social psychology

I could have avoided writing this blogpost, but I was fated to be a blogger!

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What can you say about an academic paper that starts with references to Milan Kundera and ends with a quote from Shakespeare.  Well you gotta love it and blog about it; but I might have easily passed over that paper for something more interesting ; also how much is it to luck that I found that paper (I discovered it via twitter via the tweets of @TheSocialBrain) and blogged about it; was my being on twitter, following @thescoialbrain and reading his tweet a lucky thing or a matter of my daily routine of sifiting through tweets for interesting stuff and thus a result of personal choice/effort?

There are multiple questions being asked above: 1) was my writing this blog post fated? (fate condition) Answer: No. 2) Could I have passed the opportunity for commenting on this paper and writing this blog post? (counter-factual  condition) Answer: yes and 3) was my writing this blog-post due to luck or happenstance? (luck condition)  Answer: No. Are these separate questions or are they related to each other?

This blog post is being written as I type; so this is a temporally very near event and as per construal theory I should be able to visualize and feel it quite concretely and at a low-level. (concrete and temporally near condition) . Contrast this with something significant that happened a long time  back and which I vaguely remember and is thus more abstract and construed at a higher level. (temporally distant and high construal condition) . Consider my starting this blog ‘The Mouse Trap’ about 5 years earlier. A new set of questions. 1)  Could my writing ‘The Mouse Trap’ – a blog about Psychology be fated: Answer: yes, {I cant think of any other option with blogging rising and my passion for psychology and writing} 2) Could I have not written the Mouse Trap blog: Answer : yes:  {If my interest in psychology found other outlets and if I had not chosen computers engineering I might not have been attracted to blogging so early on} 3) Could my writing blog The Mouse Trap and it getting in top 100 science blogs worldwide be due to luck . answer yes and no{ I put a lot of hard work in this, so itsnot all luck,; but I got into the inner circle of science bloggers when blogging was in infancy and thus was lucky in a way}.

The above was not idle navel gazing. By way of my anecdotal experience I wanted to highlight the research of Burrus and Roease and the results that they obtained when they attempted to pit fate and personal control/counter-factual thinking/explanations against each other.

In a nutshell what they found was that people used both sorts of explanations- fate and counter- factuals when it came to explaining significant events form one’s  life ; but fat explanations were more readily used for abstractly construed and temporally distant evens as compared to concrete and temporally near events. In contrast Counter-factual thinking did not depend on either temporal distance or construal type (abstract vs concrete) . Lastly they found that Luck beliefs also did not vary with time or abstractness of construal, and were thus a different construct from Fate.

What this basically means is that when you think of things in the distant past and those that are abstract and at a higher level, you tend to attribute those events more to fate, rather than to personal choice.  Also the construal of events is the mediating factor when it comes to effect of temporal distance on fate attributions.

That the construal is important can be seen form their first experiment wherein a same significant goal striving from past is brought to memory but the construal of the event is manipulated by either focusing on ‘why’ the goal striving was important or ‘how’ the goal was archived.

To make this more easily understandable , consider a significant event from my life –getting selected in IIT JEE. One can focus on ‘why’ questions when thinking about this goal striving.The abstract questions are as follows: (a) “Why did I want to achieve this goal?” (b) “What good came out of my achieving this goal?” and (c) “What does achieving this goal mean for my life?”. Asking these question purportedly puts me in an abstract frame of my mind and I am more likely to say, after this manipulation, that my cracking IIT JEE was fated (I was motivated, intelligent and wanted to be a computer engineer just like my peers- peer pressure forced me to become a computer engineer) .

Now consider a second set of questions that are targeted at making me think in more concrete terms the same event. The concrete questions are as follows: (a) “What kinds of tasks did I have to perform in completing this goal?” (b) “What techniques did I use in completing this goal?” and (c) “What ‘rules of thumb’ did I use in completing this goal?”. These questions immediately highlight to me the fact that my getting into JEE was due to hard work and the right coaching environment present in Kots, the hub of IIT jee coaching, and the place from where I hail. Now when I answer whether it might have been that I could not have passed IIT JEE I am much more in a counter factual mood and readily acknowledge that had I been born in a city other than Kota or not worked hard and got tuition at the right moment, I might not have got through the exam.

Again the above is anecdotal , but I hope it illustrates with clarity the point how construal and temporal distance influence our attributions to fate / personal choice.

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Burrus, J. (2006). Long Ago It Was Meant to Be: The Interplay Between Time, Construal, and Fate Beliefs Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32 (8), 1050-1058 DOI: 10.1177/0146167206288282

Why belief in free will is important: its pro-social and moral implications

I recently stumbled upon the Psychology Today blog of Roy F Baumeiester and went through some lively blog posts that were exchanged between him and other PT bloggers especially John Bargh on the issue of free will. Thoise exchanges are worth reading by themselves and are highly recommeneded.

This post meanwhile is not about whether free will exists or not , but it is about whether belief in free will is detrimental or has a beneficial effect. The opposite of free will, is traditionally conceived to be determinism and Baumeister recently and Vohs  et al earlier have demonstrated in laboratory that belief in determinism leads to 1) more cheating 2) less pro-social helping behavior nd intentions and 3) more unwarranted aggressive  behavior towards con-specifics.

First I will let Baumeister define the folk concpet of free will, as knowing fisrt hand that we are dealing with folk psychological concept of free will, rather than philosophical nuances helps. In his 2008 article titled Free Will in Scientific Psychology he provides following definition of free will:

Another approach to understanding what people mean by free will is to have participants rate how free a stimulus person’s actions are. Stillman, Sparks, Baumeister, and Tice (2006) had participants rate scenarios that varied systematically along several dimensions. Participants rated people’s actions as freest when their choices were made after conscious deliberation, when their actions went against external pressure rather than going along with it, and when people acted against their shortterm self-interest. Thus conscious, rational choice and selfcontrol seem to be integral parts of what people perceive as free. When people wrote autobiographical accounts of their own acts that felt free or unfree, pursuing long-term personal goals was central to the feeling of freedom. The difference suggests that people see free will in others as useful for restraining their socially undesirable impulses, but in themselves they see free will in the sustained pursuit of (enlightened) self-interest. As Dennett (1984, 2003) has argued, free will is hardly worth having unless it helps you get something you want.
Let me focus briefly on two of the most important phenomena that are associated with the concept of free will: self-control and rational intelligent choice. The cultural-animal argument has the following assumptions. First, self-control and smart choice are much more highly developed in humans than in other animals and thus are among the most distinctively human traits. Second, these traits are highly conducive for living in a cultural society. Third, these traits are probably interrelated in the sense of sharing some inner processes and mechanisms, which suggests that one evolved first and the other piggy-backed on the first one’s system.
Put another way, self-control gives the capacity to alter your behavior to conform to the group’s rules, and rationality enables you to work out your own rules and then behave accordingly.

Now that we know what we are talking about lets look at the two studies. In the first study by Vohs et al, the participants read text from ‘The Astonishing hypothesis ‘ by Crick and the manipulation was designed to induce deterministic thoughts in them. Afterwards they were given an opportunity to cheat. It was found that those who were manipulated to believe in determinism were more likely to cheat. In the second study in the same paper,  deterministic belief was again induced using a different paradigm and agian was found correlated with cheating behavior. the two experiments were conducted to rule out intermediate effcets of mood valence etc or other explanations for the effect.

ABSTRACT—Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

The second article by Baumeister et al carried over from where Vohs et al left. In the first experiment they manipulated state deterministic beliefs using a paradigm similar to Vohs et al second experiment and found that deterministic manipulations lead to less helping intentions. In the second experiment they looked at trait deterministic beliefs as opposed to state deterministic beliefs in the first study, and found that actual helping behavior as opposed to helping intentions in first study were also reduced in the deterministic condition. In the third and final experiment, they used the ‘serve hot sauce to someone you are aggressing against’ paradigm to demonstrate that deterministic manipulations led to more aggressive tendencies. Taken together these and vohs et al findings demonstrate the importance of belief in free will for pro-social and moral behavior.

Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable. Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be linked with decreased helping and increased aggression. In Experiment 1, induced disbelief in free will reduced willingness to help others. Experiment 2 showed that chronic disbelief in free will was associated with reduced helping behavior. In Experiment 3, participants induced disbelief in free will caused participants to act more aggressively than others. Although the findings do not speak to the existence of free will, the current results suggest that disbelief in free will reduces helping and increases aggression.

The free will debate will not be settled any time soon, but that should not blind us to these experimental findings that show what harm is done by blindly propagating deterministic beliefs that my eventually turn out to be false when applied to the agentic human and animal domain. I would like to end by referencing a post by Baumeister that provides ample food for thought. In it Baumeister proposes that just like physical reality we grant significance to the symbolic and meaning driven alternate reality of agents and actors and shared meanings etc. although he doesn’t go so far, I would label it as Mythos as opposed to Logos. As long as we think that mythos is all in the head (where undoubtedly it is) and does not merit any other handling and laws than those that apply to the physical world, we would surely be missing the point.

&rftBaumeister, R., Masicampo, E., & DeWall, C. (2009). Prosocial Benefits of Feeling Free: Disbelief in Free Will Increases Aggression and Reduces Helpfulness Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35 (2), 260-268 DOI: 10.1177/0146167208327217
Vohs, K., & Schooler, J. (2008). The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating Psychological Science, 19 (1), 49-54 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02045.x

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If it’s abstract you gel in, if it’s concrete you stand out..Or Why I compare myself to a man but not to men.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with research by Bargh et al that showed that priming with stereotypes led to assimilation of those traits by the primed subjects. To recall, when asked to wait, those primed with rudeness interrupted the experimenter more than those primed with patience/nicety primes. Also those primed with elderly stereotype walked more slowly, away from the experimenter after the end of the alleged experiment, than those in neutral condition. These are all very well known findings and more so as they have been included in numerous pop-sci books.

Sceepar et al provide a very sober qualification for the above findings, contrasting how stereotype traits priming (abstract concept priming) do indeed lead to assimilation of stereotype in behavior/self-schema; but exposing to concrete, extreme exemplars belonging to stereotyped category has an opposite and paradoxical effect of leading to social comparison with the exemplar and thus leading to contrast behavior or behavior where the subject tries to distance oneself from the stereotype. Thus, if primed with the stereotype of professors, and thus the trait intelligence, and then subjected to an intelligence/knowledge test, then the subjects would perform better than baseline condition; but if primed with Einstein (a concrete exemplar of professor/intelligence), then one may lead to compare with Einstein, deduce that one is not so great, but indeed stupid or a bozo in comparison, and thus perform badly in the subsequent test based on this self-comparison. This is what they theorized and this is what they found.

In the second study they reused the Bargh paradigm of priming with elderly stereotype and replicated the results; the twist they added was adding a condition in which after priming with the elderly stereotype, an elderly exemplar was presented; this condition led to comparison and thus to contrast behavior whereby the subjects walked faster after the experimental manipulation in this exemplar condition.

Their third study was essentially a study to nail down the mechanism (social comparison) behind the contrast behavior observed. After priming with Einstein and professor in two separate conditions, the subjects were exposed to a lexical task, that was designed to discover if concepts like intelligence , stupidity had been primed and if so , was any of them also bound to the self schema. They found that indeed in the Einstein condition the concept of stupidity was bound to the concept of self, thus only exemplars, like Claudia Schiffer or Einstein led to social comparison, but not abstract notions like supermodels or professors. They end with an advice to Mick Jagger which has to be read in original to be savored.

We close with perhaps one of the more trivial of these implications. This concerns advice we might offer celebrities such as Mick Jagger and other stars known for their predilection for supermodels. If these people share the popular stereotype of supermodels found among our participants, they would be wise to restrict themselves to a single such partner (i.e., an exemplar) on intellectual as well as moral grounds.

I now also post some snippets form the excellent article, freely available on the web, which you should read in its entirety.

Individuals are exemplars in the sense that they are concrete instantiations of a given category (Smith & Zfirate, 1990, 1992). We focus on familiar exemplars that genuinely exemplify their category stereotype rather than deviate from it and thus where impression formation on the level of stereotypes has already occurred (Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). Our argument is thus not that such exemplars suppress stereotypic traits but rather that they make the instantiation of the relevant trait distinct (Stapel & Spears, 1996) by means of an actor-trait link (Stapel, Koomen, & van der Pligt, 1996). This distinction between stereotypes and the traits they activate on the one hand and exemplars that may exemplify these traits on the other is crucial for social perception and resulting automatic behavior. We argue that the activation of an exemplar (such as Einstein) may well lead to different behavioral output than activation of traits (intelligent) primed either directly or by means of a stereotype (professor). As already noted above, priming traits and stereotypes can lead to corresponding behavior in the perceiver. In other words, such priming can result in behavioral assimilation, thereby paralleling findings from the social judgment domain (e.g., Higgins, Rholes, & Jones, 1977; Srull & Wyer, 1979, 1980). Activated traits produce assimilation because they function as an interpretation frame and cause perceptual input to be interpreted in line with this trait construct (Higgins, 1996; Schwarz & Bless, 1992; Stapel et al., 1996). These findings are comparable with those on the effects of perception on behavior, where trait (or stereotype) priming seems to function as a general framework for action. In this case, instead of guiding the interpretation of perceptual input, the trait guides behavioral output. In both cases, highly accessible abstract constructs direct ongoing processes in an assimilative fashion.

A considerable number of social judgment studies demonstrate a different effect, however: Under appropriate conditions, the priming of exemplars has been shown to lead to judgmental contrast (see Herr, 1986; Schwarz & Bless, 1992; Stapel, Koomen, & van der Pligt, 1997). Priming the trait hostility causes a person who is subsequently judged to be seen as more hostile, but priming the exemplar Adolf Hitler causes this person to be seen as less hostile (Herr, 1986). Exemplars exert different effects because they are used as comparison standards (Herr, 1986; Sherif & Hovland, 1961; Stapel et al., 1996, 1997; Stapel & Spears, 1996). Priming Hitler still activates the concept of hostility, thereby eliciting a potential assimilation effect, but the engagement in a comparison induces a contrast effect that overrides the assimilative effect of the activated construct. In the example given above, a person called Donald is compared to Hitler. It is this comparison that evokes the contrast response ( “Well, Donald could not be that hostile” ), whereas the assimilative effects of the activated concept of hostility do not become apparent. However, the exemplar must be sufficiently extreme to override any assimilation evoked by the activated trait. Research by Herr, Manis, Schwarz, Stapel, and their colleagues has repeatedly shown that extreme and specific exemplars exert judgmental contrast effects (see Herr, 1986; Herr, Sherman, & Fazio, 1983; Manis, Nelson, & Shedler, 1988; Schwarz & Bless, 1992; Stapel et al., 1996, 1997). In general, it seems that a comparison (and a resulting contrast effeCt) ~ is rendered more likely if the primed construct constitutes a relevant comparison standard and is sufficiently extreme and concrete (e.g., Hitler). Given that exemplars produce contrasts in judgment by evoking a comparative judgment between exemplar and the target of judgment, the next question is whether such exemplars may evoke in perceivers social comparison with themselves. After all, if primed with Hitler, people may not only make a comparison with Donald–it is also likely that, in a relevant judgment situation, they will compare Hitler with themselves (hopefully with positive results). Recent research indicates that such comparisons with the self are very probable, if not inescapable, especially if they evoke a relevant dimension of comparison. Gilbert, Giesler, and Morris ( 1995 ) showed that social comparison is a spontaneous process: Individuals do not intentionally compare themselves with others but simply do it (see also Festinger, 1954; Wood, 1989), especially when these others are distinctive and extreme (Parducci, 1992; Parducci & Wedell, 1990). Following this analysis, we expect extreme exemplars to evoke a spontaneous comparison with the self.

They conclude with :

The relation between perception and action is not as simple and straightforward as it originally appeared to be: Perception does affect our behavior but not necessarily always in an assimilative manner. Whereas abstract concepts have been shown to lead to behavioral assimilation (Bargh et al., 1996; Chen & Bargh, 1997; Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 1998a, 1998b; Levy, 1996), in this contribution we have demonstrated that concrete exemplars can evoke behavioral contrast. Thinking about Einstein apparently lowers one’s intellectual capacity, and bearing the 89-year-old Dutch Queen Mother in mind puts an extra spring in one’s step. Support for behavioral contrast effects was obtained in two very different domains. In Study 1, intellectual performance was influenced by priming exemplars designating intelligence and nonintelligence. Intellectual performance may be seen as complex behavior involving highly differentiated stages and components.In Study 2, on the other hand, we demonstrated contrast effects on genuinely motor behavior by measuring walking speed. Hence, contrast effects were obtained in two completely different behavioral domains, from higher order mental processes to lower order locomotion. We also used different procedures to arrive at contrast effects. In Study 1, participants were primed with exemplars only (although we also assume that these exemplars evoked their associated stereotypes and traits). In Study 2, we activated stereotypes prior to activating the exemplars, simulating the notion that individual exemplars are perceived against the background of already-activated stereotypes.By demonstrating contrast in this experiment, we showed that behavioral contrast produced by exemplars can counteract previously activated stereotypes.
Study 3 was designed to shed light on the underlying process. On the basis of the literature on social comparison and social judgment, we formulated the hypothesis that concrete exemplars evoke comparisons (e.g., Stapel et al., 1996, 1997). Activating Albert Einstein, in other words, elicits the comparison of this exemplar with the self. This comparison leads to a conception of the self as more stupid or less intelligent. It is this conception, we argue, that leads to stupid behavior. Of course, these ideas rest on the assumption of the comparison being made and the resulting conclusion ( “Boy, am I dumb!” ) being drawn. Study 3 provided support for this assumption. Thinking about the exemplar Einstein indeed led to an association between the self-concept and stupidity as evidenced by facilitated response latencies, whereas thinking about the stereotype of professors did not. Indeed, as might be expected, priming professors activated the concept of intelligence. Priming Einstein also activated intelligence, but the fact that stupidity was also made accessible in combination with the priming of self-reference helps to explain why participants perform less intelligently (contrast) in Study 1.
Overall, these findings are important in being the first to demonstrate evidence of contrast outside the domain of judgment and in the realm of behavior. Although there is growing evidence for automatic behavior, previous research in this domain has always shown that behavior reflects the contents of primed constructs. The notion that automatic behavior can also go against the grain of the prevailing context suggests that automatic behavior may be more varied, and its implications more wide ranging, than previously supposed. Although an exemplar is a potential object of comparison, this does not necessarily mean that people exposed to exemplars always engage in a comparison. So when do people compare? In the typical social judgment paradigm, an exemplar is compared with another social target (e.g., Donald), whereas here we are interested in comparisons between an exemplar and the self. The research of Gilbert et al. (1995) shows that a comparison is easy to make and may even be spontaneous. They proposed that the chances of a comparison increase when the object of comparison is (a) recently encountered, (b) explicitly judged, and (c) extreme (see also Parducci, 1992) and argued that comparisons are hard not to make under these circumstances. The conditions under which exemplars were used in our study seem to conform to these criteria, but we should not assume that just any exemplar will evoke behavioral contrast.

To conclude, the present research integrates theorizing on contrast effects in social judgment with that on automatic social behavior to provide the first direct demonstration of contrast effects in automatic behavior. One of the more reassuring messages to emerge is therefore that automatic behavior is not a one-way street ending up in assimilation. The fact that contrast as well as assimilation can occur may help to explain the diversity of social behavior as much as do the strategies of interpersonal and intergroup differentiation that people consciously employ. The consequences of both assimilative and contrastive automatic behavior are far reaching and should be the subject of future research.

Final departing thoughts: I have always believed that the right brain works using exemplars, while the left brain is abstract; I further believe that Men use abstract reasoning, while females rely more on exemplar based memory: should stereotype research paradigms be defined separately for split-brain and male and female participants; can we observe the hypothesized effects in experiments in the hypothesized directions?

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Dijksterhuis, A., Spears, R., Postmes, T., Stapel, D., Koomen, W., Knippenberg, A., & Scheepers, D. (1998). Seeing one thing and doing another: Contrast effects in automatic behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75 (4), 862-871 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.75.4.862
Bargh, J., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71 (2), 230-244 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.71.2.230

IQ and Religion: is the relation mediated by wealth and feelings of control?

Last week, on the blog action day, I re posted one of my earlier posts that questioned Kanazawa’s assertion that IQ causes Longevity (and implicitly that low IQ causes Poverty and not the other way round) and that SES has no effect on longevity net of IQ.  That has been thoroughly dealt with earlier and I will not readdress the issue; suffice it to say that I believe (and think that I have evidence on my side) that shows that in low SES conditions, a Low SES does not lead to full flowering of genetic Intelligence potential and is thus a leading cause of low IQ amongst low SES populations. This Low IQ that is a result of Low SES also gets correlated to longevity; again which would be largely explained by the low SES of the person. But as Low SES leads to less longevity and less IQ , a correlation between IQ and Longevity would also be expected. 

A similar issue has cropped up , this time with respect to religion or belief in God. It has been claimed that high IQ  causes atheism and that low IQ leads to superstition and belief in God. The result, this time by Lynn’s team is again correlational in nature and just like Kanazawa’s study partially relies on Macro-data i.e. mean IQ of a country and its mean religious belief scores.
The abstract of the paper goes like:

Evidence is reviewed pointing to a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief in the United States and Europe. It is shown that intelligence measured as psychometric g is negatively related to religious belief. We also examine whether this negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is present between nations. We find that in a sample of 137 countries the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God is 0.60.

Now, BHA science group , has written a  very good rebuttal to this proposition and I urge readers to go and read the discussion there in full. 
For the sake of completeness, let me summarize the case against the hypothesis that high IQ causes atheism.
Problems with the macro data on which this analysis is made:  for countries that have about 100 (average) mean IQ, the correlation does not hold. The correlation is mainly an artifact of the fact that low mean IQ countries also have high religious belief (see accompanying figure) . We can, in my opinion, thus restrict the discussion to low (mean) IQ countries and try to explain whether its the Low mean IQ of their people that causes religiosity; or that high religiosity somehow leads to low IQ (a very counter-intuitive though indeed); or more plausibly that some other factor like SES/ feelings of control may be the underlying reason for both low IQ and high religiosity. 
Now, I have shown elsewhere that low SES causes low IQ and not the other way round; what remains to be shown is that low SES also causes religious faith. 
The latter part I’ll like to break in two parts: first , I believe that it is intuitive and there would be wealth of data showing that poverty or Low SES leads to fellings of helplessness or feelings of loss of control. Thus , the first assertion is that low mean SES in these countries, leads to the average person feeling less in control of his/her life and thus to feelings of loss of control.
The second part of the argument is that low feelings of control lead to religiosity/ superstition. Again I too have touched this before, but would right now like to point to this recent study that found that feelings of loss of control, lead to magical thinking/ superstitious belief and by extension (I am indeed taking a leap here) propensity towards religiosity. Of course we all know that religion is the opium of the masses (which are usaully poor) and rightly subdues the pwoerlessness and lack of control feelings that are otherwise unbearable.
Thus, I rest my case,  claiming that it is the low SES that leads to low IQ and high religious beliefs; the effect being mediated by nutritional/ enriched environmental factors in the former (IQ) case, while that of religion being mediated by feelings of control in the latter case. The actual correlation observed between IQ and religious faith , on the basis of low SES data , is at best spurious and due to the underlying low SES effects.

Richard Lynn, John Harvey, Helmuth Nyborg (2008). Average Intelligence Predicts Atheism Rates across 137 Nations Intelligence

J. A. Whitson, A. D. Galinsky (2008). Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception Science, 322 (5898), 115-117 DOI: 10.1126/science.1159845

Robert Kegan’s stages of Social Maturity/ orders of consciousness

I happened to stumble upon recently on an excellent two series article by Mark Dombeck about the theories of Robert Kegan. The articles are really good and I strongly recommended that you go there and read the stuff in its entirety.

Robert Kegan is a developmental psychologist, based at Harvard, and inspired by Piaget’s stage theories, he has proposed his own stage theory as to how we become socially mature. Critical to understanding his theory are some concepts related to subject-object consciousness. Subject consciousness refers to self-concepts to which we are attached and thus cannot take an objective look. Object consciousness is also part of self, and was a subject consciousness in an earlier stage, but now we can detach ourselves from the underlying phenomenon and take an objective look at that part of self.

It is his thesis that as babies we feel everything as self and actually have no concept of self different from that of the world. Slowly as we develop, we start identifying with our bodily sensations, reflexes, movements, desires, needs etc and our sphere of objectivity grows bigger, while our sphere of subjectivity narrows and shrinks.

He also maintains that we pass through discrete developmental stages , wherein we take a leap from one stage to another, and while stuck in that developmental stage , are not passively dividing the world and self in subject and object consciousness, but it is a dynamic process, though in equilibrium. At each leap, what was earlier subjective, now becomes objective. another way to say the same is that what was concrete (my perspective and thus available to me) becomes abstract(another’s perspective and thus not available to me, but can only be imagined from abstraction)

More complex appreciations of the social world evolve into existence as a person becomes able to appreciate stuff abstractly that they used to appreciate only in concrete (obvious, tangible) forms. This is to say (using Kegan’s terms) that people are initially embedded in their own subjective perspective. They see things only from their own particular point of view and fundamentally cannot understand what it might be like to see themselves from another perspective other than their own. Being unable to understand what you look like to someone else is the essence and definition of what it means to be subjective about yourself, for example. Being able to appreciate things from many different perspectives is the essence of what it means to be relatively objective.

With this introduction, I’ll now like to introduce readers to the seven stages he has identified (he has missed the eighth stage in his analysis!)

Kegan is suggesting that as babies grow into adults, they develop progressively more objective and accurate appreciations of the social world they inhabit. They do this by progressing through five or more states or periods of development which he labeled as follows:

  • Incorporative
  • Impulsive
  • Imperial
  • Interpersonal
  • Institutional

In their beginnings, babies are all subjective and have really no appreciation of anything objective at all, and therefore no real self-awareness. This is to say, at first, babies have little idea how to interpret anything, and the only perspective they have with which to interpret things is their own scarcely developed perspective. They can recognize parent’s faces and the like, but this sort of recognition should not be confused with babies being able to appreciate that parents are separate creatures with their own needs. This key recognition doesn’t occur for years.

Kegan describes this earliest period as Incorporative. The sense of self is not developed at this point in time. There is no self to speak of because there is no distinction occurring yet between self and other. To the baby, there is not any reason to ask the question, “who am I” because the baby’s mind is nothing more and nothing less than the experience of its senses as it moves about. In an important sense, the baby is embedded in its sensory experience and has no other awareness.
Babies practice using their senses and reflexes a lot and thus develop mental representations of those reflexes. At some point it occurs to the baby that it has reflexes that it can use and senses that it can experience. Reflex and sensation are thus the first mental objects; the first things that are understood to be distinct components of the self. The sense of self emerges from the knowledge that there are things in the world that aren’t self (like reflexes and senses); things that I am not. To quote Kegan, “Rather than literally being my reflexes, I now have them, and “I” am something other. “I” am that which coordinates or mediates the reflexes…”
Kegan correspondingly refers to this second period of social appreciation development as Impulsive, to suggest that the child is now embedded in impulses – which are those things that coordinate reflexes. The sense of self at this stage of life would be comfortable saying something like, “hungry”, or “sleepy”, being fully identified with these hungers. Though babies are now aware that they can take action to fulfill a need, they still are not clear that other people exist yet as independent creatures. From the perspective of the Impulsive mind, a parent is merely another reflex that can be brought to bear to satisfy impulses.

The objectification of what was previously subjective experience continues as development continues. Kegan’s next developmental leap is known as the Imperial self. The child as “little dictator” is born. In the prior impulsive self, the self literally is nothing more and nothing less than a set of needs. There isn’t anyone “there” having those needs yet. The needs alone are all that exists. As awareness continues to rise, the child now starts to become aware that “it” is the very thing that has the needs. Because the child is now aware that it has needs (rather than is needs), it also starts to become aware that it can consciously manipulate things to get its needs satisfied. The impulsive child was also manipulative, perhaps, but in a more unaware animal manner. The imperial child is not yet aware that other people have needs too. It only knows at this stage that it has needs, and it doesn’t hesitate to express them.

The Interpersonal period that follows next starts with the first moment when the child comes to understand that there are actually other people out there in the world whose needs need to be taken into account along side their own. The appreciation of the otherness of other people comes about, as always by a process of expanding perspectives. The child’s perspective in this case expands from its own only to later include both its own and those of other important people around it. It is the child’s increasingly sophisticated understanding of the idea that people have needs itself which cause the leap to occur. To quote Kegan again,”I” no longer am my needs (no longer the imperial I); rather I have them. In having them I can now coordinate, or integrate, one need system with another, and in so doing, I bring into being that need-mediating reality which we refer to when we speak of mutuality.”
In English then, the interpersonal child becomes aware that “not only do I have needs, other people do too!” This moment in time is where conscience is born and the potential for guilt and shame arises, as well as the potential for empathy. Prior to this moment, these important aspects of adult mental life don’t exist except as potentials.
The interpersonal child is aware that other people have needs which it needs to be taken into account if it is to best satisfy its own needs. There is no guiding principle that helps the interpersonal child to determine which set of needs is most important – its own, or those of the other people. Some children will conclude that their own needs are most important to satisfy, while others will conclude that other’s needs should be prioritized, and some children will move back and forth between the two positions like a crazy monkey.

As the child’s sense of self continues to develop, at some point it becomes aware that a guiding principle can be established which helps determine which set of needs should take precedence under particular circumstances. This is the first moment that the child can be said to have values, or commitments to ideas and beliefs and principles which are larger and more permanent than its own passing whims and fears. Kegan refers to this new realization of and commitment to values as the Institutional period, noting that in this period, the child’s idea of self becomes something which can be, for the first time, described in terms of institutionalized values, such as being honest. “I’m an honest person. I try to be fair. I strive to be brave.” are the sorts of things an institutional mind might say. Values, such as the Golden Rule (e.g., “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), start to guide the child’s appreciation of how to be a member of the family and of society. The moral, ethical and legal foundations of society follow from this basic achievement of an Institutional self. Further, children (or adults) who achieve this level of social maturity understand the need for laws and for ethical codes that work to govern everyone’s behavior. Less socially mature individuals won’t grasp why these things are important and cannot and should not simply be disregarded when they are inconvenient.

For many people, social maturity seems to stop here at the Institutional stage. Kegan himself writes that this stage is the stage of conventional adult maturity; one that many (but not all) adults reach, and beyond which most do not progress. However, the potential for continued development continues onwards and upwards.
The next evolution of self understanding occurs when the child (by now probably an adult) starts to realize that there is more than one way of being “fair” or “honest” or “brave” in the world. Whereas before, in the interpersonal mindset, there is only one possible right way to interpret a social event (e.g., in accordance with one’s own value system), a newly developed InterIndivdiual mindset starts to recognize a diversity of ways that someone might act and still be acting in accordance with a coherent value system (though not necessarily one’s own value system).
For example, let’s consider how someone with an Institutional mindset and someone with an InterIndividual mindset might judge someone who has become a “draft dodger” so as to avoid military duty. There are precisely two ways that an Institutionally minded person might look at such an action. If he or she is of the mainstream institutional mindset, draft dodging is a non-religious sort of heresy and a crime which should be punishable. If, on the other hand, he or she is of a counter-cultural institutional mindset, then judgements are reversed and draft dodging is seen as a brave action which demonstrates individual courage in the face of massive peer pressure to conform. An institutionally minded person can hold one or the other of these perspectives but not both, because he or she is literally embedded in one or the other of those perspectives and cannot appreciate the other except as something alien and evil.

A person who has achieved InterIndividual social maturity is able to hold both mainstream and counter-cultural value systems in mind at the same time, and to see the problem of draft dodging from both perspectives. This sort of dual-vision will appear to be the worst kind of wishy-washiness and flip-floppery to someone stuck in a conventional Institutional mindset and maturity level. However, if you are following the progression of social maturity states, and how one states’ embedded subjective view becomes something which is seem objectively alongside other points of view as social maturity progresses, you will see that such dual-vision is indeed the logical next step; what a more socially mature sort of human being might look like.

Please note that though Mark only identifies five stages upfront, he mentions another one , which is inter-individualistic as the sixth stage. The reason he is reluctant is because most adults presumably never reach this stage. Also Kegan himself, in this interview talks about fifth-order of consciousness , which is equivalent to the seventh stage and defines it as a self-transforming stage:

WIE: So what about that tiny percent of people beyond self-authoring, or fourth order—what are the characteristics of the next, fifth order of consciousness?

RK: When you get to the edge of the fourth order, you start to see that all the ways that you had of making meaning or making sense out of your experience are, each in their own way, partial. They’re leaving certain things out. When people who have long had self-authoring consciousness come to the limits of self-authoring, they recognize the partiality of even their own internal system, even though like any good system, it does have the capacity to handle all the “data,” or make systematic, rational sense of our experience. In the Western world, we often call that “objectivity.” But just because you can handle everything, put it all together in some coherent system, obviously doesn’t make it a truthful apprehension—or truly objective. And this realization is what promotes the transformation from the fourth to the fifth order of consciousness, from the self-authoring self to what we call the self-transforming self. So, you start to build a way of constructing the world that is much more friendly to contradiction, to oppositeness, to being able to hold on to multiple systems of thinking. You begin to see that the life project is not about continuing to defend one formation of the self but about the ability to have the self literally be transformative. This means that the self is more about movement through different forms of consciousness than about the defending and identifying with any one form.

WIE: I think Don Beck would call your fifth order of consciousness a move to the Second Tier, which is an evolutionary transformation that takes us beyond survival mode to a more integral perspective on life.

RK: Yes. And it is also important to keep in mind that in this move from the fourth to the fifth order, from self-authoring to self-transforming, you have very important distinctions between those who are in the earlier process of that transition and those in the later stages—who have actually achieved the fifth order. So, there’s a critical distinction between on the one hand, a negative postmodernism that is all about trashing any ideological form, which is only deconstructive and is all about a fatigue with and critique of the ideological, and on the other, what I call a more reconstructive postmodernism that is not just about trashing. When you get to the other side of this four to five shift, and you’ve moved to this more reconstructive or transformative side, then there’s a whole capacity for reconnecting to these ideologies and recognizing that each of them is partial. You’re building relationships among them rather than holding on to one and projecting the other. It’s a much more positive spirit.

To clarify things a bit, in his later analysis , Kegan has replaced the stages of social maturity with orders of consciousness.

In In Over Our Heads, Kegan stops using the five stages described above in favor of the newer “orders of consciousness” scheme.

First order consciousness corresponds (roughly) to Incorporative and Impulsive stages and describes awareness which is fixed upon sensation and movement and impulse. It is awareness but it is not really yet a self.

Second order consciousness corresponds roughly to the Imperial self stage. It is awareness of self as a singular point of view without any real comprehension of others as independent selves in their own right.

Third order consciousness corresponds to Interpersonal and Institutional self stages, and describes a sense of self which is aware of both self and other as independent needful beings all of which are (or ought to be) guided by a consistent set of values.

A final fourth order of consciousness is also described which corresponds to the Interindividual self stage in which self-determination and tolerance and acceptance of formerly rejected aspects of self and society becomes possible.

The idea is that all people pass through these various stages as they develop, but not all people make it to the end of the line. Adolescence is typically characterized by the transition from second order to third order consciousness, but not all adolescents end up achieving third order consciousness by the time they become adults. Similarly, adulthood is typically characterized by the movement from third order consciousness into fourth order consciousness, but many adults do not make this transition either. Nevertheless, the institutions we live under (in America and in the West) tend to make demands on us as though we have all achieved fourth order consciousness.

Please note that in the interview Kegan clearly talks about a fifth order of consciousness and thus a seventh stage of social maturity.

To me the stages correspond neatly with the general eight-stage framework:

  1. The incorporative stage is all about the initial formation of a self concept that is different from world and the dawning of the subjective self or subjectivity.
  2. The impulsive stage is all about impulses that drive the self and with which one start identifying.
  3. The imperial stage is all about leveraging ones own interests vis-a-vis those of significant others. Here, there is awareness of others and interaction with them, but only as agents or obstacle- thus the persons are objectified and not treated as persons.
  4. The interpersonal stage is all about treating significant others as real people who can have as much desires, needs etc as one himself can. For the first time empathy comes into picture.
  5. The institutional stage is all about some values which one can abstract and make as guidelines for ones life. One realizes that people can have different values, but thinks that one’s own value system is the best/correct one.
  6. the inter-individual stage is all about appreciating that others can have different, yet equally valid value systems and for the first time one can be said to take the true perspective of another individual.
  7. the self-transforming stage is all about becoming aware that there are multiple value-systems suitable for different occasions and to become comfortable with contradictions in the value systems.
  8. The eighth stage I hypothesize would have to do with finding an integrity or integral perspective wherein one find that the value-systems one is using is holistic , despite contradictions and is able to resolve the apparent contradictions. One would see one as an object and there would be no subjectivity involved at all.

I’ll now briefly touch upon spiral dynamics, because in Kegan’s interview one of the spiral dynamics stages is equated with kegan’s stage/ order of consciousness.

Here again we find that there are eight stages , though unfortunately first six are grouped under tier I and the last 2 under tier II; while as per my framework only the flirts five should be in tier I and the last 3 in tier II.

They are :


From 100,000 BC on
“Express self to meet imperative physiological needs through instincts of Homo sapiens.”

  • Purple

Animistic-tribalistic magical-animistic Tribal order
From 50,000 BC on
“Sacrifice to the ways of the elders and customs as one subsumed in group.”

  • Red

Egocentric-exploitive power gods/dominionist
From 7000 BC on
“Express self (impulsively) for what self desires without guilt and to avoid shame.”

  • Blue

Absolutistic-obedience mythic order—purposeful/authoritarian
From 3000 BC on
“Sacrifice self for reward to come through obedience to rightful authority in purposeful Way.”
(Amber is Ken Wilber’s current name for Blue)

  • Orange

Multiplistic-achievist scientific/strategic
From 1000 AD on (as early as 600 AD according to Graves and Calhoun)
“Express self (calculatedly) to reach goals and objectives without rousing the ire of important others.”

  • Green

From 1850 AD on (surged in early 20th century)
“Sacrifice self interest now in order to gain acceptance and group harmony.”

  • Yellow

From 1950s on
“Express self for what self desires, but to avoid harm to others so that all life, not just own life, will benefit.”

  • Turquoise

From 1970s on
A sacrifice self-interest system which is still forming

That should be enough for today!! Take the above spiral dynamics correlation with a pinch of salt, as Clare Graves on whose theory this work is build is explicit that these should not be confused with personality traits, though I am tempted to correlate this with the big eight and propose that when one gets stuck at lower level of development one has more of that trait in the negative direction.

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