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The EA Behavioral Science Newsletter

For behavioral researchers interested in effective altruism

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📚 Summary

📖 Eighteen publications

📝 Eleven preprints & articles

💬 Twelve forum posts

🎧/🎦 Four podcasts/videos

💰 Three funding opportunities 

💼 Three jobs 

🗓 Two events 

👨‍🔬 Michael Noetel profiled

📖 Publications

Sequential decision-making impacts moral judgment: How iterative dilemmas can expand our perspective on sacrificial harm

D. H. Bostyn & A. Roets

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2022)

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When are sacrificial harms morally appropriate? Traditionally, research within moral psychology has investigated this issue by asking participants to render moral judgments on batteries of single-shot, sacrificial dilemmas. Each of these dilemmas has its own set of targets and describes a situation independent from those described in the other dilemmas. Every decision that participants are asked to make thus takes place within its own, separate moral universe. As a result, people's moral judgments can only be influenced by what happens within that specific dilemma situation. This research methodology ignores that moral judgments are interdependent and that people might try to balance multiple moral concerns across multiple decisions. 

In the present series of studies we present participants with iterative versions of sacrificial dilemmas that involve the same set of targets across multiple iterations. Using this novel approach, and across five preregistered studies (total n = 1890), we provide clear evidence that a) responding to dilemmas in a sequential, iterative manner impacts the type of moral judgments that participants favor and b) that participants' moral judgments are not only motivated by the desire to refrain from harming others (usually labelled as deontological judgment), or a desire to minimize harms (utilitarian judgment), but also by a desire to spread out harm across all possible targets.

Interventions that influence animal-product consumption: A meta-review

Emily A. C. Grundy et al.

Future Foods (2022)

 

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Transitioning toward plant-based diets can alleviate health and sustainability challenges. However, research on interventions that influence animal-product consumption remains fragmented and inaccessible to researchers and practitioners. We conducted an overview of systematic reviews, also known as a meta-review. We searched five databases for reviews that examined interventions that influence (increase or decrease) the consumption of animal products. We quantitatively summarised results using individual studies' directions of effect because reviews rarely reported effect sizes of primary studies. Eighteen reviews met inclusion criteria, 12 of which examined interventions intended to decrease animal-product consumption and 6 of which examined interventions intended to increase animal-product consumption. In total, only two reviews conducted quantitative meta-analyses. 

Across all reviews, vote counting indicated that providing information on the environmental impact of meat consumption may reduce consumption, with 10 of 11 estimates suggesting reduced consumption (91%, 95% CI [62.3%, 98.4%]; p = .012). Providing information on the health consequences, emphasising social norms, and reducing meat portion sizes also appeared promising, albeit with more limited evidence. Reviews examining interventions that decreased consumption predominately focused on meat (10/12 reviews). Future reviews should conduct quantitative syntheses where appropriate and examine interventions that influence the consumption of animal products other than meat.

How development and culture shape intuitions about prosocial obligations

Julia Marshall, Anton Gollwitzer, Kellen Mermin-Bunnell, Mei Shinomiya, Jan Retelsdorf & Paul Bloom

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2022)

 

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Do children, like most adults, believe that only kin and close others are obligated to help one another? In two studies (total N = 1140), we examined whether children (∼5- to ∼10-yos) and adults across five different societies consider social relationship when ascribing prosocial obligations. Contrary to the view that such discriminations are a natural default in human reasoning, younger children in the United States (Studies 1 and 2) and across cultures (Study 2) generally judged everyone—parents, friends, and strangers—as obligated to help someone in need. 

Older children and adults, on the other hand, tended to exhibit more discriminant judgments. They considered parents more obligated to help than friends followed by strangers—although this effect was stronger in some cultures than others. Our findings suggest that children’s initial sense of prosocial obligation in social–relational contexts starts out broad and generally becomes more selective over the course of development.
 

Intellectual humility and existentially relevant moral decisions

Daryl R. Van Tongeren, C. Nathan DeWall, Don E. Davis & Joshua N. Hook

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2022)

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Research on intellectual humility has grown, but little work has explored its role in moral decisions. Building on recent work on the Veil of Ignorance, we randomly assigned some participants to imagine being part of an existentially-threatening situation that could possibly lead to the greater good for society (i.e. The Human Challenge Experiments [HCE]). We predicted that informing participants that they might be part of such a study (i.e. the veil of ignorance [VOI]) would reduce HCE support, and that this would be amplified among intellectually humble participants.
 


A preregistered study (N = 1,032) drawn from three samples, including participants from the United States (n = 346), the Netherlands (n = 340), and Hong Kong (n = 346), confirmed our hypothesis. In addition, this effect was pronounced for those high in intellectual humility. This work offers a novel contribution by examining the role of intellectual humility in existentially-relevant moral decisions.
 

A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of cash transfers on subjective well-being and mental health in low- and middle-income countries

Joel McGuire, Caspar Kaiser & Anders M. Bach-Mortensen

Nature (2022)

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Cash transfers (CTs) are increasingly recognized as a scalable intervention to alleviate financial hardship. A large body of evidence evaluates the impact of CTs on subjective well-being (SWB) and mental health (MH) in low- and middle-income countries. We undertook a systematic review, quality appraisal and meta-analysis of 45 studies examining the impact of CTs on self-reported SWB and MH outcomes, covering a sample of 116,999 individuals. After an average follow-up time of two years, we find that CTs have a small but statistically significant positive effect on both SWB (Cohen’s d = 0.13, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.09, 0.18) and MH (d = 0.07, 95% CI 0.05, 0.09) among recipients. 

CT value, both relative to previous income and in absolute terms, is a strong predictor of the effect size. Based on this review and the large body of existing research demonstrating a positive impact of CTs on other outcomes (for example, health and income), there is evidence to suggest that CTs improve lives. To enable comparisons of the relative efficacy of CTs to improve MH and SWB, future research should meta-analyse the effects of alternative interventions in similar contexts.
 

Is There a Foreign Accent Effect on Moral Judgment?

Alice Foucart & Susanne Brouwer

Brain Sciences (2021)

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Recent studies have shown that people make more utilitarian decisions when dealing with a moral dilemma in a foreign language than in their native language. Emotion, cognitive load, and psychological distance have been put forward as explanations for this foreign language effect. The question that arises is whether a similar effect would be observed when processing a dilemma in one’s own language but spoken by a foreign-accented speaker. Indeed, foreign-accented speech has been shown to modulate emotion processing, to disrupt processing fluency and to increase psychological distance due to social categorisation. We tested this hypothesis by presenting 435 participants with two moral dilemmas, the trolley dilemma and the footbridge dilemma online, either in a native accent or a foreign accent. In Experiment 1, 184 native Spanish speakers listened to the dilemmas in Spanish recorded by a native speaker, a British English or a Cameroonian native speaker. In Experiment 2, 251 Dutch native speakers listened to the dilemmas in Dutch in their native accent, in a British English, a Turkish, or in a French accent.


Results showed an increase in utilitarian decisions for the Cameroonian- and French-accented speech compared to the Spanish or Dutch native accent, respectively. When collapsing all the speakers from the two experiments, a similar increase in the foreign accent condition compared with the native accent condition was observed. This study is the first demonstration of a foreign accent effect on moral judgements, and despite the variability in the effect across accents, the findings suggest that a foreign accent, like a foreign language, is a linguistic context that modulates (neuro)cognitive mechanisms, and consequently, impacts our behaviour. More research is needed to follow up on this exploratory study and to understand the influence of factors such as emotion reduction, cognitive load, psychological distance, and speaker’s idiosyncratic features on moral judgments.

Other recent relevant publications

📝 Preprints & articles

💬 Forum posts

🎧/🎦 Audio-visual

💰 Funding

 

💼 Jobs & volunteering

🗓 Events

👨‍🔬 Researcher profile

Michael Noetel

What is your background?
 

I worked as a performance psychologist—for example, helping athletes perform under pressure or boards make good decisions in crisis exercises—before transitioning to academic research (for EA-aligned reasons).

 

What is your research area?

I've worked broadly in psychology, health, and education, mostly building aptitudes in evidence-informed decision-making, motivation, and the science of learning and teaching.


What are you planning to focus on in the future?
 

I agree with arguments that we might be in the most important century, so want to both improve the decision-making of key institutions and increase the pipeline of highly-engaged EAs working on longtermist causes.
 

Do you want help or collaborators, if so who?

If you're doing a systematic review or meta-analysis, I'd love to help make it more efficient and robust so you get the best answer, published in the best journal, within the shortest period of time.
If you're trying to create or scale an intervention, I'd love to help you design the online materials and learning environment so you get your message across faithfully, clearly, and persuasively.

I currently have room for collaborators (either industry or academia) on two PhD students:
– the first is trying to improve reasoning and decision-making in high-school students, ideally so they're more open to EA ideas, and
– the second is trying to reduce death and disability from strokes (#3 source of DALYs) in low-middle income countries (probably India or China) likely through a train-the-trainer RCT in hospitals.

If you're interested in either of these areas, or want help on your own systematic review/scalable intervention, please get in touch.


Do you want to share some of your work?
EAs try to promote prosocial behaviour but there are also many psychologically controlling memes circulating (e.g., "Conclusion: therefore, if you do not donate to effective charities, you are doing something wrong." Singer, 2019, The Life You Can Save, p. 44).
Our meta-analysis, published in Psychological Bulletin, suggests this is a mistake. Autonomy supportive language would likely lead to more prosocial behaviour: https://psyarxiv.com/e3dfw/

You probably create presentations and videos to teach or showcase your research. This meta-meta-analysis shows how to do it right (published in Review of Educational Research): https://psyarxiv.com/pynzr/

My recent op-ed for Australia's national broadcaster: https://www.abc.net.au/religion/the-case-for-effective-altruism/13359912
 

 

[You can contact Michael at michael.noetel[at]acu.edu.au]

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Creators:

Peter with help from Matt, Riley, Jacob, JonasKaiLucius & Elika.  

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Previous editions: 

1, 2, 3

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1 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:03 PM
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Thanks for cross posting this Peter. I may be biased but I think this is a great initiative.

Do you have any info about the kinds of people who are reading a newsletter like this? Eg, are they mostly EAs who are interested in behaviour science, or mostly behaviour scientists who are interested in EA?