Category Archives: morality
If you’re not familiar with the term not even wrong, go read that link and come back.
Back? Good. I think the concept of objective morality, in the Sam Harris sense that we can use science to determine moral values, is not even wrong. It fails at a fundamental level; that level being that it assumes moral reasoning that people do is the same as mathematical reasoning. Hell, it assumes moral reasoning follows the neatly logical “if-then-else” sort of reasoning.
It doesn’t. Rather, people don’t reason morally this way.
Using an online questionnaire, they showed that people think that justice stems from at least 6 different sources: from ‘nature’ and from God, and also from other people and from yourself, as well as just plain chance. Using an online questionnaire, they showed that people think that justice stems from at least 6 different sources: from ‘nature’ and from God, and also from other people and from yourself, as well as just plain chance.
They were also interested in inaction. It probably won’t surprise you to know that the most common human response to minor criminal behaviour is inaction. So what the researchers wanted to know is whether the reasons given for inaction varied according to people’s beliefs about why the world was just.
Sure enough, people who believed in God gave God-related reasons for inaction (e.g. “There’s little we can do to help these people, as what happens to them is God’s will”). Similarly, people who believe in nature-related justice felt that we can’t help criminals because it’s in their nature, people who believe in self-related justice felt that it was up to the individuals concerned to help themselves, while those who believed in chance-related justice felt that it was just their dumb luck.
Once again, however, people who believe justice is down to other people were different. When offered an ‘other people’ related reason for inaction (“With society and the justice system the way it is, there’s nothing we can do”), they rejected it. And it’s not because only an idiot would agree with that statement – it was quite attractive to those who believed in nature- and self-related justice.
This study from Epiphenom is what made me think of Harris’ thesis of scientific morality. The people in this survey are rationalizing their morality by appeals to what they see is the source of justice in the world. In effect, Harris is forcing a certain type of moral thinking on people that doesn’t come naturally. Slate Star Codex put this more eloquently:
Democrats don’t really care about helping the poor, they only care about increasing government’s ability to take your money. We can prove this, because Republicans consistently give more to charity than Democrats – and because if Democrats really cared about the poor they would stop supporting a welfare system that discourages lifting yourself out of poverty. The only explanation is that the hundred-million odd Democrats in this country are all moral mutants who hold increased labyrinthine bureaucracy as a terminal moral value.
No, wait, sorry! That wasn’t it at all. They were saying that civil rights activists don’t really want to prevent hate crimes against Muslims, they only care about supporting terrorism. We can prove this because they seem pretty okay with the tens of thousands of Muslims who are being killed and maimed in wars abroad that they don’t promote any intervention in – and because they refuse to ban Muslim immigration to America, a policy which would decrease hate crimes against Muslims but also decrease the chance of terrorism. The only explanation is that the hundred-million odd civil rights activists in this country are all moral mutants who hold increased terrorism as a terminal moral value.
No, wait, sorry again! That wasn’t it either! They were saying that pro-lifers don’t really care about fetuses, they just support government coercion of women. We can prove this because they refuse to support contraception, which would decrease the need for fetus-murdering abortions – and because they seem pretty okay with abortion in cases of rape or incest. The only explanation is that the hundred-million odd pro-lifers in this country are all moral mutants who hold increased oppression of women as a terminal moral value.
No, wait, still wrong! I’m totally breaking apart here! They were saying that atheists don’t really doubt the existence of God, but they are too proud to worship anything except themselves. We can prove this because atheists sometimes pray for help during extreme emergencies, – and…
No, wait! It turns out it was actually third one after all! The one with the pro-lifers and abortion. Oops. In my defense, I have trouble keeping essentially identical arguments separate from one another.
In saying pro-lifers should support contraception, Alas is making exactly the error that The Last Superstition warned against. Ze’s noticing that Christians do things that don’t agree with modern moral philosophy, and so assuming Christians are either stupid or evil, instead of that they have a weird moral philosophy ze’s never heard of.
So instead of excusing pro-lifers, start by tarring them further. They don’t hate women. They don’t love oppression. It’s much worse than that. Pro-lifers are not consequentialists.
Consequentialism is a moral philosophy that says it’s okay to do a lesser evil if it leads to a greater good. I have argued for it at length elsewhere, but one of the reasons I argue for it is that most people don’t believe it. Only about a quarter of philosophers are consequentialists, and all the evidence shows that even fewer ordinary people do. Studies of the famous fat man problem show only 10% of people are willing to kill one person in order to save five others, something a true consequentialist would do in a heartbeat.
One group particularly heinous in their rejection of consequentialism is Christians. In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul argues that “One may not do evil that good may come”.
The Christians agree with me, against Alas, that their rejection of consequentialism is fundamental to their rejection of abortion.
Whenever we talk about moral reasoning, we have to take into account that not everyone reasons the same way morally. Moreover, that people aren’t even aware of how they reason, they just get a feeling of certainty (or disgust, or fear, or…). Most fatally, people think that their way of reasoning morally is how other people (should) reason morally. That’s just not gonna fly. You’re not going to convince a deontologist how they should act via consequentialist logic, and vice versa. It might help to try to convince said person of the consequentialist worldview via deontology (or vice versa) but you have to actually think of that meta step first.
What’s really jacked up is that even though most people aren’t consequentialists, many people use consequentialist reasoning to back up their moral reasoning after the fact. Think about something like gay marriage. The argument is that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage. This is obviously nonsense, but this happens because the initial moral reasoning was something else (denotological, or maybe just disgust), but it’s rationalized with consequentialist reasoning.
Don’t think for a second that only conservatives do this. You, yes you, probably do this too. What’s the easiest way to prevent rape? Sex segregation; having women drink less around strange men; or any number of (consequentialist!) solutions that conservatives concoct. But those won’t work, because the initial moral impetus for equality wasn’t consequentialist, so we wind up with inefficient signaling that postures as consequentialist instead.
Where have we seen this rationalization behavior before? Oh yeah, the intuitionists and the rationalists. I love quoting myself:
There are a few experiments that show that when communication is physically severed between the two halves of the brain, each side of the brain gets different information. Yet, the part of the brain that does the speaking might not be the part of the brain that has the information. So you end up with rationalizations like split brain patients grabbing a shovel with their left hand (since their left eye was shown snow) while their right eye sees a chicken. When asked to explain why they grabbed the shovel, they — well, the side of their brain that only sees the chicken — make up an explanation, like the shovel is used to scoop up chicken poop! That press secretary, pretty quick on his feet.
But this doesn’t just happen with split brain patients. It seems to happen a lot more than we think, in our normal, everyday brains.
So for example, there was one experiment where people were asked to pick their favorite pair of jeans out of four (unbeknownst to them) identical pairs of jeans. A good portion of the people picked the jeans on the right, since they looked at the jeans from left to right. But they were unaware that that was their decision algorithm, and they rationalized their decision by saying they liked the fabric or the length or some other non-discriminating fact about the jeans. Liking the fabric of one pair of jeans more than the others was demonstrably false since the jeans were identical, yet that was the reason they gave. There’s still no persistent across the isle partisanship in your fully functioning brain, so the press secretary has to still come up with a good, socially acceptable story about Congress’ decision for the general public’s consumption.
This is one reason why it is inefficient to flat out ask someone something controversial. People make decisions based on information they don’t even know they’re using, and from there the entire existence of bias (the flip side of that is if you get someone to admit to some group identity or position publicly, they”ll be biased to act more in line with that group identity or proposition in the future without even realizing it). They’re not going to give you their “real” answer, they’re going to give you the socially acceptable answer since that is the entire job of the press secretary, and any psychological study that simply asks people questions has a fatal flaw.
We have little idea why we do things, but make up bogus reasons for our behavior…
Adrian North and colleagues from the University of Leicester playe[d] traditional French (accordion music) or traditional German (a Bierkeller brass band – oompah music) music at customers and watched the sales of wine from their experimental wine shelves, which contained French and German wine matched for price and flavour. On French music days 77% of the wine sold was French, on German music days 73% was German – in other words, if you took some wine off their shelves you were 3 or 4 times more likely to choose a wine that matched the music than wine that didn’t match the music.
Did people notice the music? Probably in a vague sort of way. But only 1 out of 44 customers who agreed to answer some questions at the checkout spontaneously mentioned it as the reason they bought the wine. When asked specifically if they thought that the music affected their choice 86% said that it didn’t. The behavioural influence of the music was massive, but the customers didn’t notice or believe that it was affecting them.
In other words the part of our brain that ‘reasons’ and explains our actions, neither makes decisions, nor is even privy to the real cause of our actions…
Let me emphasis this last sentence: In other words the part of our brain that ‘reasons’ and explains our actions, neither makes decisions, nor is even privy to the real cause of our actions. Moral reasoning is no different.
In principle, we might be able to discern objective moral values if we could get everyone to be a consequentialist. But… yeah, good luck with that. I’ll just say that I hate talking about how people should behave morally, mainly because of this wall of separation between how people actually reason morally and their rationalizations for it. It’s such a headache. I’d rather stick with the bird-watching view towards morality.
For a while I’ve wondered if women being more religious than men has to do with something inherent to religion or more to do with religion being the dominant social signal for supporting your “in-group”; in the latter case it might also be responsible for the different moral intuitions men and women have. Though both morality and religion seem to have equal parts genetic and social basis.
With that said, here are a few of the both social and biological reasons why women are more religious than men:
- Loneliness: People who feel lonely are more likely to be religious than those who aren’t. Women report being lonely more than men.
- Economic Inequality: Nations with more income inequality are more religious than nations with less income inequality. Women make less money than men.
- Existential Threat: This might actually be an umbrella term that includes things like lack of access to healthcare, economic inequality, reminders of death, loneliness, etc. Thus, it seems like religiosity is correlated with cognitive overload i.e., stress. People who are stressed rely more on their System 1 thinking than their System 2 thinking. And System 1 thinking — “intuition” — is correlated with religiosity.
- Disgust: Level of disgust sensitivity is biological, and our sense of smell might have been partly evolved to detect diseases. People who have a better sense of smell and are more sensitive to disgust are both more likely to be conservative and female. Conservatism is correlated with religiosity.
- Testosterone/Oxytocin: Oxytocin levels are correlated with more in-group behavior/bias. Collectivism is correlated with religiosity. Higher testosterone levels are correlated with lower levels of empathy (apropos the last link, psychopaths have a worse sense of smell than the normal population to boot!). Less empathy is related to less religiosity. Testosterone levels are also correlated with less intuitive thinking and less cooperative behavior. As I referenced in the social part above, intuitive thinking and collectivism are correlated with religiosity. EDIT: Estrogen seems like it has — according to some evidence — a complimentary relationship with oxytocin, whereas testosterone has an antagonistic relationship with oxytocin.
This last point brings us to the latest hoopla in the atheistosphere. Recently, Sam Harris was called a sexist for suggesting that the reason that there are less women than men involved at atheist/skeptic events was due to biological reasons; an “estrogen vibe”. The problem, of course, and as I’ve just posted a multitude of links about, is that Harris was both right and wrong. Mostly wrong, but not entirely wrong. And this brings me back to the question I pondered at the beginning of this post.
Take a look at this data from the Pew survey of religion in the USA:
Notice anything weird? Yes, as usual, women are more religious than men. But not across all religions. Mainstream religions have more women than men, but minority religions (including “unaffiliated”, which would include atheists/skeptics) have more men than women. This is evidence that supports my idea of religion being used as a popular social signal of prosociality.
Another thing to note is at the intersection of biological and social — meaning, where the two effects compound — there is the largest disparity between men and women in regards to religiosity. Can you spot it?
Of course, there can be any number of other hypotheses that explain this data as well so I’m not resting any sort of firm conclusions on this (e.g., the Pew survey also notes that “Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall.“. Education level is negatively correlated with religiosity). I would need to see religiosity data parsed by gender in countries where those minority religions are the majority.
But what prompted me to even consider that hypothesis was an anecdote that I’ve notice almost everywhere: In both secular and religious gatherings, women seem to volunteer much more than men do. Some research confirms this, and further implies that women volunteer more in these groups due to implicit romantic primes. In other words, just like men show off by taking risks when they think there are attractive women around, women “show off” by volunteering when they think there are attractive men around (or more accurately, when they are primed to think of mate selection). So my guess about women’s relationship with religion might not have anything to do with religion per se, but with support groups or being prosocial. And I guess that if there were some country where atheism had better and more ostentatious support structures than the religious, we would see that more women would be less religious than men. For the both biological and social reasons I listed above.
But no country like this exists.
Back to Harris’ mostly wrong guess. It seems like it’s not estrogen that makes women more religious than men, but instead — if we are only looking at biological reasons — it’s testosterone that makes men less religious than women. The female template is the default of humanity, the male is a derivative (nipple check!). Of course, women have testosterone as well, but not nearly at the levels that men have. It should go without saying that hormones have a noticeable effect on human behavior. I also wonder if the sociological reasons above actually prompt underlying hormonal changes and it’s those underlying hormonal changes that are changing a person’s level of religiosity/prosociality. E.g., there’s evidence that stress increases, among other hormones, oxytocin levels, and of course, men being shown pictures of sexy women — as well as other behavior — increases their levels of testosterone. The social can affect the biological and vice versa.
So is Sam Harris a sexist? Well… this question actually beggars another question, one related to my previous post on truth vs. morality. What Sam Harris said is somewhat true: There are biological reasons why women are more religious (read: more prosocial) than men. But what he said is also immoral. Thus the eternal battle between truth and morality. Harris suggesting an “immoral” hypothesis completely depends on the time and place he says it. It would be equally “immoral” to suggest as a hypothesis 1,000 years ago that god didn’t exist. The ontological status of god’s existence 1,000 years ago or hormonal effects on behavior in the 21st century are orthogonal to the ethical status of questioning god’s existence 1,000 years ago or suggesting hormonal effects on behavior in the 21st century.
Truth vs. Morality.
A little backstory about the image I chose for this post. In the video game Dragon Age II, a mage named Anders has fused with a spirit that personifies the concept of justice. In the world of Dragon Age, mages are subjugated due to their potential to become what in the game is referred to as Abominations. In this world, there are various spirits that personify different human vices and virtues like rage, sloth, greed, justice, etc. but it is usually the vice-related spirits that are drawn to mages and try to fuse and take over their magic-gifted bodies becoming much more powerful than a normal mage. After the fusion they then begin carrying out their vice (sloth, greed, etc.). The virtue related spirits don’t seem to care about humans at all. Due to this subjugation, Anders — being born a mage — harbors a lot of resentment towards the current world order where mages are second-class citizens without their own freedom or autonomy, held in check by Templars.
Anders encounters the spirit of Justice and they agree to merge; they are technically an “Abomination” but with a “good” spirit instead of the vastly more common “bad” spirit. Usually the benevolent spirits have no concern over human affairs, but circumstances trapped Justice outside of the spirit world and in the normal world. The spirit of Justice, after fusing with Anders, recognizes the injustice that mages are subject to and they both work together in a sort of underground railroad sort of situation helping other mages escape. However, in time, Anders’ rage against his lifetime of injustice corrupts Justice and the spirit then becomes a spirit of Vengeance, taking over Anders at inopportune times and wreaking havoc almost indiscriminately among both the guilty and the innocent.
Internet social justice warriors remind me of Anders/Justice. The smallest whiff of perceived blasphemy (and yes, I’m using the word “blasphemy” on purpose) is met with unbridled aggression. What’s true doesn’t matter, lies are moral as long as they’re in the name of justice (or being done by Justice). Besides Harris, Richard Dawkins has also recently been put through the fires of Justice. As I wrote in a prior post:
Reading about how and why religion comes about, you inevitably stumble onto the conclusion that religion isn’t just some aberration of humanity. The only thing that separates tried and true “religion” from other types of groups — or to put it in its real meaning, tribes — that people identify with is belief in the supernatural. Even if you take away belief in the supernatural, there’s nothing stopping a secular grouping (say, feminism or Objectivism) from tapping into the same family of negative behavior that religious people engage in.
The problem isn’t the supernatural. The problem is in-group vs. out-group. And this in-group/out-group animosity becomes more pronounced when you have a group that has an either implicit or explicit charge of guarding the [moral] truth… Remember my little maxim that I made up: The more a group promotes prosociality, the less it cares about accurately modeling reality
Spoiler alert: At the end of Dragon Age II, the tension between mages and templars is coming to a head. Anders shows up and blows up an entire (in game version of) a church because any compromise between mages and templars is, to Anders/Justice, no justice. Cooler, more rational heads do not prevail. Anders/Justice’s act creates an all out war between mages and templars, and sets the stage for the next iteration of the Dragon Age saga, which comes out in November.
I almost always execute Anders due to his crime.
A while ago I wrote a post called Truth vs. Morality where I pointed out a question I sometimes asked Christians: If god didn’t exist, and this was known, should people still believe in god? Receptions to that question (the few times I’ve asked) had been somewhat predictable; some say yes, most say no.
I’m thinking that the “yes” answers are maybe not answering the question I’m asking, but subconsciously substituting it with an easier question and then answering that. Who knows.
I thought of a way to take it further. Instead of asking a truth vs. morality question, I might start asking a morality vs. morality question; that is, a consequentialist vs. deontological question. This would be something like What if being a Christian leads to a net unhappiness in the world? Should one still be a Christian? Not sure what the answers to that question might be, but I predict that they would say “yes” in the majority of cases. Probably because in this instance, they might substitute the implicit consequential point of the question with, not only the deontological question (i.e., what one’s duty is), but with the “is Christianity true” question. I.e., Christianity could only be a net negative in the world if Christianity is false; Christianity is true, therefore it is not a net negative in the world.
Of course, maybe if Christianity is true we should believe it. Even if belief in Christianity ultimately makes humanity unhappy.
But then again, this question could be equally applied to beliefs I hold dear. Just like I applied the same truth vs. morality question to beliefs I hold dear in the original post. What if secularism or atheism ultimately makes the world unhappy? What if sexism is a net benefit for the world, and feminism makes people unhappy? What if slavery is good for the world over at the expense of black people?
In these cases, I’m pretty sure I would answer exactly how a Christian might answer, and my thought process might mirror theirs (hopefully that isn’t too much of a typical mind fallacy). My first response is selfishness; I like my personal freedom/secularism/feminism/etc. thank you very much, and the rest of the world can fuck off. Why should I be a slave if that benefits the world? It seems pretty jacked up to think about it. Or, just like the hypothetical theist, I wouldn’t even countenance the question asked. Meaning that I would rebuke the question with “well that can’t be because racism/sexism/theocracy are obviously false and demonstrably make people unhappy so the question is a non-starter”.
This is one of the huge drawbacks for any sort of upcoming technological singularity. Whose morals do we program into the AI before it goes FOOM? People are all too eager to defer to a supernatural god whose whims are just, if not more so, as arbitrary as a future AI. What if this AI has the same conclusion about sex/gender roles or slavery that patriarchal religions have had? That divisions of labor among sexes and/or slavery makes people happier because they have less choices? There are probably an uncountable number of personal creeds, beliefs, and morals that make you as an individual happy, but if studied by anyone/thing with enough processing power can be demonstrated to be harmful if practiced on a wide scale. And any budding rationalist should always be aware of alternatives to their pet hypothesis.
So it seems like I wouldn’t be able to answer the very question that I would pose to a hypothetical Christian. I would think their answer “wrong” while hypocritically accepting my own answer to my sacred values as “right”.
Another post on morality!
From the BPS Research Digest:
Up until about the age of seven, children across the world show similar levels of sharing behaviour as revealed by their choices in a simple economic game. The finding comes courtesy of Bailey House and his colleagues who tested 326 children aged three to fourteen from six different cultural groups: urban Americans from Los Angeles; horticultural Shuar from Ecuador; horticultural and marine foraging Fijians from Yasawa Island; hunter-gathering Akas from the Central African Republic; pastoral, horticultural Himbas from Namibia; and hunter-gatherer Martus from Australia.
The older children’s choices tended to mirror the behaviour of the adults from their culture on similar games, suggesting they were gradually acquiring the social norms around altruism and reciprocity for their specific society.
The emergence of cultural differences in the older children’s choices only appeared for this costly version of the game, in which giving to another person meant sacrificing their own gain. In a different version, in which they could be generous at no cost to themselves, no such differences emerged across cultures.
This makes sense, to me, of how pro-social behavior (which includes religiosity) is partially genetic and partially cultural. This also seems to imply that the crucial time to either inculcate or inject religious belief to maximum effect would be around three years old up until teenage years. Of course, religious groups already know that.
This also feeds into a tangentially related finding. Strong religious beliefs may drive self-perception of being addicted to online pornography:
“This is one of the first studies to examine the link between perceptions of addiction to online pornography and religious beliefs,” said Joshua Grubbs, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study.
The research, “Transgression as Addiction: Religiosity and Moral Disapproval as Predictors of Perceived Addiction to Pornography,” will be published today in the journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior.
“We were surprised that the amount of viewing did not impact the perception of addiction, but strong moral beliefs did,” Grubbs said. He defined Internet pornography as viewing online sexually explicit pictures and videos.
Grubbs also discovered that half of the more than 1,200 books about pornography addiction on Amazon.com were listed in the religious and spirituality sections. And many of the books were personal testimonials [my link] about the struggles with this addiction, he said.
The information may help therapists understand that the perception of addiction is more about religious beliefs than actual viewing, researchers concluded.
“We can help the individual understand what is driving this perception,” Grubbs said, “and help individuals better enjoy their faith.”
In other words, extreme religiosity has a tendency to pathologize normal human behavior.
Continuing, I guess, my posts on the link between morality and religion, I came across another study that linked two concepts that I should have seen the connection to but didn’t. Now that I’ve read it, it makes total sense.
I’ve read Jonathan Haidt years ago about the five moral dimensions that underlie morality. Here’s one that he wrote back in 2007 concerning his findings:
In my dissertation and my other early studies, I told people short stories in which a person does something disgusting or disrespectful that was perfectly harmless (for example, a family cooks and eats its dog, after the dog was killed by a car). I was trying to pit the emotion of disgust against reasoning about harm and individual rights.
I found that disgust won in nearly all groups I studied (in Brazil, India, and the United States), except for groups of politically liberal college students, particularly Americans, who overrode their disgust and said that people have a right to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.
Most traditional societies care about a lot more than harm/care and fairness/justice. Why do so many societies care deeply and morally about menstruation, food taboos, sexuality, and respect for elders and the Gods? You can’t just dismiss this stuff as social convention. If you want to describe human morality, rather than the morality of educated Western academics, you’ve got to include the Durkheimian view that morality is in large part about binding people together.
From a review of the anthropological and evolutionary literatures, Craig Joseph (at Northwestern University) and I concluded that there were three best candidates for being additional psychological foundations of morality, beyond harm/care and fairness/justice. These three we label as ingroup/loyalty (which may have evolved from the long history of cross-group or sub-group competition, related to what Joe Henrich calls “coalitional psychology”);authority/respect (which may have evolved from the long history of primate hierarchy, modified by cultural limitations on power and bullying, as documented by Christopher Boehm), and purity/sanctity, which may be a much more recent system, growing out of the uniquely human emotion of disgust, which seems to give people feelings that some ways of living and acting are higher, more noble, and less carnal than others.
My UVA colleagues Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek, and I have collected data from about 7,000 people so far on a survey designed to measure people’s endorsement of these five foundations. In every sample we’ve looked at, in the United States and in other Western countries, we find that people who self-identify as liberals endorse moral values and statements related to the two individualizing foundations primarily, whereas self-described conservatives endorse values and statements related to all five foundations. It seems that the moral domain encompasses more for conservatives—it’s not just about Gilligan’s care and Kohlberg’s justice. It’s also about Durkheim’s issues of loyalty to the group, respect for authority, and sacredness.
I hope you’ll accept that as a purely descriptive statement. You can still reject the three binding foundations normatively—that is, you can still insist that ingroup, authority, and purity refer to ancient and dangerous psychological systems that underlie fascism, racism, and homophobia, and you can still claim that liberals are right to reject those foundations and build their moral systems using primarily the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations.
But just go with me for a moment that there is this difference, descriptively, between the moral worlds of secular liberals on the one hand and religious conservatives on the other. There are, of course, many other groups, such as the religious left and the libertarian right, but I think it’s fair to say that the major players in the new religion wars are secular liberals criticizing religious conservatives. Because the conflict is a moral conflict, we should be able to apply the four principles of the new synthesis in moral psychology.
So the five moral principles are harm/care, fairness/justice, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. As Haidt wrote above, conservative and thus religious morality focuses on more than just fairness or harm/care; religiosity also includes a concentration on things like respect for authority, sanctity, and loyalty. Indeed, when people do something immoral, washing themselves makes them feel better about it. Note that the Greek “etymology” of the odd word Nazoraios (i.e. “Nazarene”, as in Jesus the Nazarene; Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος) is caught up with the concept of sanctity.
Like I said, I should have predicted this; if women are more religious than men, and if Haidt’s observations are correct, then women should show more concern for more or all five axes of morality than men. And that seems to be the case:
The feeling of disgust likely evolved as a mechanism to detect and avoid pathogens in the environment, but it also may explain why some people are more socially conservative than others, according to newly published research.
Across four separate studies, the researcher found that those who were more easily disgusted and more afraid of contamination were more likely to be both female and socially conservative. The four studies were comprised of 980 undergraduate students in total.
The link between disgust and conservativism is bolstered by previous studies.
Research published 2012 in Social Psychological and Personality Science found disgust sensitivity was positively associated with political conservatism and the intention to vote for Republican president John McCain. Another study published 2011 in PLoS One found conservatives had stronger physiological reactions than liberals when shown gross pictures. Research published in the journal Emotion showed that disgust sensitivity was associated with unfavorable moral judgments about same-sex relationships.
Disgust, in turn, encourages “the preference of ingroup members over outgroup members, because outgroup members pose a greater disease threat,” the researchers wrote. This preference towards members of one’s own group manifests itself as socially conservative attitudes, like religious fundamentalism.
“In other words, disgust sensitivity prepares individuals to have a negative perception of others who may be a source of contamination and to avoid them.”
It also seems like people can smell certain diseases, and women generally have a better sense of smell than men; psychopaths generally have a worse sense of smell than the normal population.
And here’s another conclusion that should follow necessarily from the fact that women are more religious than men, but is at first glance counterintuitive. If women are more religious than men, and the values that make people tend towards religion — like sanctity and ingroup/outgroup thinking — also make people tend towards conservative views like racism, then it must follow that religious people are more racist than non-religious people. This is true; racism and religiosity have a positive correlation. If that’s the case, then it must also follow that women are more racist than men. That also seems to be true:
My Race-Based Valentine. Why online dating is the last refute of overt racial preferences.
This Valentine’s Day … relatively few women on mainstream dating sites will bother to respond to overtures from men of Asian descent. Likewise, black women will be disproportionately snubbed by men of all races. … Chemistry.com requires users to identify their ethnicity; like eHarmony, it considers members’ racial preferences when suggesting matches. Match.com lets users filter their searches by race. The site’s profiles include space to indicate interest (or lack thereof) in various racial and ethnic groups. …
Among the women, 73% stated a [racial] preference. Of these, 64% selected whites only, while fewer than 10% included East Indians, Middle Easterners, Asians or blacks. … 59% of [men] stated a racial preference. Of these, nearly half selected Asians, but fewer than 7% did for black women. … In October, [OkCupid.com], 80% of whose members choose to input their race, studied the messaging patterns of more than a million users and concluded on its official blog that “racism is alive and well.”
Although a considerable body of research explores alterations in women’s mating-relevant preferences across the menstrual cycle, investigators have yet to examine the potential for the menstrual cycle to influence intergroup attitudes. We examined the effects of changes in conception risk across the menstrual cycle on intergroup bias and found that increased conception risk was positively associated with several measures of race bias. This association was particularly strong when perceived vulnerability to sexual coercion was high. Our findings highlight the potential for hypotheses informed by an evolutionary perspective to generate new knowledge about current social problems an[d] avenue[s] that may lead to new predictions in the study of intergroup relations.
Which seems counterintuitive since both research and personal anecdote suggest that women show more concern for race issues than men:
Studies of gender differences in orientation toward others have found that women are more strongly concerned than men with affective processes and are more likely to be other-focused, while men tend to be more instrumental and more self-oriented. Recent research has extended this finding to include gender differences in racial attitudes, and reports that women also are more favorable than men in their racial outlooks.
Though I suppose the two aren’t mutually exclusive, if the norms of the group that someone belongs to include racial tolerance. Meaning that collectivist tendencies in a group that values racial concern might lead to signaling racial tolerance but not actually practicing it.
* (a word reserved for banishing someone to the status of the outgroup, and seems to have overwhelming popularity among women. Not so much among men)
In my previous post on the gender differences in morality (and thus religiosity), I hypothesized prematurely that religiosity was probably minimally genetic and mainly sociological at a 9:1 ratio of sociological:biological. As fate would have it, I stumbled across some twin studies that conclude that religiosity, as well as other pro-social phenomena, are closer to 50% inherited.
The more generalized twin study focused on overall sociological behaviors being genetic:
Findings from twin studies yield heritability estimates of 0.50 for prosocial behaviours like empathy, cooperativeness and altruism. First molecular genetic studies underline the influence of polymorphisms located on genes coding for the receptors of the neuropeptides, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, the proportion of variance explained by these gene loci is rather low indicating that additional genetic variants must be involved. Pharmacological studies show that the dopaminergic system interacts with oxytocin and vasopressin… The present experimental study tests a dopaminergic candidate polymorphism for altruistic behaviour, […] Altruism was assessed by the amount of money donated to a poor child in a developing country, after having earned money by participating in two straining computer experiments. Construct validity of the experimental data was given: the highest correlation between the amount of donations and personality was observed for cooperativeness… Carriers of at least one Val allele donated about twice as much money as compared with those participants without a Val allele… Cooperativeness and the Val allele of COMT additively explained 14.6% of the variance in donation behaviour. Results indicate that the Val allele representing strong catabolism of dopamine is related to altruism.
As I wrote in that previous post, empathy is highly correlated with religiosity. I also seemed to have guessed correctly that empathy was genetic; I was just wrong about how much it is genetic.
Here is the more specific twin study, itself referring to previous twin studies, focused on religiosity:
For decades, religiosity (defined as beliefs or behaviors towards superempirical agents) has been explored like other traits such as musicality, intelligence or skin color by Twin Studies – which conclusively found it to be partially inherited by genes and partially dependend on environmental (cultural) clues. In fact, religion turns out to be fully comparable to other biocultural traits such as speech or music.
Now, Kenneth S. Kendler, Hermine H. Maes and Todd Vance from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, presented another Twin Study with rather large sample of 1106 monozygotic twins and 1501 dizygotic twins on "Genetic and Environmental Influences on Multiple Dimensions of Religiosity" (J Nerv Ment Dis 2010; 198: 755-761), DOI: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181f4ao7c.
Building on lots of earlier Twin Studies, they selected 78 religion-related items for their questionnaire, which were organized (by way of a statistical VARIMAX rotation) into 7 factors: General Religiosity, Social Religiosity, Involved God, Forgiveness, God as Judge, Unvengefulness and Thankfulness.
And as those (many) earlier studies (e.g. Bouchard and Koenigs), they found the correlations among monozygotic twins to be far stronger than among dizygotic twins, strongly supporting the notion of genetic heritability of the trait.
So it might actually be that religiosity is closer to 50% biological and 50% social. Meaning that women being more religious than men might itself be more genetic and less social conditioning; with the sociological factors (like groupthink, etc.) themselves being a genetic predisposition affecting women more than men. Indeed, almost everyone knows that men show off when in the presence of women; romantic or sexual priming increases men’s proclivity for risk taking. But one study I read showed that when women are given a romantic prime, they volunteer more. There goes that groupthink again…