Testing effects of framing on punishment decisions involving violence risk assessment

Project Awarded: $30,775.50

From stock investments, to medical triage, to criminal sentencing, human beings are regularly tasked to make important decisions with limited information. Unfortunately, the cognitive processes known to enable us to make such decisions efficiently also give rise to systematic biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1986). Many public institutions have begun to utilize evidence-based protocols to help guard against decision bias, yet little is known about the way practitioners carry out and interpret the results of these protocols. Nowhere is this problem more concerning than in courts of law, where authorities must make punishment decisions based on tools designed to estimate violence risk. The overall aim of this project is to characterize the influence of two potential sources of bias on punishment judgments in the context of how violence risk assessments are communicated to judges and jurors: (1) whether violence risk estimates are based on evidence that is framed as behavioral or neurobiological, and (2) whether these estimates are expressed using a loss frame (e.g., “26% probability of violence recurring”), gain frame (e.g., “74% probability of violence not recurring”), or both frames. This aim will be achieved by conducting three experimental vignette surveys with 500 jury-eligible U.S. citizens and 200 professional judges. Using case summaries adapted from real criminal cases, these studies will test hypotheses that framing negatively impacts punishment judgments among lay and expert judges, and that particular personality traits or competencies help to explain when a person will be most susceptible to such framing.

Team members:

Eyal Aharoni, Ph.D. Psychology Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Eyal Aharoni, Ph.D. Psychology Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D. Baylor College of Medicine Houston, TX 

Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D. Baylor College of Medicine Houston, TX 

Gidon Felsen, Ph.D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO

Gidon Felsen, Ph.D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO

Karine Vold, Ph.D/Candidate Department of Philosophy, McGill University, Canada 

Karine Vold, Ph.D/Candidate Department of Philosophy, McGill University, Canada 

Flexible Interaction as a Criterion for Consciousness

Project Awarded: $29,820

The study of consciousness is one of the biggest challenges facing modern science. In perceptual psychology report-based measures are the ‘gold-standard’ for attributing ‘consciousness of an object’ (henceforth consciousness) to a subject. There are, however, long-standing problems with the reliability of report as a measure of consciousness. Other accounts have attempted to avoid these problems by identifying objective measures that are correlated with consciousness. However, these ‘no-report’ paradigms continue to rely on report for validation of their measures. Our goal is to identify an objective measure of consciousness that does not rely on report for validation and cannot be attributed to adaptive unconscious processes. Here, we propose one such measure and seek to test whether or not it is capable of dissociating consciousness, reportability, and unconscious, automatic processes in normally-sighted populations and in patients who possess visual field deficits following brain injury.

In order to develop an objective measure of consciousness, we will appeal to intentional accounts of consciousness that claim a subject is conscious of an object if information about that object is available to them for use in explicit reasoning and intentional action. We will argue that reasoning and intentional action are dissociable, and that evidence of intentional action is sufficient for the attribution of consciousness to a subject. Finally, we will argue that intentional action can be differentiated from automatic, unconsciously mediated behavior by virtue of the flexible use of information in performing a task. This line of argument will lead us to posit a ‘flexible interaction criterion for consciousness’ (FI) that says: If a subject exhibits the capacity to use information about an object to reliably guide their action in an object-appropriate and flexible fashion, they are conscious of that object.

In the empirical phase of this project we will test two competing hypothesis. Hypothesis (1) states that the process that makes information available for reasoning and intentional action is an all or nothing process. Hypothesis (2) states that different processes make information available for use in different tasks. As such, (1) and (2) make different predictions regarding the dissociability of FI from reportability with (1) predicting that they will not dissociate and (2) predicting that they will. Our intention is to investigate these two possibilities in both normal subjects and in subjects with selective brain injury.

Team members:

Robert Foley, Rotman Postdoctoral Fellow in the Philosophy of Neuroscience, The Rotman Institute of Philosophy and The Brain and Mind Institute, The University of Western Ontario

Robert Foley, Rotman Postdoctoral Fellow in the Philosophy of Neuroscience, The Rotman Institute of Philosophy and The Brain and Mind Institute, The University of Western Ontario

Robert Whitwell, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology, The University of British Columbia

Robert Whitwell, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology, The University of British Columbia

 

The Mental Structure of Moral Judgments. Causality, Intentionality, and Responsibility

Project Awarded: $28,350

Attributing moral responsibility for actions involves establishing the causal relationship between events. However, it also involves making inferences about people’s mental states, including their intentions, desires, and knowledge about the world. This is reflected both in folk psychological conceptions of moral responsibility, and among some normative ethical theories, such as intent-based versions of utilitarianism (Adams 1976). Inferences about individual mental states have been shown to be the most relevant factor when people judge an act to be wrong or permissible, but assigning blame or responsibility for the outcome also depends on a perceived causal link between the agent and the outcome (Cushman 2008). Intentionality judgments also rely on the valence and value of an action’s outcome, the objective probability of an action’s having a desired effect, and the agent’s subjective probability of the action having its effect (Knobe 2003; Feltz 2007; Mele & Cushman 2007). Causal judgments thus clearly affect attributions of moral responsibility. However, it remains unclear how sensitive people are to differences in the causal structure of events with morally relevant content and how intentionality ascriptions emerge from observations (or descriptions) of behaviour, in particular when explicit information about an agent’s intentions is not available. It further remains to be seen to which features of a set of events people preferentially attend when making moral judgments. To clarify these important issues, we propose a series of experiments that will all bear on one overarching question: “What is the mental structure of responsibility attributions?” More specifically, we intend to answer two questions (with some sub-questions) in the realm of descriptive moral psychology:

1.     How sensitive are people to differences in the causal structure of a given causal chain in making cued judgments of intentionality and responsibility?

a.     How dissociable are intentionality and responsibility judgments under conditions of different background causal chains in the absence of explicit intentionality information?

b.     Do causal structure differences between action and non-action (omission) engage differential activation of motor representation regions and does this activation inform responsibility judgment behavior directly, or is this influence mediated by intentionality computations?

c.     What role do counterfactual representations of the contrastive set of unrealized events play in facilitating intentionality responsibility judgments?

2.     What is the latent structure of event/agent features to which people attend when evaluating actions without being explicitly cued to respond to one feature or another?

Experimentally, these questions will be answered by asking study participants to react to vignettes involving interactions between agents that result in morally relevant outcomes. The first set of experiments will involve using vignettes with maximally similar cover stories while varying the causal structure of the action (i.e. action or omission and preemptive or direct causality). The second set of experiments will involve using vignettes based on real episodic memories from prior research participants. In summary, the first experimental set is expected to clarify to what extent intention and responsibility judgments are subject to influence by the background structure of causal relations in the world. The second experimental set will further clarify the latent structure underlying folk psychological conceptions of moral responsibility by using data reduction techniques.

Team members:

Dr. Sofia Bonicalzi

Dr. Sofia Bonicalzi

Dr. Chiara Brozzo

Dr. Chiara Brozzo

Dr. Eugenia Kulakova

Dr. Eugenia Kulakova

Joachim Operskalski

Joachim Operskalski

Morality Under Uncertainty: The impact of moral framing on spatial decision making

Project Award: $17,314.50

Recent research on the topic of decision-making suggests that participants make suboptimal decisions involving spatial cues in a risky environment. Participants appear to neither maximize gain nor minimize risk in a task in which they are told to identify the locus of a target that is located in close proximity of a penalty. Given that previous research has suggested that the moral or social frame of decisions can result in participants having an alternative judgment in said task, and that there is evidence that participants behave differently in morally salient perceptual tasks when compared to controls, we propose a set of studies to investigate if the moral framing of perceptual decision tasks results in a difference in the character of the decisions participants make. First, our project involves the use of moral and nonmoral scenarios in risky decision-making tasks, to determine the degree to which participants choose in a more or less optimal manner in a morally characterized task. With this, we can determine if any decision frame has an effect when compared to previous research, and if the moral decision frame has a unique effect. Second, we intend to test for the moral disposition of the participant, in order to determine if the effect and the direction of the moral framing correlates with the degree with which the participant is dispositionally a utilitarian or deontologist. This allows us to determine if moral disposition is predictive of decision-making in spatial tasks, and if differences in disposition track trends in interpretation of success in a spatial task that involves both risk and reward. Third, we intend to pair the behavioral research with neuroimaging, in order to determine what neural network is implicated by activity in the task, and compare it to a previously identified network putatively implicated in decision-making. If we uncover systematic behavioral differences, we wish to investigate the relationships between the networks that underlie the actions represented by the respective behavioral trends. This will elucidate the neural correlates of moral decision-making by implementing a type of stimulus that is under-investigated in moral psychology. Moreover, it helps clarify the degree to which neural networks are conserved across tasks that are prima facie similar to one another, by attempting to elicit dissimilar behaviors from participants. Finally, it will facilitate a better understanding of the circumstances under which decision-making behaviors vary, and the degree to which the character of situation surrounding the decision results in alternative behavior trends.

Team members:

David Colaco, PhD Student,History of Philosophy and Science, University of Pittsburgh and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

David Colaco, PhD Student,History of Philosophy and Science, University of Pittsburgh and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

Kevin Jarbo, PhD Student Psychology, Carnegie Mellon

Kevin Jarbo, PhD Student Psychology, Carnegie Mellon

 

Beyond the essential moral self: the importance of social relationships in judgments of first- and third­person identity change

Project Award: $30,240

Clarifying the nature of the self and identity has wide ranging implications for a number of issues in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. This project aims to better understand the nature of self and identity by examining judgments of identity change and the mechanisms that underlie them. Well worn arguments from the history of philosophy suggest that memory is at the core of personal identity, such that switching out memories is akin to switching out identities (Locke 1690/2009). Recent empirical work, however, suggests that morality (Strohminger & Nichols 2014, 2015), and more specifically, social relationships (Heiphetz et al. 2016), are at the core of personal identity, but the underlying reasons remain unclear.

Our project aims to replicate and refine this Moral Self Effect and, for the first time, examine the neural underpinnings of the essential moral self. Specifically, we investigate whether moral traits may be tied to values, in which case we would expect the effect to hold more strongly for domains that people value (e.g., self; community). In our behavioral studies, we will first examine whether there are asymmetries between first and third person judgments of identity change that is, whether people think differently about changes in themselves vs. others. Drawing on intergroup social psychological research, we will then further refine the Moral Self Effect by: 1) examining whether the valence of moral traits affects judgments of identity change; 2) examining how changes to social relationships affect judgments of identity change; and 3) examining whether the dimensions of warmth and competence might better explain perceived identity change. What will emerge from this suite of behavioral studies is a more refined answer to the question: which parts of the self and community are perceived as the most essential?

Our behavioral results, in turn, will drive our innovative theoretical approach to questions of how perceptions of identity change are represented in the brain, which will help to clarify reasons why certain aspects of self and community might be perceived as most essential. A traditional view in the neuroscience literature is that cortical midline structures track the degree of similarity to the self in a ventral to dorsal fashion (Mitchell, Macrae, & Banaji, 2006), but more recently it has been suggested that these structures track personal value rather than self reference (Kim & Johnson, 2015). We will employ the fine grained and philosophically informed research on the moral self effect in an fMRI task to shed new light on this debate and determine whether distinct neural architectures support first vs. third person judgments of identity change or whether they track something deeper, such as value. Together, this suite of experiments will refine and extend the moral self theory to explain those aspects of identity that are perceived to be most essential.

Team members:

Jim A.C. Everett, D.Phil Candidate, University of Oxford

Jim A.C. Everett, D.Phil Candidate, University of Oxford

Michael Ferguson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University, Human Development

Michael Ferguson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University, Human Development

Jordan L. Livingston, PhD Candidate, University of Oregon, Department of Psychology

Jordan L. Livingston, PhD Candidate, University of Oregon, Department of Psychology

Joshua August Skorburg, PhD Candidate, University of Oregon, Department of Philosophy

Joshua August Skorburg, PhD Candidate, University of Oregon, Department of Philosophy

Testing the Predictive Coding Theory of Attention

Project Awarded: $21,000

On the predictive coding (PC) view the mind engages in Bayesian hypothesis generation, testing and revision with the aim of minimizing the mismatch between its predictions and the sensory evidence (prediction error). Though the bulk of the empirical support for the theory lies in the perceptual domain (e.g. Hohwy, et al. 2008; Huang & Rao, 2011; Stefanics et al. 2014), the

Bayesian framework also promises to deliver a comprehensive theory of attention that falls out of the tools employed in the perceptual theory, without the need for positing additional machinery.

According to this proposal, in all instances of attentional behavior the selectivity of attention is explained on the basis of expected precision; attention selects a signal for further processing because the brain expects that signal to deliver a more precise or consistent set of data. The PC theory of attention is thus committed to the claim that high precision expectations are driving attention in all its instances.

However, there has been negligible empirical investigation of this claim to date (Egner, Monti & Summerfield 2010; Jiang, Summerfield & Egner 2013; Kok et al. 2011). We propose to address this gap by using affect-biased attention (ABA) as a test case for the theory, because it is a well studied phenomenon that at least prima facie poses a challenge to PC’s claim. ABA is attention to stimuli that are affectively salient, i.e. stimuli that stand out because the agent associates them with reward or punishment (Todd, Cunningham, Anderson, & Thompson, 2012). ABA has properties of both bottom-up and top-down attention biasing, and so is not easily captured by the PC model. Affectively salient objects can capture attention even when they are not physically salient (Niu et al. 2012a, 2012b; Awh et al. 2012), preventing straightforward assimilation to predictive coding’s treatment of bottom up attention. In addition, affectively salient objects can capture attention when they are not task relevant (Awh et al. 2012; Todd et al. 2012), preventing straightforward assimilation to PC’s treatment of top down attention. To assess the explanatory adequacy of the PC theory of attention, therefore, we propose to tease apart precision expectation and affective salience experimentally, probing their respective effects on the behavioral responses evoked by visual stimuli. By manipulating these two variables independently, it should become clear whether or not PC can accommodate affective biases on attention.

Team members:

Sina Fazelpour, UBC, PhD student, Department of Philosophy

Sina Fazelpour, UBC, PhD student, Department of Philosophy

Madeleine Ransom, UBC, PhD student, Department of Philosophy

Madeleine Ransom, UBC, PhD student, Department of Philosophy

Jelena Markovic, UBC, PhD student, Department of Philosophy

Jelena Markovic, UBC, PhD student, Department of Philosophy