Bad Move

Kevin Lewis

February 23, 2021

When alterations are violations: Moral outrage and punishment in response to (even minor) alterations to rituals
Daniel Stein et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


From Catholics performing the sign of the cross since the 4th century to Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance since the 1890s, group rituals (i.e., predefined sequences of symbolic actions) have strikingly consistent features over time. Seven studies (N = 4,213) document the sacrosanct nature of rituals: Because group rituals symbolize sacred group values, even minor alterations to them provoke moral outrage and punishment. In Pilot Studies A and B, fraternity members who failed to complete initiation activities that were more ritualistic elicited relatively greater moral outrage and hazing from their fraternity brothers. Study 1 uses secular holiday rituals to explore the dimensions of ritual alteration - both physical and psychological - that elicit moral outrage. Study 2 suggests that altering a ritual elicits outrage even beyond the extent to which the ritual alteration is seen as violating descriptive and injunctive norms. In Study 3, group members who viewed male circumcision as more ritualistic (i.e., Jewish vs. Muslim participants) expressed greater moral outrage in response to a proposal to alter circumcision to make it safer. Study 4 uses the Pledge of Allegiance ritual to explore how the intentions of the person altering the ritual influence observers' moral outrage and punishment. Finally, in Study 5, even minor alterations elicited comparable levels of moral outrage to major alterations of the Jewish Passover ritual. Across both religious and secular rituals, the more ingroup members believed that rituals symbolize sacred group values, the more they protected their rituals-by punishing those who violated them.


Veil-of-ignorance reasoning mitigates self-serving bias in resource allocation during the COVID-19 crisis
Karen Huang et al.
Judgment and Decision Making, January 2021, Pages 1-19


The COVID-19 crisis has forced healthcare professionals to make tragic decisions concerning which patients to save. Furthermore, The COVID-19 crisis has foregrounded the influence of self-serving bias in debates on how to allocate scarce resources. A utilitarian principle favors allocating scarce resources such as ventilators toward younger patients, as this is expected to save more years of life. Some view this as ageist, instead favoring age-neutral principles, such as "first come, first served". Which approach is fairer? The "veil of ignorance" is a moral reasoning device designed to promote impartial decision-making by reducing decision-makers' use of potentially biasing information about who will benefit most or least from the available options. Veil-of-ignorance reasoning was originally applied by philosophers and economists to foundational questions concerning the overall organization of society. Here we apply veil-of-ignorance reasoning to the COVID-19 ventilator dilemma, asking participants which policy they would prefer if they did not know whether they were younger or older. Two studies (pre-registered; online samples; Study 1, N=414; Study 2 replication, N=1,276) show that veil-of-ignorance reasoning shifts preferences toward saving younger patients. The effect on older participants is dramatic, reversing their opposition toward favoring the young, thereby eliminating self-serving bias. These findings provide guidance on how to remove self-serving biases to healthcare policymakers and frontline personnel charged with allocating scarce medical resources during times of crisis.


Free to blame? Belief in free will is related to victim blaming
Oliver Genschow & Benjamin Vehlow
Consciousness and Cognition, February 2021


The more people believe in free will, the harsher their punishment of criminal offenders. A reason for this finding is that belief in free will leads individuals to perceive others as responsible for their behavior. While research supporting this notion has mainly focused on criminal offenders, the perspective of the victims has been neglected so far. We filled this gap and hypothesized that individuals' belief in free will is positively correlated with victim blaming - the tendency to make victims responsible for their bad luck. In three studies, we found that the more individuals believe in free will, the more they blame victims. Study 3 revealed that belief in free will is correlated with victim blaming even when controlling for just world beliefs, religious worldviews, and political ideology. The results contribute to a more differentiated view of the role of free will beliefs and attributed intentions.


The behavioral ecology of moral dilemmas: Childhood unpredictability, but not harshness, predicts less deontological and utilitarian responding
Heather Maranges et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Childhood unpredictability and harshness are associated with patterns of psychology and behavior that enable individuals to make the most of adverse environments. The current research assessed effects of childhood unpredictability and harshness on individual differences in sacrificial moral decision making. Six studies (N = 1,503) supported the hypothesis that childhood unpredictability, but not harshness, would be associated with fewer decisions to reject harm (consistent with deontological ethics) and to maximize overall outcomes (consistent with utilitarian ethics). These associations were not moderated by perceptions of current environmental unpredictability (Studies 3a and 3b) and were robust to potential confounds (religiosity, political conservativism, Big 5 personality traits, and social desirability; Study 5). The associations between childhood unpredictability and lower deontological and utilitarian tendencies were statistically mediated by low levels of empathic concern and poor-quality social relationships (Study 4). Findings are consistent with the possibility that early calibration to ecological unpredictability, but not harshness, undermines other-oriented psychological processes which, in turn, reduce moral concerns about harm and consequences for other people.


Better together: Third party helping is enhanced when the decision to help is made jointly
Ashley Harrell
Social Science Research, forthcoming


When spouses decide together how much of their joint income to donate to charity, or the parents of several children in a classroom agree to chip in for the cost of a group gift for a teacher, they are engaging in a joint act of benefiting a third party. Past work has typically conceptualized the decision to provide benefits to others as an individual one. But as these examples illustrate, the decision to engage in third-party helping is often initiated at the group level. And there are compelling reasons to expect that the helping behavior initiated jointly by multiple people will differ from that initiated by individuals, even after holding constant the costs and benefits of helping. Here I demonstrate that people provide more benefits to a third party when they must come to an agreement with another benefactor about a joint helping decision, compared to when they communicate about the decision, but then make decisions separately, or when they make helping decisions alone. I show that this is because people engage in generous "talk" in communication with other benefactors - and joint decisions, but not individual decisions, bind them to the high levels of helping that they discuss. Put differently, results show that when people make decisions individually, they give according to their individual preferences about benefiting others; when they make decisions jointly, they give according to their public statements about benefiting others, which tend to be more other-regarding. The results have important implications for understanding the mechanisms driving prosocial behavior.


Those who ignore the past are be heartless: Lay historicist theory is associated with humane responses to the struggles and transgressions of others
Michael Gill, Michael Andreychik & Phillip Getty
PLoS ONE, February 2021


When one learns that current struggles or transgressions of an individual or group are rooted in an unfortunate history, one experiences compassion and reduced blame. Prior research has demonstrated this by having participants receive (or not) a concrete historicist narrative regarding the particular individual or group under consideration. Here, we take a different approach. We explore the possibility that everyday people show meaningful variation in a broad lay theory that we call lay historicism. Lay historicists believe that - as a general fact - people's psychological characteristics and life outcomes are powerfully molded by their life histories. We present eight studies linking lay historicism to broad tendencies toward compassion and non-blaming. Collectively, Studies 1-5 suggest that lay historicism affects compassion and blame, respectively, via distinct mechanisms: (1) Lay historicism is associated with compassion because it creates a sense that - as a general fact - past suffering lies behind present difficulties, and (2) lay historicism is associated with blame mitigation because historicists reject the idea that - as a general fact - people freely and autonomously create their moral character. Thus, lay historicism increases compassion and decreases blame via distinct mechanisms. The remaining studies diversify our evidence base. Study 6 examines criminal justice philosophies rather than broad moral traits (as in the earlier studies) and shows that lay historicism is associated with preference for humane criminal justice philosophies. Study 7 moves from abstract beliefs to concrete situations and shows that lay historicism predicts reduced blaming of an irresponsible peer who is encountered face-to-face. One additional study - in our Supplemental Materials - shows that lay historicism predicts lower levels of blaming on implicit measures, although only among those who also reject lay controllability theories. Overall, these studies provide consistent support for the possibility that lay historicism is broadly associated with humane responding to the struggles and transgressions of others.


The Effects of Pornography on Unethical Behavior in Business
Nathan Mecham, Melissa Lewis-Western & David Wood
Journal of Business Ethics, January 2021, Pages 37-54


Pornography is no longer an activity confined to a small group of individuals or the privacy of one's home. Rather, it has permeated modern culture, including the work environment. Given the pervasive nature of pornography, we study how viewing pornography affects unethical behavior at work. Using survey data from a sample that approximates a nationally representative sample in terms of demographics, we find a positive correlation between viewing pornography and intended unethical behavior. We then conduct an experiment to provide causal evidence. The experiment confirms the survey - consuming pornography causes individuals to be less ethical. We find that this relationship is mediated by increased moral disengagement from dehumanization of others due to viewing pornography. Combined, our results suggest that choosing to consume pornography causes individuals to behave less ethically. Because unethical employee behavior has been linked to numerous negative organization outcomes including fraud, collusion, and other self-serving behaviors, our results have implications for most societal organizations.


Hated but still human: Metadehumanization leads to greater hostility than metaprejudice
Alexander Landry, Elliott Ihm & Jonathan Schooler
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, forthcoming


Metadehumanization, the perception that members of an outgroup dehumanize your group, has been found to exacerbate intergroup conflict by inspiring reciprocal dehumanization of the offending outgroup. Moreover, metadehumanization is distinct from metaprejudice (i.e., the perception that an outgroup hates your group). Given the mutual animosity reported in public opinion polls toward the other side, we believed US-Russia relations would be a worthwhile context in which to extend this model. Therefore, we measured Americans' levels of metadehumanization and metaprejudice of Russians to determine the association between these perceptions and their hostility toward Russians (Study 1). In this novel intergroup conflict, metadehumanization remained a consequential predictor of outgroup hostility over and above metaprejudice, suggesting that it can exacerbate a broader range of intergroup conflicts than those heretofore examined. Given these findings, we then sought to experimentally differentiate between metadehumanization and metaprejudice. In Study 2, we manipulated both metadehumanization and metaprejudice to (a) determine whether one or both cause greater outgroup hostility and (b) elucidate the underlying mechanisms by which they may produce this effect. Whereas metadehumanization produced greater hostility, metaprejudice did not. Moreover, although both metaperceptions inspired greater prejudice, only metadehumanization led to greater dehumanization. We conclude that metadehumanization may be a particularly potent fomenter of hostility because it inspires reciprocal dehumanization over and above more general negative bias.

The true "me" -- Mind or body?
Iris Berent & Melanie Platt
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


Laypeople construe one's life narrative around a single protagonist -- the true self. Who is this true self? Does it reside in our mind or body? Is it only aligned with one's biological essence, or also with their moral core, the home of free will? In three experiments, participants reasoned about John -- a modern-day reincarnation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. John's character was evaluated by two tests (brain and behavioral), whose outcomes diverged (e.g., a brain test indicating benevolence; a behavioral test indicating aggression). Results showed that participants aligned John's free will with his good acts (irrespective of test), but they defined his essence by the outcomes of the brain test. We interpret the results to suggest that people hold conflicting tacit notions of the true self. One's freely-willed moral core is good, but one's essence is aligned with the body.


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