Posts Tagged: Morality

May 10

Psychology of Betrayal

Betrayal: A psychological analysis

Stanley Jack Rachman


Betrayal is the sense of being harmed by the intentional actions or omissions of a trusted person. The most common forms of betrayal are harmful disclosures of confidential information, disloyalty, infidelity, dishonesty. They can be traumatic and cause considerable distress. The effects of betrayal include shock, loss and grief, morbid pre-occupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, anger. Not infrequently they produce life-altering changes. The effects of a catastrophic betrayal are most relevant for anxiety disorders, and OCD and PTSD in particular.

Betrayal can cause mental contamination, and the betrayer commonly becomes a source of contamination. In a series of experiments it was demonstrated that feelings of mental contamination can be aroused by imagining unacceptable non-consensual acts. The magnitude of the mental contamination was boosted by the introduction of betrayal themes. Feelings of mental contamination can also be aroused in some ‘perpetrators’ of non-consensual acts involving betrayal. The psychological significance of acts of betrayal is discussed.


May 10

What Is Tolerance?

A nice quote from Robin Hanson, on what Tolerance is….

“Tolerance” is where you tolerate things that actually bother you. Things that make you go “ick”, or that conflict with strong intuitions on proper behavior.

May 10

Lairs Have Different Brain Wiring

While previous research has shown that there is heightened activity in the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that enables most people to feel remorse or learn moral behavior – when normal people lie, this is the first study to provide evidence of structural differences in that area among pathological liars.

The research – led by Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine, both of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences – is published in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
[T]he researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging to explore structural brain differences between the groups. The liars had significantly more “white matter” and slightly less “gray matter” than those they were measured against, Raine said.

Specifically, liars had a 25.7 percent increase in prefrontal white matter compared to the antisocial controls and a 22 percent increase compared to the normal controls. Liars had a 14.2 percent decrease in prefrontal gray matter compared to normal controls.

More white matter – the wiring in the brain – may provide liars with the tools necessary to master the complex art of deceit, Raine said.

“Lying takes a lot of effort,” he said.

“It’s almost mind reading. You have to be able to understand the mindset of the other person. You also have to suppress your emotions or regulate them because you don’t want to appear nervous. There’s quite a lot to do there. You’ve got to suppress the truth.

“Our argument is that the more networking there is in the prefrontal cortex, the more the person has an upper hand in lying. Their verbal skills are higher. They’ve almost got a natural advantage.”

But in normal people, it’s the gray matter – or the brain cells connected by the white matter – that helps keep the impulse to lie in check.

Pathological liars have a surplus of white matter, the study found, and a deficit of gray matter. That means they have more tools to lie coupled with fewer moral restraints than normal people, Raine said.

“They’ve got the equipment to lie, and they don’t have the disinhibition that the rest of us have in telling the big whoppers,” he said.

“When people make moral decisions, they are relying on the prefrontal cortex. When people ask normal people to make moral decisions, we see activation in the front of the brain,” he explained. “If these liars have a 14 percent reduction in gray matter, that means that they are less likely to care about moral issues or are less likely to be able to process moral issues. Having more gray matter would keep a check on these activities.”

The researchers stopped short of asserting that these structural differences account for all lying.


Apr 10

Jesse Bering and Neil Sinhababu talk about Sex, Pleasure, and God

Jesse Bering and Neil Sinhababu (who also blogs on The Ethical Werewolf) have a discussion about morality.


Apr 10

Another Question for Moral Foundation Theory: Unions, Striking, and Scabs

For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by Jonathan Haidt et al’s Moral Foundation Theory. But the more I look at the questionnaire, the more I wonder why there aren’t question on certain topics. I’ll write up posts for other questions I’d put on the questionnaire(s) if I were contributing to them, but for now I’ll simply just suggest a set of questions regarding unions, striking, scabs….

  1. One of the worst things a person could do is to be a scab while a union is on strike.
  2. People should be loyal to their union brothers and sisters, even if when they have done something wrong.
  3. If I were a union member and disagreed with the reasons the union was striking, I would strike anyways because it is my duty.
  4. Respect for union seniority is important.
  5. To dole out work in a way that violates union seniority would be wrong.
  6. It is wrong to hire a scab.
  7. It would be acceptable for someone to harm a scab for crossing a picket line.
  8. It can never be right to cross a picket line.
  9. It is the duty of all union members to support the strike action of members of other unions.

I think the imagery of the “dirty” scab you commonly find among union culture, would be enough to attract the interest of those interested in moral psychology.

Feb 10

Dog Morality

Seems that dogs, wolves, and coyotes posses morality, and that morality is similar to human morality.

Looking for the roots of human morality in the animal kingdom? Focus on canines, who know how to play fair
Every dog owner knows a pooch can learn the house rules—and when she breaks one, her subsequent groveling is usually ingratiating enough to ensure quick forgiveness. But few people have stopped to ask why dogs have such a keen sense of right and wrong. Chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates regularly make the news when researchers, logically looking to our closest relatives for traits similar to our own, uncover evidence of their instinct for fairness. But our work has suggested that wild canine societies may be even better analogues for early hominid groups—and when we study dogs, wolves and coyotes, we discover behaviors that hint at the roots of human morality.

Morality, as we define it in our book Wild Justice, is a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate social interactions. These behaviors, including altruism, tolerance, forgiveness, reciprocity and fairness, are readily evident in the egalitarian way wolves and coyotes play with one another. Canids (animals in the dog family) follow a strict code of conduct when they play, which teaches pups the rules of social engagement that allow their societies to succeed. Play also builds trusting relationships among pack members, which enables divisions of labor, dominance hierarchies and cooperation in hunting, raising young, and defending food and territory. Because this social organization closely resembles that of early humans (as anthropologists and other experts believe it existed), studying canid play may offer a glimpse of the moral code that allowed our ancestral societies to grow and flourish.


Feb 10

More on Morality and Religion

The tie between religions and morality is one many probably have picked up on from their own personal experiences. This study looks at the “chicken and the egg” problem regarding morality and religion….

“Some scholars claim that religion evolved as an adaptation to solve the problem of cooperation among genetically unrelated individuals, while others propose that religion emerged as a by-product of pre-existing cognitive capacities,” explains study co-author Dr. Ilkka Pyysiainen from the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Although there is some support for both, these alternative proposals have been difficult to investigate.

Dr. Pyysiainen and co-author Dr. Marc Hauser, from the Departments of Psychology and Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, used a fresh perspective based in experimental moral psychology to review these two competing theories. “We were interested in making use of this perspective because religion is linked to morality in different ways,” says Dr. Hauser. “For some, there is no morality without religion, while others see religion as merely one way of expressing one’s moral intuitions.”

Just to add a small point, there is evidence to suggest that morality exists without religion. For an easy example, what libertarians often call “natural rights”.

Citing several studies in moral psychology, the authors highlight the finding that despite differences in, or even an absence of, religious backgrounds, individuals show no difference in moral judgments for unfamiliar moral dilemmas. The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments.

“This supports the theory that religion did not originally emerge as a biological adaptation for cooperation, but evolved as a separate by-product of pre-existing cognitive functions that evolved from non-religious functions,” says Dr. Pyysiainen. “However, although it appears as if cooperation is made possible by mental mechanisms that are not specific to religion, religion can play a role in facilitating and stabilizing cooperation between groups.”

Perhaps this may help to explain the complex association between morality and religion. “It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualizing moral intuitions. Although, as we discuss in our paper, this link is not a necessary one, many people have become so accustomed to using it, that criticism targeted at religion is experienced as a fundamental threat to our moral existence,” concludes Dr. Hauser.


Jan 10

Moral Foundation Theory and U.S. Politics

Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Knobe talk about Moral Psychology and Moral Foundation Theory as it applies to U.S. politics.


Jan 10

Happiness and the Foundations of Morality

Will Wilkinson talks to Jonathan Haidt about Moral Psychology and Moral Foundation Theory.


Jan 10

Jonathan Haidt Talks About Moral Psychology And The 5 Foundations Of Morality

This is an older video, posted May 7th, 2007, where Jonathan Haidt talks about his Moral Foundation Theory with its 5 Foundations Of Morality.

Watch it here: Video of presentation on morality at New Yorker “2012: Stories from the Near Future” conference.

(An interesting thing mentioned in the video is that Haidt basically “calls” Obama as the winner of the election because he speaks more than the other Democratic candidates to the 5 foundations of morality.)