Diversity and Creativity

What is the science of diversity and creativity? According to an article in Harvard Business Review, it may be slightly surprising given how much of a buzzword “diversity” has become:

  • Generating vs. implementing ideas: Studies suggest that diversity is useful in generating ideas, but actually a hindrance when it comes to selecting and implementing them. “It would therefore make sense for organizations to increase diversity in teams that are focused on exploration or idea generation, and use more-homogeneous teams to curate and implement those ideas. This distinction mirrors the psychological competencies associated with the creative process: divergent thinking, openness to experience, and mind wandering are needed to produce a large number of original ideas, but unless they are followed by convergent thinking, expertise, and effective project management, those ideas will never become actual innovations. For all the talk about the importance of creativity, the critical piece is really innovation.”
  • Good leadership: Effective leadership can mitigate diversity-induced conflict. “It is the psychological process that enables individuals to set aside their selfish agendas to cooperate with others for the common benefit of the team, articulating the natural tension between our desire to get ahead of others and our need to get along with others.”
  • Moderate diversity is better: “recent evidence suggests that a moderate degree of diversity is more beneficial than a higher dose. This finding is consistent with the too-much-of-a-good-thing paradigm in management science, which provides compelling evidence for the idea that even the most desirable qualities have a dark side if taken to the extreme.”
  • Personality vs. demographic differences: “Most discussions about diversity focus on demographic variables (e.g., gender, age, and race). However, the most interesting and influential aspects of diversity are psychological (e.g., personality, values, and abilities), also known as deep-level diversity. Indeed, there are several advantages to focusing on deep-level variables as opposed to demographic factors. First, whereas demographic variables perpetuate stereotypical and prejudiced characterizations, deep-level diversity focuses on the individual, allowing a much more granular understanding of human diversity.”
  • Knowledge flows: Diversity doesn’t matter unless there is “a culture of sharing knowledge. Studies mapping the social networks of organizations have found higher levels of creativity in groups that are more interconnected, particularly when creative and intrapreneurial individuals are a central node in those networks.”
  • Skeptics: “diversity training is most effective with individuals who are skeptical of it. This is encouraging, though the challenge, of course, is to ensure that people who are cynical about diversity actually enroll in these training programs.”
  • Non-diversity factors matter (and matter more): “As a seminal meta-analysis of 30 years of research showed, support for innovation, vision, task orientation, and external communication is the strongest determinant of creativity and innovation; most input variables, including team composition and structure, have much weaker effects. Likewise, developing expertise, assigning people to tasks that are meaningful and interesting, and improving creative thinking skills will produce higher gains in both individual and team creativity than focusing on diversity will.” Selecting employees based on their creativity also enhances overall creativity.

The article concludes, “In short, there are probably much better reasons for creating a diverse team and organization than boosting creativity. And if your actual goal is to enhance creativity, there are simpler, more effective solutions than boosting diversity.”

Basking in Motivated Ignorance

Vox covers the unsurprising results of a new study regarding political bias:

If you ever thought, “You couldn’t pay me to listen to Sean Hannity / Rachael Maddow / insert any television pundit you violently disagree with here” — you are not alone.

A study, recently published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology,essentially tested this very question.

Two hundred participants were presented with two options. They could either read and answer questions about an opinion they agreed with — the topic was same-sex marriage — or read the opposing viewpoint.

Here’s the catch: If the participants chose to read the opinion they agreed with, they were entered into a raffle pool to earn $7. If they selected to read opposing opinion, they had a chance to win $10.

And yet,

A majority — 63 percent — of the participants chose to stick with what they already knew, forgoing the chance to win $10. Both people with pro same-sex marriage beliefs and those against it avoided the opinion hostile to their worldview at similar rates.

…This is a key point that many people miss when discussing the “fake news” or “filter bubble” problem in our online media ecosystems. Avoiding facts inconvenient to our worldview isn’t just some passive, unconscious habit we engage in. We do it because we find these facts to be genuinely unpleasant. And as long as this experience remains unpleasant, and easy to avoid, we’re just going to drift further and further apart.

Similarly, the researchers found that “[l]istening to a political opponent isn’t as awful as getting a tooth pulled, but it’s trending in that direction. It’s certainly a lot more awful than taking a leisurely stroll.”

What’s worse is that “partisans were unfamiliar with [the opposing side’s] viewpoints. So it’s not the case that people are avoiding learning about the other side because they’re already familiar. What’s going on here is “motivated ignorance,” as Matt Motyl, one of the study co-authors calls it.” Vox laments,

This is the dark truth that lies at the heart of all partisan politics, and makes me pessimistic that Facebook or any other social networking site can really solve the problem of people filtering into their own content bubbles. We automatically have an easier time remembering information that fits our worldviews. We’re simply quicker to recognize information that confirms what we already know, which makes us blind to facts that discount it. It’s the reason why that — paradoxically — as we learn more about politics and politically charged issues, we tend to become more rigid in our thinking.

Just more evidence that politics makes us mean and dumb. Here are a few useful steps to help you escape your political echo chamber:


Full Moral Alchemists

Caring about a loved one’s seemingly non-moral values may in fact moralize them according to a new study. The authors explain,

[W]e believe that many of our everyday moral anxieties center on cases where there is a conflict between our belief in any proposition (including morally neutral ones) and our belief that actions consistent with that proposition will upset someone we love. It is in this sense that love can lead to what we will call moral alchemy: caring for others (and indeed the moral obligation to do so) allows propositions with little or no moral weight in themselves to become morally charged. To be very clear, our hypothesis is distinct from the claim that our moral values depend on the values of our close others; many researchers have investigated the degree to which our sense of moral value is affected by moral contagion, or social affiliation (see e.g., Eskine, 2013; Haan et al., 1968; Haidt and Hersh, 2001 ;  Hofmann et al., 2014). Here we are interested in cases where although our own opinion about the actual rightness or wrongness of the behavior may remain unchanged, we nonetheless assign the behavior an elevated moral status.

They provide the following examples:

We will start with a trivial example: the moral status of Pogs. (For those of you who were neither a parent nor child in the 1990’s, Pogs are collectible colored disks, originally from bottle caps.) Clearly in the world at large, if someone steps on a Pog, uses one to prop up a table leg, or publically disparages them on national TV, he is morally blameless. He is morally blameless even if he knows that Pogs are valued by millions of school children in his culture. Suppose however, your child comes up to you and says, ‘‘Pogs are the best thing ever.” Most of us would be (morally) appalled if you replied, ‘‘Pogs are stupid” and snapped a Pog in two.

Of course what is bad in this example is hurting your child’s feelings, not hurting Pogs. Nonetheless, we suggest that the effect of moral alchemy is to (locally) change the moral status of Pogs. You cannot disregard them as objects worthy of care and attention without insufficiently valuing your child’s values…All that matters is that you knew he cared about Pogs and you did not take his utilities as your own. Note that this is neither moral contagion nor moral duplicity: you do not adopt your child’s attitude of valuing Pogs for their own sake but neither do you merely act ‘‘as if” you care about Pogs when you do not. Rather, insofar as, and for as long as, failing to care about Pogs would be hurtful to your child, you represent Pogs as objects worthy of care (e.g., you would likely feel guilty about intentionally destroying a Pog, even in private).

…It is after all, uncontroversial that people value idiosyncratic things and that morality requires respecting things that others value. However, we suggest that taken together, these commonplaces of human psychology play a key and underappreciated role in real life moral dilemmas, moral learning and moral change. Consider a proposition less trivial than ‘‘Pogs are the best thing ever.” Consider ‘‘Academic achievement is important.” For the sake of argument, let’s presume that within a given cultural context, this counts as a value but not a moral one: everyone concerned accepts that mediocre students can be morally unimpeachable. Suppose however, that your parents are among those who care about this (non-moral) value. If you underachieve in school, rip up your homework, and refuse to study for tests, are those moral transgressions or not?

The researchers tested the hypothesis that non-moral concerns could be moralized based on close relationships with the following steps:

• participants rated how much they cared about a set of behaviors.

• Next they rated how much a close other or an acquaintance cared about different items from the set.

• On a third set of items, they rated “how most people” would judge the behavior.

• Experiment 1 looked at permissibility judgments.

• Experiment 2 looked at whether the behavior was seen as a norm, value, or moral.

Their results?

Experiment 1 suggested that failing to engage in a behavior is perceived as “more wrong” by third parties when someone you care about cares more about the behavior than you do. Experiment 2 suggests that the behavior may also be perceived as “more moral”. To the degree that positive behaviors exist on a continuum of importance, with conventions regarded as relatively unimportant, values as moderately important (insofar as their importance varies from person to person), and morals as extremely important, believing that a loved one cares more than you about a behavior elevates the significance of the behavior, making conventions somewhat more like values and values somewhat more like morals.

The results further suggest that this was not due to a general elevation of the status of positive behaviors in the context of thinking about a loved one. Relative to participants in the Distant Other condition, participants’ ratings in the Close Other condition were only higher when they believed the loved one cared more about that kind of behavior than they did themselves. This is consistent with the idea that concern for the interests of close others makes us treat some behaviors more seriously than we otherwise would because failing to so value them risks interpersonal harm.

…[C]oncern for the loved one added moral importance to behaviors perceived as more important to their close other than the self, leading participants to elevate the moral significance of these behaviors to third parties.

Looks like we’re all full moral alchemists.

Image result for fullmetal alchemist brotherhood gif circle


An Economic View of Mental Health

Image result for mental health work

“The factors involved in mental health are many and varied,” writes economist Isamu Yamamoto,

but for a working person, work styles in the workplace are an important factor. For example, if workers have to put in long hours, have little discretion over their work, or get few opportunities to change assignments or workplaces, this adds to their stress and increases the likelihood of deteriorating mental health.

On the other hand, there has been little research on mental health problems in the field of labour economics, which focuses on analysing work styles in the workplace. As for Japanese work styles, we see moves everywhere to try to change from so-called ‘Japanese employment’ practices. New aspects now include reducing long working hours, seeking a better work/life balance, diversity management, and encouraging women to be more involved in the workplace. These moves suggest that work styles under conventional Japanese employment practices create some kind of difficulty for workers. In other words, there are concerns that work styles under Japanese employment practices are a major factor in causing mental health to deteriorate.

In Yamamoto’s view, there are at least two economic approaches that could be utilized regarding mental health research:

  1. “The first approach is to reveal the characteristics of work styles, based on labour supply-and-demand mechanisms and internal labour market models, and use those characteristics to explain the impact that work styles have on workers’ mental health and the role of the business in mental health.”
  2. “The other approach is to reveal work style factors that impact mental health from observed data (controlling for heterogeneities between individual employees and businesses, and other noise), and to show how mental health affects objective indicators such as business productivity and profitability.”

Using findings from the Labor Market Analysis Using Matched Employer-Employee Panel Data research project, Yamamoto provides the following insights:

First, the research shows that factors affecting employees’ mental health include long work hours, job characteristics, workplace management methods, workplace climate, job transfers, and promotions, among others (Kuroda and Yamamoto 2016a, Sato 2016). Second, mechanisms that cause employee mental health to deteriorate include working irrationally long work hours because of such psychological tendencies as overconfidence bias (i.e. the employee has too much confidence in his or her own health), which could result in unexpected health damage (Kuroda and Yamamoto 2016b). Research also has looked at the impact of deteriorating mental health on corporate performance, with the results showing that businesses with higher sick leave or turnover rates of employees with mental disorders tend to have poorer performance as measured by return on sales (Kuroda and Yamamoto 2016c).

There are still just a few examples of research that validate mental health problems from an economic perspective, and more research needs to be done. Moreover, mental health is a major issue that is relevant to a number of fields, including medicine, epidemiology, industrial health, and psychology. As such, it is important to address it with interdisciplinary research, and researchers in various fields should collaborate in this regard.

What’s Behind Kindness?

The site for the Greater Good Science Center at the UC Berkeley has an intriguing article examining a study on the motivations behind acts of kindness. Based on a statistical analysis called exploratory factor analysis (EFA), the researchers came up with four categories of human kindness:

  • Genuine kindness (benevolence)
  • Strategic kindness (maximizing gain and avoiding cost or loss)
  • Norm-motivated kindness (reciprocity, helping—and punishing—to uphold fairness)
  • Self-reported kindness

The article states,

The upshot? We’re all inclined towards genuine kindness to different degrees, partly as a function of how we generally feel—and perhaps surprisingly, how smart we are. Beyond genuine kindness, other kinds of kindness are influenced by age, sex, income—and whether or not we have children. By the way, their analyses do not reveal whether one person is more or less kind than another. Rather, they tell a story about where people’s kindness—however scant or abundant—is coming from.

Image result for have courage and be kind gif

The research indicates that how we “generally feel—that is, whether we’d characterize ourselves as having more positive or negative feelings in life—influences our tendency towards genuine kindness. For example, having a lower tendency to experience negative emotions is associated with more genuine kindness. In other words, if you’re not often in a bad mood, you’re more likely to behave kindly in an unrequited way.” Furthermore, those “who scored higher on a battery of cognitive, attention, and IQ tests also tended to be more genuinely kind—but no more, or less, likely to exhibit kindness based on strategic or norm-motivated concerns. Nor did they describe themselves as more kind.” Finally, demographics matter. “As people get older, genuine kindness falls. So does norm-motivated kindness. This doesn’t mean that older people are chronically less kind. It just suggests that they may be less concerned with reciprocity, fairness, and reputation—and their kindness hinges more on considering costs and benefits. The researchers observed a similar pattern for monthly income: As income increased, genuine kindness fell, which is consistent with a growing literature on the harmful effects on inequality on the privileged.” Perhaps surprisingly, “people who were parents also scored lower on genuine kindness, while showing no differences on any of the other kindness factors.” And while “women scored higher in self-reported kindness,” this “did not play out for genuinely kind behavior, which was actually more common in men.”

In short, the “study is important because it begins to systematically chart out the mental and behavioral underpinnings and contextual parameters of human kindness, to provide a theoretical blueprint for the growing community of research converging on age-old issues concerning human goodness and survival.”

Service & Sobriety

British journalist Johann Hari said, “[T]he opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” According to some research, he may be right:

[T]here might be a secret weapon in the fight against addiction: helping people.

While other researchers look for ways to improve prescription drug regimens or talk therapies, Maria Pagano of Case Western University has focused her attention on the addict’s social connections. In studies spanning over a decade, she and her colleagues have shown that having a supportive network, reducing isolation, decreasing social anxiety, and—especially—helping others can increase the chances of staying sober by up to 50 percent. Her findings suggest that addiction should not be characterized solely as a failure of individual willpower, but must be viewed through the lens of positive social connection.

…In one 2012 study, Pagano and her colleagues found that having a network of people who support one’s abstinence can significantly impact an addict’s ability to stay sober up to three years later…But finding a positive social network when you’re an addict is not that easy to do, she says. Many addicts report having social anxiety—a feeling that one is onstage and not approved of by those around them. In fact, social anxiety often leads one to try drugs or alcohol in the first place, since people think intoxicants act as social lubricants. But using drugs for anxiety control can lead to dependence and can easily get out of control, ruining one’s health, relationships, and work life.

…In a recent study in which she tested this theory, she found that many of her participants—adolescents in treatment for addiction, ages 14-18—had a deep fear of being scrutinized in social situations, while 15 percent met the diagnostic criteria for a social anxiety disorder (or SAD). While her results showed that levels of participation in a 12-step program did not differ significantly between those with an SAD diagnosis and those without one, one thing did make a difference: The adolescents with SAD who actively participated in helping had a significantly reduced risk of relapse or incarceration in the six months after their treatment finished.

…In one 2013 study, she and her colleagues recruited 226 recovering alcoholics from nine outpatient treatment programs, and they followed these patients for 10 years while measuring alcohol consumption, AA participation levels, and self-rated thoughtfulness towards other people at different points in time. They also measured whether or not participants helped others by becoming a sponsor or by completing step 12 in AA.

By using statistical analyses, Pagano and colleagues showed that those who’d attended more AA meetings and engaged in helping stayed sober longer and reported higher interest in others up to 10 years later. Helping others had a unique effect on the outcome, suggesting that helping has a special role in recovery—and should receive more attention.

The article continues with even more studies demonstrating the importance of social connections and service in combating addiction. Well worth the read.

Religious Belief: Less Analytical, More Pro-Social?

Image result for religious

A 2016 study finds that while religious belief has a negative correlation with analytic thinking, it has a significantly positive association with moral concern. Interestingly enough, the negative correlation with analytic thinking can in part be explained by the tension between it and moral concerns. “When there’s a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd,” said Tony Jack, who led the research.

“But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.”

…”A stream of research in cognitive psychology has shown and claims that people who have faith (i.e., are religious or spiritual) are not as smart as others. They actually might claim they are less intelligent,” said Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor and professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve, and a member of Jack’s team.

“Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic,” he said. In a series of eight experiments, the researchers found the more empathetic the person, the more likely he or she is religious. That finding offers a new explanation for past research showing women tend to hold more religious or spiritual worldviews than men. The gap may be because women have a stronger tendency toward empathetic concern than men. Atheists, the researchers found, are most closely aligned with psychopaths—not killers, but the vast majority of psychopaths classified as such due to their lack of empathy for others.

…“Because of the tension between networks, pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social/emotional side,” Jack explained. “And that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. It appeals to an essentially nonmaterial way of understanding the world and our place in it.”

…[Jared] Friedman said, “Having empathy doesn’t mean you necessarily have anti-scientific beliefs. Instead, our results suggest that if we only emphasize analytic reasoning and scientific beliefs, as the New Atheist movement suggests, then we are compromising our ability to cultivate a different type of thinking, namely social/moral insight.”

“These findings,” Friedman continued, “are consistent with the philosophical view, espoused by (Immanuel) Kant, according to which there are two distinct types of truth: empirical and moral.”

In short, “taking a carefully considered leap of religious faith appears be an effective route to promoting emotional insight. Theirs and other studies find that, overall, religious belief is associated with greater compassion, greater social inclusiveness and greater motivation to engage in pro-social actions.”

Want to Be More Caring? Focus

Developing the ability to focus may actually increase your capacity to care, according to a 2016 study. Sampling from 51 participants at a 9-week compassion meditation program, the researchers found

that a wandering mind can be less caring. Specifically, mind-wandering to unpleasant or neutral topics (rather than pleasant topics) predicted less caring behavior toward oneself and others on a given day. Meanwhile, mind-wandering to pleasant topics actually predicted more caring behavior toward oneself and others.

Given prior research suggesting that when our minds wander we’re unhappy, it’s possible that mind-wandering to negative events produces negative emotions that narrow our attention and lead us to miss opportunities for caring. In contrast, when our minds wander to positive events, we may experience positive feelings that broaden our attention and allow us to more fully engage in the present moment and the potential for caring. Past research is a bit mixed on whether people are actually happier when thinking about pleasant topics rather than engaging in the present, so additional studies are needed to explicitly investigate this.

Image result for focus meditationFortunately, our research suggests that training in compassion may be able to alter the habitual patterns of mind-wandering. Prior to the compassion program, participants’ minds were wandering about 59.1 percent of the time, a higher rate than earlier studies have reported (46.9 percent). At the end of the nine-week program, however, their overall mind-wandering had decreased to 54.5 percent of the time, including a slight increase in mind-wandering to pleasant topics.

More importantly, when participants reported engaging in compassion meditation practices on a given day, they also reported less mind-wandering to unpleasant topics and more mind-wandering to pleasant topics. Thus, regular compassion practice may have the dual effect of increasing and decreasing different types of mind-wandering.

Focus is not only important for reasons of well-being and productivity, but morality as well.

Knowing Evil in Order to Prevent It

Related image
Maybe I shouldn’t read about this because it will make me sad.

I get easily annoyed with people who are always prescribing “uplifting” and “positive” forms of entertainment, reading material, etc. The typical claim is that darker material “normalizes” evil, influences us to do evil, or gets us down. However, psychological research has discovered the benefits of studying evil. “While probing into the vile and the profane can be profoundly uncomfortable,” an article at UCB’s Greater Good Science Center explains, “there are concrete benefits to doing so.”

From an evolutionary perspective, familiarizing yourself with what you fear and dread likely pays survival dividends. “You would pay attention to, and have interest in, the horrific,” writes Penn State psychologist Marissa Harrison, “because in the ancestral environment, those who ‘tuned in’ to horrible events left more descendants, logically because they were able to escape harmful stimuli.” Those attuned to members of a rival tribe plotting an assault, for example, would have been better able to defend themselves, warn others, or flee before it was too late.

Even today, our self-preservation impulse helps explain our determined attempts to understand evil. In a 2010 study of why women were drawn to true-crime books, University of Illinois psychologists argued it was at least in part “because of the potential life-saving knowledge gained from reading them.” “We can ill afford to overlook a potentially dangerous person or situation—it could be fatal,” says University of Richmond psychologist Scott Allison.

But more than this, the study of evil can improve character:

A 2012 study reveals that immersion in the reality of genocide motivates people to combat prejudice when they see it. College students who took a 15-week course in Holocaust and Genocide Studies said the course awakened their desire to fight discrimination and empowered them to make changes in the world around them. A Scottish government study reported that Holocaust education programs achieved similar results with elementary-aged students; after the programs, most were more likely to state that racism was unacceptable.


it is possible to overdose on evil, so to speak—to focus on it so intently that your entire outlook darkens, your frame of reference narrows, and you descend into apathy. This risk intensifies when examples of depravity start flying at you fast and furious, as during a personal crisis or a governmental upheaval.

Looking closely at your motivations and thought patterns can help you determine if your fixation on the malign serves you or holds you back. If your obsession ends at poring over online morgue photos of murder victims or bidding on serial killers’ paintings on eBay, it’s probably not all that helpful, to you or to society at large.

But if your venture into the depths of human evil motivates you to resist evil in the real world or educate others about how to resist it, it’s a productive—even virtuous—use of your time. It may help to seek company when you visit a museum or even read a book. In other words, get yourself a buddy or a team to help you try to understand evil, to help keep things in perspective.

Something worth thinking about.


Is “Moral Outrage” Largely Self-Serving?

Image result for angry protester

That seems to be the case, according to a new study. Reason reports,

When people publicly rage about perceived injustices that don’t affect them personally, we tend to assume this expression is rooted in altruism—a “disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.” But new research suggests that professing such third-party concern—what social scientists refer to as “moral outrage”—is often a function of self-interest, wielded to assuage feelings of personal culpability for societal harms or reinforce (to the self and others) one’s own status as a Very Good Person.

…To test this guilt-to-outrage-to-moral-reaffirmation premise, Rothschild and Keefer conducted five separate studies assessing the relationships between anger, empathy, identity, individual and collective guilt, self perception, and the expression of moral outrage.

Their findings?:

  1. Triggering feelings of personal culpability for a problem increases moral outrage at a third-party target.
  2. The more guilt over one’s own potential complicity, the more desire “to punish a third-party through increased moral outrage at that target.”
  3. Having the opportunity to express outrage at a third-party decreased guilt in people threatened through “ingroup immorality.”
  4. “The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doers” inflated participants perception of personal morality.
  5. Guilt-induced moral outrage was lessened when people could assert their goodness through alternative means, “even in an unrelated context.”

The article concludes,

These findings held true even accounting for things such as respondents political ideology, general affect, and background feelings about the issues.

Ultimately, the results of Rothschild and Keefer’s five studies were “consistent with recent research showing that outgroup-directed moral outrage can be elicited in response to perceived threats to the ingroup’s moral status,” write the authors. The findings also suggest that “outrage driven by moral identity concerns serves to compensate for the threat of personal or collective immorality” and the cognitive dissonance that it might elicit, and expose a “link between guilt and self-serving expressions of outrage that reflect a kind of ‘moral hypocrisy,’ or at least a non-moral form of anger with a moral facade.”

I’m reminded of something economist Deirdre McCloskey wrote: “You sit down with a cup of dark coffee and a nice croissant to read the New York Times, venting daily your hatred of the cruelties recorded there, and as a result are yourself saved, regardless of whether policies of “protection” advocated in its pages do the poor and tortured any actual good.”