Kevin Lewis

September 14, 2021

Moral Universalism: Measurement and Economic Relevance
Benjamin Enke, Ricardo Rodríguez-Padilla & Florian Zimmermann
Management Science, forthcoming 

Many applied economic settings involve trade-offs between in-group members and strangers. To better understand decision making in these contexts, this paper measures and investigates the economic relevance of heterogeneity in moral universalism: the extent to which people exhibit the same level of altruism and trust toward strangers as toward in-group members. We first introduce a new experimentally validated, survey-based measure of moral universalism that is simple and easily scalable. We then deploy this tool in a large, representative sample of the U.S. population to study heterogeneity and economic relevance. We find that universalism is a relatively stable trait at the individual level. In exploratory analyses, heterogeneity in universalism is significantly related to observables: Older people, men, the rich, the rural, and the religious exhibit less universalist preferences and beliefs. Linking variation in universalism to self-reports of economic and social behaviors, we document the following correlations. Universalists donate less money locally, but more globally, and are less likely to exhibit home bias in equity and educational investments. In terms of social networks, universalists have fewer friends, spend less time with them, and feel more lonely. These results provide a blueprint for measuring moral universalism in applied settings and suggest that variation in universalism is relevant for understanding a myriad of economic behaviors. 

Persuading the Implicit Mind: Changing Negative Implicit Evaluations With an 8-Minute Podcast
Benedek Kurdi, Thomas Mann & Melissa Ferguson
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Implicit evaluations can be malleable via reinterpretation of previously encountered evidence. Here, we report three studies (N = 1,007) investigating the robustness of this updating modality using ecologically realistic materials. Participants were first introduced to a target who killed an endangered black rhino in Namibia. They then listened to a real podcast providing counterattitudinal information on the benefits of trophy hunting. The podcast resulted in considerable revisions of initially negative implicit evaluations toward positivity, consistently across implicit measures (affect misattribution procedures vs. implicit association test), samples (American students vs. nonstudents from various countries), study settings (lab vs. online), and the presence versus absence of a memory retrieval manipulation prompting reflection on participants’ views on trophy hunting. Taken together, these findings suggest that reinterpretation can shift implicit evaluations of even highly negative targets, including under conditions of external validity.

Surging Underdogs and Slumping Favorites: How Recent Streaks and Future Expectations Drive Competitive Transgressions
Sarah Doyle et al.
Academy of Management Journal, forthcoming

Any single competition is rarely a “one-off” event, and instead is often part of a larger sequence of related competitions. Thus, we contend that, in order to better understand people’s competitive experience, we must take a more holistic view where their experience and behavior in the present is a function of their past and expected future outcomes. This research expands the temporal lens of competition by examining how past outcomes (i.e., winning vs. losing streak) and future expectations (i.e., underdog vs. favorite standing) collectively influence an actor’s cognitive and affective reactions to a competition, with implications for their willingness to transgress. Studies 1 (Fantasy Football managers) and 2 (the English Premiere League teams) show that streaks and underdog vs. favorite standing interact to predict competitive transgressions: winning streaks increase transgressions for underdogs, and losing streaks increase transgressions for favorites. Studies 3 (public defenders) and 4 (Democrats and Republicans) experimentally manipulate streaks and standing and unpack the cognitive (i.e., outcome uncertainty) and affective (i.e., excitement for underdogs, anxiety for favorites) mechanisms that precipitate these transgressions. Theoretical implications for the competition literature, as well as managerial insights, are discussed. 

Do Sin Tax Hikes Spur Cheating in Interpersonal Exchange?
David Kenchington et al.
Accounting, Organizations and Society, forthcoming

We study the New York City taxi market to examine whether an excise tax hike on cigarettes corresponds to smoker taxi drivers more frequently cheating their customers. Increased cheating could be motivated by both financial pressures and as a reaction to unfair treatment (as surveyed smokers view cigarette tax hikes as quite unfair). We examine this question using detailed ride-level data where we can identify a rare but fraudulent overcharging technique (cheating) and a subsample of taxi drivers who smoke (affected taxpayers, identified via tickets for smoking in a cab). In difference-in-differences regressions we find that following a cigarette tax hike, taxi drivers who smoke are approximately 1.5 times more likely to cheat customers than other drivers. Our findings are strongest in the subsample of smokers with consistently low earnings. 

Having less, giving less: The effects of unfavorable social comparisons of affluence on people’s willingness to act for the benefit of others
Ana Gheorghiu, Mitchell Callan & William Skylark
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, forthcoming

Previous research has found a negative relationship between individual differences in personal relative deprivation (PRD; i.e., resentment stemming from the belief that one is worse off than similar others) and prosociality. Whether PRD causes reductions in people's willingness to act for the benefit of others, however, is yet to be established. Across six studies, we experimentally examined whether experiences of PRD via unfavorable (vs. favorable or lateral) social comparisons of affluence reduced prosociality toward known others and strangers. We found that making hypothetical (Study 1) or real (Study 2) unfavorable social comparisons of affluence in workplace contexts reduced participants’ organizational citizenship behavioral intentions. Furthermore, adverse social comparisons of affluence reduced generosity toward the targets of those comparisons during a Dictator Game (Studies 3 to 6). Across studies, we also measured participants’ subjective and objective socioeconomic status and found, contrary to previous theory and research, no consistent relationship between status and prosociality and no modulation of this relationship by either local or macro-level inequality. These results suggest that local, specific interpersonal comparisons of affluence play a more dominant role in people's willingness to act for the benefit of a comparison target than do their subjective or objective class rank or the prevailing income inequality of the state in which they reside. 

On a Slippery Slope to Intolerance: Individual difference in slippery slope beliefs predict outgroup negativity
Levi Adelman et al.
Journal of Research in Personality, forthcoming

Slippery slope beliefs capture the idea that a non-problematic action will lead to unpreventable and harmful outcomes. While this idea has been examined in legal and philosophical literatures, there has been no psychological research into the individual propensity to hold slippery slope beliefs. Across five studies and six samples (combined N = 5,974), we developed and tested an individual difference measure of slippery slope beliefs, finding that it predicted intolerance of outgroup freedoms above and beyond key demographic and psychological predictors (Studies 1-2 and 5). We also found that slippery slope beliefs predict intolerance of debated behaviors in two countries (Study 3), and that it predicted agreement with real-world slippery slope examples across the political spectrum (Studies 4-5). 

Caring is costly: People avoid the cognitive work of compassion
Julian Scheffer, Daryl Cameron & Michael Inzlicht
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Compassion — the warm, caregiving emotion that emerges from witnessing the suffering of others — has long been considered an important moral emotion for motivating and sustaining prosocial behavior. Some suggest that compassion draws from empathic feelings to motivate prosocial behavior, whereas others try to disentangle these processes to examine their different functions for human prosociality. Many suggest that empathy, which involves sharing in others’ experiences, can be biased and exhausting, whereas warm compassionate concern is more rewarding and sustainable. If compassion is indeed a warm and positive experience, then people should be motivated to seek it out when given the opportunity. Here, we ask whether people spontaneously choose to feel compassion, and whether such choices are associated with perceiving compassion as cognitively costly. Across all studies, we found that people opted to avoid compassion when given the opportunity, reported compassion to be more cognitively taxing than empathy and objective detachment, and opted to feel compassion less often to the degree they viewed compassion as cognitively costly. We also revealed two important boundary conditions: first, people were less likely to avoid compassion for close (vs. distant) others, and this choice difference was associated with viewing compassion for close others as less cognitively costly. Second, in the final study we found that with more contextually enriched and immersive pleas for help, participants preferred to escape feeling compassion, although their preference did not differ from also escaping remaining objectively detached. These results temper strong arguments that compassion is an easier route to prosocial motivation. 

Psychological value theory: The psychological value of human lives and economic goods
Dale Cohen et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, forthcoming

Here, we present a strong test of the hypothesis that sacrificial moral dilemmas are solved using the same value-based decision mechanism that operates on decisions concerning economic goods. To test this hypothesis, we developed Psychological Value Theory. Psychological Value Theory is an expansion and generalization of Cohen and Ahn’s (2016) Theory of Subjective Utilitarianism. Psychological Value Theory defines a new theoretical construct termed Psychological Value, measures Psychological Value using a traditional psychophysics paradigm, and predicts preferential choice from those measurements using a value-based computational model. We evaluate the validity of Psychological Value Theory across six experiments. In Experiment 1, we use Psychological Value Theory to estimate the perceived Psychological Value of human lives and economic goods. The data reveal that perceived Psychological Value of lives is highly influenced by individual differences of people but minimally influenced by the number of people in a group. In Experiments 2–5, we demonstrate that when used as input in a value-based computational model, perceived Psychological Values of human lives accurately predict participants’ RT and response choices to sacrificial moral dilemmas. In Experiment 6, we replicate these findings for decisions involving economic goods. We cross-validate our results with multiple data sets using multiple methods. We conclude that the same value-based processes underlying economic decisions also underlie choices involving human lives.


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