I was just informed by my colleague that the point of several “first” authors – which is in practice (in our field) used in publication lists to show who has done the most work – is that I could switch the first names in my publication list / resume (perhaps with a note explaining this so that people searching for it don’t get confused) to show that I’m a first author as well. Is this a thing? I’ve never heard of it, but I’ve never understood the point of several first authors either, and this would explain the sense in it. Do people do this?
“Moral outrage in the digital age” by M.J. Crockett is a short theoretical paper, drawing together from several lines of research a [model? hypothesis? theoretical framework? theory?] to explain how the operation of moral outrage is transformed by digital media.
I’m not particularly keen on the underlying view on moral outrage which seems to be based on basic emotion interpretation of anger and disgust (from Fig. 2: “For each immoral act, moral outrage was calculated by multiplying self-reported anger and disgust” – btw, why multiplying and not averaging or calculating a sum?), but otherwise it makes a nice and plausible case of the differences the digital media might make. I’m not familiar with most of the empirical research it refers to, so I can’t say much about how convincing the actual evidence is, but the overview fits my preconceptions.
The main points can be summarized (Fig. 1 is not immediately clear):
- Humans have psychological processes to react with an emotional condemnation when they think a moral norm has been violated.
- Digital media
- gives us a greatly increased access (removes physical constraints) to information about moral violations than traditional social communication (like gossip)
- lowers the costs (effort; the article talks about the possibility of physical retribution, but I’d generalize that as the risk of potentially wasting the social capital) for expressing outrage
- lowers the inhibitions (no face-to-face feedback means we don’t have to deal with the fact of causing emotional distress in others, which is a negative experience for most) of expressing outrage
- increases the potential benefits (reputational rewards of moral quality and trustworthiness; successful regulation of group behavior).
- These factors drive more moral outrage in digital media, which increases social polarization, dehumanize the targets (and their groups?), and reduce societal trust.
The short paper does not suggest any interventions, but if these mechanisms hold, then it seems to me that potential ways to inhibit this process would be to increase the costs and inhibitions, as the access and potential benefits are more difficult to control (and latter perhaps should not be controlled?). Especially effort, but perhaps costs of social capital as well, could be increased via technological solutions. These are testable predictions to cut out the most low-effort outrage. It would be interesting to see what portion of the outrage would this influence. For instance:
- Minimally increase the effort, by increasing the steps of, or introducing a small waiting period to sharing.
- Introducing a way to incur a minimal social cost to sharing, e.g. a downvote, perhaps limited to the friends of the sharer only, so a downvote would actually carry a meaning of “people I care about think somewhat less of me” and maybe would not be constantly abused like on anonymous platforms?
An article by Sherman and Haidt  made some good points that I had not thought before. Like many others (apparently, as S&H consider this the typical view on the topic), I have learned that the appearance of cuteness, or kindenschema (by Lorenz in 1950s), is an adaptation to foster care for a helpless baby. S&H point out that, empirically:
- Newborns are not considered as cute as older babies – apparently the peak-cute is at 3 months and stays high until 10 to 36 months. If cuteness was supposed to elicit care, shouldn’t it be highest when the baby is most helpless?
An obvious objection would be that evolution does not create optimal adaptations, but adaptations that are better than the alternatives, in regard to cost-benefit. Perhaps reacting to short-lasting newborn features carries costs that are avoided by reacting to features that emerge later but also last longer? Still, I didn’t know this, and I wonder whether cuteness has a relevant relationship at all with the maternal instinct to care for the baby.
- Perceived cuteness is reduced when the baby shows negative expressions – i.e. when it would probably need the care most – while positive expressions enhance cuteness.
- Actual behaviors triggered by cuteness – baby-talk, petting, holding – are social behaviors, not caretaking behaviors. Caretaking is social behavior as well, but cuteness does not seem to trigger that any more than other social behaviors.
Thinking about cute puppies, it’s true that I’m more likely to pet them, hold them or play with them than take care of their physical needs per se.
The authors have an argument that cuteness is a mentalizing prime and related to expanding the moral circle, which I guess is ok, but did not create that TIL in me. However, the above points were news to me and made me realize (although the authors do not say it) that cuteness would be adaptation for other people than the primary caretaker(s). The tribe immediately comes to mind: by eliciting social interaction, the tribe creates a bond with the new member. And by eliciting social interaction with the baby (that has already developed some rudimentary ways to respond to social engagements), cuteness elicits first version of play – simple actions that are aimed at getting a positive reaction, which in turn elicits a positive reaction in the interactor. This is relevant for the idea of play that I’ve had , as I have primarily understood play (neurophysiologically: trying different things in a safe context in order to get positive reward) as a way to learn how the environment works. But, as is typical, in hindsight it seems obvious that play has the binding function as well – and this realization suggests the possibility that this binding function was first, and more complicated play may be an exaptation from that.
 Sherman, G. D., & Haidt, J. (2011). Cuteness and Disgust: The Humanizing and Dehumanizing Effects of Emotion. Emotion Review, 3(3), 245–251. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073911402396
 Kivikangas, J. M. (2016). Affect channel model of evaluation and the game experience. In K. Karpouzis & G. Yannakakis (Eds.), Emotion in games: theory and praxis (pp. 21–37). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-41316-7_2