Public goods

Kevin Lewis

July 14, 2019

Civic honesty around the globe
Alain Cohn et al.
Science, 5 July 2019, Pages 70-73

Civic honesty is essential to social capital and economic development, but is often in conflict with material self-interest. We examine the trade-off between honesty and self-interest using field experiments in 355 cities spanning 40 countries around the globe. We turned in over 17,000 lost wallets with varying amounts of money at public and private institutions, and measured whether recipients contacted the owner to return the wallets. In virtually all countries citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Both non-experts and professional economists were unable to predict this result. Additional data suggest our main findings can be explained by a combination of altruistic concerns and an aversion to viewing oneself as a thief, which increase with the material benefits of dishonesty.

Social metacognition in moral judgment: Decisional conflict promotes perspective taking
André Mata
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

A series of studies explored people’s metacognition about moral judgments. These studies begin by demonstrating a metacognitive asymmetry: When faced with a dilemma, consequentialist responders tend to feel more conflict than deontological responders, such that they feel more compelled to give the alternative response. As a consequence, they are aware that other people might make different judgments from them. Deontological responders, on the other hand, are less likely to consider giving the alternative response, and are therefore more likely to project their moral judgments onto others. Results from experimental manipulations, mediational analyses, and process dissociation suggest that these differences in social inference originate in the conflict that people feel when trying to form moral judgments.

Sexual disgust sensitivity mediates the sex difference in support of censoring hate speech
Jinguang Zhang
Personality and Individual Differences, 15 July 2019, Pages 89-96

Prior research showed that women are generally more supportive than men of censoring hate speech and this sex difference remained significant after such variables as authoritarianism and political conservatism were controlled for. However, an explanation of that sex difference is lacking. A recent theory distinguishes between pathogen-, sexual, and moral disgust, and we hypothesize that pathogen- and sexual disgust sensitivity will mediate the sex difference in support of censoring hate speech. This is because 1) women typically show stronger pathogen- and sexual disgust sensitivity and 2) people higher in pathogen- and sexual disgust sensitivity are more repulsed by stimuli related to infection (e.g., blood) and sexual assaults. Hate speech can produce both types of stimuli by instigating violence. Indeed, two studies (N = 250 and 289) show a robust indirect effect through sexual disgust sensitivity that explains over 50% of the total effect of sex on censorship support and renders the direct effect of sex non-significant. The indirect effect through pathogen disgust sensitivity is also significant but the direct effect of sex remains significant. These findings extend censorship-attitude research, inform the explanation of a similar sex difference in political intolerance, and further suggest that sexual disgust sensitivity shapes political psychology.

Moral self-judgment is stronger for future than past actions
Hallgeir Sjåstad & Roy Baumeister
Motivation and Emotion, August 2019, Pages 662–680

When, if ever, would a person want to be held responsible for his or her choices? Across four studies (N = 915), people favored more extreme rewards and punishments for their future than their past actions. This included thinking that they should receive more blame and punishment for future misdeeds than for past ones, and more credit and reward for future good deeds than for past ones. The tendency to moralize the future more than the past was mediated by anticipating (one’s own) emotional reactions and concern about one’s reputation, which was stronger in the future as well. The findings fit the pragmatic view that people moralize the future partly to guide their choices and actions, such as by increasing their motivation to restrain selfish impulses and build long-term cooperative relationships with others. People typically believe that the future is open and changeable, while the past is not. We conclude that the psychology of moral accountability has a strong future component.

On Trust and Disgust: Evidence From Face Reading and Virtual Reality
Tamar Kugler et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

We report three studies exploring the relationship between disgust and trust. Study 1a measured emotions using face-reading technology while participants played a repeated trust game. We observed a negative correlation between trust and disgust. Study 1b employed self-reports along with the face reader. The self-report procedure adversely affected participants’ emotional state and eliminated the correlation between trust and other emotions. Study 2 induced incidental disgust or sadness using virtual reality and manipulated participants’ awareness of the source of their emotions. Disgusted participants judged others as less trustworthy and sent less in a trust game than sad or control participants. An interaction indicated that awareness of the source of emotions eliminated the effect. Our data are consistent with the association between disgust and harsher moral judgments and suggest that disgust is antithetical to the building of trust. However, the association disappears if individuals are aware that their disgust is unrelated to the setting.

Specks of Dirt and Tons of Pain: Dosage Distinguishes Impurity From Harm
Joshua Rottman & Liane Young
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Levels of moral condemnation often vary with outcome severity (e.g., extreme destruction is morally worse than moderate damage), but this is not always true. We investigated whether judgments of purity transgressions are more or less sensitive to variation in dosage than judgments of harm transgressions. In three studies, adults (N = 426) made moral evaluations of harm and purity transgressions that systematically varied in dosage (frequency or magnitude). Pairs of low-dosage and high-dosage transgressions were presented such that the same sets of modifiers (e.g., “occasionally” vs. “regularly,” “small” vs. “large”) or amounts (e.g., “millimeter” vs. “centimeter”) were reused across moral domains. Statistical interactions between domain and dosage indicated robust distinctions between the perceived wrongness of high-dosage and low-dosage harms, whereas moral evaluations of impure acts were considerably less influenced by dosage. Our findings support the existence of a cognitive distinction between purity-based and harm-based morals and challenge current wisdom regarding relationships between intentions and outcomes in moral judgment.

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