Below, please find the program of the 2023 Spring series of meetings organised by the Network! Meetings will be on Microsoft Team. To join write an email to email@example.com, and you will soon receive an invitation to join.
Next meeting: July 11th 2023, Misinformed on misinformation, Alberto Acerbi, University of Trento (Italy)
Abstract: current widespread narrative states that misinformation is abundant on social media, it has a relative advantage with respect to true information, and it changes people attitudes and behaviours. In my talk, I will examine how this narrative is not consistent with a cultural evolutionary view of social influence, according to which humans are not overly gullible, but they can be better characterised as wary learners. Much research shows indeed that the spread of misinformation online is limited, misinformation is not advantaged with respect to true information, and it is often innocuous or mostly reinforcing or justifying pre-existent beliefs. I will then discuss why this narrative has been successful, and why it may be misleading, or even harmful: it may be linked to a decline of trust in politics, reliable news outlets, and institutions; "fake news" laws have been used to restrict freedom of press; and, mostly, it diverges attention and resources from the underlying socio-economical causes of complex collective problems. I will suggest some ways forward, including focusing on other aspects of the social/digital media system such as for example the online effectiveness of reliable news.
Past meeting: May 26th 2023 Social Sampling Theory: Towards a Psychologically Plausible Model of Polarisation, Gordon Brown
Abstract: Many models of polarisation exist, but most fail to make contact with the broader psychological literature. We describe a cognitive model of social influence (Social Sampling Theory [SST]) and apply it to several social network phenomena including polarization and contagion effects. Social norms and individuals’ private attitudes are represented as distributions rather than the single points used in most models. SST is explored using agent-based modeling to link individual-level and network-level effects. People are assumed to observe the behavior of their social network neighbors and thereby infer the social distribution of particular attitudes and behaviors. It is assumed that (a) people dislike behaving in ways that are extreme within their neighborhood social norm (social extremeness aversion assumption), and hence tend to conform and (b) people prefer to behave consistently with their own underlying attitudes (authenticity preference assumption) hence minimizing dissonance. Expressed attitudes and behavior reflect a utility-maximizing compromise between these opposing principles. We use SST to shed light on social phenomena including (a) homophily and the development of segregated neighborhoods, (b) polarization, (c) effects of norm homogeneity on social conformity, (d) pluralistic ignorance and false consensus effects, and (e) backfire effects. We show how the model can account for both attitudinal and structural polarisation. More generally, it is argued that explanations of social comparison require the variance, not just the central tendency, of both attitudes and beliefs about social norms to be accommodated.
Past meeting: April 28th 2023 A Neuroscience of the common good demands impeccable testing of radical hypotheses about brains immersed in currently existing capitalism, Michael Moutoussis
Abstract:Translational neuroscience claims to uncover mechanisms and suggest new treatment paradigms for mental health problems. Inevitably, it operates within the contemporary capitalist context. We conceptualise how this research is influenced by, and in turn used to bolster, a free-market worldview. Intimately related are the effects of this context on the nervous system, which need to be reconceptualised for future research. Firstly, the principal tenets of neoliberal capitalism are presented together with how they have influenced neuroscience, producing a dominant model of neural (mal-)functioning in the service of market competition. In opposition, we propose a perspective of healthy neurodiversity, bounded adaptability and community relating. We review the available empirical research indicating that the capitalist socio-economic environment is harmful to diverse minds and brains, thus proposing specific neuroscientific hypotheses to test the mechanisms in question. Finally, we describe a frame for post-capitalist neuroscientific research directly informed by political stakeholders, thus setting the foundations of a truly emancipatory neuroscience.
Past meeting: 15/02/2023 (How) can we benefit from cognitive diversity? Using agent-based models to understand possibilities and barriers, Lukas Wallrich
Abstract: Many initiatives aim to diversity decision-making teams – be that through quotas in elections or through recruitment practices to civil service organisations. Apart from moral considerations, this is often framed as a way to increase creativity and improve the quality of decision-making (e.g., in the Rebel Ideas bestseller, Syed, 2019). Intuitively, diverse teams should have a performance advantage since they bring a broader range of cognitive resources to a task. However, intuition does not tell us how big that advantage might be, how it can best be harnessed, and how social identity conflicts might undermine it. Here, agent-based models can come in to help. By replacing the complexities of human behaviour with the behaviour of simulated agents following simple rules, they allow us to understand how various hypotheses might play out in the real world. In this talk, I start with a replication of the foundational model by Hong & Page (2004), which suggested that “diversity trumps ability” and argue that the result can inform our understanding of real-world problem-solving, despite initially convincing results to the contrary presented by Grim et al. (2019). I will then highlight some limitations of the model, and provide an alternative approach to modelling problem-solving in diverse teams, this time inspired by genetic algorithms. With social identities added to the models, which evidently shape interactions in the real world, interesting implications become apparent. The approaches converge in showing that diversity can have benefits - yet each highlights distinct pathways toward realising these benefits, including the importance of slowing down convergence, of recognising diversity, and of considering to offset inevitable homophily with the promotion of "heterophily" - i.e. an active desire to engage with diverse others.
Past meeting: 27/01/2023 Individual-Level Predictors of The Populist Thin Ideology: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Economic Distress and Cultural Backlash Hypotheses, Efisio Manunta
Abstract: The general aim of my research project was to contribute to the current construction of a multidisciplinary populism study field by integrating social psychological theories with the current conceptualisation and modelling of the populist thin ideology. Thus, this had two main objectives. One regards the conceptualisation and operationalisation of populist thin ideology in light of social psychological theories—that is, by employing formal logic as an original method to analysing Mudde and Kaltwasser’s consensual definition (2017), and operationalising this concept in five different languages and liberal democratic contexts. The second corresponds to the integration of macro-sociological and politological hypotheses of populism, interpreting populism as a consequence of economic distress and/or cultural backlash (Carreras et al., 2019; Corbet & Larkin, 2019; Rhodes-Purdy et al., 2021), with an individual-level approach to investigating political crises in light of psychological threats. In particular, the role of identity threat (Hogg & Gøtzsche-Astrup, 2021) as a mediator between indeces of cultural backlash/economic distress and populist thin ideology endorsement was investigated. Economic distress was operationalised by considering relatice deprivation, while the cultural backlash was operationalised with anomie perception and national narcissism. Results from six empirical cross-sectional studies, issued from four independent datasets (total n = 10,650) will be discussed highlighting their implications for social psychology and political science literature.
Past meeting: 14/12/2022 Estimating the persuasive advantage of political microtargeting, Ben Tappin
Abstract: Much concern has been raised about the power of political microtargeting to sway voters’ opinions, influence elections, and undermine democracy. Yet little empirical research has directly estimated the potential persuasive advantage of microtargeting over more conventional messaging strategies. In this talk I will describe the core framework of an ongoing project designed to estimate this quantity. In particular I will describe an algorithm that my coauthors and I have developed that attempts to estimate the out-of-sample persuasive impact of microtargeting compared to several other messaging strategies, and I will report the results of some experiments that broadly validate the algorithm's estimates. I will also appeal to the audience's knowledge of existing persuasion experiments that could be included in an ongoing meta-study of microtargeting.
Past meeting: 02/12/2022 What explains when people will support redistribution?, Daniel Nettle
Abstract: Contemporary societies have more unequal distributions of income and wealth than would be socially or economically efficient. Yet many people, including people who would stand to benefit, oppose or fail to support political programmes of redistribution. I present a variety of evidence why this is the case. From recent experimental studies, I show that the psychology of 'sharing out' is very sensitive to perceptions of how the resources are generated and who the other recipients are. I also show that people are quite pessimistic about cheating or freeloading by others, and this pessimism leads to a mistrust of redistributive mechanisms. Finally, I discuss observational evidence from England of the 'downward spiral': as societies become more unequal, those doing worst become more and more cynical about government (which has already failed them), and this makes them less likely to support redistributive programmes, since they don't have faith that the benefits would really be delivered. By contrast, those who are doing better become more engaged in the political process, but have less incentive to favour redistribution.
Past meeting: 16/11/2022 A leader who sees the world as I do: Experimental evidence on the group-based preferences that shape how we perceive and select political candidates, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Denise Baron
Abstract: Across three discrete-choice experiments in the UK and US, we find that group-based preferences shape the way we evaluate politicians and make voting decisions. Our findings indicate voters prefer leaders who share their social commitments to certain groups (national and party identification), ways of organising the group (authoritarianism) and ways of distributing resources and power between groups (egalitarianism). Moreover, we are more drawn to leaders who share these social commitments than leaders who simply share our demographic characteristics.
Past meeting: 21/07/2022 Rational political polarisation: insights from a Bayesian Network model of source bias, David Young
Abstract: Many sources of political information are biased – they will say things that support particular parties, ideologies, policies and politicians irrespective of whether they are true or false. I have developed a model of how a rational agent can account for the political bias of their information sources. My approach draws on existing work that models the effects of source credibility perceptions on belief updating using Bayesian Networks. Perhaps surprisingly, rational agents using my model polarise when exposed to political debates – their initial beliefs grow further apart in the same direction, even if they are exposed to identical, balanced evidence. This result invites the question of whether we need theories of motivated reasoning to explain political source effects and polarisation, as is normally assumed. In this talk I will explain how the model works, justify its relevance to political debate, and show how it predicts polarisation. I will also present some preliminary evidence that its predictions are supported by empirical results, and discuss future directions.
Past meeting: 14/06/2022 In pursuit of racial equality: Identifying the determinants of support for the Black Lives Matter Movement with a systematic review and multiple meta-analyses, Flavio Azevedo
Abstract: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” were the last words of Eric Garner and George Floyd before being murdered by those who swore to protect them. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement arose to put a much-needed spotlight on police brutality and systemic racism against Black people in the United States. In two comprehensive studies, we sought to investigate systematically the demographic, political, and psychological bases of support for the BLM movement. First, we conducted a systematic review and narratively synthesized the determinants of BLM support investigated in the published literature. A total of 1590 records were identified and findings of 24 studies (N=27,691) were summarized along six categories relating to demographics, race, partisanship and ideology, discrimination and prejudice, and social and psychological attitudes. Second, we exhaustively searched for determinants of BLM support across seventeen probability-based nationally representative datasets (N=31,779), finding 37 common predictors for which individual meta-analyses were conducted to estimate the strength and robustness of their associations. Our results suggest that there is a near-perfect match between BLM opposition and positive attitudes towards American institutions deeply rooted in systemic racism. The present work contributes to a broad categorization of correlates of BLM support across social, psychological, and political domains.
Past meeting: 19/05/2022 Simulating elections: A computational approach to assessing the effectiveness of micro-targeting, Jens Madsen
Abstract: There has been much ado about micro-targeted campaigns (MTCs) since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in 2016. While there has been a lot of debate on these campaigns, people disagree on the effectiveness of MCTs. Some have argued that they are extremely powerful tools that have substantial potential for influencing elections while others have argued that they amount to little more than marketing ploys with little to no effect. The challenge for assessing MTCs is the one-off nature of elections. It is, of course, not possible to rewind time and do RCTs for the same election. Further complicating the matter, each election exists in a specific cultural zeitgeist that does not repeat in future elections. To engage with this challenge, it is possible to gauge the effect of MTCs by simulating election campaigns under different conditions. In this talk, I will present a simple Agent-Based Model that allows us to represent individual voters, communication strategies, and election outcomes. This enables controlled simulations where otherwise fluctuating elements (e.g. perception of candidate’s credibility, likelihood of voting, etc.) can be kept constant, which allows for exploration of the effect of MTCs in principle. The model shows that MTCs can be effective tools in simple elections – beyond the results presented in the talk, I discuss how to extend the model to represent more sophisticated electoral scenarios to probe the effectiveness of MTCs in differing political, cultural, and personnel conditions.
Past meeting: 20/04/2022 Religious morality: Care-oriented or self-centered and rigorist?, Vassilis Saroglou
Abstract: Are religious people more moral? Does religion promote morality in general or (only) some aspects of it? Across different conceptualizations in the history of moral psychology, we can globally identify two major domains: (a) a caring for others, mostly prosocial, morality and (b) a morality of obligations to other entities: the self, groups, and God/natural order. The latter morality is rather independent from prosociality and can often be qualified as self-centered, coalitional, and/or hygienic. A close distinction is the one between consequentialism and deontology. The question of this talk is: Does religiousness indeed imply (1) a prosocial morality, (2) an “extended” to all domains morality, or (3) a principlistic/rigorist morality over, or even at the detriment of, a care-oriented morality? I will examine this question based on (our) work using various research traditions (Schwartz values, Haidt’s moral foundations, deontology vs. consequentialism dilemmas, lab experiments, moral opposition).
Past meeting: 31/03/2022 Attitude Centrality Does Not Appear to Reduce Persuasion, Mark Brandt
Abstract: Are attitudes stronger when they are more central to a belief system? Theories of inter-attitude structure and belief system dynamics both suggest that the answer is yes. We test this idea with simulations and then empirically test this idea in three pretest-posttest experiments aiming to persuade US conservatives (Experiment 1 N = 890) and US liberals (Experiment 2 N = 1305, Experiment 3 N = 1293) using moral reframing persuasive strategies. Although we find that moral reframing was persuasive (9 of 12 attempts), there was no evidence that central attitudes were more difficult to change than peripheral attitudes. This was the case across all experiments, target attitudes, and methods for assessing belief system structure. The results suggest that moral reframing persuades people, but that theories of inter-attitude structure and belief system dynamics both do not make accurate predictions in this situation.
Past meeting: 16/03/2022 Affect Control Theory: Basic Concepts and Political Applications, Tobias Schroeder, Jesse Hoey
Abstract: Bayesian affect control theory is a model of affect-driven social interaction under conditions of uncertainty. In this talk, we investigate how the operationalization of uncertainty in the model can be related to the disruption of social orders -- societal pressures to adapt to ongoing environmental and technological change. First, we study the theoretical tradeoffs between three kinds of uncertainty as groups navigate external problems: validity (the predictability of the environment, including of other agents), coherence (the predictability of interpersonal affective dynamics), and dependence (the predictability of affective meanings). Second, we discuss how these uncertainty tradeoffs are related to contemporary political conflict and polarization in the context of societal transitions. To illustrate the potential of our model to analyze the socio-emotional consequences of uncertainty, we present a simulation of diverging individual affective meanings of occupational identities under uncertainty in a climate change mitigation scenario based on events in Germany. Finally, we sketch a possible research agenda to substantiate the novel, but yet mostly conjectural, ideas put forward in this paper.
Past meeting: 03/03/2022 The Computational Origins of Ideological Rationality and Dogmatism, Leor Zmigrod
Abstract: Political discourse and polarization are rooted in the assumption that those who hold opposing ideological beliefs are fundamentally irrational. Propaganda and misinformation are hypothesized to work by amplifying and toying with citizens’ emotions, and authoritarianism emerges when citizens are thoughtless and excessively emotion-driven. Nevertheless, new strands of research in the science of political cognition illustrate that we can rigorously model the computational mechanisms underpinning ideological choice and conviction. Bayesian models highlight how human brains seek to build predictive models of the world by updating their beliefs and preferences in ways that are proportional to their prior expectations and sensory experiences. Consequently, incorporating Bayesian principles into formal models of ideological choice and conviction will provide a more wholistic understanding of what happens when a mind enters the market for belief systems – and why a mind can, at times, purchase toxic doses of the ideologies that sellers and entrepreneurs offer on display. It will be demonstrated that in order to build a robust sense of the rationality behind ideological thinking, it is useful to incorporate principles of uncertainty and probability-based belief updating into mechanistic models of ideological choice and conviction formation. The talk will outline instances when ideologues adhere to and deviate from rational principles, and in so doing reveal that often the problems of ideological thinking lie not wholly in the brain but in the surrounding informational ec
Past meeting: 03/02/2022 From the many to the one: paths of conversion, Kenneth Harl
Abstract: I propose to discuss what we as historians know about the facts of dramatic acts of conversion in from the first through tenth centuries A.D., and how these accounts support, modify, or clashes with theories about the psychology of conversion. I am not a trained psychologists or psychiatrist, but rather a historian, trained to glean events from imperfect record of very different sources (texts, coins, inscriptions, an archaeological evidence). Yet, I respect these disciplines with methods that offer insights as to why individuals or groups replace their traditional beliefs inherited from their family and society for new faiths. In particular, I have studied why the inhabitants of the Roman world embraced Christianity whose missionaries preached not only the worship of a single God, but a transcendent one. As Sallustius, a prominent pagan philosopher of the fourth century put it, the problem with Christians is they empty the world of gods and make it a lonely place. In the talk, I will discuss the well-documented individual conversions of Saint Paul, the emperors Constantine and Julian, and Saint Augustine. Moreover, I will overview a variety of collective conversions occurred during the first millennium A.D., involving different people dwelling in the Eurasian landmass
Past meeting: 19/01/2022 Utopian thinking: themes and functions of contemplating an ideal society, Julian Fernando
Abstract: Utopian thinking is an emerging area that can help us understand attitudes about, and motivation for, social change. In this talk I present an overview of my colleagues and my recent research in this area. I begin with comments on our theoretical approach to this issue (i.e., what utopian thinking is/consists of). This is followed by research findings from two interrelated areas of utopian thinking: 1) function (i.e., how utopian thinking affects motivation) and 2) content (i.e., what people think about when they imagine an ideal for society), and how these two factors may together predict motivation for social change.
Past meeting: 15/12/2021 Decomposing the rise of the populist right, Noam Gidron, Oren Danieli, Ro'ee Levy
Abstract: Over the past three decades, the support of populist radical right parties has dramatically increased. Broadly, proposed explanations for this development can be classified into three categories: changes in voter characteristics, changes in party positions, and changes in the weights voters place on certain issues. To examine the driving power of these sets of explanations, we merge Integrated Values Survey data with Comparative Manifesto Project data on party positions. We develop a probabilistic voting model to estimate voting weights based on the interaction between voter characteristics and party positions. Using a decomposition method, we find no evidence that shifts in voters' opinions or demographic pushed voters to the populist right. Changes in partisan supply--mainly the entrance of populist radical right parties--explain a small share of these parties' growing support. The major driver behind their success lies in the rising importance voters attach to the issues on which populist radical right parties campaign. Our findings contribute to theoretical debates about sources of support for radical parties. Methodologically, they demonstrate the benefits of applying decomposition methods to political economic questions.
Past meeting: 01/12/2021 Political extremism: extreme values in a global perspective, Francesco Rigoli
Abstract: Political extremism has been growing in several Western countries. This has prompted scholars to understand why. To contribute to this research endeavour, I will present two studies on the social and psychological factors shaping political extremism in the contemporary world. Adopting a sociological perspective, study 1 examines data from the World Value Survey to assess the success of political extremism on a global scale. This study integrates prior research where the focus has been exclusively on the West. Study 2 explores the psychology of extremism focusing on the notion of values (e.g., equality, freedom, wealth etc.) - an aspect poorly investigated so far. It asks the question: do people embracing extreme ideologies (both on the left and on the right) process values differently compared to people supporting moderate ideologies? The last part of the talk will propose an extension of modernization theory where findings from part 1 and 2 are integrated in a coherent framework.
Past meeting: 17/11/2021 Prosociality beyond in-group boundaries: Lab-in-the-field experiments on intergroup contact, Delia Baldassarri
Abstract: How does prosocial behavior extend beyond in-group boundaries in multiethnic societies? Building on Durkheim's intuition that solidarity in complex societies derives from interdependence and division of labor rather than cultural similarity and mutual acquaintanceship, we develop a three-step model of out-group exposure to capture the tension between the human tendency to favor the ingroup and societal pressures that force people outside the comfort zones of their familiar networks to constructively interact with unknown, diverse others. Using a large-scale lab-in-the-field experiment with a representative sample of Italian natives and immigrants from the multiethnic city of Milan, we study behavior toward coethnics and non-coethnics in strategic and non-strategic interactions. We find that when given the opportunity to select their interaction partners, Italians favor coethnics over immigrants. However, when forced to interact with non-coethnics, as it happens in many economic transactions, Italians generally treat them similarly to how they treat coethnics and value signs of social and market integration. Taken together, these results confirm contact theory intuition that interaction with outgroup members, especially when individuals have common goals, is likely to foster prosociality, while also documenting the persistence of discriminatory behavior in selection processes.
Past meeting: 20/10/2021 Paradoxical Effects of persuasive messages, Rahul Bhui
Abstract: The same persuasive message can be interpreted in a positive or negative way, challenging our ability to predict its effectiveness. Causal reasoning can contribute to this process of interpretation and produce attitude reversals due to the network structure of beliefs. I will present the results of two vignette experiments, one based on the famous slogan of the car rental agency Avis (“We're No. 2—that means we try harder”), and the other based on online product reviews. When participants’ contextual beliefs about the economic environment are manipulated, message effectiveness changes as predicted by a Bayesian mechanism in which seemingly negative information is “explained away” in a more positive light, or vice versa. Thus, causal reasoning may help account for certain counterintuitive kinds of high-level attitude change.
Past meeting: 15/03/2023 Predispositions towards the “collective action problem” and the left-right spectrum, James Dennison
Abstract: “Left and right” remains the dominant heuristic to describe one’s overall political outlook across Western democracies and beyond. However, scholarly attempts to conceptualise the distinction tend to be either theoretically underdeveloped or empirically untested. In this article, we make three contributions. First, we build on findings across political philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and political economy to argue that the distinction of “left and right” is reflective of a psychological predisposition towards “collective action”—in the vein of the “collective action problem”—and, specifically, perceptions of the relative efficacy, risks, fairness, fragility, and innateness to humans of collective action, compared to its absence, with contextually contingent consequences for political preferences and behaviour. Second, we devise a battery of questions to measure one’s predispositions to collective action. Third, in four studies across India, Spain, and the UK—using original observational and experimental data—we show that one’s perceptions of collective action strongly and consistently affect their self-placement on the left-right spectrum, policy attitudes across economic and non-economic dimensions, and voting behaviour. Our findings have consequences for the origins of mass opinion, the commonalities of distinct issue dimensions and political cultures, and, persuasive political communication.