Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Psychological review


Interest in and research on disgust has surged over the past few decades. The field, however, still lacks a coherent theoretical framework for understanding the evolved function or functions of disgust. Here we present such a framework, emphasizing 2 levels of analysis: that of evolved function and that of information processing. Although there is widespread agreement that disgust evolved to motivate the avoidance of contact with disease-causing organisms, there is no consensus about the functions disgust serves when evoked by acts unrelated to pathogen avoidance. Here we suggest that in addition to motivating pathogen avoidance, disgust evolved to regulate decisions in the domains of mate choice and morality. For each proposed evolved function, we posit distinct information processing systems that integrate function-relevant information and account for the trade-offs required of each disgust system. By refocusing the discussion of disgust on computational mechanisms, we recast prior theorizing on disgust into a framework that can generate new lines of empirical and theoretical inquiry. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Scientific method, Bacteria, Mathematics, Science, Group, All rights reserved, Tuple, Ring


The core claim of educational neuroscience is that neuroscience can improve teaching in the classroom. Many strong claims are made about the successes and the promise of this new discipline. By contrast, I show that there are no current examples of neuroscience motivating new and effective teaching methods, and argue that neuroscience is unlikely to improve teaching in the future. The reasons are twofold. First, in practice, it is easier to characterize the cognitive capacities of children on the basis of behavioral measures than on the basis of brain measures. As a consequence, neuroscience rarely offers insights into instruction above and beyond psychology. Second, in principle, the theoretical motivations underpinning educational neuroscience are misguided, and this makes it difficult to design or assess new teaching methods on the basis of neuroscience. Regarding the design of instruction, it is widely assumed that remedial instruction should target the underlying deficits associated with learning disorders, and neuroscience is used to characterize the deficit. However, the most effective forms of instruction may often rely on developing compensatory (nonimpaired) skills. Neuroscience cannot determine whether instruction should target impaired or nonimpaired skills. More importantly, regarding the assessment of instruction, the only relevant issue is whether the child learns, as reflected in behavior. Evidence that the brain changed in response to instruction is irrelevant. At the same time, an important goal for neuroscience is to characterize how the brain changes in response to learning, and this includes learning in the classroom. Neuroscientists cannot help educators, but educators can help neuroscientists. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Education, Cognitive science, Educational psychology, Learning, Motivation, Teacher, History of education


Traditionally, research on superstition and magical thinking has focused on people’s cognitive shortcomings, but superstitions are not limited to individuals with mental deficits. Even smart, educated, emotionally stable adults have superstitions that are not rational. Dual process models-such as the corrective model advocated by Kahneman and Frederick (2002, 2005), which suggests that System 1 generates intuitive answers that may or may not be corrected by System 2-are useful for illustrating why superstitious thinking is widespread, why particular beliefs arise, and why they are maintained even though they are not true. However, to understand why superstitious beliefs are maintained even when people know they are not true requires that the model be refined. It must allow for the possibility that people can recognize-in the moment-that their belief does not make sense, but act on it nevertheless. People can detect an error, but choose not to correct it, a process I refer to as acquiescence. The first part of the article will use a dual process model to understand the psychology underlying magical thinking, highlighting features of System 1 that generate magical intuitions and features of the person or situation that prompt System 2 to correct them. The second part of the article will suggest that we can improve the model by decoupling the detection of errors from their correction and recognizing acquiescence as a possible System 2 response. I suggest that refining the theory will prove useful for understanding phenomena outside of the context of magical thinking. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Magic, Luck, Superstition, Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Religious belief, Magic in the Greco-Roman world


Habits form a crucial component of behavior. In recent years, key computational models have conceptualized habits as arising from model-free reinforcement learning mechanisms, which typically select between available actions based on the future value expected to result from each. Traditionally, however, habits have been understood as behaviors that can be triggered directly by a stimulus, without requiring the animal to evaluate expected outcomes. Here, we develop a computational model instantiating this traditional view, in which habits develop through the direct strengthening of recently taken actions rather than through the encoding of outcomes. We demonstrate that this model accounts for key behavioral manifestations of habits, including insensitivity to outcome devaluation and contingency degradation, as well as the effects of reinforcement schedule on the rate of habit formation. The model also explains the prevalent observation of perseveration in repeated-choice tasks as an additional behavioral manifestation of the habit system. We suggest that mapping habitual behaviors onto value-free mechanisms provides a parsimonious account of existing behavioral and neural data. This mapping may provide a new foundation for building robust and comprehensive models of the interaction of habits with other, more goal-directed types of behaviors and help to better guide research into the neural mechanisms underlying control of instrumental behavior more generally. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


Many negatively connoted personality traits (often termed “dark traits”) have been introduced to account for ethically, morally, and socially questionable behavior. Herein, we provide a unifying, comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding dark personality in terms of a general dispositional tendency of which dark traits arise as specific manifestations. That is, we theoretically specify the common core of dark traits, which we call the Dark Factor of Personality (D). The fluid concept of D captures individual differences in the tendency to maximize one’s individual utility-disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others-accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications. To critically test D, we unify and extend prior work methodologically and empirically by considering a large number of dark traits simultaneously, using statistical approaches tailored to capture both the common core and the unique content of dark traits, and testing the predictive validity of both D and the unique content of dark traits with respect to diverse criteria including fully consequential and incentive-compatible behavior. In a series of four studies (N > 2,500), we provide evidence in support of the theoretical conceptualization of D, show that dark traits can be understood as specific manifestations of D, demonstrate that D predicts a multitude of criteria in the realm of ethically, morally, and socially questionable behavior, and illustrate that D does not depend on any particular indicator variable included. (PsycINFO Database Record


Context is known to affect how a stimulus is perceived. A variety of illusions have been attributed to contextual processing-from orientation tilt effects to chromatic induction phenomena, but their neural underpinnings remain poorly understood. Here, we present a recurrent network model of classical and extraclassical receptive fields that is constrained by the anatomy and physiology of the visual cortex. A key feature of the model is the postulated existence of near- versus far- extraclassical regions with complementary facilitatory and suppressive contributions to the classical receptive field. The model accounts for a variety of contextual illusions, reveals commonalities between seemingly disparate phenomena, and helps organize them into a novel taxonomy. It explains how center-surround interactions may shift from attraction to repulsion in tilt effects, and from contrast to assimilation in induction phenomena. The model further explains enhanced perceptual shifts generated by a class of patterned background stimuli that activate the two opponent extraclassical regions cooperatively. Overall, the ability of the model to account for the variety and complexity of contextual illusions provides computational evidence for a novel canonical circuit that is shared across visual modalities. (PsycINFO Database Record


What is boredom? We review environmental, attentional, and functional theories and present a new model that describes boredom as an affective indicator of unsuccessful attentional engagement in valued goal-congruent activity. According to the Meaning and Attentional Components (MAC) model, boredom is the result of (a) an attentional component, namely mismatches between cognitive demands and available mental resources, and (b) a meaning component, namely mismatches between activities and valued goals (or the absence of valued goals altogether). We present empirical support for four novel predictions made by the model: (a) Deficits in attention and meaning each produce boredom independently of the other; (b) there are different profiles of boredom that result from specific deficits in attention and meaning; © boredom results from two types of attentional deficits, understimulation and overstimulation; and (d) the model explains not only when and why people become bored with external activities, but also when and why people become bored with their own thoughts. We discuss further implications of the model, such as when boredom motivates people to seek interesting versus enjoyable activities. (PsycINFO Database Record


We present a computational model of visual problem solving, designed to solve problems from the Raven’s Progressive Matrices intelligence test. The model builds on the claim that analogical reasoning lies at the heart of visual problem solving, and intelligence more broadly. Images are compared via structure mapping, aligning the common relational structure in 2 images to identify commonalities and differences. These commonalities or differences can themselves be reified and used as the input for future comparisons. When images fail to align, the model dynamically rerepresents them to facilitate the comparison. In our analysis, we find that the model matches adult human performance on the Standard Progressive Matrices test, and that problems which are difficult for the model are also difficult for people. Furthermore, we show that model operations involving abstraction and rerepresentation are particularly difficult for people, suggesting that these operations may be critical for performing visual problem solving, and reasoning more generally, at the highest level. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Mathematics, Logic, Problem solving, Abstraction, Problem, Analogy, Flynn effect, Raven's Progressive Matrices


Contextual preference reversals occur when a preference for one option over another is reversed by the addition of further options. It has been argued that the occurrence of preference reversals in human behavior shows that people violate the axioms of rational choice and that people are not, therefore, expected value maximizers. In contrast, we demonstrate that if a person is only able to make noisy calculations of expected value and noisy observations of the ordinal relations among option features, then the expected value maximizing choice is influenced by the addition of new options and does give rise to apparent preference reversals. We explore the implications of expected value maximizing choice, conditioned on noisy observations, for a range of contextual preference reversal types-including attraction, compromise, similarity, and phantom effects. These preference reversal types have played a key role in the development of models of human choice. We conclude that experiments demonstrating contextual preference reversals are not evidence for irrationality. They are, however, a consequence of expected value maximization given noisy observations. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Game theory, Behavior, Motivation, Human behavior, Utility, Reversal, Rationality, Bounded rationality


Recent research has relied on trolley-type sacrificial moral dilemmas to study utilitarian versus nonutilitarian modes of moral decision-making. This research has generated important insights into people’s attitudes toward instrumental harm-that is, the sacrifice of an individual to save a greater number. But this approach also has serious limitations. Most notably, it ignores the positive, altruistic core of utilitarianism, which is characterized by impartial concern for the well-being of everyone, whether near or far. Here, we develop, refine, and validate a new scale-the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale-to dissociate individual differences in the ‘negative’ (permissive attitude toward instrumental harm) and ‘positive’ (impartial concern for the greater good) dimensions of utilitarian thinking as manifested in the general population. We show that these are two independent dimensions of proto-utilitarian tendencies in the lay population, each exhibiting a distinct psychological profile. Empathic concern, identification with the whole of humanity, and concern for future generations were positively associated with impartial beneficence but negatively associated with instrumental harm; and although instrumental harm was associated with subclinical psychopathy, impartial beneficence was associated with higher religiosity. Importantly, although these two dimensions were independent in the lay population, they were closely associated in a sample of moral philosophers. Acknowledging this dissociation between the instrumental harm and impartial beneficence components of utilitarian thinking in ordinary people can clarify existing debates about the nature of moral psychology and its relation to moral philosophy as well as generate fruitful avenues for further research. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Philosophy, Ethics, Morality, Justice, Hedonism, Intrinsic value, Jeremy Bentham