Using Machine Learning to Generate Novel Hypotheses: Increasing Optimism About COVID-19 Makes People Less Willing to Justify Unethical Behaviors
Abhishek Sheetal, Zhiyu Feng & Krishna Savani
Psychological Science, forthcoming
How can we nudge people to not engage in unethical behaviors, such as hoarding and violating social-distancing guidelines, during the COVID-19 pandemic? Because past research on antecedents of unethical behavior has not provided a clear answer, we turned to machine learning to generate novel hypotheses. We trained a deep-learning model to predict whether or not World Values Survey respondents perceived unethical behaviors as justifiable, on the basis of their responses to 708 other items. The model identified optimism about the future of humanity as one of the top predictors of unethicality. A preregistered correlational study (N = 218 U.S. residents) conceptually replicated this finding. A preregistered experiment (N = 294 U.S. residents) provided causal support: Participants who read a scenario conveying optimism about the COVID-19 pandemic were less willing to justify hoarding and violating social-distancing guidelines than participants who read a scenario conveying pessimism. The findings suggest that optimism can help reduce unethicality, and they document the utility of machine-learning methods for generating novel hypotheses.
The Good-looking Giver Effect: The Relationship Between Doing Good and Looking Good
Sara Konrath & Femida Handy
Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, forthcoming
Evidence exists that beautiful is seen as good: the halo effect wherein more physically attractive people are perceived to be good, and the reverse halo that good is seen as beautiful. Yet research has rarely examined the evidence linking the beautiful with the good, or the reverse, without the halo effect. We examine the relationship between physical attractiveness (beauty) and giving behaviors (good), where ratings of attractiveness are independent of giving behaviors. We use three U.S. datasets: (a) a nationally representative sample of older adults (NSHAP), (b) a nationally representative longitudinal study of adolescents (ADD Health), and (c) the 54-year Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), to present evidence that these two characteristics (attractiveness and giving) are indeed correlated without the halo effect. We find a 'good-looking giver' effect - that more physically attractive people are more likely to engage in giving behaviors, and vice versa. Thus, in ecologically valid real-world samples, people who do good are also likely to look good.
Moral Choice When Harming Is Unavoidable
Jonathan Berman & Daniella Kupor
Psychological Science, forthcoming
Past research suggests that actors often seek to minimize harm at the cost of maximizing social welfare. However, this prior research has confounded a desire to minimize the negative impact caused by one's actions (harm aversion) with a desire to avoid causing any harm whatsoever (harm avoidance). Across six studies (N = 2,152), we demonstrate that these two motives are distinct. When decision-makers can completely avoid committing a harmful act, they strongly prefer to do so. However, harming cannot always be avoided. Often, decision-makers must choose between committing less harm for less benefit and committing more harm for more benefit. In these cases, harm aversion diminishes substantially, and decision-makers become increasingly willing to commit greater harm to obtain greater benefits. Thus, value trade-offs that decision-makers refuse to accept when it is possible to completely avoid committing harm can suddenly become desirable when some harm must be committed.
Mental Money Laundering: A Motivated Violation of Fungibility
Alex Imas, George Loewenstein & Carey Morewedge
Carnegie Mellon University Working Paper, September 2020
People exploit flexibility in mental accounting to relax psychological constraints on spending. Four studies demonstrate this in the context of moral behavior. The first study replicates prior findings that people donate more money to charity when they earned it through unethical versus ethical means. However, when the unethically-earned money is first "laundered" - the cash is physically exchanged for the same amount but from a different arbitrary source - people spent it as if it was earned ethically. This mental money laundering represents an extreme fungibility violation: exchanging "dirty" money for the same sum coming from a "clean" source significantly changed people's propensity to spend it prosocially. The second study demonstrates that mental money laundering generalizes to cases in which ethically and unethically earned money is mixed. When gains from ethical and unethical sources were pooled, people spent the entire pooled sum as if it was ethically earned. The last two studies provide mixed support for the prediction that people actively seek out laundering opportunities for unethically earned money, suggesting partial sophistication about these effects. These findings provide new evidence for the ease with which people can rationalize misbehavior, and have implications for consumer choice, corporate behavior and public policy.
How Does She Do It? An Experimental Study of the Pro- and Antisocial Effects of Watching Superhero Content among Late Adolescents
Drew Cingel, Sindy Sumter & Megan Jansen
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, August 2020, Pages 459-477
Although superheroes are popular characters on television and in movies, there is a lack of research on the effects of viewing this content among adolescents. For this reason, we conducted an experiment (N = 145; no-view control, nonviolent superhero content, violent superhero content) among adolescents ages 16-18. Results indicated that exposure to violent superhero content elicited prosocial outcomes among males, but not among females. There were no significant main effects or interactions for indicators of hostility in any of the three conditions. We contextualize these findings by considering pro- and antisocial media effects, as well as aspects of adolescent development.