BEST OF THE WEB: Narcissists, psychopaths, and manipulators are more likely to engage in ‘virtuous victim signaling’ – study

Virtue signaling

© Stefan Boness/Ipon/SIPA/Newscom

New study links virtue signaling to “Dark Triad” traits. Being accused of “virtue signaling” might sound nice to the uninitiated, but spend much time on social media and you know that it’s actually an accusation of insincerity. Virtue signalers are, essentially, phonies and showoffs — folks who adopt opinions and postures solely to garner praise and sympathy or whose good deeds are tainted by their need for everyone to see just how good they are. Combined with a culture that says only victimhood confers a right to comment on certain issues, it’s a big factor in online pile-ons and one that certainly contributes to social media platforms being such a bummer sometimes.

So: Here’s some fun new research looking at “the consequences and predictors of emitting signals of victimhood and virtue,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The paper — from University of British Columbia researchers Ekin Ok, Yi Qian, Brendan Strejcek, and Karl Aquino — details multiple studies the authors conducted on the subject.

Their conclusion? Psychopathic, manipulative, and narcissistic people are more frequent signalers of “virtuous victimhood.”

The so-called “dark triad” personality traits — Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy — lead to characteristics like “self-promotion, emotional callousness, duplicity, and tendency to take advantage of others,” the paper explains.

And “treated as a composite, the Dark Triad traits were significant predictors of virtuous victim signaling.”

This held true “even when controlling for factors that may make people vulnerable to being mistreated or disadvantaged in society (i.e., demographic and socioeconomic characteristics) as well as the importance they place on being a virtuous individual as part of their self-concept,” the researchers note.

They point out that virtue signaling is defined as “the conspicuous expression of moral values, done primarily with the intent of enhancing one’s standing within a social group.”

Meanwhile, victim signaling “may be used as a social influence tactic that can motivate recipients of the signal to voluntarily transfer resources to the signaler,” they explain. More from the paper’s theoretical background section:

An emerging literature on competitive victimhood documents the prevalence of victim signaling by various social groups and provides evidence for its functionality as a resource extraction strategy.

For instance, victim signaling justifies victim groups seeking retribution against alleged oppressors. Retribution often takes the form of demanding compensation through some kind of resource transfer from non-victims to the alleged victim. Claiming victim status can also facilitate resource transfer by conferring moral immunity upon the claimant. Moral immunity shields the alleged victim from criticism about the means they might use to satisfy their demands. In other words, victim status can morally justify the use of deceit, intimidation, or even violence by alleged victims to achieve their goals.

Relatedly, claiming victim status can lead observers to hold a person less blameworthy, excusing transgressions, such as the appropriation of private property or the infliction of pain upon others, that might otherwise bring condemnation or rebuke.

Finally, claiming victim status elevates the claimant’s psychological standing, defined as a subjective sense of legitimacy or entitlement to speak up. A person who has the psychological standing can reject or ignore any objections by non-victims to the unreasonableness of their demands. In contrast to victim signalers, people who do not publicly disclose their misfortune or disadvantage are less likely to reap the benefits of retributive compensation, moral immunity, deflection of blame, or psychological standing and would therefore find it difficult to initiate resource transfers.

The effectiveness of victim signaling as a resource transfer strategy follows the basic principles of signaling theory. Signaling theory posits that the transmission of information from one individual (the sender) to another (the receiver) can influence the behavior of the receiver. Signals can refer to any physical or behavioral trait of the sender, and are used by the senders to alter the behaviors of others to their own advantage.

Their results suggest that:

  • A perceived victim signal can lead others to transfer resources to a victim, but that the motivation to do so is amplified when the victim signal is paired with a virtue signal” and “people high in the Dark Triad traits emit the dual signal more frequently.
  • A positive correlation between the Dark Triad scores and the frequency of emitting the virtuous victim signal.
  • Evidence of how these signals … can predict a person’s willingness to engage in and endorse ethically questionable behaviors …. frequent virtuous victim signalers are more willing to purchase counterfeit products and judge counterfeiters as less immoral compared with less frequent signalers, a pattern that was also observed when using participants’ Dark Triad scores instead of their signaling score,” and “frequent virtuous victim signalers were more likely to cheat and lie to earn extra monetary reward in [a] coin flip game.
  • That a dimension referred to as amoral manipulation was the most reliable predictor of virtuous victim signaling.
  • Frequent virtuous victim signalers were more likely to make inflated claims to justify receiving restitution for an alleged and ambiguous norm violation in an organizational context.

The authors stress that they “do not refute the claim that there are individuals who emit the virtuous victim signal because they experience legitimate harm and also conduct themselves in decent and laudable ways.”

About The Author

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a senior editor at Reason.

How does aging shape our narrative identity?

woman half old

© Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc/KJN

It’s not just our flesh and bones that change as we get older.

In 2010, Dan McAdams wrote a biography about George W. Bush analyzing the former American president using the tools of personality psychology. It was, in his own words, a flop. “I probably had three readers,” McAdams laughs. But an editor from The Atlantic happened to read it, and asked McAdams to write a similar piece analyzing Donald Trump. It was a hit, attracting 3.5 million readers.

“So something good came out of it,” McAdams tells me. He used the case in class. And, he explains, he has always been interested in politics anyways. “I’m kind of a political junkie going back into the ’60s. That’s my autobiographical reasoning.”

Autobiographical reasoning gets far more sophisticated as you age.

By autobiographical reasoning, McAdams means finding and attaching meaning using your own life history. It’s how he has come to interpret the time he spent writing his book, and it’s part of how all of us build our broader narrative identity — the story of who we are and where we’re going. In his work as a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. McAdams has thought deeply about how we build that identity and how it changes with age.

What is narrative identity?

It’s a story you’ve got about how you came to be, who you are, and where your life’s going. That’s not your whole identity — there are a lot of other things that are part of your identity — but it’s a really important part, and it’s a neglected part. Narrative identity is just as much about how you imagine the future, even though it hasn’t happened yet, as it is about how you reconstruct the past. If I’m planning to be president of the United States, and I’m currently laboring in academia, well you’re going to have to develop a way to connect up your past with your goals for the future.

When do we begin to develop it?

There’s a lot of research now that shows that in the teenage years we develop skills from what’s called autobiographical reasoning — which is the ability to derive personal meaning from your past — and that’s really the key to narrative identity. When you start doing that in your teenage years, then that kind of opens up a Pandora’s box that says “okay now you can actually create a story for your life that makes meaning about who you were and where you’re going.” Kids have memories going back probably to age 4. They can tell stories early on, they learn, but they don’t see their lives in big narratives that they are the main protagonists of.

“As people get older they just don’t want to remember negative stuff, and they just forget it.”

What governs our identity as kids?

Early in life we begin as social actors, and that’s where you see people’s temperament traits — their personality traits, basic dispositions like extroversion and conscientiousness. Most personality psychologists study those dimensions because they’re really important in terms of how we perform our roles and how we behave as social actors. The first layer keeps developing, but then the second layer kind of chips in sometime maybe in elementary school, where we start to think about our lives prospectively in terms of goals. Not big goals necessarily — the little things like “I know today I’ve got to go to social studies class.” An 8- and 9-year-old also plans, and out of the plans develops a second layer of personality, what I call the motivated agent, and that refers to our long-term goals, and values, and strategies for achieving those things. In the teenage years and later, the third layer kicks in and that’s what I call the autobiographical author. That’s where we get the life story.

How does age tend to change our identity?

At the social actor and basic traits [layer], there’s strong evidence to suggest that there’s an increase in traits related to conscientiousness and agreeableness, so people become somewhat more dutiful, and hardworking, and conscientious on the one hand, and somewhat warming, and caring, and empathic on the other. Now let’s go to the agent. Early on in life, let’s say late teens to early adulthood, people’s goals tend to be more what’s called “promotion focused goals.” Their goals are about attaining stuff — rewards, education, friends. But there’s a tipping point somewhere in your 40s or 50s where you start to move toward what are called more “prevention focused goals.” And prevention focused goals are about holding on to what you have or compensating for losses. And then you have the autobiographical author. There’s a couple things that we find. Autobiographical reasoning gets far more sophisticated in general as you age. And the second thing is that life stories, especially after 50, tend to become more positive, and sometimes a little simpler too. It’s like early on in life we do Dickens or Dostoevsky, and later we do simpler stories that are maybe easier to follow. It’s sometimes called the positivity bias in aging.

Why do we become more positive with age?

As people get older they just don’t want to remember negative stuff, and they just forget it. And they’ll say, “Yeah okay it was really bad, my mom beat me and everything, it was horrible. But actually, really maybe it wasn’t that bad, she was under stress, and it was tough on her. And you know, I’ve turned out okay, and I’m going to accentuate the positive.” Now, you can do that at any age but people tend to do that kind of thing more as they move into their 50s and 60s.

Laura Carstensen at Stanford has also written about this. She has this theory called socioemotional selectivity theory, and it tries to explain the positivity bias in terms of the realization people have that they don’t have a lot of time left in life. As you get older, and the end is approaching, it’s like, “what good is it going to do me to obsess over all the negatives” and so forth, and “maybe it’s better for me to focus on the positive.” People also tend to reign in their investments a bit. As I get older I’m going to really focus on the things that matter the most, my family probably, close relationships, friendships. I think that contributes to the positivity bias and to the simplification of life’s stories.

Now there is another line of thinking that tries to explain these things at the level of the brain, suggesting that there are changes in the brain that may partly explain the positivity bias. One piece of research I read recently suggested as we get older the connection between the amygdala (which gets activated in strongly negative emotional situations) and the hippocampus (which sort of notes that the amygdala is firing and makes a memory out of it) degrade a little bit. Therefore, the tendency to create memories about negative events is lessened.

Are there good and bad narrative identities?

What my research tends to show is that there are certain kinds of narrative identities that are associated with positive outcomes. It’s not narrative identity per se — it’s the kind of narrative identity. The big theme in that work is the idea of redemption stories. We find again and again in our research that people who are generative adults, adults who are making a positive difference for the next generation, promoting the well-being of others, and also who are enjoying relatively good psychological health, these kinds of people, at least in American society, in our midlife years tend to tell these highly redemptive stories about their lives. The form is a kind of narrative arc, whereby suffering, negative events, and defamation lead to positive outcomes and enhancement. There are many models for that in American society, rags to riches stories, the American dream, stories of religious atonement, stories of upward mobility, liberation. There are many metaphors we use for those kinds of narratives, but they’re all redemptive in a sense that some positive comes out of a negative and your life is sort of redeemed.

Are the memories we use to construct our narrative identity always true?

The past is always up for grabs. There’s never a final accounting of it, and yet we’re constrained by what’s actually happened, and what people will believe, and how you see your past, and so forth. But it’s not completely constrained, and there’s a lot of imaginative things you can do. So you live your life and you collect material as you’re going along for your life’s story and you’ve always got this material, but you could reshape it — you can rewrite it. It could be a problem, but it’s also an opportunity. I think we’ve evolved not to have perfect memory but to have strategic memory, memory that helps us accomplish our goals and so forth. We all grow up in a certain culture and we learn how to tell stories, and what’s a convincing story. Cultures differ on that.

Is narrative identity a recent evolutionary trait?

Before there was language, which is a relatively recent emergence maybe 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, people had ways to communicate with each other through pantomime and grunts. And narrative can be done that way. I think it goes to our being social creatures, you probably go back a couple million years and you have people enacting narratives in groups. But self-narratives — autobiographical reasoning and all that — that’s different. Perhaps we have always had the skills to do that, but they don’t really develop unless you have a culture that gives them an opportunity and kind of demands them.

Let’s go back 3,000 years to Egypt under one of the pharaohs. Did the common woman and man in the street working on the pyramids — did they actually have life stories? I don’t know. I think they told stories about their lives, but did they have narrative identities — were they encouraged to think about how they came to be, who they are, and where their lives are going? That’s a pretty sophisticated thing. Maybe it requires a certain amount of leisure and a certain amount of — I don’t know — modernity there to kind of kick start that. I think it comes with a certain amount of enlightenment; you sort of see intimations of it in Aristotle when he’s talking about how the wise man is able, later in life, to get some distance on things and try to make sense of what’s for the good, what’s rational, and so on. He’s kind of inching in the direction of our being self-reflective beings who are able to create meaning out of our lives. He doesn’t say it that way, but he’s moving in that direction, but that’s, what, 2,500 years ago or so. That’s pretty recent, isn’t it?

About the Author:
Matthew Sedacca is a writer based in New York who covers stories about science, food, and culture. Follow him on Twitter @matthewlevine13.

Discovering the link between gender identity and peer contagion


The following is excerpted, with permission, from Abigail Shrier’s newly published book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery Publishing (June 30, 2020) 276 pages.

In 2016, Lisa Littman, ob-gyn turned public health researcher, and mother of two, was scrolling through social media when she noticed a statistical peculiarity: Several adolescents, most of them girls, from her small town in Rhode Island had come out as transgender — all from within the same friend group. “With the first two announcements, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s great,'” Dr. Littman said, a light New Jersey accent tweaking her vowels. Then came announcements three, four, five, and six.

Dr. Littman knew almost nothing about gender dysphoria — her research interests had been confined to reproductive health: abortion stigma and contraception. But she knew enough to recognize that the numbers were much higher than prevalence data would have predicted. “I studied epidemiology… and when you see numbers that greatly exceed your expectations, it’s worth it to look at what might be causing it. Maybe it’s a difference of how you’re counting. It could be a lot of things. But you know, those were high numbers.”

In fact, they turned out to be unprecedented. In America and across the Western world, adolescents were reporting a sudden spike in gender dysphoria — the medical condition associated with the social designation “transgender.” Between 2016 and 2017, the number of gender surgeries for natal females in the United States quadrupled, with biological women suddenly accounting for — as we have seen — 70 percent of all gender surgeries. In 2018, the UK reported a 4,400 percent rise over the previous decade in teenage girls seeking gender treatments. In Canada, Sweden, Finland, and the UK, clinicians and gender therapists began reporting a sudden and dramatic shift in the demographics of those presenting with gender dysphoria — from predominately preschool-aged boys to predominately adolescent girls.

Dr. Littman’s curiosity snagged on the social-media posts she’d seen. Why would a psychological ailment that had been almost exclusively the province of boys suddenly befall teenage girls? And why would the incidence of gender dysphoria be so much higher in friend clusters? Maybe she had missed something. She immersed herself in the scientific literature on gender dysphoria. She needed to understand the nature, presentation, and common treatment of this disorder.

Dr. Littman began preparing a study of her own, gathering data from parents of trans-identifying adolescents who’d had no childhood history of gender dysphoria. The lack of childhood history was critical, since traditional gender dysphoria typically begins in early childhood. That was true especially for the small number of natal girls who’d presented with it. Dr. Littman wanted to know whether what she was seeing was a new variant on an old affliction, or something else entirely. She assembled 256 detailed parent reports and analyzed the data. Her results astonished her.

Two patterns stood out: First, the clear majority (65 percent) of the adolescent girls who had discovered transgender identity in adolescence — “out of the blue” — had done so after a period of prolonged social-media immersion. Second, the prevalence of transgender identification within some of the girls’ friend groups was, on average, more than 70 times the expected rate. Why?

Dr. Littman knew that a spike in transgender identification among adolescent girls might be explained by one of several causes. Increased societal acceptance of LGBTQ members might have allowed teenagers who would have been reluctant to “come out” in earlier eras to do so today, for example. But this did not explain why transgender identification was sharply clustered in friend groups. Perhaps people with gender dysphoria naturally gravitated toward one another?

The rates were high; the age of onset had increased from preschool-aged to adolescence; and the sex ratio had flipped. The atypical nature of this dysphoria — occurring in adolescents with no childhood history of it — nudged Dr. Littman toward a hypothesis everyone else had overlooked: peer contagion. Dr. Littman gave this atypical expression of gender dysphoria a name: “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (“ROGD”).

* * *

Many of the adolescent girls suddenly identifying as transgender seemed to be caught in a “craze” — a cultural enthusiasm that spreads like a virus.Craze” is a technical term in sociology, not a pejorative, and that is how I use it here. (Dr. Littman never does.) It applies to Hula-Hoops and Pokémon and all sorts of cultural fads.

If this sudden spike in transgender identification among adolescent girls is a peer contagion, as Dr. Littman hypothesized, then the girls rushing toward “transition” are not getting the treatment they most need. Instead of immediately accommodating every adolescent’s demands for hormones and surgeries, doctors ought to be working to understand what else might be wrong. At best, doctors’ treatments are ineffective; at worst, doctors are administering needless hormonal treatments and irreversible surgeries on patients likely to regret them. Dr. Littman’s theory was more than enough to touch a nerve.

Activists stormed the Twitter page of PLoS One, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Public Library of Science that had published Dr. Littman’s paper, accusing her of anti-trans bigotry. They claimed that Dr. Littman had deliberately solicited parent reports from conservative, anti-trans parent groups. (In fact, over 85 percent of the parents self-identified as supporting LGBT rights.)

Journalists saw smoke and rushed over, flagons of gasoline in hand. A graduate student and self-described “transgender advocate” in Dr. Littman’s own Brown University department disparaged Dr. Littman in the press, calling her work shoddy — “below scientific standards” — and published an article accusing Dr. Littman of having been motivated by bias. Other transgender activists accused Dr. Littman of having hurt people with the paper. They called her work “dangerous,” and insisted it could lead to “worse mental health outcomes” for trans-identifying adolescents.

Brown University stripped its own press release on her paper from its website and replaced it with an apology from the dean of public health, who lamented that “the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth.” PLoS One‘s editor in chief took the rare step of issuing an apology for not having provided better “context” for the research and promised additional review into possible “methodological errors” the paper might have contained.

Dr. Littman’s paper had already been peer-reviewed by two independent academics and one academic editor. But Brown and PLoS One knew a woke mob when they saw one. They decided it was best not to make any fast moves, to slowly hand over their wallets.

Diane Ehrensaft, a prominent child gender psychologist, told the Economist that Dr. Littman’s use of parent reports was akin to “recruiting from Klan or alt-right sites to demonstrate that blacks really were an inferior race.” (The “Klan,” in this case, was the parents, who had simply been asked questions about their own children.) Few cared that the surveyed parents had not expressed anti-transgender attitudes generally, but rather had expressed disbelief and upset that their daughters had adopted this identity “out of the blue” without any childhood history of gender dysphoria — and that following this identification, their adolescents’ mental health seemed to get worse.

None of the attacks acknowledged that parent report is a standard method for assessing child and adolescent mental health. (How else would you obtain the psychological history of a child?) Nor did any of these critics mention that the primary academic research used to promote “social transition” (changing an adolescent’s name and pronouns with school and friends) for gender dysphoric children similarly relies on parent surveys. PLoS One issued a correction that suggested Dr. Littman’s methods had not been made sufficiently clear, despite the fact that the words “parent reports” had appeared in the paper’s title.

Dr. Littman’s paper became one of the most widely discussed academic articles of 2018. Her analysis and conclusions drew praise from some of the most distinguished world experts on gender dysphoria. Dozens of parents wrote to her to thank her for giving name to the phenomenon they were observing in their adolescents.

But she was also widely tarred as a bigot and a bully. This, despite the fact that she had neither the security of tenure nor a faculty coauthor for cover. She wasn’t right-wing or anti-trans. She had spent several years working part-time for Planned Parenthood and, with her husband, contributed several pieces to HuffPost on such topics as the rotten GOP approach to healthcare, but the truth no longer seemed to matter much.

Psychology Today published an open letter from “transgender identified [and] cisgender allies… with vast expertise in gender and sexuality” purporting to refute Dr. Littman’s paper. The letter called her work “methodologically flawed” (for having relied on parental report) and “unethical” (for having reached its conclusions) and accused Dr. Littman of harboring “overt ideological bias” (for having dared examine the causes of trans identification at all).

Activist clinicians hunted Dr. Littman to the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH), where she worked part-time as a physician consultant on projects related to the health of pregnant women and preterm infants. Her work there had nothing to do with transgender youth; it had nothing to do with young children or adolescents per se at all. Her interest in preemies stemmed from her years of training in obstetrics. Caring for preemies had been a passion of hers ever since she had given birth to a preemie of her own, just over one pound at birth.

The activists denounced Littman to her employer, the DOH, claiming that she had written a paper “harmful” to transgender youth. They demanded that the DOH “terminate its relationship with Dr. Littman immediately.” Adding a dash of threat, the authors airily suggested that the DOH might add “a gender-neutral restroom” to its facilities to send a message to the community “that trans and gender diverse lives are valued by DOH.”

The activists wanted a head on a pike. The DOH gave them Dr. Littman’s. Her paid consultancy was over.

* * *

I met Lisa Littman in a family-style Italian chain restaurant along Route 1 just outside of Boston. Her shoulder-length dark brown hair was lightly mussed from a busy workday and the stress of the traffic that had delayed her. Clutching her purse strap as she rushed toward our table, she looked every bit the suburban mom: eager to fill the unforgiving minute, hoping I hadn’t been waiting there too long.

She has large brown eyes, tortoiseshell glasses, a broad reassuring smile, and a nervous laugh. As she told me several times, she hates being interviewed. Based on her many follow-up questions about how I would ensure the accuracy of everything I wrote, it was clear she was telling the truth.

Abigail Shrier is a Los Angeles based writer, and contributor to the Wall Street Journal. Follow her on Twitter @AbigailShrier.

How addressing so-called ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘unwitting racism’ could be the first step to brainwashing

black white people

© Getty Images / fizkes

The idea that all white people are unconsciously racist and need training to correct this has gained momentum. But doesn’t this colonisation of thought processes take us into dangerous territory?

These days we are told that, unless you can prove otherwise, you are presumed to be a racist. This is why Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer announced that he was going to introduce unconscious bias training for all the officials in his party.

And just to demonstrate that he meant business, Starmer declared, “I’m going to lead from the top on this and do that training first.” No doubt Harry and Meghan – otherwise known as the Prince and Princess of Sussex – would approve of Starmer’s actions. Not long ago, the royal couple gave a little sermon about the need to uncover your unconscious bias to a carefully selected ‘discussion group’.

Meghan explained that your upbringing can shape your unconscious bias and that this is where “racism… lies and thrives.” Harry added that “once you start to realize that there is bias there, then you need to acknowledge it, you need to do the work to become more aware“. Harry concluded his lecture with a word of hope: “Unconscious bias must be acknowledged without blame to create a better world for all of you.”

Undertaking ‘unconscious bias training’ has become a therapy of salvation widely promoted by leading members of the Anglo-American establishment. At dinner tables, members of the elite now exchange pleasantries about how they managed to get trained out of their bias.

The assumption that all white people are unconsciously biased and at the very least unwittingly racist is continually promoted in the Anglo-American media and institutions of education. That is why institutions in both the private and public sectors are now offering mandatory unconscious bias training for their people. In many cases, you have no choice but to attend one of these re-education programmes.

In many instances – especially in universities – compulsory unconscious bias training is promoted on an industrial scale. Professor Edward Peck, the Vice Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, recently stated that his institution is “considering” introducing compulsory modules in “unconscious bias and white privilege” for all students and staff.

A while back, lecturers at York St John University were instructed to attend workshops to “understand their white privilege” and examine how their “whiteness” makes them unwittingly racist.

Since the eruption of the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests, the necessity for acknowledging and coming to terms with ‘unwitting racism’ has acquired the status of religious duty.

The concept of unwitting racism implies that you may be a racist even if you think that you are not. From this standpoint, racism is interpreted as a hidden disease that can only be detected by an experienced race expert. “It’s possible to be racist without realising it,” claims a commentator on the subject, before providing information on “how to catch your own bias.”

The focus on unconscious bias and unwitting emotions transforms the meaning of racism into a psychological problem. Once upon a time it was easy to recognise racism. Racism worked through acts of conscious oppression and violence, organised discrimination and the use of demeaning language. Racism was interpreted as a public experience of oppression rather than as a hidden emotion that needed to be revealed through the expertise of a bias trainer.

The redefinition of racism from an act of conscious oppression to a problem of the mind was boosted by the former British High Court Judge William Macpherson’s 1999 report on institutional racism.

In his definition of institutional racism, Macpherson declared that it “can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.” The key word here is ‘unwitting’ – an unconscious response driven by unspecific emotions. The idea that people could be racists unwittingly means that literally anyone could be a racist, whether they knew it or not.

If racism can be unwitting, who decides whether or not an individual is guilty as charged? Typically, the answer is that it is the accuser. The complexity of psychological motivation was resolved by Macpherson in the following terms: “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.”

So what counts is not the act, but how it is perceived. The principle that an offence is in the eyes of the beholder lends the charge of racism a highly subjective character. Such a subjective standard of proof lends the accusation of racism automatic credibility.

But shouldn’t we be more concerned about what we do, rather than what we – unconsciously – think? This new and sustained focus on the unconscious by the so-called ‘race experts’ who perform the bias training essentially represents the colonisation of people’s internal thought processes.

And if we continue down this path, brainwashing will become legitimate policy.

Frank Furedi is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: Interview with James Carpenter: First Sight, Psi, and Consciousness

james carpenter

What is the nature of psi? How does it relate to consciousness? Today on MindMatters we interview Dr. Jim Carpenter about his “first sight” theory, the subject of his revolutionary book by the same name. Carpenter’s theory not only accounts for all the experimental data relating to psi; it also integrates current psychological research and a wider understanding of consciousness as a whole. Psi is not an anomaly or a special ability – it is fundamental to mind itself.

Dr. Jim Carpenter is both a clinical psychologist and a research parapsychologist. He is a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, ABPP, and a Fellow in the American Academy of Clinical Psychology He formerly taught at the University of North Caroline in the departments of psychology and psychiatry. He has been active in the governance of several professional organizations, and carries on an active private practice.

Dr. Carpenter has published widely in psychology and parapsychology, with many research articles, book chapters and more popularly oriented pieces. For many years he has provided pro bono clinical consultation for persons who seek help with unpleasant experiences that they think of as psychic. His most substantial parapsychological contribution is a book developing a theory of psi, called First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life (, published by Rowman & Littlefield. A more recent book contains a chapter summarizing some central ideas in the theory, along with another chapter placing the theory in the context of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead: Rethinking Consciousness: Extraordinary Challenges for Contemporary Science, edited by Buchanan and Aanstoos. His current research involves the prediction of the implicit contribution of psi information to the formation of ordinary preference judgments, using theoretically specified variables, thus shedding some light on how psi participates as “first sight” in everyday experience that people are not experiencing as “psychic.

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Running Time: 01:41:52

Download: MP3 — 93.3 MB


Harrison Koehli (Profile)

Harrison Koehli co-hosts SOTT Radio Network’s MindMatters, and is an editor for Red Pill Press. He has been interviewed on several North American radio shows about his writings on the study of ponerology. In addition to music and books, Harrison enjoys tobacco and bacon (often at the same time) and dislikes cell phones, vegetables, and fascists (commies too).


Elan Martin (Profile)

Born and raised in New York City, Elan has been an editor for since 2014 and is a co-host for MindMatters. He enjoys seeing and sharing what’s true about our profoundly and rapidly changing world.


Corey Schink (Profile)

Corey Schink was born and raised in the Midwestern United States, where he worked on farms and as a welder, musician, and social worker. His interests in government, philosophy and history led to his writing for SOTT in 2012 and to becoming a SOTT editor and SOTT Radio co-host in 2014. He now resides in North Carolina, where he enjoys the magnificent views of the Appalachian Mountains.

SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: Try Not To Lie: The Value Of Honesty With The Self And Others

unpleasant truths

As the old adage goes, “The truth shall set you free.” But if that’s true then why do we quite often have such a difficult time of being honest with ourselves? And just as importantly, why do we struggle so much in being honest with others? Programmed or wired to deny that we have personal shortcomings – or fearing the consequences of honest communication about others’ failings – we quite often opt for the easy out, keeping things to ourselves and attempting to avoid the potential pain and discord that may come of telling it like it is. Like a festering wound, the lies we tell ourselves and accept from others infects the very quality and well being of our selves and the lives of those around us.

On this week’s MindMatters we discuss why one should have less fear of truthful communication – and a greater willingness to be honest. While there is always a risk of hurt, the uncertainty of misunderstanding, and the discomfort of vulnerability – what is easily overlooked is the greater meaning, understanding, and intimacy that may be added to one’s life and relationships – if we were only more honest (assuming the people around you share this value). At at time in human existence when we are struggling to make sense of complex and rapidly occurring world-changing events, how can we achieve a semblance of true understanding when, at square one, we are dishonest with ourselves and the souls immediately surrounding us?

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Harrison Koehli (Profile)

Harrison Koehli co-hosts SOTT Radio Network’s MindMatters, and is an editor for Red Pill Press. He has been interviewed on several North American radio shows about his writings on the study of ponerology. In addition to music and books, Harrison enjoys tobacco and bacon (often at the same time) and dislikes cell phones, vegetables, and fascists (commies too).


Elan Martin (Profile)

Born and raised in New York City, Elan has been an editor for since 2014 and is a co-host for MindMatters. He enjoys seeing and sharing what’s true about our profoundly and rapidly changing world.


Corey Schink (Profile)

Corey Schink was born and raised in the Midwestern United States, where he worked on farms and as a welder, musician, and social worker. His interests in government, philosophy and history led to his writing for SOTT in 2012 and to becoming a SOTT editor and SOTT Radio co-host in 2014. He now resides in North Carolina, where he enjoys the magnificent views of the Appalachian Mountains.

Internet trolls: The motivations of malcontents

Internet troll

© Alexander Pavlov/Shutterstock

Disruption is reinforcing to trolls

Internet trolling can be thought of as a deliberate behaviour to produce conflict or distress, or both, by posting material that is discourteous, provocative, inflammatory, or intimidating. The prevalence of trolling behaviour is hard to estimate, but at least 1% of social media users have experienced this personally over the last year. This figure can be as high as 70%, depending on the study consulted, and the methods used to collect these data.

Trolling used to be conceptualised as an activity in which an individual was engaged, being targeted from one person usually to another; however, increasingly we are seeing a rise in what might be termed “societal trolling” — disruptive tactics targeted from one group to another, often in a political context.

The questions that arise are: Why is trolling done? Are the motivations the same in individual and societal trolling? Are there similarities between online trolling and mass-disruptive actions conducted in the real world?

There are many motivations for disruptive protest, including legitimate ones based on, for example, experienced oppression. However, do such potentially legitimate contexts of protest provide opportunities for others to engage in disruption for disruption’s sake, under the cover of mass anonymity; and are the motivations of these people similar to the online troll?

One study of political trolling found that a group with a known purpose to disrupt society would engage in both sides of any debate to polarise opinion and sow discontent. For example, the same organisation got involved in Twitter debates about the Black Lives Matter movement and the safety of vaccines, simultaneously supporting both sides of both debates. The tweets from the organisation were associated with particular accounts that fed into five broad categories: Right Troll, Left Troll, News Feed, Hashtag Gamer, and Fearmonger, employed to different ends.(1)

The evidence certainly suggests that trolling has moved beyond the individual, but are the underlying characteristics of “traditional” social media trolls, and the new breed of online political provocateurs, different? We should not assume that, just because somebody is political, they have different motivations than if they were non-political. To analyse the motivations, both the personality and the context need to be understood.

The personality of the online troll is quite straightforward — unpleasant, but understandable. In a sample of 733 individuals(2), “primary psychopathy” but not “secondary psychopathy” predicted levels of trolling. That is to say, the internet troll was less impulsive, less neurotic, and less emotionally reactive (traits of secondary psychopathy), but was more callous, more manipulative, and more lacking in remorse (traits of primary psychopathy).

The troll was also able to predict, with alarming accuracy, what would emotionally hurt others, and felt none of their emotional experience (lack of empathy). The troll’s primary motivation was to cause, and enjoy, social mayhem.

A similar result was found in a study that pulled apart the characteristics of the psychopath, by assessing their “dark tetrad” traits(3). It was found that psychopathy and sadism predicted trolling, but narcissism and Machiavellianism did not. This study also found that “negative social potency” (being reinforced by causing disruption) was associated both with the dark tetrad personality traits, and with online trolling. Those seeking negative social potency enjoyed psychologically and emotionally harming others, and achieved this by exerting a negative social influence and power.

Such findings about personality traits replicate in the worlds of politics and political actions. Psychopathy and narcissism are associated with an interest in political matters (with narcissism also predicting a lack of knowledge about such matters). Both psychopathy and narcissism also predict engagement in politics: “Our results imply that individuals exhibiting higher levels of Narcissism are not only less knowledgeable but also more interested in politics and more likely to participate when given the opportunity.”(4) Apparently, these are quite widespread political traits, as another study(5) of a dataset of expert ratings of political candidates, competing across a large number of elections worldwide, found that around 25% of them could be termed “populists.” These individuals scored low on agreeableness, and (somewhat disturbingly) low on emotional stability and conscientiousness. Also disturbingly, the populists had high scores for narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

The personalities of online trolls, and those of some political activists, seem to be similar. The unanswered question is whether such political activists are not quite as committed to a particular viewpoint as they suggest, but are more committed to gaining the reinforcement that they need — which, if they are anything like the internet troll, is their joy in disrupting and distressing others.

The power of the context to allow this to occur can be seen in a further study of trolling(6). An experiment simulated an online discussion, and the number of trolling posts was noted as a product of the context. In addition to personality, both negative mood, and exposure to witnessing trolling posts from others, increased the chances that an individual would become a troll — experiencing both factors together doubled this probability. Suggesting that when many people are behaving badly together, and they are in a low mood requiring bolstering, the psychopath or sadist will use anonymity to inflict distress on others. In a further large study, people whose identities were strongly connected with a particular position implied that they would commit violence in support of their views, but only those people with a callous, and manipulative, personality actually did exhibit destructive behaviour(7).

This seems to be one of those rare areas where we know more about the motivations of the digital-world behaviour than we do of the real-world behaviour — online trolls are psychopathic and/or sadistic individuals, who like to inflict distress for their own ends (possibly because they are sad and low).

In the real world, political disruption offers the same contextual variables of anonymity, and exposure to a high number of examples of disruptive behaviour. We know that political trolls’ sole purpose is discord and division. We know many politicians have “dark” traits. But, we need to ask how many political agitators are motivated by the personal power and satisfaction that distressing others bring them — are they all trolls together?


1. Linvill, D. L., & Warren, P. L. (2020). Troll factories: Manufacturing specialized disinformation on Twitter. Political Communication, 1-21.

2. March, E. (2019). Psychopathy, sadism, empathy, and the motivation to cause harm: New evidence confirms malevolent nature of the Internet Troll. Personality and Individual Differences, 141, 133-137.

3. Craker, N., & March, E. (2016). The dark side of Facebook®: The Dark Tetrad, negative social potency, and trolling behaviours. Personality and Individual Differences, 102, 79-84.

4. Chen, P., Pruysers, S., & Blais, J. (2020). The Dark Side of Politics: Participation and the Dark Triad. Political Studies, 0032321720911566.

5. Nai, A., & Martinez i Coma, F. (2019). The personality of populists: provocateurs, charismatic leaders, or drunken dinner guests? West European Politics, 42(7), 1337-1367.

6. Cheng, J., Bernstein, M., Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, C., & Leskovec, J. (2017, February). Anyone can become a troll: Causes of trolling behavior in online discussions. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work and social computing (pp. 1217-1230).

7. Gøtzsche-Astrup, O. (2019). Partisanship and violent intentions in the United States.

SOTT FOCUS: Does Not Complying With Social Distancing Rules Mean You’re a Psychopath? The Answer is Obvious

cough sneeze

© Shutterstock

Here’s another junk psychology paper to add to the heap. It follows a trend common in academia, but especially in the field of psychology. That trend is to come up with some dull and patently obvious hypothesis that anyone’s grandmother would already know to be true, design a “scientific study” to demonstrate it, then claim victory when your prediction is supported. You know the drill, something along the lines of “new study shows people don’t like it much when they’re punched in the face”, “…99% children choose cake over boiled vegetables every time”, “…loud noises startle babies”.

Not only are such studies idiotic to begin with; pop science blogs then either misrepresent the actual studies or hype the results in headlines way out of proportion. The result is a populace dumber than it was to begin with, despite the best intentions of “science educators” – otherwise known as mama’s and papa’s boys who just repeat in a dumbed-down form what they are told by actual scientists – who are themselves mama’s and papa’s boys with little actual insight or creativity.

PsyPost has a writeup of the paper in question under the title: Psychopathic traits linked to non-compliance with social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s take a look.

Rain Is Wet, and Psychopaths Don’t Follow Rules

The article begins:

New research provides some initial evidence that certain antagonistic personality traits are associated with ignoring preventative measures meant to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

The study has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science. It is currently available on the PsyArXiv preprint website.

“On March 31, 2020, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the U.S. government’s Coronavirus Task Force, said, ‘There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.’ My experience as a psychological scientist as well as a practicing psychologist has convinced me that the importance of psychology and behavior in the prevention and management of a wide range of health problems is enormous,” said study author Pavel S. Blagov, an associate professor and director of the Personality Laboratory at Whitman College.

I mean Dr. Blagov no disrespect, but you don’t need to be a scientist, or a psychologist, to know this. We’re humans. Humans do things. It goes without saying that any problem – which by necessity involves humans doing things – will involve human psychology.

“This includes personality, or the study of important ways in which people differ. It was clear from reports in the media very early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some people were rejecting advice to socially distance and engage in increased hygiene. There can be many reasons for this, and I thought that personality may play at least a small role in it.”

And when it rains, the pavement gets wet.

“I knew that traits from the so-called Dark Triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) as well as the traits subsumed within psychopathy are linked to health risk behavior and health problems, and I expected them to be implicated in health behaviors during the pandemic. There is also prior research suggesting that people high on the Dark Triad traits may knowingly and even deliberately put other people’s health at risk, e.g., by engaging in risky sexual behavior and not telling their partner about having HIV or STIs,” Blagov told PsyPost.

“Early in the pandemic, and in subsequent months, there were numerous reports of individuals purposefully coughing, spitting, or even licking door handles in public, either as a way to intimidate others or as a way to rebel against the emerging new norms of social distancing and hygiene. I was curious whether the Dark Triad and psychopathy-related traits may help explain such behavior.”

The researcher used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to survey 502 U.S. adults between March 20 and March 23, 2020. The online survey asked participants how often they complied with health recommendations on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, if they planned to do so, and how they would behave if they became infected. The survey also included several assessments of personality.

“The study took place before health behaviors related to the pandemic had become extremely politicized in the U.S., and when people were still learning about the rapidly evolving situation,” Blagov noted.

Most of the participants, the researcher found, were complying with health recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

“It was encouraging to find that people who participated in my study generally reported engaging in social distancing and hygiene, planning to continue to engage in these measures, and being willing to do what was necessary to protect the health of loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers,” Blagov said.

Again, I am fairly certain that my grandmothers would be able to tell me as much (and neither received a PhD). But they’d be able to tell it with a bit more insight than your average psychologist, and with less verbiage: most people follow the rules – whether or not the rules make any sense. They wouldn’t be surprised by the following either:

But some participants reported not heeding the advice, which the researchers found was linked to several personality traits.

Blagov found that lower levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness were associated with a reduced likelihood of endorsing health recommendations related to social distancing and hygiene. In other words, people who were less sympathetic/cooperative and people who were less responsible/organized were less likely to engage in preventative measures.

In addition, people who scored higher on the psychopathic subtraits of meanness and disinhibition tended to show less interest in social distancing and hygiene. Meanness and disinhibition also predicted the endorsement of behavior that puts others at risk of infection, such as touching or sneezing on high-use surfaces in public. Disinhibition reflects poor impulse control, while meanness describes the lack of regard for others.

“People scoring high on these traits tended to claim that, if they had COVID-19, they might knowingly or deliberately expose others to it,” Blagov told PsyPost.

“One potential implication from this research is that there may be a minority of people with particular personality styles (on the narcissism and psychopathy spectrum) that have a disproportionate impact on the pandemic by failing to protect themselves and others.”

Grandma wisdom: irresponsible people behave irresponsibly. Cold-hearted people behave cold-heartedly. Psychology is perhaps the only scientific field designed to show that adjectives mean what they say they mean. But let’s look at this a bit more closely.

It may be offensive to some, but most people are sheep. They believe what others tell them – especially if it comes from people with authority, and to the degree that other people also believe. As long as what they are told is truthful, little harm is done. But truth is not so easy to come by. People are often mistaken, and others lie. That’s why we’ve been eating margarine instead of butter for decades, to bring up just one example.

If the authorities say X is bad for you (whether or not it actually is), and you must do Y to prevent it (whether or not it actually will), most people will follow suit. A small minority will not. One part of that minority will not simply because they are psychopaths, and psychopaths have no regard other people’s rules. As one insightful psychologist put it:

[Psychopaths] think that customs and principles of decency are a foreign convention invented and imposed by someone else (‘probably by priests’), silly, onerous, sometimes even ridiculous. … Natural human reactions – which often fail to elicit interest to normal people because they are considered self- evident – strike the psychopath as strange, interesting, and even comical. (Andrew Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology, pp. 87, 88)

So naturally, if people are told that there is a potentially deadly virus going around, psychopaths will not care. Just as they’ll probably sleep with multiple partners even if they have an STD, they will probably even get a little pleasure out of breaking “social distancing” norms and sneezing in people’s faces. In fact, they might even pretend to have the virus just to freak people out and terrorize them. Anyone who was once a child playing on a playground knows there are people like this.

But here’s what’s not so obvious: all of this says nothing at all about the rule in question. The simplicity with which Blagov’s results are related is deceptive. And as usual with pop psychology articles, the caveats come last:

Like all research, the study includes some caveats.

“The study’s limitations included its use of a non-random, non-probability sample of only U.S. adults; abbreviated trait measures; and newly developed, previously untested health-behavior measures. A likely unintended effect of this may be underestimating the strength of trait-behavior correlations. The results do not mean that viral disease is spread only by irresponsible or inconsiderate people. The correlations were often small, and the scientific definitions of traits are not everyday judgments about character,” Blagov explained.

In other words, something else you could have learned from grandma: people have different reasons for not following rules. (I doubt the authors of this paper would accuse any significant portion of the BLM protesters of being psychopathic, for instance.) Not all people who break rules are evil, because not all rules are worth following. If a relatively normal person thinks a rule is worth following (whether it is or not), they will follow it, and pat themselves on the shoulder for doing the right thing. A psychopath won’t care. If a relatively normal person thinks a rule isn’t worth following (whether it is or not), they will not follow it – if they have enough character to break out of the mental prison of herd instinct. For instance, here are two iconic images of the latter:

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks breaking a previous form of ‘social distancing’

nazi salute refusal

© wikipedia, CC BY-SA
People giving a Nazi salute, with an unidentified person (possibly August Landmesser or Gustav Wegert) refusing to do so.

The not-so-hidden assumption in the above article is that social distancing is necessary, and that it works, both of which are open questions as far as I’m concerned. Since many people are skeptical about the severity of this alleged global pandemic (which compared to something like the Black Death or even the Spanish flu is barely a blip on the radar), chances are there are many who will not “heed the advice” of medical authorities for just that reason. Not because they’re irresponsible or mean, but because they think for themselves. It’s possible to think social distancing is nonsense without intentionally sneezing on people.

Cheap Science Can Be Dangerous

In the grand scheme of things, this paper is insignificant. Except for its use in casual conversation by people who wish to appear well-informed to their close acquaintances, it will be forgotten. But it does point to a real danger – one that I think vastly outweighs the presumed danger of the virus in question. Psychology and psychiatry have a history of being used and abused by tyrannical nutjobs. In such a scenario, it is not a far leap from “some people who disagree with coerced social distancing are psychopaths” to “watch out for people who question the official narrative, they’re probably psychopaths”. In fact, that’s the kind of misdirection psychopaths are expert at.

I’ll close with another excerpt from Andrew Lobaczewski, on the dangers of the misuse of psychology for political purposes:

A normal person’s actions and reactions, his ideas and moral criteria, all too often strike abnormal individuals as abnormal. For if a person with some psychological deviations considers himself normal, which is of course significantly easier if he possesses authority, then he would consider a normal person different and therefore abnormal, whether in reality or as a result of conversive thinking. That explains why such people’s government shall always have the tendency to treat any dissidents as “mentally abnormal”.

Operations such as driving a normal person into psychological illness and the use of psychiatric institutions for this purpose take place in many countries in which such institutions exist. …

Any person rebelling internally against a governmental system, which shall always strike him as foreign and difficult to understand, and who is unable to hide this well enough, shall thus easily be designated by the representatives of said government as “mentally abnormal”, someone who should submit to psychiatric treatment. A scientifically and morally degenerate psychiatrist becomes a tool easily used for this purpose. (Political Ponerology, pp. 179, 180)

Turns out brain scans aren’t as useful as scientists thought

brain scans

© Annchen Knodt
Brain scans showing MRI mapping for 3 tasks across 2 different days. Warm colors show the consistency of activation levels across a group of people. Cool colors represent how poorly unique patterns of activity can be reliably measured.

Hundreds of published studies over the last decade have claimed it’s possible to predict an individual’s patterns of thoughts and feelings by scanning their brain in an MRI machine as they perform some mental tasks.

But a new analysis by some of the researchers who have done the most work in this area finds that those measurements are highly suspect when it comes to drawing conclusions about any individual person’s brain.

Watching the brain through a functional MRI machine (fMRI) is still great for finding the general brain structures involved in a given task across a group of people, said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who led the reanalysis.

“Scanning 50 people is going to accurately reveal what parts of the brain, on average, are more active during a mental task, like counting or remembering names,” Hariri said

Functional MRI measures blood flow as a proxy for brain activity. It shows where blood is being sent in the brain, presumably because neurons in that area are more active during a mental task.

The problem is that the level of activity for any given person probably won’t be the same twice, and a measure that changes every time it is collected cannot be applied to predict anyone’s future mental health or behavior.

Hariri and his colleagues reexamined 56 published papers based on fMRI data to gauge their reliability across 90 experiments. Hariri said the researchers recognized that “the correlation between one scan and a second is not even fair, it’s poor.”

They also examined data from the brain-scanning Human Connectome Project — “Our field’s Bible at the moment,” Hariri called it — and looked at test/retest results for 45 individuals. For six out of seven measures of brain function, the correlation between tests taken about four months apart with the same person was weak. The seventh measure studied, language processing, was only a fair correlation, not good or excellent.

Finally they looked at data they collected through the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study in New Zealand, in which 20 individuals were put through task-based fMRI twice, two or three months apart. Again, they found poor correlation from one test to the next in an individual.

The bottom line is that task-based fMRI in its current form can’t tell you what an individual’s brain activation will look like from one test to the next, Hariri said. The new analysis, appears June 3 in Psychological Science

“This is more relevant to my work than just about anyone else’s!” Hariri said, his voice rising. “This is my fault. I’m going to throw myself under the bus. This whole sub-branch of fMRI could go extinct if we can’t address this critical limitation.

Hariri has been using fMRI data as part of a long-term study of 1,300 undergraduate Duke students. By combining brain scans, genetic testing and psychological assessments, Hariri is searching for biomarkers of individual differences in the way people process thoughts and emotions, such as why one person comes away from a traumatic event with PTSD or depression and another does not.

“We can’t continue with the same old ‘hot spot’ research,” Hariri said. “We could scan the same 1,300 undergrads again and we wouldn’t see the same patterns for each of them.”

One possible solution to the reliability problem, using existing technology, would be to collect data for a full hour or longer in the scanner, not just five minutes. Hariri also said developing new tasks from the ground up with the explicit purpose of reliably measuring individual differences in brain activity is another strategy. In the meanwhile, Hariri and his team have shifted their focus to MRI measures of brain structure, which are highly reliable.

“It’s not as if we haven’t known these issues of reliability, but this paper brings them together more sharply,” said Russell Poldrack, the Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, who had a 15-year-old fMRI paper among those that were reanalyzed.

“This is a good wakeup call, and it’s a marker of Ahmad’s integrity that he’s taking this on,” said Poldrack, who was not involved in the meta-analysis but said he has had suspicions about fMRI reliability for a few years now.

Connectivity mapping – seeing how areas of the brain are connected to address a task more than just what areas are active – is going to be the way forward, Poldrack predicted. Hariri agreed that identifying patterns of activity throughout the brain rather than in one or two areas may improve reliability.

In the meantime, the sociology behind a dramatic debunking of a scientific tool is going to be interesting to watch, Hariri and Poldrack both said.

“There’s three things you can do,” Poldrack said. “You can just up and quit, you can stick your head in the sand (and act as if nothing has changed), or you can dig in and try to solve the problems.”

This analysis was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation. The Dunedin Study is supported by the U.S. National Institute on Aging (R01AG049789, R01AG032282) and the UK Medical Research Council (P005918), the New Zealand Health Research Council and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The Human Connectome Project is supported by 16 centers of the U.S. National Institutes of Health via the Blueprint for Neuroscience Research.

CITATION: “What is the Test-Retest Reliability of Common Task-fMRI Measure? New Empirical Evidence and a Meta-Analysis,” Maxwell L. Elliott, Annchen R. Knodt, David Ireland, Meriwether L. Morris, Richie Poulton, Sandhya Ramrakha, Maria L. Sison, Terrie E. Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi, Ahmad R. Hariri. Psychological Science, June 3, 2020. DOI: 10.1177/0956797620916786

SOTT FOCUS: Archbishop Breaks Ranks to Support Trump: ‘Covid-19 Emergency And Riots an Infernal Deception by Children of Darkness’

Life Site News editor’s note: Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has released this powerful letter today to President Trump warning him that the current crises over the coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd riots are a part of the eternal spiritual struggle between the forces of good and evil. He encourages the president to continue the fight on behalf of the “children of light.” Read the letter in PDF form here.

archbishop vigano trump letter

June 7, 2020

Holy Trinity Sunday

Mr. President,

In recent months we have been witnessing the formation of two opposing sides that I would call Biblical: the children of light and the children of darkness. The children of light constitute the most conspicuous part of humanity, while the children of darkness represent an absolute minority. And yet the former are the object of a sort of discrimination which places them in a situation of moral inferiority with respect to their adversaries, who often hold strategic positions in government, in politics, in the economy and in the media. In an apparently inexplicable way, the good are held hostage by the wicked and by those who help them either out of self-interest or fearfulness.

These two sides, which have a Biblical nature, follow the clear separation between the offspring of the Woman and the offspring of the Serpent. On the one hand there are those who, although they have a thousand defects and weaknesses, are motivated by the desire to do good, to be honest, to raise a family, to engage in work, to give prosperity to their homeland, to help the needy, and, in obedience to the Law of God, to merit the Kingdom of Heaven. On the other hand, there are those who serve themselves, who do not hold any moral principles, who want to demolish the family and the nation, exploit workers to make themselves unduly wealthy, foment internal divisions and wars, and accumulate power and money: for them the fallacious illusion of temporal well-being will one day – if they do not repent – yield to the terrible fate that awaits them, far from God, in eternal damnation.

In society, Mr. President, these two opposing realities co-exist as eternal enemies, just as God and Satan are eternal enemies. And it appears that the children of darkness – whom we may easily identify with the deep state which you wisely oppose and which is fiercely waging war against you in these days – have decided to show their cards, so to speak, by now revealing their plans. They seem to be so certain of already having everything under control that they have laid aside that circumspection that until now had at least partially concealed their true intentions. The investigations already under way will reveal the true responsibility of those who managed the Covid emergency not only in the area of health care but also in politics, the economy, and the media. We will probably find that in this colossal operation of social engineering there are people who have decided the fate of humanity, arrogating to themselves the right to act against the will of citizens and their representatives in the governments of nations.

We will also discover that the riots in these days were provoked by those who, seeing that the virus is inevitably fading and that the social alarm of the pandemic is waning, necessarily have had to provoke civil disturbances, because they would be followed by repression which, although legitimate, could be condemned as an unjustified aggression against the population. The same thing is also happening in Europe, in perfect synchrony. It is quite clear that the use of street protests is instrumental to the purposes of those who would like to see someone elected in the upcoming presidential elections who embodies the goals of the deep state and who expresses those goals faithfully and with conviction. It will not be surprising if, in a few months, we learn once again that hidden behind these acts of vandalism and violence there are those who hope to profit from the dissolution of the social order so as to build a world without freedom: Solve et Coagula, as the Masonic adage teaches.

Although it may seem disconcerting, the opposing alignments I have described are also found in religious circles. There are faithful Shepherds who care for the flock of Christ, but there are also mercenary infidels who seek to scatter the flock and hand the sheep over to be devoured by ravenous wolves. It is not surprising that these mercenaries are allies of the children of darkness and hate the children of light: just as there is a deep state, there is also a deep church that betrays its duties and forswears its proper commitments before God. Thus the Invisible Enemy, whom good rulers fight against in public affairs, is also fought against by good shepherds in the ecclesiastical sphere. It is a spiritual battle, which I spoke about in my recent Appeal which was published on May 8.

For the first time, the United States has in you a President who courageously defends the right to life, who is not ashamed to denounce the persecution of Christians throughout the world, who speaks of Jesus Christ and the right of citizens to freedom of worship. Your participation in the March for Life, and more recently your proclamation of the month of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, are actions that confirm which side you wish to fight on. And I dare to believe that both of us are on the same side in this battle, albeit with different weapons.

For this reason, I believe that the attack to which you were subjected after your visit to the National Shrine of Saint John Paul II is part of the orchestrated media narrative which seeks not to fight racism and bring social order, but to aggravate dispositions; not to bring justice, but to legitimize violence and crime; not to serve the truth, but to favor one political faction. And it is disconcerting that there are Bishops – such as those whom I recently denounced – who, by their words, prove that they are aligned on the opposing side. They are subservient to the deep state, to globalism, to aligned thought, to the New World Order which they invoke ever more frequently in the name of a universal brotherhood which has nothing Christian about it, but which evokes the Masonic ideals of those want to dominate the world by driving God out of the courts, out of schools, out of families, and perhaps even out of churches.

The American people are mature and have now understood how much the mainstream media does not want to spread the truth but seeks to silence and distort it, spreading the lie that is useful for the purposes of their masters. However, it is important that the good – who are the majority – wake up from their sluggishness and do not accept being deceived by a minority of dishonest people with unavowable purposes. It is necessary that the good, the children of light, come together and make their voices heard. What more effective way is there to do this, Mr. President, than by prayer, asking the Lord to protect you, the United States, and all of humanity from this enormous attack of the Enemy? Before the power of prayer, the deceptions of the children of darkness will collapse, their plots will be revealed, their betrayal will be shown, their frightening power will end in nothing, brought to light and exposed for what it is: an infernal deception.

Mr. President, my prayer is constantly turned to the beloved American nation, where I had the privilege and honor of being sent by Pope Benedict XVI as Apostolic Nuncio. In this dramatic and decisive hour for all of humanity, I am praying for you and also for all those who are at your side in the government of the United States. I trust that the American people are united with me and you in prayer to Almighty God.

United against the Invisible Enemy of all humanity, I bless you and the First Lady, the beloved American nation, and all men and women of good will.

Carlo Maria Viganò

Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana

Former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America