1. Study suggests social connections impact voter turnout, decisions

    July 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida State University press release:

    When it comes to voter turnout and election outcomes, it’s not just what you know, but perhaps who you know that makes the difference, according to a new study led by a Florida State University researcher.

    People more closely connected to electoral candidates in their social network vote at higher rates, according to Matthew Pietryka, an assistant professor of political science. The term “social network” refers to the wide collection of family, friends and acquaintances that an individual has, as well as a social connection’s family, friends and acquaintances.

    In addition to the higher participation rate, the study found that the greater the connection to candidates from a particular party, the more likely it is a voter will support that party and oppose the other.

    Pietryka’s findings were published in the American Political Science Review.

    “Research on the social determinants of voting has really lagged behind research on the personal determinants of voting,” Pietryka said. “The big problem is that many studies do a poor job measuring the social context which individuals are embedded. We know very little about how your friends and your family influence your views.”

    For decades, political scientists have attempted to find the key identifiers in predicting how and why people vote. Researchers have long been aware of how certain key factors, such as race, class, education and psychological disposition have a strong degree of influence on electoral preferences.

    These identifiers are key in part because they are easy to measure with surveys. Surveys focus on respondents’ attributes, but obscure the social context in which they reside. Political scientists have mostly followed suit — studying how things that are easy to measure in surveys influence voting. Thus, the influence of social networks on voting has received little attention.

    This study, however, controlled for factors like race and education while simultaneously putting them into a proper social context.

    Researchers used results from an 1859 election in Alexandria, Va., and an 1874 election from Newport, Ky., to conduct the study. These 19th-century electoral results were gathered by Don DeBats, a historian from Flinders University in Australia who collaborated with Pietryka. DeBats spent the better part of the past two decades compiling information on the citizens of each city and their individual social network.

    For every citizen eligible to vote, researchers measured their proximity to all the candidates.

    “For instance, you might be the neighbor of someone who ran for city council, or you might go to church with someone who ran for city council,” Pietryka said. “What we were doing was looking to see what individuals shared some social connection with candidates. We played something like ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,’ where we said if you are neighbors with someone who works with someone who ran for city council, you’re two degrees removed.”

    Because the voting records from Alexandria and Newport were both intact and very detailed, Pietryka said, the results from the 19th century were important in reaching his conclusion.

    “We could build up a much more detailed social network of these people living in the 19th century than we could with data on people living today,” he said.

    Pietryka also used results from a 2010 election in Williamsburg, Va., where a student from the College of William & Mary ran for city council. Data came from a survey given to students identifying their voting preferences, as well as their friends at the university.

    Despite a more than 150-year difference between the voting time frames, the researchers said their findings held constant regardless of the time period and electoral composition.

    Pietryka plans to expand the scope of his research in the future using a concept known as “friends and neighbors voting,” which examines the impact of geographic proximity on voting. Pietryka said he wants to explore how physical and social distance intertwine with ethnicity and class to shape people’s political participation.


  2. Study suggests emphasizing individual solutions to big issues can reduce support for government efforts

    June 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University press release:

    Following the shutdown of the Fukushima power plant, which endured one of the worst nuclear accidents in history in 2011 due to a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, Japan began a national initiative that encouraged saving electricity. This created an opportunity for Seth Werfel, a graduate student in political science at Stanford University, to investigate how recognition of individual efforts to improve energy usage might affect support for government-based solutions.

    He found that the more people said they curbed energy use on their own, the less they supported a tax increase on carbon emissions.

    “At first, I thought this result was counterintuitive because you’d expect people who took those actions to support government action as well,” said Werfel, whose work was published in Nature Climate Change. “But it is intuitive, just not obvious. When the surveys made people feel like they’d done enough, they said that the government shouldn’t make them do more.”

    Although his study was focused on an environmental issue, Werfel said other research suggests this reaction could be highly pervasive, affecting many other issues. He also found that the loss of support for government actions among the people who reported their personal efforts occurred regardless of political ideology.

    How surveys changed support

    Taking advantage of the energy-saving initiative, Werfel surveyed about 12,000 people in Japan. All surveys included a question about the extent to which people supported a government tax increase on carbon emissions. Half of the surveys contained a checklist that respondents used to indicate energy-saving actions they performed. On average, people who received the checklist surveys were about 13 percent less likely to support the government tax than people who did not receive a checklist.

    People who performed the checklist tasks also indicated on the accompanying survey that they felt that individual actions were more important than those of the government for achieving energy sustainability, and that conserving energy and protecting the environment shouldn’t be a top national priority.

    Werfel then sent checklist surveys to about 200 respondents who had been in non-checklist groups. Compared to how they responded in the initial, non-checklist survey, the respondents who checked the most boxes in the list of energy-saving actions in this second survey exhibited the greatest increase in their opposition to government actions. Werfel said this seems to indicate that people who perform more of these types of actions are more likely to see individual contributions as sufficient progress toward energy-saving goals.

    Additional surveys showed that a checklist containing only one very easy individual action did not affect people’s support of the carbon tax. However, people were 15 percent less likely to support the tax if they checked a box stating that they thought recycling was important — an effect that was largest among people who said they cared most about the environment. Werfel stressed that this, as with all of these results, should lead people to not assume anything about the behavior of any one person.

    “It would be way too strong to say these findings apply to someone who spends their life being environmentally conscious and advocating for government support of pro-environment initiatives,” he said.

    Werfel also tested whether making people feel morally good about themselves made them more likely to oppose government action, but the results of that survey were inconclusive.

    Striking a balance between pride and complacency

    Werfel said he believes this phenomenon likely impacts issues beyond environmentalism, such as disease prevention, economic inequality and homelessness, a hypothesis he is currently investigating. Given the evidence so far, Werfel cautions that we should be more aware about the potential downsides of celebrating every individual and private sector contribution we see as benefitting the greater good.

    “Sometimes there’s a danger to thinking you’ve done enough,” said Werfel. “We spend a lot of time encouraging people to do these things at home — to care about them and announce that they’ve done them — and there could be some backfire effect.”


  3. Behavioral ‘nudges’ offer a cost-effective policy tool

    June 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Governments around the world have increasingly turned to behavioral science to help address various policy problems — new research shows that some of the best-known strategies derived from behavioral science, commonly referred to as ‘nudges,’ may be extremely cost effective. The new study, which examined the cost-effectiveness of nudges and typical intervention strategies like financial incentives side-by-side, found that nudges often yield particularly high returns at a low cost when it comes to boosting retirement savings, college enrollment, energy conservation, and vaccination rates.

    The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “The changes in behavior produced by nudges tend be quite cost effective relative to those produced by traditional policy tools — so there is a big opportunity to use nudging more widely in government in conjunction with traditional policy tools,” says Professor Katherine L. Milkman of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the authors of the new study.

    “Our findings show that it’s important to calculate and report the cost effectiveness of available policy tools, and not simply the impact of an intervention without an adjustment for cost,” adds study co-author Professor John Beshears of Harvard Business School. “This will facilitate wiser decisions by governments and other organizations regarding which policy tools to use under various circumstances.”

    Nudges — which are now being tested and implemented by government agencies in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States — diverge from traditional policy tools in that they encourage certain behaviors without restricting an individual’s options or exacting financial penalties.

    When organizations automatically enroll employees in their company’s retirement savings program but allow them to opt out, for example, they are using a nudge that takes advantage of the fact that people tend to accept the default while still protecting employees’ freedom to choose whether to participate in the program.

    Although many nudges have been proven to increase individuals’ access to various services and programs, they may not produce large shifts in overall behavior. As such, they may be overlooked as useful policy tools despite their relatively low cost.

    With this in mind, a research team including academics and practitioners inside and outside of government examined existing studies to evaluate the relative cost effectiveness of nudges and other policy interventions.

    Looking at the 2015 reports from the SBST and the UK Behavioural Insights Team, the researchers developed a list of relevant policy areas and identified one behavior as the outcome of interest within each area. They then searched leading academic journals in science, economics, psychology, and medicine for original research published from 2000 to mid-2015 that directly examined interventions targeting these outcomes.

    The team compared the effectiveness of nudge-type strategies with more standard policy interventions, calculating the ratio between an intervention’s causal effect and its implementation cost.

    The results showed a pattern: In each of the domains that the researchers examined, nudges were highly cost effective, often more so than the traditional policy interventions.

    In the case of retirement savings, for example, a nudge that prompted new employees to indicate their preferred contribution rate to a workplace retirement-savings plan yielded a $100 increase in employee contributions per $1 spent on implementing the program; the next most cost-effective strategy, offering monetary incentives for employees who attended a benefits fair, yielded only a $14.58 increase in employee contributions per $1 spent on the program.

    Similarly, a nudge-based mailing that prompted employees to write down when and how they planned on getting their flu shot led to about 13 additional people getting vaccinated per $100 spent on the mailing; by contrast, an education campaign on the benefits of the flu vaccine led to only about 9 additional employees at a health care facility getting vaccinated per every $100 spent on the campaign.

    “We had a hunch that nudging, and especially digital nudging, would be very cost effective, but I was truly surprised to see that the cost effectiveness of nudging is often 100, and even 1,000, times greater than more traditional interventions,” says co-author Shlomo Benartzi, a professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This has huge implications for governments and businesses alike.”

    The researchers acknowledge that their analyses do not offer an exhaustive review of the comparative effectiveness of nudges and traditional policy tools. And there are many cases in which traditional tools — such as prohibitions and mandates — are essential for achieving specific policy objectives, and nudges might not be of value.

    But the new findings clearly show that nudge-type strategies based in behavioral science do offer a useful, low-cost approach to promoting behaviors tied to a variety of important outcomes. Unlike traditional interventions that are designed to influence the cost-benefit calculations that people make, nudges harness decision-making processes that operate automatically. Thus, nudges may be especially useful in guiding behavior when people are making decisions in less than ideal circumstances, such as when they are busy, tired, or otherwise not able to fully engage with the choices available to them.

    The findings also underscore how critical sharing data and knowledge about the effectiveness of various interventions will be to coordinated policy efforts among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

    “Tracking failures is as important for knowledge creation as tracking successes,” the researchers conclude.


  4. Study suggests leaders who change stance on moral position seen as hypocritical, less effective

    June 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    When leaders use a moral argument rather than a pragmatic one as the basis for a position, they may be judged harshly if they change that position later. They are perceived as hypocrites, less effective and less worthy of future support, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    “Leaders may choose to take moral stances, believing that this will improve audiences’ perceptions. And it does, initially. But all people, even leaders, have to change their minds sometimes,” said lead author Tamar Kreps, PhD, of the University of Utah. “Our research shows that leaders who change their moral minds are seen as more hypocritical, and not as courageous or flexible, compared with those whose initial view was based on a pragmatic argument. Due to this perception of hypocrisy, they are also seen as less effective and less worthy of support.”

    The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    In the study, Kreps and her colleagues conducted a series of 15 experiments online involving more than 5,500 participants from the United States ranging in age from 18 to 77. In each experiment, participants learned about political or business leaders who had changed their opinion on an issue. Some participants were informed that the leaders’ initial positions were based on a moral stance. Others were told the position was based on a pragmatic argument (e.g., it was good for the economy). Across the studies, participants rated the leader who changed his or her mind on the moral stance as more hypocritical and, in most instances, less effective and worthy of their support than leaders whose initial stance was pragmatic.

    What surprised the researchers the most was how difficult it was to eliminate the effect, according to Kreps. “In different studies, we tried to test various factors we thought might weaken the effect. For example, what if the leader used the same moral value in the later view as in the earlier view? What if the leader did not rely on popular support and therefore would have no reason to pander? What about participants who believed in moral relativism, the view that there is no objective reality in the first place? None of those things made a difference — initially moral mind-changers consistently seemed more hypocritical,” she said.

    Kreps believes the findings suggest that people think that breaking moral commitments is not only difficult, but also wrong. “All in all, these results paint a glum picture for initially moral leaders. When leaders take a moral position, there appears to be little they can do to avoid being perceived as hypocritical should they find they later have to change their minds,” said Kreps.

    For leaders who insist on moral arguments, there is some good news if they have to change their minds later, according to Kreps. While in all cases, leaders who changed position on a moral stance were seen as more hypocritical, if leaders framed the change as a result of a personally transformative experience or out of their control due to external forces, they were not seen as less effective or unworthy of support.

    “We know that moral beliefs do tend to stay more constant over time. So, leaders should take moral stances only if they have the underlying beliefs to back up those stances,” said Kreps. “Taking an inauthentic moral view to try to pander to a moralizing audience could backfire, if a leader needs to change that view later on.”


  5. Why do we follow unspoken group rules?

    June 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) press release:

    How you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel — these often unspoken rules of a group are social norms, and many are internalized to such a degree that you probably don’t even notice them. Following norms, however, can sometimes be costly for individuals if norms require sacrifice for the good of the group. How and why did humans evolve to follow such norms in the first place?

    A new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis explores this question, shedding light on the origins of human cooperation.

    The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the ability of humans to internalize social norms is expected to evolve under a wide range of conditions, helping to forge a kind of cooperation that becomes instinctive.

    The researchers used computer simulations to model both individual behavior in joint group actions and underlying genetic machinery controlling behavior. The researchers worked from the premise that adherence to norms is socially reinforced by the approval of, and rewards to, individuals who follow them and by punishment of norm violators. The researchers’ goal was to see whether certain norms get internalized, meaning that acting according to a norm becomes an end in itself, rather than a tool to get something or to avoid social sanctions.

    In the model, individuals make choices about participating in collective actions that require cooperation, and individuals who don’t cooperate, or “free riders,” can face consequences.

    Specifically, the authors looked at two general kinds of collective actions requiring cooperation that our ancestors might have regularly faced. The first type of group action involves “us-vs.-nature” scenarios, where groups must defend against predators and hunt and breed cooperatively. The second type of group action is “us-vs.-them,” which constitutes direct conflicts or other costly competition with other groups over territory, mating, access to trade routes, and the like.

    The model found that norm internalization readily evolves in both scenarios.

    The model also shows that encouraging peer punishment of free-riders is much more efficient in promulgating cooperation in collective actions than promoting participation itself.

    The study predicts a significant genetic variation in the ability of humans to internalize norms. In particular, under some conditions populations are expected to have a relatively small frequency of “over-socialized” individuals who are willing to make extreme sacrifices for their groups. Examples in today’s society might be suicide bombers and other displays of extreme self-sacrificial behavior for the good of the group. Likewise, there are also “under-socialized” individuals — psychopaths — who are completely immune to any social norms.

    As social and physical environments vary greatly between different human groups, the model accounts for this variation and can predict how these differences will affect human social behavior and human decision-making in different regions.

    In addition to answering theoretical questions about the origins of human cooperation, the study may have a variety of practical applications.

    “Every day human beings make choices among multiple options in how to respond to various social situations. Those choices are affected by many interacting factors, including social norms and values. Understanding the effects of social norms could help us better understand human decision-making and better predict human actions in response to certain events or policies,” said lead author Sergey Gavrilets, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and NIMBioS associate director for scientific activities.

    Gavrilets also said the models could be helpful in social and economic policymaking.

    “Changing social institutions is a common strategy for changing human behavior,” he said. “Sometimes there are attempts to borrow or transfer institutions from one country or region to another. Often such strategies fail miserably, however. Our models can help explain why. Generalizing our models can lead to the development of better tools for predicting consequences of introducing certain social policies and institutions and in identifying the most efficient strategies for changing or optimizing group behaviors.”


  6. Study suggests economic status and reactions to issues may be inferred from position in social networks

    May 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the City College of New York press release:

    New big-data analytics by a City College of New York-led team suggests that both an individual’s economic status and how they are likely to react to issues and policies can be inferred by their position in social networks. The study could be useful in maximizing the effects of large-scale economic stimulus policies.

    A team led by City College physicist Hern´an A. Makse was legally granted access to two massive big datasets: all the phone calls of the entire population of Mexico for three months and the banking information of a subset of people. All the data, approximately 110 million phone calls and 500,000 bank clients, was anonymous with no names.

    “It is commonly believed that patterns of social ties affect individuals’ economic status, said Makse, whose research interest includes the theoretical understanding of complexity. “We analyzed these two large-scale sources — the telecommunications and financial data of a whole country’s population. Our results showed that an individual’s location, measured as the optimal collective influence to the structural integrity of the social network, is highly correlated with personal economic status.”

    The social network patterns of influence observed mimicked the patterns of economic inequality. For pragmatic use and validation, Makse and his colleagues carried out a marketing campaign that showed a three-fold increase in response rate by targeting individuals identified by their social network metrics as compared to random targeting.


  7. Study looks at what air travelers will tolerate for non-discriminatory security screening

    April 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Risk Analysis press release:

    Mounting anti-terrorism security procedures and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) screening processes have launched numerous debates about the protection of civil liberties and equal treatment of passengers. A new study published in Risk Analysis has successfully quantified how much potential air passengers value equal protection when measured against sacrifices in safety, cost, wait time, and convenience.

    The study, “Valuing equal protection in aviation security screening,” examined how much American travelers valued the principle of equal protection by quantifying the “equity premium.”

    The equity premium included the following components: monetary costs defined as a screening fee that passengers were willing to pay per flight; wait time defined as the length of time in minutes that passengers had to wait to complete security screening; convenience defined as the proportion of passengers without contraband who are mistakenly singled out for further scrutiny; and safety defined as the acceptable percentage of passengers who board with contraband that was not detected during screening (known as the “miss rate”).

    The study is based on the responses of 222 participants in an online survey who were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk. Each watched a four-minute video that described the study and explained the equity premiums. Respondents were then randomly assigned to one of three possible two-stage screening procedures that evaluated passengers according to a set of behavioral indicators (such as perceived fear or stress), their demographic characteristics (age, race, sex and/or national origin) or at random. Respondents then completed 10 trade-off assessments to determine how much they were willing to sacrifice to avoid differential treatment.

    For all selection procedures, respondents were willing to pay up to $15 and tolerated an increase of up to two additional passengers boarding with contraband to avoid inequitable screenings. When selection procedures focused on demographic characteristics, they were willing to wait an additional 15 minutes. However, respondents who were assigned to procedures that selected passengers at random or according to their behavior were only willing to tolerate an additional five minutes.

    Male and female respondents also responded differently. To avoid a less equitable screening, female participants were willing to wait longer and pay more than male respondents. Females were 2.8 times more likely to wait longer than the minimum wait time and 1.7 times more likely to pay more than the minimum screening fee. However, there were no significant differences in fee or wait time allowances between white and non-white respondents.

    “We know that travelers value both safety and equity, but what we did not know is how they reconcile these conflicting priorities,” said Kenneth Nguyen, corresponding author and quantitative methods graduate student at the University of Southern California. “The value of the current research is to shed light on how travelers make this trade-off and, perhaps more importantly, uncover factors that affect this trade-off, and suggest ways that stakeholders can incorporate these findings in the design of security policies.”

    The overall low numbers suggest that most respondents were only willing to make limited sacrifices for more equitable screening and that they still placed a high value on low costs, shorter wait times, greater safety and convenience. People were willing to give up equal protection for other priorities like minimizing cost and inconvenience and maximizing safety.

    These results offer valuable insights for the TSA and other security officers. Even if screening procedures based on demographic characteristics were more effective than random or behavior-based selections, travelers in this study showed they are much more opposed to these discriminatory procedures by making greater sacrifices in equity premiums when experiencing this type of procedure.


  8. Study suggests ideological information bubbles conquer financial incentives

    April 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Chicago press release:

    A new report from social psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Winnipeg suggests people on both sides of the political aisle are similarly motivated to dismiss monetary enticements in order to distance themselves from hearing or reading opposing ideals and information.

    The research, published online by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, details the findings from five studies involving liberals and conservatives who were presented with statements on issues such as same-sex marriage, U.S. and Canada elections, marijuana, climate change, guns and abortion.

    Approximately two-thirds of respondents declined a chance to win extra money in order to avoid reading statements that didn’t support their position, say report co-authors Linda Skitka, UIC professor of psychology, and Matt Motyl, UIC assistant professor of psychology.

    The UIC researchers and Jeremy A. Frimer, a corresponding author from the University of Winnipeg, indicate the divide goes beyond political topics.

    Respondents also had a “greater desire to hear from like- versus unlike-minded others on questions such as preferred beverages (Coke vs. Pepsi), seasons (spring vs. autumn), airplane seats (aisle vs. window), and sports leagues (NFL vs. NBA),” they wrote.

    The aversion to hearing or learning about the views of their ideological opponents is not a product of people already being or feeling knowledgeable, or attributable to election fatigue in the case of political issues, according to the researchers.

    “Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance,” such that would require effort or cause frustration, and “undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views” that would harm relationships, they reported.

    The researchers note the drawback of liberals and conservatives retreating to ideological information bubbles.

    “What could ultimately be a contest of ideas is being replaced by two, non-interacting monopolies,” they said.


  9. For a modest personality trait, ‘intellectual humility’ packs a punch

    April 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Intellectual humility” has been something of a wallflower among personality traits, receiving far less scholarly attention than such brash qualities as egotism or hostility. Yet this little-studied characteristic may influence people’s decision-making abilities in politics, health and other arenas, says new research from Duke University.

    In a time of high partisanship, intellectual humility — an awareness that one’s beliefs may be wrong — is nonpartisan. Researchers measured levels of the trait, and found essentially no difference between liberals and conservatives or between religious and nonreligious people.

    “There are stereotypes about conservatives and religiously conservative people being less intellectually humble about their beliefs,” said lead author Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “We didn’t find a shred of evidence to support that.”

    As defined by the authors, intellectual humility is the opposite of intellectual arrogance or conceit. In common parlance, it resembles open-mindedness. Intellectually humble people can have strong beliefs, but recognize their fallibility and are willing to be proven wrong on matters large and small, Leary said.

    The researchers, whose work is featured in the March 15 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, conducted four separate studies to measure the trait and learn more about how it functions. In one study, participants read essays arguing for and against religion, and were then asked about each author’s personality. After reading an essay with which they disagreed, intellectually arrogant people gave the writer low scores in morality, honesty, competence and warmth. By contrast, intellectually humble people were less likely to judge a writer’s character based on his or her views.

    People who displayed intellectual humility also did a better job evaluating the quality of evidence — even in mundane matters. For instance, when presented with arguments about the benefits of flossing, intellectually humble people correctly distinguished strong, fact-based arguments from weak ones.

    The characteristic also affected people’s views on politicians who “flip-flop.” Intellectually humble Republicans were more likely than other Republicans to say that they would vote for a politician whose position on an issue changed over time, due to new evidence. They were also less likely to criticize that politician for “flip-flopping.” There was less variability among Democrats: Democrats, whether intellectually arrogant or humble, were generally less likely to criticize a politician for changing his mind.

    Leary said intellectual humility bears further examination.

    “If you think about what’s been wrong in Washington for a long time, it’s a whole lot of people who are very intellectually arrogant about the positions they have, on both sides of the aisle,” Leary said. “But even in interpersonal relationships, the minor squabbles we have with our friends, lovers and coworkers are often about relatively trivial things where we are convinced that our view of the world is correct and their view is wrong.”

    The quality has potential benefits in the business world, too, he said.

    “If you’re sitting around a table at a meeting and the boss is very low in intellectual humility, he or she isn’t going to listen to other people’s suggestions,” Leary said. “Yet we know that good leadership requires broadness of perspective and taking as many perspectives into account as possible.”

    Leary and his co-authors suggest that intellectual humility is a quality that could be encouraged and taught. And some of their colleagues hope to do just that. Leary’s team worked in collaboration with other psychologists and philosophers to refine their studies. One of those philosophers helped launch a charter school in California, the Intellectual Virtues Academy of Long Beach, aimed at promoting qualities such as intellectual humility.

    Leary applauds the effort.

    “Not being afraid of being wrong — that’s a value, and I think it is a value we could promote,” he said. “I think if everyone was a bit more intellectually humble we’d all get along better, we’d be less frustrated with each other.”


  10. Group tolerance linked to perceptions of fairness and harm

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release:

    Look for the fault line in any modern conflict and it likely follows a familiar division between the opposing groups. Whether that divide is sectarian, ethnic or ideological, people’s devotion to the values that define their communities can make it seem as if violence along their boundaries is inevitable.

    But a new study of groups in tension or conflict found evidence that people are willing to share a society with those of differing beliefs as long as they believe that those groups share a commitment to universal moral values such as fairness and harm.

    Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Carnegie Mellon University’s Nichole Argo and The New School for Social Research’s Nadine Obeid and Jeremy Ginges interviewed hundreds of members of sectarian groups in Lebanon, ethnic groups in Morocco and ideological factions in the United States. Their findings undermine political claims that conflicts arise because of differences in what they call “binding” values, such as beliefs about God, purity or deference to authority. Members of groups may believe in these things, but they don’t necessarily expect others to share those beliefs.

    “In essence, I can eat dinner with, date, marry or live close to you even if you don’t believe in the same God or eat the same foods. But I will distance myself from you and your group in these ways if I perceive that you don’t play fair or that you don’t care about others,” said Argo, a research scientist in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at CMU with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences.

    In Lebanon, the authors asked 376 undergraduates from the Lebanese American University — a mix of Christian, Sunni and Shiite students from middle-class backgrounds — how comfortable they’d be living near and socializing with members of the other sectarian groups. The answer, they found, depended on how much the individual thought the other group prioritized universal “autonomy” values such as harm and fairness. The same was true in Morocco, where they hired local researchers to survey 100 Arabs and Berbers in six districts around Greater Casablanca.

    The authors then asked if a desire to change intergroup relations would motivate increased perceptions of moral difference between groups. If so, would this occur primarily on the basis of universal values of fairness and harm?

    To find out, they interviewed 362 New Yorkers about abortion and same-sex marriage. They found that for participants who espoused either the liberal or the conservative view, thinking about an issue around which they desired a change in the status quo led to a perception of greater distance between self and other in autonomy values, but not binding ones.

    In other words, on issues where participants wanted a status change in an issue that currently favored the other group, they perceived greater differences in autonomy values.

    “This study provides insights about others, but also ourselves,” Argo said. “Do we really distance ourselves from others because of the religious garb they wear, or what they eat? No. We distance ourselves when we don’t trust them to treat us well. Given this, it becomes essential to care about how others perceive our own group’s behavior.”

    She added, “Since people do not usually hate because of differences in ways of life, they may be thinking that our actions disregard them, or worse, constitute attacks against them. Sometimes those perceptions can be prevented or corrected. It’s the golden rule: how we treat others matters.”