You morally elevate people like yourself, study finds
Think you make moral judgments objectively? Think again.
Studies show that most people consider their ethical judgments to be objective and impartial. Given how important some of our moral decisions are, like when we serve on a jury or decide who to vote for, this is important.
Researchers still debate if this is true, however. Some evidence suggests that we act based on arbitrary data, while experience suggests that we think things out or fall back on principals. The arguments are backed by data that supports both sides.
But a new study shows that we aren’t as objective as we thought.
The study, undertaken by Konrad Bocian and Wieslaw Baryla of SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities and several others, asked more than six hundred people their opinions on total strangers based on little more than knowing if that stranger was similar to them or not. Unlike many studies, the test subjects were not all students and represented a broad swath of the Polish population.
The four studies:
The first part of the study had participants taking a test on major political issues. They were asked their opinions on such hot-button issues as abortion, gay marriage, and a national job program. After filling out the form, they were given another one supposedly filled out by another person. In fact, it was filled out by a computer to either match or oppose their answers to varying degrees.
They were then asked to give their impression of the “person” whose answers they were reading. They were also asked to answer questions about the person designed to see if they found them to be moral, competent, or trustworthy.
These questions were largely based around giving a likeliness score to hypotheticals such as, “When finding a wallet with documents and money, (they) bring it back to the owner.”
The results were clear – the test subjects supposed that the “people” who were the most similar to them were more moral and trustworthy in every case. They were also seen as more competent but to a lesser extent. People also said they liked the “persons” who were similar to them more than the ones who were not, even though all they had to go on were fake answers to a political issues quiz.
This liking was the key effect. We like those who are similar to us, and as a result, we find them more trustworthy.
Three more tests were carried out. The second introduced a control group which only had a picture to go on. The control group’s answers were compared to the responses of people that took a test similar to the previous one, showing that the results from the first test held up.
The third test connected the results of the previous tests to a well-known effect called “mere-exposure.” While it is known that continued exposure to something causes people to view it more favorably, the test showed that people’s opinion of how moral, trustworthy, and competent somebody that we see frequently is improves as well.
The last test introduced an actor. In that test, a computer image of the actor could be set to mimic the facial expressions of the test subject while they took a quiz about emotions which called for them to make faces. This test showed that the subjects ranked the actor as more trustworthy and moral when they had mimicked them than when they had not, though the mimicry did not affect their perceived competence.
What does this all mean?
Put together; the four tests suggest that how much we like somebody, as determined by either their similarities to us or even just how frequently we see them, influences how we judge them morally. The effect also exists for how competent we think they are. This "mere-liking" effect suggests that our moral judgments aren't quite as objective as we'd suppose.
So, we like people who are like us; what’s the big deal?
While it seems noncontroversial to say that we trust people that we like, there is more to it. It isn’t just that we trust them more, the test subjects were inclined to say they were competent, moral, and trustworthy just because they agreed on a few issues, were seen a few times, or mirrored our actions.
The researchers suggest their findings show “purportedly objective judgments of morality (as people typically believe) appear to be heavily influenced by liking-disliking, a paragon of subjective preferences.” They also suggest that this means our conception of how we view our own decision-making might be an illusion, positing that our judgments “may be frequently driven by attitudes, though rationalized by other considerations that are seemingly more rational and socially shared.”
This, alongside various other studies, suggests that our moral judgments are not fully objective but have large amounts of subjectivity thrown in. Given the seriousness of certain moral decisions we are asked to make, and known biases such as how people who look trustworthy avoid the death penalty in capital cases this study suggests that we are more affected by irrelevant data than is comfortable.
The data will join a huge amount of information going into the debate over how we reach moral judgments. While this study will be on the side that argues we are more subjective, it will not be enough to tip the scale decisively.
How can I use this?
It depends on how scrupulous you are.
If you want to be a better judge of character, know that people you like, see often, or are similar to are going to seem more moral to you - even if they don’t deserve it.
You can also use this to your advantage. Since people like people they are similar to and trust them more than they otherwise would, you can gain people’s trust and confidence just by playing up your similarities with other people, mimicking their facial expressions, or just being seen more frequently. Please do so responsibly.
The research also explains why we occasionally have moral blind spots that seem glaring in hindsight. Given that the study suggests that we’ll find a person more trustworthy for rather arbitrary reasons, the fact that people get pulled in by obvious cons is a little more understandable. If somebody is working too hard to play up their similarities to you, watch out.
While we tend to think that we make our moral judgments objectively and consider other people without regard to if we happen to like them, it seems that we subconsciously tend to like those similar to us and that this leads us to trust them. This raises questions about how objective we can be when making moral decisions.
While the final answer on the subject is a ways away, it might not hurt to start playing up the similarities you share with other people.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Researchers from the University of Toronto published a new map of cancer cells' genetic defenses against treatment.