated fashion. This has important consequences (Price 2008), for example, argues that because of their automated nature, evolved decision-rules are switched on by any cues that mimic ancestrally recurrent cues even when these are present in a novel situation and, upon triggering, cause individuals to misapprehend the novel situation as a related evolutionarily recurrent one (see also Hagen andHammerstein 2006).

(…)

to the extent that individuals’ attitudes on modern political issues are formed using evolved decision making mechanisms, these attitudes will implicitly assume that mass politics are in fact played outin a local small-scale setting. In other words, to paraphrase an often heard expression about politics: to the evolved mind, all politics is local. The information that people find intuitively relevant when producing political choices will be information of relevance in small-scale social environments; and the political solutions that people will find intuitively correct will be solutions that work within such environments. This effect, it must be stressed, does not arise because modern individuals are not consciously aware that the problems of state-centred politics are different from the problems they encounter in local settings with, for example, their wife, friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Rather, it is because the automatic operations of evolved decision-rulesswamp the opinion formation process of individuals and make the differences seem irrelevant and uninteresting.

(…)

individuals think about mass politics in terms of ancestral small-scale interaction–whether or not this is rational from a modern-day perspective. Hence, males react as if disputesover national policies were a matter of direct physical confrontation among small numbers of individuals, rather than abstract electoral dynamics among millions.

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Ancestral coalitional conflict and political groups

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Our evolved coalitional machinery should be activated in all contexts containing cues that ancestrally would have disclosed the existence of group-based cooperation and conflict. In modern politics, one such context is conflict between political parties. Political parties are characterized by high levels of within-party cooperation and between-party conflict. By implication then, some of the above mechanisms should also take effect in modern party politics. In one study, affiliations with a political party were found to be psychologically represented as coalitional affiliations — atleast for males. Stanton et al. (2009) followed party supporters on the night of the 2007 US presidential elections, measuring their testosterone levels. Studies of humans and other animals have demonstrated that male testosterone levels fall in response to losing status, presumably to motivatea de-escalation of conflict. The same hormonal pattern was observed among supporters of the Republican party immediately after Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, was announced as the winner. Having voted for the losing party felt just like losing a direct status competition.

Another study focused on the notion that, if political affiliation is conceptualized as a coalitional identity, political attitudes can come to serve as coalitional badges (Petersen et al. in prep.). That is, individuals can come to have certain attitudes to signal that they are loyal partisans. If parties change position on an issue, voters usually do not shift allegiance to another party but rather change their position too (e.g. Goren 2005; Zaller 1992). In support of an evolutionary interpretation of these effects, Petersen et al. (in prep.) identified sex differences in the way citizens’ attitudes are used as coalitional badges. Subjects were primed with demeaning statements about a party attributed to a spokesman from another party. After priming, they were asked about their opinion on a policy proposal that was either attributed to the attacked party or the attacking party (keeping the content of the proposal constant) and, hence, were provided withan opportunity for signalling coalitional loyalty. As expected, males reacted in a highly coalitional manner to the primes. When their preferred party was attacked in the statement, they became more willing to support policy when attributed to their party, and less willing to support it when it was attributed to the other party. Females, however, reacted in a conciliatory fashion. When their preferred party was attacked by another party, they become more willing to accept the policy proposal by this other party, as if to appease the attacker. Female appeasement strategies have been observed among females in small-scale conflict situations (Salter et al. 2005) and make evolutionary sense in this context given the lack of female physical strength. In modern party politics, however, there seems to be less, if any, rational reason to back off in this manner.

The anonymity of mass politics and processing implications

The above examples illustrate situations where modern humans misapprehend political issues as ancestral adaptive problems. From this, one obvious expectation would be that people intuitively find politics interesting and engaging. After all, the argument implies that politics is implicitly represented as about matters of survival and reproduction. While there is certainly truth to this, it is, however, not the whole truth. The human political animal is, in fact, one with a paradoxically low interest in day-to-day affairs of modern politics. Since the first studies of public opinion and voting behaviour, political scientists have repeatedly documented how little citizens know, think, and care about politics (e.g. Converse 1964; Zaller 1992). Specifically, researchers have demonstrated that citizens do not know basic facts concerning their political system, such as the numberof seats in the legislature or the identity of those holding specific office (Carpini and Keeter 1996).Furthermore, a number of studies have demonstrated that a large number of people find it difficult to decide on political issues. On issues such as abortion and criminal justice, the public are ambivalent and most see merits in the arguments of both sides (Craig and Martinez 2005). Finally, a large number of studies have revealed that citizens have difficulties in sticking to their principles. Even though individuals in general support freedom of speech for everybody, they are often quite willing to limit the freedoms of specific groups (McClosky and Brill 1983). Similarly, individuals who support harsh punishments for crimes can be quite lenient towards specific criminals (Roberts 1992).

Any attempt to apply evolutionary psychology to the study of modern political attitudes and behaviour needs to reconcile the conclusion from evolutionary biology that humans are political animals with these observations from political science. If humans were endowed with a natural sense of politics, would citizens not think of mass politics as an interesting and intuitive affair?

Processing without cues

One reason that this turns out not to be the case is that some modern issues bear little relation ship to recurrent adaptive problems and, hence, do not activate natural intuitions. Technological advances in modern society have spawned a range of new issues (e.g. regulation of the macroeconomy). From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, such novel issues that do not fit evolved decision-mechanisms should indeed appear uninteresting and difficult to grasp. Yet, the technological advances of modern societies are insufficient to explain the lack of political attention among modern citizens. In addition, one needs — again — to focus on the contextual differences between modern mass politics and ancestral social interaction. Hence, the key to understanding how a political animal can be quite politically inattentive lies in the fact that our social decision-making mechanisms evolved in information-dense situations characterized by repeated face-to-face interactions. By implication, to disclose and solve adaptive problems of social life, our decision-making mechanisms are designed to rely on intimate social cues such asfacial expressions, knowledge of past interactions, and so on.

In the context of mass politics, these myriad subtle cues will often be lacking. Given that modern politics is played out in large-scale nation states comprising millions of individuals, the majority of citizens do not know and will never meet each other, and most often, citizens are required to form opinions and impressions of anonymous strangers. Modern politics, in other words, is characterized by information scarcity and our decision-making apparatus is unable to extract the detailed information necessary for its execution.”

“Partisanship predicts belief in fake news more strongly than conspiracy mentality, study finds” [PsyPost]

“Partisanship predicts belief in fake news more strongly than conspiracy mentality, study finds

By ERIC W. DOLAN February 6, 2020

https://www.psypost.org/2020/02/partisanship-predicts-belief-in-fake-news-more-strongly-than-conspiracy-mentality-study-finds-55464

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Supporters of the current Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, were more likely to rate the pro-government fake news as coming from an independent source and were more likely to believe that the pro-government fake news was real. But Orbán supporters were less likely to view the anti-government fake news as real.

Opponents of Orbán’s government, on the other hand, were more likely to rate the anti-government fake news as coming from an independent source and were more likely to believe that the anti-government fake news was real, but were more skeptical of the pro-government fake news.

Conspiracy mentality, a measure of one’s propensity to endorse conspiracy theories, was only weakly linked to belief in anti-government fake news.

“Despite fake news and conspiracy theories often being mentioned interchangeably, our research revealed that they do not necessarily overlap. We focused on wish-fulfilling political fake news, which was unrelated to the general mentality to believe in conspiracy theories. Therefore, our research suggests that pipedream fake news is processed like any other information,” Faragó explained.

(…)

“The perception of the source is also important in the evaluation process: if the news is consistent with our beliefs, we more likely think that the news was written by an independent journalist, but if the news contradicts our viewpoint, we assume that it is biased and part of political propaganda,” Faragó added.

“When we read news, the satisfaction with the economic situation is also an important factor: if we are satisfied with the economy and the political management, we will trust pro-government news more, even if it is fake, and regard opposition news as political propaganda.”

“Therefore, we should read news that come from our own side even more critically,” Faragó said.”

***

We only believe in news that we doctored ourselves: The connection between partisanship and political fake news.

Faragó, Laura; Kende, Anna; Krekó, Péter

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-57441-001

Abstract

In this research we aimed to explore the importance of partisanship behind the belief in wish-fulfilling political fake news. We tested the role of political orientation, partisanship, and conspiracy mentality in the acceptance of pro- and anti-government pipedream fake news. Using a representative survey (N = 1,000) and a student sample (N = 382) in Hungary, we found that partisanship predicted belief in political fake news more strongly than conspiracy mentality, and these connections were mediated by the perceived credibility of source (independent journalism vs. political propaganda) and economic sentiment. Our findings suggest that political bias can be more important in predicting acceptance of pipedream political fake news than conspiracy mentality. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

“Why Face Masks Are Going Viral” by Gideon Lasco [Sapiens]

“Why Face Masks Are Going Viral [Sapiens]

As the new coronavirus epidemic spreads, more and more people are wearing surgical masks—despite their questionable effectiveness. An anthropologist explores the reasons why.

Gideon Lasco is a senior lecturer of anthropology at the University of the Philippines.

https://www.sapiens.org/culture/coronavirus-mask

(…)

People’s motivation for wearing these masks goes far beyond simple considerations of medical efficacy. Cultural values, perceptions of control, social pressure, civic duty, family concerns, self-expression, beliefs about public institutions, and even politics are all wrapped up in the “symbolic efficacy” of face masks.

(…)

Scholars have proposed various additional explanations for the popularity of face masks in Japan. Some say the practice conforms with the country’s notions of cleanliness and purity. One study suggested Japanese society has lost trust in public institutions in recent decades, prompting people to become more self-protective. In another survey, Japanese people said they primarily used masks to protect themselves but that the practice also demonstrates consideration for others and a respect for etiquette. For many, masks are a kind of “safety blanket,” and the simple act of putting them on is a “risk ritual” that provides comfort and quells anxiety.

(…)

Perhaps the perception of control also informs the narratives of Filipino people I have spoken with about their decision to wear masks. “I don’t want to infect my children,” Fely (a pseudonym), a mall worker in Quezon City, told me. “Even if doctors say it’s not necessary, I will wear it anyway because my family is at stake.”

“I feel uneasy when I see others wearing masks and I’m not,” said Justine (a pseudonym), a college student in Manila, adding that “there’s nothing to lose” by wearing them.

(…)

Disease epidemics set off an “epidemic of explanation,” in which societies search for a cause of the contagion, according to medical sociologist Philip Strong. At the same time, outbreaks heighten preexisting fears of societal dangers, which can cause flare ups of racial, social, and economic prejudices. The subsequent symptoms can include stigma, exclusion, and what cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas calls a politicized “blaming system.”

(…)

Anthropologists have explored these varying responses. In times of scarcity, some groups become more selfish. Others uphold reciprocity, a powerful and universal human value. And many communities practice “need-based transfer”—based on the idea that, in times of trouble, people help because they assume others would do the same for them.

Following the eruption of the Taal volcano in the Philippines, face masks became the currency not just of greed but also of goodwill. One of the most iconic images of the crisis is a photo of a man distributing free masks to help protect people from inhaling ashfall.

Face masks are likely to become increasingly common as the climate crisis exacerbates wildfires and other natural disasters, as air pollution worsens in many cities, and as global connectivity heightens the risk of pandemics. As masks become more integrated into everyday life, they will continue to reveal facets of human cultures as much as they conceal our faces.”

“Individuals are more optimistic about their own political parties or sports teams than others” [Medical Xpress]

“Individuals are more optimistic about their own political parties or sports teams than others

by Michelle Klampe, Oregon State University

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-02-individuals-optimistic-political-parties-sports.html

People tend to be irrationally optimistic about the future success of their sports team or political party, while supporters of their rivals hold similar overly positive views about the performance of their own group, a new study from Oregon State University has found.

“People hold biases about their own groups that lead them to believe good things are more likely for their team or party,” said Colleen Bee, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business and one of the paper’s authors. “But the rival group also believes this about their team or party. These distorted and diametrically opposed points of view can lead to tension among rival groups, as we see in today’s political and sports worlds.”

The research, published recently in the European Journal of Social Psychology, shows that these biases are based on close affiliations people have with certain groups and these groups are an important part of how they define themselves. Previously, these biases have only been observed at the individual level.

The findings have practical implications for intergroup relations such as conflict resolution and negotiation as well as for communications strategies for group-related entities such as workplace organizations, sports teams or rival brands, said Bee, whose research interests include sports marketing and consumer behavior.

(…)

Given that group membership is an important part of how individuals define themselves, King and Bee wanted to better understand whether people’s individual biases extend to the groups they affiliate with, even though group members don’t have access to the internal thinking of a political party or a sports team.

(…)

The researchers surveyed Democrats and Republicans prior to the midterm election in 2018, asking them to evaluate one of the two political parties. Some evaluated the party they belonged to, while others evaluated their rival party. Again, the participants indicated they were more optimistic about their own party and its chances in the upcoming election than the other party’s chances.

“We tend to think our team or political party is more capable of change and improvement than the rival group,” Bee said, “and that our team or political party will be better in the future.”

***

“European Journal of Social Psychology

Better in the (near) future: Group‐based differences in forecasting biases

Jesse S. King, Colleen C. Bee

First published:30 September 2019

https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2634

Abstract

Social identities are an important component of an individual’s self‐concept. In the current research, we examine how identification with a group can lead to biased intergroup judgments similar to those made when evaluating the self, relative to others. We compared evaluations of in‐ and outgroups in order to examine differences in temporal perspective and optimistic evaluations. Our findings suggest that compared to an outgroup, ingroup members more strongly consider the future potential of their group, are more optimistic when considering future ingroup outcomes, and hold a more uniformly positive view of an ingroup’s future. Furthermore, we find that when evaluating ingroups, shifts in temporal perspectives are related to greater optimism. We conclude by discussing theoretical implications and future research related to temporal judgments and social groups.”

“George Lakoff: ‘Liberals do everything wrong’; ‘Oxford philosophy is killing the world'” [2014]

“George Lakoff: ‘Conservatives don’t follow the polls, they want to change them … Liberals do everything wrong’ [2014]

Interview

By Zoe Williams

First published on Sat 1 Feb 2014 08.45 GMT

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/01/george-lakoff-interview

“The progressive mindset is screwing up the world. The progressive mindset is guaranteeing no progress on global warming. The progressive mindset is saying, ‘Yes, fracking is fine.’ The progressive mindset is saying, ‘Yes, genetically modified organisms are OK’, when, in fact, they’re horrible, and the progressive mindset doesn’t know how to describe how horrible they are. There’s a difference between progressive morality, which is great, and the progressive mindset, which is half OK and half awful.”

George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, has been working on moral frames for 50 years. In Communicating Our American Values and Vision, he gives this precis: “Framing is not primarily about politics or political messaging or communication. It is far more fundamental than that: frames are the mental structures that allow human beings to understand reality – and sometimes to create what we take to be reality. But frames do have an enormous bearing on politics … they structure our ideas and concepts, they shape the way we reason … For the most part, our use of frames is unconscious and automatic.”

Lakoff is affable and generous. In public meetings he greets every question with: “That is an extremely good question.” But he cannot keep the frustration out of his voice: the left, he argues, is losing the political argument – every year, it cedes more ground to the right, under the mistaken impression that this will bring everything closer to the centre. In fact, there is no centre: the more progressives capitulate, the more boldly the conservatives express their vision, and the further to the right the mainstream moves. The reason is that conservatives speak from an authentic moral position, and appeal to voters’ values. Liberals try to argue against them using evidence; they are embarrassed by emotionality. They think that if you can just demonstrate to voters how their self-interest is served by a socially egalitarian position, that will work, and everyone will vote for them and the debate will be over. In fact, Lakoff asserts, voters don’t vote for bald self-interest; self-interest fails to ignite, it inspires nothing – progressives, of all people, ought to understand this.

(…)

Lakoff predicted all this in Moral Politics, first published in 1996. In it, he warned that “if liberals do not concern themselves very seriously and very quickly with the unity of their own philosophy and with morality and the family, they will not merely continue to lose elections but will as well bear responsibility for the success of conservatives in turning back the clock of progress in America.”

(…)

Much of cognitive linguistics concerns itself with how we build the mental apparatus to understand everyday situations: a hospital, or a date, or a cash machine. Erving Goffman, commonly cited as the most influential sociologist of the 20th century, wrote Frame Analysis in 1974, defining and exploring exactly how this happens. Having built the frames to understand life, we no longer deliberately plug back into it. It is unconscious; what we think of as “common sense” is merely an act or notion that resonates with one of our deep frames.

Lakoff’s work on the conceptual systems around morals and politics (and how they show up in language) has yielded two-dozen metaphors for morality, most of them universal across cultures. Of those, the two key frames informing political judgment involve the idea of government as a family: the strict-father model (conservative) versus the nurturant-parent model (progressive).

(…)

“Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don’t follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the ‘common-sense’ position.”

(…)

A classic liberal pitfall is the idea that by repeating one of the opposition’s ridiculous lines, you make it look even more absurd. “There was an election in Wisconsin,” Lakoff says, “there was a horrible governor there, and the Democrats were so stupid that they put up billboards all over the state with a picture of him smiling. They had his name in large letters next to the picture, and it says, ‘Why is this man smiling?’ And then in smaller type, it has a list of his positions, all from his point of view? As if everybody will recognise that this is a horrible man. Instead, it is a billboard in his favour. It’s about time progressives got out there and said what’s true about themselves, as well as what’s true of the other side. If you have a strong position, let’s hear it.”

(…)

It is, plainly, the longstanding failure to protect nature that powers Lakoff’s exasperation with liberals. “They don’t understand their own moral system or the other guy’s, they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t know about framing, they don’t know about metaphors, they don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, they try to hide their emotion. They do everything wrong because they’re miseducated. And they’re proud of that miseducation. Oxford philosophy reigns supreme, right? Oxford philosophy is killing the world.”

“‘Why We’re Polarized’ shows how media, emotion, politicians and more are dividing Americans” By Dan Hopkins [On Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized]

“‘Why We’re Polarized’ shows how media, emotion, politicians and more are dividing Americans

Ezra Klein explains the political science for you.

By Dan Hopkins

Jan. 29, 2020 at 9:45 a.m. GMT-3

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/01/29/why-were-polarized-shows-how-media-emotion-politicians-more-are-dividing-americans/

Few books are as well-matched to the moment of their publication as Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized.” President Trump has just become the third president ever to be impeached — and the first one where the votes have fallen almost perfectly along party lines. Klein’s careful book explains how different groups of Americans can see politics through such different lenses, examining how various psychological mechanisms allow committed partisans to rationalize almost anything their party does.

Klein first came to my attention during the 2009-2010 health-care debate, when his Washington Post blog “Wonkblog” was the go-to site for understanding the political and policy dynamics surrounding that legislation. This book fully displays the attributes that have made Klein’s journalism so successful.

The book is undeniably wonky, in the best sense of the word. Klein is an astute reader of political science and social psychology, disciplines he takes seriously. I should disclose that I occasionally wrote for Wonkblog several years ago. But given how much Klein has done to elevate political and social science, it’s hard to find a political scientist not in his debt.

Klein’s book starts with the psychological underpinnings of polarization, and then looks at ways that today’s media landscape and political institutions generate feedback loops that amplify it. In this view, polarization is self-reinforcing. Political elites divide over a question, and then citizens, picking up on those divisions, follow the natural grooves of human psychology by dividing themselves into increasingly meaningful groups. Those emerging divisions, in turn, heighten politicians’ incentives to accentuate their divisions. Thick with insight, the book is especially compelling on how today’s media environment fosters identity-infused content.

But Klein may have incorporated certain lessons from contemporary political science too well — picking up its blind spots and inheriting my discipline’s collective overemphasis on political psychology.”

***

“Why We’re Polarized

Simon & Schuster, 2020.

Ezra Klein

https://www.amazon.com.br/Why-Were-Polarized-Ezra-Klein/dp/1797107658

“America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: it’s working exactly as designed. In this book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us—and how we are polarizing it—with disastrous results.

“The American political system—which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president—is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” writes political analyst Ezra Klein. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.”

In Why We’re Polarized, Klein reveals the structural and psychological forces behind America’s descent into division and dysfunction. Neither a polemic nor a lament, this book offers a clear framework for understanding everything from Trump’s rise to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift to the politicization of everyday culture.

America is polarized, first and foremost, by identity. Everyone engaged in American politics is engaged, at some level, in identity politics. Over the past fifty years in America, our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities. These merged identities have attained a weight that is breaking much in our politics and tearing at the bonds that hold this country together.

Klein shows how and why American politics polarized around identity in the twentieth century, and what that polarization did to the way we see the world and one another. And he traces the feedback loops between polarized political identities and polarized political institutions that are driving our system toward crisis.

This is a revelatory book that will change how you look at politics, and perhaps at yourself.”

“Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind” by Alex Rosenberg [Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective]

Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind – Alex Rosenberg (Department of Philosophy, Duke University)

––––––––––––––––––

Rosenberg, Alex. 2020. “Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind.” Social Epistemology Review and
Reply Collective 9 (10): 48-57.

https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-4Mf

Those who, like me, accept scientism adopt this definition with two elisions easy to spot: we delete the word ‘unwarranted.’ Scientism has obvious and important implications for what an American humorist, Garrison Keeler, called “life’s persistent questions.” Here is a list of some of them, and the answers I believe scientism requires us to give them.

Is there a God? No.

What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.

What is the meaning of life? Ditto.

Why am I here? Just dumb luck.

Does prayer work? Of course not.

Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?

Is there free will? Not a chance!

What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.

What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.

Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.

What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.

Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.

Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with (from Rosenberg 2011, 2-3).

(…)

Until Darwin (1859) came along things looked pretty good for Kant’s (2007, XVII) pithy observation that there never would be a Newton for the blade of grass—that physics could not explain living things, human or otherwise, because it couldn’t invoke purpose.

But the process that Darwin discovered—random, or rather blind variation, and natural selection, or rather passive environmental filtration—does all the work of delivering the means/ends economy of biological nature that shouts out ‘purpose’ or ‘design’ at us.

(…)

Hardly anyone accepts scientism. Why not? Distaste? Implausibility? Too hard to understand?

All of the above, but all three of these factors are rooted in the same cause. The rejection of scientism is bred in the bone, as close to hard wired as it can be. It’s caused by our unswerving devotion to the theory of mind, a theory we carry with us and use everywhere and always.

The theory of mind (hereafter TOM) has other names—folk psychology, common sense psychology, the belief/desire model of human action. It has been formalized as the starting point of empirical cognitive social psychology.

(…)

Why does the TOM block acceptance of scientism? To begin with it does so, because it blocks the understanding and acceptance of science. The TOM makes us story-tellers and story-consumers. It’s what makes us love narratives with plots—human motivations fulfilled or thwarted. It’s what facilitates our remembering them, we even use them as devices to remember non-narrative information (cf. techniques for memorizing random lists). The TOM turned humans into hyperactive motivation detectors. Because we can’t escape relying on the TOM, we anthropomorphize everything. But of course, science doesn’t come packaged in stories about good guys, bad guys and their motives, narratives with plots.  Science is delivered in laws, equations, models, data-assembles, things we can’t keep in our heads because we can’t assemble them into stories. Our devotion to the TOM obstructs our uptake of science.

(…)

Our reliance on the TOM makes understanding science difficult just because science doesn’t come in stories with plots and motives and stories that we are hard wired to crave, to be satisfied with, to remember. Insofar as science banishes purpose, teleology, design and thus their well-understood causes—desire and belief—from nature, it makes itself hard to accept. More important, the TOM is among the presuppositions of most of our philosophically deep questions, and one of most indispensable building blocks of most of the alternative answers to these questions. Pull the TOM out from under the questions and the answers and they can’t even really be stated or answered in terms we can or will accept. But, as we will see, pulling the rug out from under the TOM is what science does. And that is what makes scientism so hard for people even to understand or contemplate.

(…)

It hardly needs saying that TOM underlies much that scientism rejects just because science makes scientism reject the TOM. Without the TOM, there is no space of reasons in our heads, no place were meanings can lodge and have a role in thought or action. That implies there’s no will, and so no free will, no agency or responsibility, no enduring self that can entertain or respond to reasons, not to mention the interpretations that we overlay on events to give them meaning. Neuroscience banished purpose from our heads as completely as Darwin banished from the rest of the biological domain. Without reasons in our heads, or anywhere else, there are no resources to scientifically construct what Sellars called “the manifest image” required by our culture, civilization, its legal, political, moral, creative, artistic subsystems. The costs of surrendering the TOM are huge, so huge we can’t do it for the practical purposes of everyday life, indeed for civilization as a whole. This fates us to the use of a highly imperfect (predictively unreliable, explanatorily baseless) instrument in the construction and operation of the institutions of our culture. The TOM’s baselessness explains many of their failures, defects and deficiencies.

But all this is too much for science to overthrow. And if creatures like us have a hard time understanding science in the first place, because the TOM that’s bred in our bones obstructs science, then we’ll have an even tougher time even understanding, let alone accepting scientism.”

“Conflict Changes How People View God” | Psychological Science

“Conflict Changes How People View God

Psychological Science

Nava Caluori, Joshua Conrad Jackson, Kurt Gray, and Michele Gelfand

First Published January 28, 2020

https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619895286

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797619895286

Abstract

Religion shapes the nature of intergroup conflict, but conflict may also shape religion. Here, we report four multimethod studies that reveal the impact of conflict on religious belief: The threat of warfare and intergroup tensions increase the psychological need for order and obedience to rules, which leads people to view God as more punitive. Studies 1 (N = 372) and 2 (N = 911) showed that people’s concern about conflict correlates with belief in a punitive God. Study 3 (N = 1,065) found that experimentally increasing the salience of conflict increases people’s perceptions of the importance of a punitive God, and this effect is mediated by people’s support for a tightly regulated society. Study 4 showed that the severity of warfare predicted and preceded worldwide fluctuations in punitive-God belief between 1800 CE and 2000 CE. Our findings illustrate how conflict can change the nature of religious belief and add to a growing literature showing how cultural ecologies shape psychology.”

Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne (Georgetown University Press, 2018)

“Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence

by Kenneth Payne

Georgetown University Press, 2018.

https://www.amazon.com.br/Strategy-Evolution-War-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/1626165807

Kenneth Payne is a senior lecturer in the School of Security Studies at King’s College, London. He is also a senior member of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, having earlier been a visiting fellow in the Department of International Relations there. Payne’s research is broadly in the field of political psychology and strategic studies. He is the author of two previous books, The Psychology of Strategy: Exploring Rationality in the Vietnam War and The Psychology of Modern Conflict.

This book is about the psychological and biological bases of strategy making in war as they have evolved in humans over our history as a species. The book is also a cautionary preview of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will revolutionize strategy more than any development in the last three thousand years of military history. Machines will make important decisions about war on both sides, and they may do so without input from humans. Kenneth Payne describes strategy as an evolved package of conscious and unconscious behaviors with roots in our primate ancestry. Human-made strategy is influenced by emotion as well as reason, with both positive and negative results. The strategic implications of AI are profound because they depart radically from the biological basis of human intelligence. Rather than being just another tool of war, AI will exponentially speed up decisionmaking, make choices humans might not make, and force faster actions and reactions. This book is a fascinating examination of the psychology of strategy-making from prehistoric times, through the ancient world, and into the modern age. It also offers a concerning preview of a future when humans cede at least some control over their destiny.”

“Does the extended evolutionary synthesis entail extended explanatory power? – J. Baedke, A. Fábregas-Tejeda & F. Vergara-Silva, Biology & Philosophy, vol. 35, 2020

“Does the extended evolutionary synthesis entail extended explanatory power?

Jan Baedke, Alejandro Fábregas-Tejeda & Francisco Vergara-Silva

Biology & Philosophy, volume 35, Article number: 20 (2020)

Published: 23 January 2020

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10539-020-9736-5

Abstract

Biologists and philosophers of science have recently called for an extension of evolutionary theory. This so-called ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ (EES) seeks to integrate developmental processes, extra-genetic forms of inheritance, and niche construction into evolutionary theory in a central way. While there is often agreement in evolutionary biology over the existence of these phenomena, their explanatory relevance is questioned. Advocates of EES posit that their perspective offers better explanations than those provided by ‘standard evolutionary theory’ (SET). Still, why this would be the case is unclear. Usually, such claims assume that EES’s superior explanatory status arises from the pluralist structure of EES, its different problem agenda, and a growing body of evidence for the evolutionary relevance of developmental phenomena (including developmental bias, inclusive inheritance, and niche construction). However, what is usually neglected in this debate is a discussion of what the explanatory standards of EES actually are, and how they differ from prevailing standards in SET. In other words, what is considered to be a good explanation in EES versus SET? To answer this question, we present a theoretical framework that evaluates the explanatory power of different evolutionary explanations of the same phenomena. This account is able to identify criteria for why and when evolutionary explanations of EES are better than those of SET. Such evaluations will enable evolutionary biology to find potential grounds for theoretical integration.”

“An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs” by Brandon Bretl

“An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs

written by Brandon Bretl

https://quillette.com/2020/01/13/an-evolutionary-explanation-for-unscientific-beliefs

Brandon Bretl is a research fellow and PhD candidate in the department of educational psychology at the University of Kansas. His current research is focused on explaining how political ideology and other cultural factors influence cognitive development during adolescence. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonBretl

As it turns out, the theory of evolution by natural selection provides a strong explanation for how and why some people don’t believe evolution by natural selection has ever taken place. I initially thought the problem was a matter of knowledge and the standards people have for what constitutes knowledge, but eventually it became clear that holders of anti-scientific beliefs (from William Jennings Brian of the Scopes Monkey Trial to modern day conspiracy theorists) typically root their convictions in moral obligation.

To understand morality from an evolutionary point of view, one needs to realize that humans have always existed in groups. Often, these groups compete with one another, and this means group-level selection pressures have influenced individual traits, including psychological traits. For example, if two tribes come into conflict with one another, the tribe with members better able to cooperate will prevail. Thus, psychological phenomena such as empathy, concern for fairness and reciprocity, in-group loyalty, and respect for hierarchy have a selective advantage in contexts of group competition, and we immediately recognize the lack of these traits as psychopathy. In other words, most humans have innate tendencies that guide moral development—participating in fair exchanges and seeing moral violators punished are both inherently pleasurable, whereas witnessing injustice and suffering are inherently uncomfortable (just as sweet tastes are innately pleasurable and bitter tastes are innately aversive, even for infants).

Thus, what we consider moral and why we consider it moral are not arbitrary nor are they solely guided by social learning. Our moral intuitions are rooted in natural selection’s answers to social problems that have consistently arisen throughout our evolutionary past. Nonetheless, what we readily recognize as moral is dependent on a wide range of conceptual abilities that must be flexible enough to adapt to cultural contexts and be utilized correctly in specific social circumstances (for instance, empathy for an in-group member’s loss but pleasure in an enemy’s loss), so a significant part of our moral intuitions are dependent on learning and social experience as well.

(…)

Prior to science and accurate causal models for natural phenomena, cultures themselves evolved through trial and error, relying on superstition, myth, and tradition to perpetuate survival-enhancing knowledge and skills. In such circumstances, an ability to override rational thoughts in favor of conformity could have a reproductive benefit. We can see evidence of such conformity biases in neuroimaging studies—when participants change their opinions to match with others, the part of the brain involved in feelings of pleasure and happiness becomes more active. We’re also more likely to imitate and learn from high-prestige individuals, which is why high-prestige individuals are paid so much to market products (a phenomenon known as the “prestige effect”). Finally, in the most extreme cases, high-emotional arousal can completely shut down a person’s rational faculties.

(…)

 If you doubt that these psychological mechanisms exist, try using evidence to convince a creationist that evolution by natural selection occurs or a climate change denier that human-induced climate change is real, or a die-hard Cowboys fan that the Green Bay Packers are a better football team. Most likely you already have tried something like this, and you know very well that it is futile, enraging, and sometimes even traumatic.

(…)

Appeals will be made to moral foundations such as care, harm, justice, respect for authority, in-group loyalty, cleanliness, purity, or sanctity, either implicitly or explicitly. It is this moral framing that stimulates the emotional response, not the other way around; and this moral framing is designed to take advantage of some of our most deeply evolved psychological traits.”

Philosophy of Immunology by Thomas Pradeu

Philosophy of Immunology

Thomas Pradeu, Université de Bordeaux

Series: Elements in the Philosophy of Biology

Access: Open access

https://www.cambridge.org/core/elements/philosophy-of-immunology/06F0C341035299674EECF0406E5D8E31

Immunology is central to contemporary biology and medicine, but it also provides novel philosophical insights. Its most significant contribution to philosophy concerns the understanding of biological individuality: what a biological individual is, what makes it unique, how its boundaries are established and what ensures its identity through time. Immunology also offers answers to some of the most interesting philosophical questions. What is the definition of life? How are bodily systems delineated? How do the mind and the body interact? In this Element, Thomas Pradeu considers the ways in which immunology can shed light on these and other important philosophical issues. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108616706
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Online publication date: January 2020
Online ISBN: 9781108616706

“Death of the individual. There is no such thing as self, argues professor Tom Oliver” [The Telegraph]

“Death of the individual. There is no such thing as self, argues professor Tom Oliver”

Neither our bodies nor our minds represent us, claims Prof Tom Oliver

18 JANUARY 2020 • 8:00PM

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2020/01/18/death-individual-no-thing-self-argues-professor/

John Donne, the English cleric and poet, wrote in the 17th century: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”

And now a British academic has claimed that human individuality is indeed just an illusion, because societies are far more intertwined at a mental, physical and cultural level than people realise.

In his new book, The Self Delusion, Professor Tom Oliver, a researcher in the Ecology and Evolution group at the University of Reading, argues that there is no such thing as ‘self’ and not even our bodies are truly ‘us’.

Just as Copernicus realised that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, Prof Oliver said society urgently needs a Copernican-like revolution to understand that people are not discrete beings but rather part of one connected identity.

“A significant milestone in the cultural evolution of human minds was the acceptance that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, the so-called Copernican revolution,” he writes.

“However, we have one more big myth to dispel: that we exist as independent selves at the centre of a subjective universe.

“You may feel as if you are a discrete individual acting autonomously in the world; that you have unchanging inner self that persists throughout your lifetime, acting as a central anchor-point with the world changing around you. This is the illusion I seek to tackle. We are seamlessly connected to the world around us.”

Prof Oliver, who is also a government adviser, said his journey as a scientist had led him to believe not only that supernatural powers do not exist, but individual humans do not either.

He argues that there are around 37 trillion cells in the body but most have a lifespan of just a few days or weeks, so the material ‘us’ is constantly changing. In fact, there is no part of your body that has existed for more than 10 years.

And the majority of cells in the body are not human, as we contain more bacterial cells than human cells.

Likewise recent findings in psychology and neuroscience suggest that even our minds are simply an echo-chamber of previously learned beliefs.

“Findings across a wide range of scientific disciplines increasingly support the idea that the central, discrete ‘I’ we obsessively nurture, protect and talk to throughout our lives is just an illusion,” said Prof Oliver.

“Since our bodies are essentially made anew every few weeks, the material in them alone is clearly insufficient to explain the persistent thread of an identity.

“We are like a thread in a tapestry that is unaware of the majesty of the whole interconnected piece. We are not sovereign individuals but part of a deep interconnected universal network.”

Prof Oliver claims that individualism is actually bad for society, and only by realising we are part of a bigger entity can we solve pressing environmental and societal problems.

Through selfish over-consumption we are destroying the natural world and using non-renewable resources at an accelerating rate.

“We are at a critical crossroads as a species where we must rapidly reform our mindsets and behaviour to act in less selfish ways,” he said

“Loosen your grip on the illusion of an independent ‘I’ and open your eyes to the hidden connections all around you.”

The self Delusion: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters, W&N are publishing on 23rd January 2020.

***

“The Self Delusion: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters (English Edition) eBook Kindle

Tom Oliver

Weidenfeld & Nicolson (23rd January 2020)

https://www.amazon.com.br/Self-Delusion-Surprising-Science-Connected-ebook/dp/B07SZL5H4S

We like to believe that we exist as independent selves at the centre of a subjective universe; that we are discrete individuals acting autonomously in the world with an unchanging inner self that persists throughout our lifetime.

This is an illusion.

On a physical, psychological and cultural level, we are all much more intertwined than we know: we cannot use our bodies to define our independent existence because most of our 37 trillion cells have such a short lifespan that we are essentially made anew every few weeks; the molecules that make up our bodies have already been component parts of countless other organisms, from ancient plants to dinosaurs; we are more than half non-human, in the form of bacteria, fungi and viruses, whose genes influence our moods and even manipulate our behaviour; and we cannot define ourselves by our minds, thoughts and actions, because these mainly originate from other people – the result of memes passing between us, existing before, after and beyond our own lifespans.

Professor of Ecology Tom Oliver makes the compelling argument that although this illusion of individualism has helped us to succeed as a species, tackling the big global challenges ahead now relies on our seeing beyond this mindset and understanding the complex connections between us. THE SELF DELUSION is an explosive, powerful and inspiring book that brings to life the overwhelming evidence contradicting the perception we have of ourselves as independent beings – and why understanding this may well be the key to a better future.

Do Political Campaigns Change Voters’ Minds? By Hugo Mercier

“Do Political Campaigns Change Voters’ Minds? By Hugo Mercier

Evidence shows that ads almost never affect us the way a personal conversation can

By Hugo Mercier

— Prof. Mercier is a cognitive scientist at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris. His new book, “Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe,” will be published by Princeton University Press on Jan. 28.

Updated Jan. 17, 2020 2:02 pm ET

https://www.wsj.com/articles/do-political-campaigns-change-voters-minds-11579282258?mod=e2tw

(…)

For nearly two decades, political scientists have systematically tested the effectiveness of political campaigns. To find out whether a campaign strategy works, the best solution is to use randomized control trials. For example, you can randomly select certain neighborhoods to receive a campaign mailing supporting a particular candidate. If those areas vote for the candidate in greater numbers, it should be because the mailing influenced their choice.

This is what Alan Gerber of Yale University, a pioneer in the field, did in one of the first such studies, published in the journal American Behavioral Sciences in 2004. Nearly 100,000 households received mailings in favor of a congressional candidate. Were these people more likely to vote for the candidate? Not one bit. (More precisely, they were 0.2% more likely to do so, which is statistically insignificant.) The study was convincing because it was big: As a rule, the larger the sample, the more solid the conclusion.

In some of the other studies that Prof. Gerber conducted, he found that campaign mailings did have an effect on votes. But these experiments had smaller sample sizes, and their results were contradictory—in one of them, mailings seemed to make people less likely to vote for the candidate. The best way to make sense of such studies is to pool them in a meta-analysis, a statistical test that aggregates the results of many experiments to see if robust patterns emerge.

Last year, in a paper published in the American Political Science Review, political scientists Joshua Kalla of Yale and David Broockman of Stanford looked at all the studies that used randomized trials to test the effectiveness of political campaigns, adding nine of their own studies for good measure. The whole spectrum of campaign tools was covered—mainly canvassing, phone calls and mailings, with a few studies focusing on TV and online ads. The researchers’ conclusion was unambiguous: “The best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero.”

(…)

These experiments might seem dated. Who uses snail mail or answers their landlines anymore? The internet is the future, and online campaigns can buy data by the cartload to better aim their targeted messages.

Yet there is no evidence that online political ads are any more powerful than old-fashioned TV spots. Indeed, there are good reasons to think that all online ads, not just the political ones, have little impact. Randall Lewis, a researcher at Google, a company that makes 90% of its money selling online advertising, found (in an unpublished paper co-authored with Justin Rao of Microsoft ) that the effects of online ads are so small and variable that it is essentially impossible to measure their return.

(…)

When we encounter a message that challenges our views—like being asked to vote for a candidate we don’t already favor—our first reaction is usually to reject it. We change our minds only if we are provided with good arguments, ideally in the context of a discussion and from a source we perceive as competent and trustworthy. Gaining voters’ trust or engaging them in proper discussion is very hard to do en masse, which is why large-scale persuasion nearly invariably fails to convince us.”

“It’s the network, stupid: Study offers fresh insight into why we’re so divided” [by Jennifer Ouellette – Ars Technica]

“It’s the network, stupid: Study offers fresh insight into why we’re so divided”

Social perception bias might simply be an emergent property of our social networks.

JENNIFER OUELLETTE – 1/4/2020, 5:07 PM

https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/01/its-the-network-stupid-study-offers-fresh-insight-into-why-were-so-divided

Social perception bias is best defined as the all-too-human tendency to assume that everyone else holds the same opinions and values as we do. That bias might, for instance, lead us to over- or under-estimate the size and influence of an opposing group. It tends to be especially pronounced when it comes to contentious polarizing issues like race, gun control, abortion, or national elections.

Researchers have long attributed this and other well-known cognitive biases to innate flaws in individual human thought processes. But according to a paper published last year in Nature Human Behaviour [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0677-4], social perception bias might best be viewed as an emergent property of our social networks. This research, in turn, could lead to effective strategies to counter that bias by diversifying social networks.

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The team was surprised to find that the survey results closely matched the model’s predictions. Specifically, “People who were surrounded by people similar to them think that their group is larger than it really is, and people who have more diverse social circles think their group is smaller than it really is,” Galesic told Ars. “These biases are exaggerated with the relative size of the majority and minority groups.””

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“Homophily and minority-group size explain perception biases in social networks

Eun Lee, Fariba Karimi, Claudia Wagner, Hang-Hyun Jo, Markus Strohmaier & Mirta Galesic

Nature Human Behaviour volume 3, pagesc1078–1087(2019)

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0677-4

Abstract

People’s perceptions about the size of minority groups in social networks can be biased, often showing systematic over- or underestimation. These social perception biases are often attributed to biased cognitive or motivational processes. Here we show that both over- and underestimation of the size of a minority group can emerge solely from structural properties of social networks. Using a generative network model, we show that these biases depend on the level of homophily, its asymmetric nature and on the size of the minority group. Our model predictions correspond well with empirical data from a cross-cultural survey and with numerical calculations from six real-world networks. We also identify circumstances under which individuals can reduce their biases by relying on perceptions of their neighbours. This work advances our understanding of the impact of network structure on social perception biases and offers a quantitative approach for addressing related issues in society.”

“How does your body respond to feelings of moral outrage? It depends on your politics” [From University of Southern California/Medical Xpress]

“How does your body respond to feelings of moral outrage? It depends on your politics”

by University of Southern California

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-01-body-moral-outrage-politics.html

When you see someone being unfair, disloyal or uncaring toward others, do you feel a sense of moral outrage in the form of a twisting stomach, pounding heart or flushing face? And is it possible that your body’s response depends on your political affiliation?

Researchers with the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) set out to examine how and where emotions associated with violations of moral concerns are experienced in the body, and whether political orientation plays a role.

“Our study finds that liberals and conservatives feel moral violations in different areas of their bodies, interpret them as distinct complex feelings and make different moral and political judgements,” said Morteza Dehghani, assistant professor of psychology and computer science at the BCI and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “This was particularly true for perceptions of feelings of loyalty and purity.”

The research was published today in Psychological Science.

Liberals and conservatives: Wired differently?

Prior research has shown liberals and conservatives rely on different moral foundations and react differently to violations of morals. The authors say their study is the first to indicate that political orientation influences where and how violations of specific moral concerns—including care, fairness, purity, loyalty and authority—are felt in the body. For example, liberals feel violations of purity in their crotch area, chest and slightly in their heads while conservatives feel these violations almost exclusively—and very strongly—in their heads.

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“Body Maps of Moral Concerns

Mohammad Atari, Aida Mostafazadeh Davani, Morteza DehghaniFirst

Published January 8, 2020 Research Article

https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619895284

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797619895284

Abstract

It has been proposed that somatosensory reaction to varied social circumstances results in feelings (i.e., conscious emotional experiences). Here, we present two preregistered studies in which we examined the topographical maps of somatosensory reactions associated with violations of different moral concerns. Specifically, participants in Study 1 (N = 596) were randomly assigned to respond to scenarios involving various moral violations and were asked to draw key aspects of their subjective somatosensory experience on two 48,954-pixel silhouettes. Our results show that body patterns corresponding to different moral violations are felt in different regions of the body depending on whether individuals are classified as liberals or conservatives. We also investigated how individual differences in moral concerns relate to body maps of moral violations. Finally, we used natural-language processing to predict activation in body parts on the basis of the semantic representation of textual stimuli. We replicated these findings in a nationally representative sample in Study 2 (N = 300). Overall, our findings shed light on the complex relationships between moral processes and somatosensory experiences.

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Whether moral judgment is a product of reason or emotion has been an ongoing debate among philosophers and psychologists for decades. When moral psychology separated itself from moral philosophy, it almost exclusively focused on reasoning rather than on affective aspects of morality. The first empirical attempts in moral psychology started by examining cognitive-developmental components of understanding fairness and rules (Kohlberg, 1971; Piaget, 1948). But subsequently, as the field expanded, there was an increasing interest in the affective components of morality. Accumulating evidence suggests that emotion can ensue from, amplify, or directly cause moral judgment (Avramova & Inbar, 2013). Irrespective of the exact nature of the relationship between emotion and morality, distinct emotions are known to be associated with specific moral concerns as well as moral violations (Haidt, 2003). Emotions are neural and somatic events that have the evolutionary function of preparing an organism to respond adaptively to a change in social or physical circumstances (Darwin, 1872). Once emotions are induced, individuals can consciously experience them by constructing a feeling, that is, generating a conscious mental experience (Damasio, 1999). Constructing feelings of emotions depends on brain systems that map and regulate body responses (Damasio & Carvalho, 2013). Both classic and modern theories of emotion postulate that interoception—the sensing of physiological feedback from the body and its visceral organs—is essential for emotional experience (Damasio, 1999; James, 1994; Schachter & Singer, 1962). The link between interoception and emotion continues to be supported by various studies. For example, Barrett, Quigley, BlissMoreau, and Aronson (2004) found that arousal focus, the extent to which individuals emphasize the changes of feelings in their verbal reports of experienced emotion, is related to interoceptive sensitivity. Individuals who were sensitive to their heartbeat change in response to emotion-arousal images reported more intense emotional experiences compared with less sensitive individuals (Barrett et al., 2004), supporting the association between body feedback and emotional states.”