Category Archives: developmental psychology

More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

New scientific model can predict moral and political development

According to this study in Nature Human Behavior, in time frames about fairness and preventing harm triumph over those about loyalty, purity and authority. The latter might succeed temporarily, like now in the US, but the more the former frames are strongly and repeatedly reinforced the quicker the results. Let’s keep up our passionate frames, for this research supports that we will overcome the dark forces that have a temporary hold on our government. Also see Kohlberg‘s moral stages, showing that the former frames are more developed that the latter set.

“Their conclusion is that the key characteristic of opinions that gain ground is that they are supported by arguments about what is fair and what does not cause harm to others. […] Opinions based on other classical grounds used to determine right and wrong actions—loyalty, authority, purity, religion—can gain support temporarily, but over time, opinions based on these arguments lose support all over the political spectrum. The stronger the connection an opinion has to arguments about fairness and harm, the greater the probability that it will gain ground in public opinion. Also, the stronger the connection is, the faster the change will come.”

Rapid Personality Change and the Psychological Rebirth

Informative video on this process. Ofttimes we need to descend into hell before we can ascend into a new life. And this seems the overall process of human development, that for each stage we must go through this spiraling process of dissolution and reorganization. Hence we are far more than twice-born; we are multiply born anew at each stage. It seems though that the further we go in this process the greater the risks and rewards.

Speaking of which, the inaugural issue of Phi Mi Sci will address this issue:

“The inaugural issue of PhiMiSci will be a Special Topic on Radical Disruptions of Self-Consciousness (see the Manifesto of the Selfless Minds workshop). The call for papers for this Special Topic was closed on May 1. Submissions are currently under review. The guest editors of this Special Topic are Thomas Metzinger (Mainz) & Raphaël Millière (Oxford). The expected publication date of this Special Topic is late 2019.”

Book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

In his new book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David J. Epstein investigates the significant advantages of generalized cognitive skills for success in a complex world. We’ve heard and read many praises for narrow expertise in both humans and AIs (Watson, Alpha Go, etc.). In both humans and AIs, however, narrow+deep expertise does not translate to adaptiveness when reality presents novel challenges, as it does constantly. 

As you ingest this highly readable, non-technical book, please add your observations to the comments below. 

history and philosophy of ecological psychology

Article from Frontiers in Psychology at this link. From the Introduction:

“Ecological psychology is an embodied, situated, and non-representationalist approach to cognition pioneered by J. J. Gibson (1904–1979) in the field of perception and by E. J. Gibson (1910–2002) in the field of developmental psychology. Ecological psychology, in its very origins, aimed to offer an innovative perspective for understanding perception and perceptual learning that overcomes the traditional psychological dichotomies of perception/action, organism/environment, subjective/objective, and mind/body.”

Recontextualizing decenterd cognition

New issue of Contructivist Foundations on e-cognition. E.g.:

“Such considerations motivate the need to re-think our understanding of how the brain itself works. They suggest that the best explanation of brain function may be found in the mixed vocabularies of embodied and situated cognition, developmental psychology, ecological psychology, dynamic systems theory, applied linguistics, the theory of affordances and material engagement, rather than the narrow vocabulary of computational neuroscience.”

Gibbs on Haidt’s righteous mind

From Gibbs’ Moral Development and Reality:

“Haidt’s new synthesis leads to recognition of at least three serious limitations: descriptive inadequacy or negative skew; unwarranted exclusion or studied avoidance of prescriptive implications; and moral relativism” (33). He then goes into detail on those inadequacies. From the section on moral relativism:

“Haidt’s (2012) sentiment that liberals and conservatives should share meals and narratives and ‘get along’ is helpful, but missing is any call for rational dialogue or moral progress. Nor did Haidt appeal to ‘the right’ (consistency, reversibility, etc.), objective accuracy, or cognitive development. […] As noted, Haidt even likened moral judgments to diversely shaped babblings or tastes. […] Yet if ethical judgments ‘are nothing but the outflow’ of subjective affects, of esthetic feelings or sensory tastes, then ‘it would be as inappropriate to criticize ethical judgment as it would be to criticize gastronomic preferences.’ Given such analogies, what happens to moral objectivity? […]

“In the twenty-first century, the relativist tide has returned; we must swim against it as did Kohlberg and Piaget in their eras. Now, as then, we cannot afford the moral paralysis of a moral psychology that reduces development to enculturation or socialization. Fundamentally, we cannot afford a relativistic moral psychology whose functionalist evolutionary perspective encompasses pragmatic success, advantage, or utility, but not progress, consistency, or truth” (37).