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Journal: Cognition


On political questions, many people prefer to consult and learn from those whose political views are similar to their own, thus creating a risk of echo chambers or information cocoons. We test whether the tendency to prefer knowledge from the politically like-minded generalizes to domains that have nothing to do with politics, even when evidence indicates that politically like-minded people are less skilled in those domains than people with dissimilar political views. Participants had multiple opportunities to learn about others' (1) political opinions and (2) ability to categorize geometric shapes. They then decided to whom to turn for advice when solving an incentivized shape categorization task. We find that participants falsely concluded that politically like-minded others were better at categorizing shapes and thus chose to hear from them. Participants were also more influenced by politically like-minded others, even when they had good reason not to be. These results replicate in two independent samples. The findings demonstrate that knowing about others' political views interferes with the ability to learn about their competency in unrelated tasks, leading to suboptimal information-seeking decisions and errors in judgement. Our findings have implications for political polarization and social learning in the midst of political divisions.


Implicit social biases play a critical role in shaping our attitudes towards other people. Such biases are thought to arise, in part, from a comparison between features of one’s own self-image and those of another agent, a process known as ‘bodily resonance’. Recent data have demonstrated that implicit bias can be remarkably plastic, being modulated by brief immersive virtual reality experiences that place participants in a virtual body with features of an out-group member. Here, we provide a mechanistic account of bodily resonance and implicit bias in terms of a putative self-image network that encodes associations between different features of an agent. When subsequently perceiving another agent, the output of this self-image network is proportional to the overlap between their respective features, providing an index of bodily resonance. By combining the self-image network with a drift diffusion model of decision making, we simulate performance on the implicit association test (IAT) and show that the model captures the ubiquitous implicit bias towards in-group members. We subsequently demonstrate that this implicit bias can be modulated by a simulated illusory body ownership experience, consistent with empirical data; and that the magnitude and plasticity of implicit bias correlates with self-esteem. Hence, we provide a simple mechanistic account of bodily resonance and implicit bias which could contribute to the development of interventions for reducing the negative evaluation of social out-groups.


Healthy individuals display a tendency to allocate attention unequally across space, and this bias has implications for how individuals interact with their environments. However, the origins of this phenomenon remain relatively poorly understood. The present research examined the joint and independent contributions of two fundamental motivational systems - behavioural approach and inhibition systems (BAS and BIS) - to lateral spatial bias in a locomotion task. Participants completed self-report measures of trait BAS and BIS, then repeatedly traversed a room, blindfolded, aiming for a straight line. We obtained locomotion data from motion tracking to capture variations in the walking trajectories. Overall, walking trajectories deviated to the left, and this tendency was more pronounced with increasing BIS scores. Meanwhile, BAS was associated with relative rightward tendencies when BIS was low, but not when BIS was high. These results demonstrate for the first time an association between BIS and lateral spatial bias independently of variations in BAS. The findings also contribute to clarify the circumstances in which BAS is associated with a rightward bias. We discuss the implications of these findings for the neurobiological underpinnings of BIS and for the literature on spatial bias.

Concepts: Present, Time, Psychology, Space, Relative, Walking, Relative clause, Tendency


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has an intriguing auditory processing profile. Individuals show enhanced pitch discrimination, yet often find seemingly innocuous sounds distressing. This study used two behavioural experiments to examine whether an increased capacity for processing sounds in ASD could underlie both the difficulties and enhanced abilities found in the auditory domain. Autistic and non-autistic young adults performed a set of auditory detection and identification tasks designed to tax processing capacity and establish the extent of perceptual capacity in each population. Tasks were constructed to highlight both the benefits and disadvantages of increased capacity. Autistic people were better at detecting additional unexpected and expected sounds (increased distraction and superior performance respectively). This suggests that they have increased auditory perceptual capacity relative to non-autistic people. This increased capacity may offer an explanation for the auditory superiorities seen in autism (e.g. heightened pitch detection). Somewhat counter-intuitively, this same ‘skill’ could result in the sensory overload that is often reported - which subsequently can interfere with social communication. Reframing autistic perceptual processing in terms of increased capacity, rather than a filtering deficit or inability to maintain focus, increases our understanding of this complex condition, and has important practical implications that could be used to develop intervention programs to minimise the distress that is often seen in response to sensory stimuli.

Concepts: Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Sense, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Sound, Pitch


Android robots are entering human social life. However, human-robot interactions may be complicated by a hypothetical Uncanny Valley (UV) in which imperfect human-likeness provokes dislike. Previous investigations using unnaturally blended images reported inconsistent UV effects. We demonstrate an UV in subjects' explicit ratings of likability for a large, objectively chosen sample of 80 real-world robot faces and a complementary controlled set of edited faces. An “investment game” showed that the UV penetrated even more deeply to influence subjects' implicit decisions concerning robots' social trustworthiness, and that these fundamental social decisions depend on subtle cues of facial expression that are also used to judge humans. Preliminary evidence suggests category confusion may occur in the UV but does not mediate the likability effect. These findings suggest that while classic elements of human social psychology govern human-robot social interaction, robust UV effects pose a formidable android-specific problem.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Sociology, Robotics, Robot, Android, Uncanny valley, Android science


Children are notoriously bad at delaying gratification to achieve later, greater rewards (e.g., Piaget, 1970)-and some are worse at waiting than others. Individual differences in the ability-to-wait have been attributed to self-control, in part because of evidence that long-delayers are more successful in later life (e.g., Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990). Here we provide evidence that, in addition to self-control, children’s wait-times are modulated by an implicit, rational decision-making process that considers environmental reliability. We tested children (M=4;6, N=28) using a classic paradigm-the marshmallow task (Mischel, 1974)-in an environment demonstrated to be either unreliable or reliable. Children in the reliable condition waited significantly longer than those in the unreliable condition (p<0.0005), suggesting that children's wait-times reflected reasoned beliefs about whether waiting would ultimately pay off. Thus, wait-times on sustained delay-of-gratification tasks (e.g., the marshmallow task) may not only reflect differences in self-control abilities, but also beliefs about the stability of the world.

Concepts: Decision making, Critical thinking, Environment, Reliability, Reflection, Task, Flipism


A growing body of research has focused on so-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilemmas in which participants have to choose whether to sacrifice one person in order to save the lives of a greater number. However, the relation between such ‘utilitarian’ judgments and genuine utilitarian impartial concern for the greater good remains unclear. Across four studies, we investigated the relationship between ‘utilitarian’ judgment in such sacrificial dilemmas and a range of traits, attitudes, judgments and behaviors that either reflect or reject an impartial concern for the greater good of all. In Study 1, we found that rates of ‘utilitarian’ judgment were associated with a broadly immoral outlook concerning clear ethical transgressions in a business context, as well as with sub-clinical psychopathy. In Study 2, we found that ‘utilitarian’ judgment was associated with greater endorsement of rational egoism, less donation of money to a charity, and less identification with the whole of humanity, a core feature of classical utilitarianism. In Studies 3 and 4, we found no association between ‘utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial dilemmas and characteristic utilitarian judgments relating to assistance to distant people in need, self-sacrifice and impartiality, even when the utilitarian justification for these judgments was made explicit and unequivocal. This lack of association remained even when we controlled for the antisocial element in ‘utilitarian’ judgment. Taken together, these results suggest that there is very little relation between sacrificial judgments in the hypothetical dilemmas that dominate current research, and a genuine utilitarian approach to ethics.

Concepts: Ethics, Morality, Peter Singer, Christian theology, Utilitarianism, Sacrifice, John Stuart Mill, Ethical egoism


Belief in conspiracy theories has been associated with a range of negative health, civic, and social outcomes, requiring reliable methods of reducing such belief. Thinking dispositions have been highlighted as one possible factor associated with belief in conspiracy theories, but actual relationships have only been infrequently studied. In Study 1, we examined associations between belief in conspiracy theories and a range of measures of thinking dispositions in a British sample (N=990). Results indicated that a stronger belief in conspiracy theories was significantly associated with lower analytic thinking and open-mindedness and greater intuitive thinking. In Studies 2-4, we examined the causational role played by analytic thinking in relation to conspiracist ideation. In Study 2 (N=112), we showed that a verbal fluency task that elicited analytic thinking reduced belief in conspiracy theories. In Study 3 (N=189), we found that an alternative method of eliciting analytic thinking, which related to cognitive disfluency, was effective at reducing conspiracist ideation in a student sample. In Study 4, we replicated the results of Study 3 among a general population sample (N=140) in relation to generic conspiracist ideation and belief in conspiracy theories about the July 7, 2005, bombings in London. Our results highlight the potential utility of supporting attempts to promote analytic thinking as a means of countering the widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories.

Concepts: Psychology, Redox, Cognition, Cultural studies, Syntax highlighting, Conspiracy theory, Conspiracy theories, Conspiracy?


Despite increasing life expectancy and high levels of welfare, health care, and public safety in most post-industrial countries, the public discourse often revolves around perceived threats. Terrorism, global pandemics, and environmental catastrophes are just a few of the risks that dominate media coverage. Is this public discourse on risk disconnected from reality? To examine this issue, we analyzed the dynamics of the risk discourse in two natural language text corpora. Specifically, we tracked latent semantic patterns over a period of 150 years to address four questions: First, we examined how the frequency of the word risk has changed over historical time. Is the construct of risk playing an ever-increasing role in the public discourse, as the sociological notion of a ‘risk society’ suggests? Second, we investigated how the sentiments for the words co-occurring with risk have changed. Are the connotations of risk becoming increasingly ominous? Third, how has the meaning of risk changed relative to close associates such as danger and hazard? Is risk more subject to semantic change? Finally, we decompose the construct of risk into the specific topics with which it has been associated and track those topics over historical time. This brief history of the semantics of risk reveals new and surprising insights-a fourfold increase in frequency, increasingly negative sentiment, a semantic drift toward forecasting and prevention, and a shift away from war toward chronic disease-reflecting the conceptual evolution of risk in the archeological records of public discourse.


Facial expressions of emotion are thought to have evolved from the development of facial muscles used in sensory regulation and later adapted to express moral judgment. Negative moral judgment includes the expressions of anger, disgust and contempt. Here, we study the hypothesis that these facial expressions of negative moral judgment have further evolved into a facial expression of negation regularly used as a grammatical marker in human language. Specifically, we show that people from different cultures expressing negation use the same facial muscles as those employed to express negative moral judgment. We then show that this nonverbal signal is used as a co-articulator in speech and that, in American Sign Language, it has been grammaticalized as a non-manual marker. Furthermore, this facial expression of negation exhibits the theta oscillation (3-8Hz) universally seen in syllable and mouthing production in speech and signing. These results provide evidence for the hypothesis that some components of human language have evolved from facial expressions of emotion, and suggest an evolutionary route for the emergence of grammatical markers.

Concepts: Gene expression, Sentence, Morality, Paul Ekman, Nonverbal communication, Sign language, Facial expression, Metacommunicative competence