Posts Tagged ‘Behavior’

Moral in the morning, lying in the evening, cheating by suppertime…

October 30, 2013

Of course it is another paper demonstrating great insight into human behaviour with far reaching conclusions. Needless to say it is a hypothesis dreamed up by social psychologists.

Is it good science? Unlikely. Is it trivial? Undoubtedly. Does it provide real empirical data? Yes. Is it relevant? Hardly.

Is it even science?  

Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac H. Smith, The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical BehaviorPsychological Science, October 28, 2013,  doi: 10.1177/0956797613498099

Kouchacki is a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University and completed her doctoral studies at the University of Utah, where Smith is a current doctoral student. Kouchaki has been involved with a previous “priming” study about the effect of thinking about money on morality. And as is now well known, most “priming” studies are highly suspect.

It is not for nothing that the the APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology.

The authors conducted experiments on college-age participants and on a sample of on-line participants:

  1. … college-age participants were shown various patterns of dots on a computer. For each pattern, they were asked to identify whether more dots were displayed on the left or right side of the screen. Importantly, participants were not given money for getting correct answers, but were instead given money based on which side of the screen they determined had more dots; they were paid 10 times the amount for selecting the right over the left. Participants therefore had a financial incentive to select the right, even if there were unmistakably more dots on the left, which would be a case of clear cheating.
  2. … also tested participants’ moral awareness in both the morning and afternoon by presenting them with word fragments such as “_ _RAL” and “E_ _ _ C_ _”

Their results showed that in line with their hypothesis, participants tested between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm were less likely to cheat than those tested between 12:00 pm and 6:00pm — a phenomenon the researchers call the “morning morality effect.” In the second experiment morning participants were more likely to form the words “moral” and “ethical,” whereas the afternoon participants tended to form the words “coral” and “effects,” lending further support to the morning morality effect.

Clearly the arduous field-work consisted of wandering around their dangerous college campus(es) soliciting subjects and then spending many long-nights on-line to get their “on-line” sample.

…. both undergraduate students and a sample of U.S. adults engaged in less unethical behavior (e.g., less lying and cheating) on tasks performed in the morning than on the same tasks performed in the afternoon. This morning morality effect was mediated by decreases in moral awareness and self-control in the afternoon. Furthermore, the effect of time of day on unethical behavior was found to be stronger for people with a lower propensity to morally disengage. These findings highlight a simple yet pervasive factor (i.e., the time of day) that has important implications for moral behavior.

Presumably a good afternoon nap could restore our moral behaviour in the evenings?

It seems to me that the hypothesis has been designed/invented primarily to grab headlines and to ensure publication.

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Monkeys – except the top monkey – switch behaviour to conform to local customs

April 29, 2013

Where humans are in a subordinate position in a new society (new immigrants for example) they usually conform to avoid attracting attention which could be dangerous. They observe, they copy behaviour to try to fit in and thereby ensure their own security in the new environment. All driven no doubt by the instinct to survive. But a conquering human does not bother to conform to local customs – he imposes his own. All humans are clearly capable of both types of behaviour. Whether to conform or not is then entirely dependent upon the individual’s position in the society he finds himself in.

And monkeys are – it seems – no different.

I suspect this holds true for many more species than just humans and primates and am a little surprised that the researchers are surprised at this behaviour.

A new paper: E. van de Waal, C. Borgeaud, A. Whiten. Potent Social Learning and Conformity Shape a Wild Primate’s Foraging DecisionsScience, 2013; 340 (6131): 483 DOI:10.1126/science.1232769

From University of St. Andrews press release:

Noha group feeding on pink corn

Noha group feeding on pink corn

….. In the initial study, the researchers provided each of two groups of wild monkeys with a box of maize corn dyed pink and another dyed blue. The blue corn was made to taste repulsive and the monkeys soon learned to eat only pink corn. Two other groups were trained in this way to eat only blue corn. A new generation of infants were later offered both colours of food – neither tasting badly – and the adult monkeys present appeared to remember which colour they had previously preferred. Almost every infant copied the rest of the group, eating only the one preferred colour of corn.

The crucial discovery came when males began to migrate between groups during the mating season. The researchers found that of the ten males who moved to groups eating a different coloured corn to the one they were used to, all but one switched to the new local norm immediately.

The one monkey who did not switch, was the top ranking in his new group who appeared unconcerned about adopting local behavior.

Dr van de Waal conducted the field experiments at the Inkawu Vervet Project in the Mawana private game reserve in South Africa. She became familiar with all 109 monkeys, making it possible for her to document the behaviour of the males who migrated to new groups.

She said, “The willingness of the immigrant males to adopt the local preference of their new groups surprised us all. The copying behaviour of both the new, naïve infants and the migrating males reveals the potency and importance of social learning in these wild primates, extending even to the conformity we know so well in humans.”

Commenting on the research, leading primatologist Professor Frans de Waal, of the Yerkes Primate Center of Emory University, said that the study “is one of the few successful field experiments on cultural transmission to date, and a remarkably elegant one at that.”

Abstract: Conformity to local behavioral norms reflects the pervading role of culture in human life. Laboratory experiments have begun to suggest a role for conformity in animal social learning, but evidence from the wild remains circumstantial. Here, we show experimentally that wild vervet monkeys will abandon personal foraging preferences in favor of group norms new to them. Groups first learned to avoid the bitter-tasting alternative of two foods. Presentations of these options untreated months later revealed that all new infants naïve to the foods adopted maternal preferences. Males who migrated between groups where the alternative food was eaten switched to the new local norm. Such powerful effects of social learning represent a more potent force than hitherto recognized in shaping group differences among wild animals.


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