New blog post in Psychology Today: "The Psychological Roots of Political Polarization"

By Jeroen van Baar and Oriel FeldmanHall

“Political polarization dominates the global news today. Take the debate on climate change. 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg recently held an emotional speech at the U.N. General Assembly calling for immediate climate action, and liberals around the world sent out enthusiastic messages of support. Conservatives, instead, barraged the liberals for making a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder advance their political agenda. President Donald Trump tweeted an ironic dig about Thunberg, liberals were disgusted by his response, and within minutes the topic of conversation had shifted from the core of the matter—climate change—to partisan mudslinging and fearmongering.

How did our political world become so polarized? This is a question on the mind of many psychologists today. And as with any scientific question, there are multiple approaches to answering it, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.”

You can check out the rest of their blog post here!

congrats to joey on his first, first-authored publication: "Why we don’t always punish: Preferences for non-punitive responses to moral violations."

While decades of research demonstrate that people punish unfair treatment, recent work illustrates that alternative, non-punitive responses may also be preferred. Across five studies (N = 1,010) we examine non-punitive methods for restoring justice. We find that in the wake of a fairness violation, compensation is preferred to punishment, and once maximal compensation is available, punishment is no longer the favored response. Furthermore, compensating the victim—as a method for restoring justice—also generalizes to judgments of more severe crimes: participants allocate more compensation to the victim as perceived severity of the crime increases. Why might someone refrain from punishing a perpetrator? We investigate one possible explanation, finding that punishment acts as a conduit for different moral signals depending on the social context in which it arises. When choosing partners for social exchange, there are stronger preferences for those who previously punished as third-party observers but not those who punished as victims. This is in part because third-parties are perceived as relatively more moral when they punish, while victims are not. Together, these findings demonstrate that non-punitive alternatives can act as effective avenues for restoring justice, while also highlighting that moral reputation hinges on whether punishment is enacted by victims or third-parties. PDF, SI, Scientific Reports

Congrats to Jae for his first, first-authored paper: "Crowdsourcing punishment: Individuals reference group preferences to inform their own punitive decisions

Justice systems delegate punishment decisions to groups in the belief that the aggregation of individuals’ preferences facilitates judiciousness. However, group dynamics may also lead individuals to relinquish moral responsibility by conforming to the majority’s preference for punishment. Across five experiments (N = 399), we find Victims and Jurors tasked with restoring justice become increasingly punitive (by as much as 40%) as groups express a desire to punish, with every additional punisher augmenting an individual’s punishment rates. This influence is so potent that knowing about a past group’s preference continues swaying decisions even when they cannot affect present outcomes. Using computational models of decision-making, we test long-standing theories of how groups influence choice. We find groups induce conformity by making individuals less cautious and more impulsive, and by amplifying the value of punishment. However, compared to Victims, Jurors are more sensitive to moral violation severity and less readily swayed by the group. Conformity to a group’s punitive preference also extends to weightier moral violations such as assault and theft. Our results demonstrate that groups can powerfully shift an individual’s punitive preference across a variety of contexts, while additionally revealing the cognitive mechanisms by which social influence alters moral values. PDF | Scientific Reports

4th Annual Brown Brain Fair!

This past weekend we had the opportunity to showcase some of our work to the greater Providence and Rhode Island Community. We used economic games with candy so that children could experience the kinds of questions and topics we explore! It was a day full of cooperation, defection, trust, and sometimes novel decision-making strategies. It was a ton of fun, and we can’t wait for next year!

NEW PUBLICATION: Viewing Adaptive Social Choice Through the Lens of Associative Learning

Because humans live in a dynamic and evolving social world, modeling the factors that guide social behavior has remained a challenge for psychology. In contrast, much progress has been made on understanding some of the more basic elements of human behavior, such as associative learning and memory, which has been successfully modeled in other species. Here we argue that applying an associative learning approach to social behavior can offer valuable insights into the human moral experience. We propose that the basic principles of associative learning—conserved across a range of species—can, in many situations, help to explain seemingly complex human behaviors, including altruistic, cooperative, and selfish acts. We describe examples from the social decision-making literature using Pavlovian learning phenomena (e.g., extinction, cue competition, stimulus generalization) to detail how a history of positive or negative social outcomes influences cognitive and affective mechanisms that shape moral choice. Examining how we might understand social behaviors and their likely reliance on domain-general mechanisms can help to generate testable hypotheses to further understand how social value is learned, represented, and expressed behaviorally. Download PDF | Read at PPS


Christopher Schutte, a senior staff writer for the Brown Daily Herald, recently wrote a great piece about the inner-workings of our lab, including insight from multiple lab members! Check it out here!