Moravec’s Paradox Is Why The Easy Stuff Is Hardest For Artificial Intelligence (Engineering / Computer Science)

The history of technology is full of predictions that now sound laughable. One of the most famous examples is credited to Bill Gates, who in 1981 is claimed to have said, “640 kilobytes ought to be enough for anybody.” Predictions about artificial intelligence are no different; early AI researchers assumed that we’d have a robot that walked, talked, and thought like a human within decades. Of course, despite some awe-inspiring achievements in machine learning, AI still isn’t there yet. That’s because, according to a principle known as Moravec’s paradox, we can teach machines to solve the hard problems, but it’s the easy ones that are difficult.


In 1957, economist and computer science pioneer Herbert Simon famously said, “It is not my aim to surprise or shock you — but the simplest way I can summarize is to say that there are now in the world machines that think, that learn and that create. Moreover, their ability to do these things is going to increase rapidly until — in a visible future — the range of problems they can handle will be coextensive with the range to which human mind has been applied.”

Simon died in 2001, and his “visible future” of a world where machines can think like humans is still a long way off. Sure, artificial intelligence has proven itself when tasked with specific problems, like categorizing distant galaxies or imitating celebrity voices or creating works of art, but simply thinking — a concept known as general artificial intelligence — seems to stymie the most advanced machine learning systems. Heck, even walking on two feet is a challenge for machines. They might be able to beat a grand champion at chess, but they can’t beat a toddler at picking the right toy off the shelf.

This isn’t a new problem. In the 1980s, computer scientist Hans Moravec laid out this exact challenge — what has now been dubbed “Moravec’s paradox” — and explained why it’s just what we should expect from machines that are immune to the pressures of natural selection. “Encoded in the large, highly evolved sensory and motor portions of the human brain is a billion years of experience about the nature of the world and how to survive in it,” he wrote in his 1988 book “Mind Children.” “The deliberate process we call reasoning is, I believe, the thinnest veneer of human thought, effective only because it is supported by this much older and much more powerful, though usually unconscious, sensorimotor knowledge.”

That is to say, the things humans find easiest are the very things that took millennia of evolution to refine. The things humans find hardest are only hard because they’re new — we’ve been thinking about chess strategy for a little over a thousand years, but we’ve been learning how to interact with our surroundings since our ancestors were single-celled organisms. The skills that are hardwired through evolution don’t take conscious thought, and when you don’t have to think about something, it’s harder to figure out how to teach a machine to do it.


So how do you teach a machine to truly think? Moravec thinks the answer lies in the very thing the machines lack: evolution. “I feel that the fastest progress can be made by imitating the evolution of animal minds, by striving to add capabilities to machines a few at a time, so that the resulting sequence of machine behaviors resembles the capabilities of animals with increasingly complex nervous systems,” he wrote. Even at that time, however, things were improving. “Programs which tackle incremental problems similar to those that faced early animals — how to deal with, and even to anticipate, the sudden surprises, dangers, and opportunities encountered by an exploring organism — are being written and tested in robots that have to face the uncertainties of the real world.”

That progress continues today. Engineers are teaching artificial intelligence algorithms to be exploratory by having them play video games, for example. But it’s a two-way street: Before we can teach machines to think like humans, we need to more fully understand how humans think, and understanding the limitations of machine learning can answer questions about how our minds truly work. Engineers designing neural networks can learn from neuroscientists and vice versa.

It’s possible that, as Steven Pinker predicts, the jobs in most danger of being overtaken by artificial intelligence are “the stock analysts and petrochemical engineers and parole board members,” and it’s the blue-collar workers like cooks and gardeners that are the ones with job security. It’s also possible that the paradox means AI will never be truly independent and will always rely on the help of human users. But in either case, we should all take a moment to appreciate the supercomputers working inside of our skulls. They make the most difficult tasks in the world look easy.

Sanibel Island Is An Ideal Place To Find Seashells, Thanks To Its Unique Shape (Amazing Places)

No trip to the beach is complete without a little souvenir scavenging. Namely, “shelling,” or looking for seashells. There’s something so wholesomely satisfying about finding a nice sand dollar, gently cleaning it off, and bringing it home as a memento of those beachy vibes. One of the best spots on Earth for shelling is a perhaps unsuspecting spot in Florida. Prepare to do the “Sanibel stoop.”

Sanibel island, Florida

Sanibel Island sits on Florida’s tropical southwest side in the Gulf of Mexico. The little island, measuring just over 16 square miles, is part of the larger Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida Metropolitan Area. It’s warm and sunny like what’s typical of south Florida, but the real differentiator is the shells. Oh, those shells. The place is literally made of shells, for crying out loud.

Sanibel Island is considered one of the world’s best places for finding seashells. The reason this sandy sliver of land is shelling heaven? The island’s geography basically makes it act like a giant scoop. Not only is it shaped like a crescent moon, perfect for cradling the shells that wash in, but the island is part of a large plateau that extends into the Gulf of Mexico for miles. This plateau acts like a shelf for seashells that come all the way from the Caribbean. The island’s east-west orientation is unique too, seeing as most barrier islands like it are north-south.

People in Sanibel aren’t strutting around the island tall and proud with their faces to the sun. Nope. They’re hunched over in what has famously become known as the “Sanibel stoop.” We’ll give you one guess at what they’re looking at down on the ground. Visitors come from all around the world to scoop up the huge variety of seashells that end up on Sanibel’s shores. The best times to scour the sand are during low tide or right after a Gulf storm.

More than 400 varieties of seashells can be found along Sanibel’s beaches. The types of shells you’ll stumble on (literally) range from the expected to the exotic, like the wacky curlicue of Fargo’s worm snail. Some shells you’ll find on Sanibel include (but are definitely not limited to): conch, junonia, lightning whelk, cockle, scallops, murex, tulip (not the flower), olive (not the garnish), and coquina. Whatever you do, don’t touch anything that might still have a living thing inside or attached, or risk getting in trouble with the law.

The “Lord Of The Forest” Is A Massive Tree Known To Bring Visitors To Tears (Amazing Places / Nature)

As you step out of the dense undergrowth, the brush and saplings around you seem to bow in awe towards the lordly presence in the center of the clearing. You look up … and up … and up as you take in the majesty of Tāne Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest.

Sometimes a presence is so overwhelming that you just can’t help but break down and cry. That’s not an uncommon sight at Tāne Mahuta, the largest kauri tree in the world. Even an average kauri specimen is truly massive — the trees regularly exceed 16 feet (5 meters) around and grow to heights in excess of 100 feet (30 meters). There’s a reason why any forest that has them is known as a kauri forest, regardless of whether they are the dominant species.

But the “Lord of the Forest,” named after a Māori forest god, puts all of his neighbors to shame. This kauri is a staggering 50 feet (16 meters) around and reaches a height of 148 feet (45 meters). That’s about as tall as a 14-story building. It takes a long time for a tree to reach that height, and Tāne Mahuta is estimated to be about 2,500 to 3,000 years old. That means it was a sapling when humans were first entering the Bronze Age.

Tāne Mahuta isn’t alone in the rainforest, however. While the Lord of the Forest is easily the largest kauri tree in the world, its nearby neighbor Te Matua Ngahere, the “Father of the Forest,” holds the record as the stoutest. It’s 55 feet (17 meters) around. Some estimates place this behemoth at 4,000 years old, older than the earliest known alphabets. It’s easy to see why these trees occupy such a central place in the cosmology of New Zealand.

Besides their stunning appearance above ground, kauri trees set themselves apart with a uniquely shallow root network. Unlike many very large trees, which nourish themselves on mineral deposits deep beneath the ground, kauris extend thin tendrils along the surface and feed off of decomposing organic matter. But given their size, they also need something to hold them down, so they also have deep peg roots that don’t gather any nutrients.

Unfortunately, that feeding system also leaves the giants vulnerable. In recent years, the trees have been suffering from a new disease known as kauri dieback. It’s caused by outside contaminants seeping into those shallow roots, sometimes by wandering mammals and sometimes on the soles of visiting hikers. That’s why, if you’re going to visit either Tāne Mahuta or Te Matua Ngahere, you need to hose your shoes off first.

These Strange Stone Spires Are Turkey’s Otherworldly “Fairy Chimneys” (Amazing Places)

It’s like something from another reality, displaced in time and space. On the high plateau of Anatolia in central Turkey, bizarrely organic-looking stone structures jut up from the ground and point towards the sky, like little castles built by elemental spirits. But look closer, and you’ll see it isn’t fairies that dwell within these mushroom-like spires.

Seriously, this place doesn’t look real. What other part of the planet is blanketed by a forest of natural stone towers? Factor in the doors and windows carved directly into these natural structures, and it’s clear why tourists and locals alike call them “fairy chimneys.” But they weren’t created by pixie architects. These strange and unique structures are the result of a collaboration between Mother Nature and humankind.

According to National Geographic, the thick ash from ancient volcanic eruptions in the region solidified into soft rock called tuft: “Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet (40 meters) into the sky.” Then, humans worked with Mother Nature’s creations to build caves. The tunnels were so complex that they actually formed entire underground towns.

This region, now known as Göreme National Park, was once the only land path between the Greek and Persian empires. Later, it bridged the gap between the Byzantine Greeks and their rivals in the Middle East. In other words, it was a place where your political and national affiliations could get you in big trouble, depending on what army happened to be marching through at the time. That’s where the caves come in — they made a great hiding spot for anyone who didn’t want to get involved in the bloody game of classical era politics. And as the years went on, those underground caves became more and more elaborate.

As you can probably tell from the pictures, Cappadocia kind of has a thing for hot air balloons. And they’re a great way to see how the landscape looks after a couple of eons of volcanos, winds, and human intervention. But if that’s the only way you visit the region, then you’ll miss out on a big part of the local flavor. Besides giving shelter to Cappadocian natives, the chimneys also attracted refugees — specifically, Christian refugees fleeing persecution in Rome. As thousands of people poured into Turkey, they dug out the caves to literally create giant underground cities such as Kaymakli and Derinkuyu.

Thinking of rough-cut caverns in pitch-black darkness? Think again. Actually, these settlements might be subterranean but they’re home to some stunning works of art and architecture. You’ll find gorgeous, Byzantine-era chapels complete with elaborate religious reliefs and mosaics, lit by sunlight streaming in through the hand-cut windows. You might even find your hotel room in that underground labyrinth — many caves have been transformed into hotels for 21st-century cave living.

Snake Island Is Teeming With Nothing But Outrageously Venomous Snake (Amazing Places)

Some names really say it all. You shouldn’t have to do much research to decide if you’d like to go to “Gumdrop Mountain.” Likewise, you wouldn’t expect to have to warn people to stay away from “Snake Island.” But if you manage to find your way there, you’ll find a place where the most toxic bite rules.


According to some estimates, there’s about one snake per square meter on Ilha da Queimada Grande (as it’s properly called in Portuguese) and up to 4,000 of those are deadly golden lancehead vipers. Legends say that pirates brought the snakes themselves in order to protect the treasure they’d hidden on the island, but in reality, the snakes have been there for thousands of years.

In fact, the snakes of Snake Island have been there since before it was an island. 11,000 years ago, rising water levels turned a peninsula into an island, leaving the snakes stranded to evolve on their own. With no land predators to worry about, the snakes had it made. There was just one problem: They didn’t have any land prey to eat, either. There were birds, and that fact shaped the evolution of the golden lancehead over the next few thousand years. Evolving to dine on their feathered neighbors gave the snakes one of the most toxic bites in the animal kingdom.

The birds that land on Snake Island aren’t giants, and they aren’t particularly resistant to poison. So why did these snakes need to develop one of the strongest venoms on the planet? The answer is speed. While most venomous snakes can sink their teeth into their prey and then wait for the toxin to take effect, the golden lancehead’s meals will fly back to the mainland if given half a chance. That’s why their venom has to work so quickly — the fact that it’s literally strong enough to melt human flesh is an unintended side effect.


You might not expect a place that’s literally crawling with deadly snakes to require a warning, but the government of Brazil has found it necessary to do so. It’s not just for the people’s sakes either — the golden lancehead is listed as critically endangered, and this is the only place in the world that it lives. That’s why it’s illegal for people to visit the island, with the exception of the herpetologists that study the wildlife from their on-site labs and the Brazilian navy’s annual trip to keep the island’s lighthouse in order.

You don’t have to tell us twice. 

Why COVID-19 Made Sparrows Sexier? (Neuroscience)

Adaptation is much faster than the glacial pace of gene selection. Animals must exploit current opportunities whether to survive, to compete with rivals, or to to evade predators. Researchers report that male birds altered their songs during the quiet of the pandemic to wow females.

In some species, males develop highly ornate songs that are attractive to females. The quality of a male’s song conveys a great deal of information about the health and vitality of the singer.

Ornithologists have long known that birds adjust their song to compensate for background conditions. For example, birds living in woodlands must sing louder to defeat the muffling effect of trees and leaves.

Similarly, birds reproducing in noisy areas with a lot of traffic noise must adjust their song so that its active space remains big enough to attract females and repel rivals.

With the reduction in traffic noises, the white-crowned sparrows in California could reduce the effort of projecting the song over an adequate distance. Song volume was reduced by a third. With reduced volume singers could pay more attention to the quality of the song and were able to hit lower notes.

By analogy, human songs suffer if the vocalist struggles for volume and seems to shout, or scream, rather than to sing. With relaxed effort to project the voice, a person may sing more sweetly and the same is true of song birds.

Ironically, human observers reported that birds seemed to be singing more loudly. In reality. Their volume was lower but the song quality was better so that it could be heard more distinctly against a relatively quiet background. Indeed, the song could be heard from twice as far away.

Just as the human audience appreciated the clarity of sparrow song, the intended audience, the females, likely found the songs more attractive also.


The flexibility of sparrow songs is just one more example of adaptive changes occurring in the life of the individual. Such flexibility has been downplayed evolutionary studies as scientists focused exclusively on genetic determination.

While most genetic changes are glacially slow, we now know that gene expression can be altered by environmental conditions with important implications for a variety of human problems from child abuse being perpetuated in families to vulnerability to obesity, depression and suicide.

The bottom line is that behavioral adaptation is a highly flexible process for humans as well as for sparrows. Whether it is a good song, or defensive responses to a difficult early environment, many adaptations occur within the lifetime of an individual.

References: Franklin, T. B., and Mansuy, I. M. (2010). Epigenetic inheritance in mammals: Evidence for the impact of adverse environmental events. Neurobiology of Disease, 39 (1), 61-65.

How Do We Stop Listening to Liars? (Psychology)

Lies have power. The power of lies controls how we see ourselves and behave with others. People are the only species that use lies as part of day-to-day behavior. Why do we love lies?

The best lie is to believe that we won’t die. The imposition of death, how it interferes with our ability to focus and feel pleasure, creates turmoil. Death keeps us from feeling at home in the world; death keeps us from feeling safe.

Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist, wrote The Denial of Death 47 years ago. In that classic, astonishing work, he said that the unwillingness to accept death keeps us from meaningful action and self-awareness. Denial of death prevents people from doing restorative work; denial of death leads to inaction because the delusion persists that there is time to do things. Denial of death also requires enormous energy that might be better placed in problem solving and creative work.

The Japanese approach to death, in contrast to traditional Western views, is rooted in Zen Buddhist and Shinto traditions that can be found today in modern practices. These spiritual approaches can be summarized as acceptance or ukeireru. Ukeireru is a way of life—an acceptance of death; it recognizes that all living things are temporal. It is the opposite of denial.

That acceptance frees the mind because it forces the individual to concentrate on what is, and not what was or what will be. It’s a truth that cuts through the lies that can become so habitual that they no longer seem like lies.

In Why Be Happy? The Japanese Way of Acceptance, my book about ukeireru, what is understood as vital are both lies and acceptance. There are good lies and bad lies; there are good forms of acceptance, and there are bad ways of acceptance.

Art is a good lie: A fiction writer is making up a story, they are telling us something that did not happen. It could have happened; but in the telling, the important thing is to imagine that it did happen. It’s a lie that entertains and responds to our human need and desire to be told lies.

Leaders who lie, on the other hand, are manipulating our habit as people to avoid the truth; lying is part of human nature. The lies of leaders keep us from creating the systems and institutions needed to allow us to accept the truth. Leaders who lie use our fear of the truth, and our love of lies, to incarcerate our minds.

Accepting the lies of a leader can come about because we feel helpless or even spellbound by the power of his lies. His lies feed into our tendency as human beings to deny what we fear most.

The acceptance of lies can be overcome.

On the artistic level, a painter friend of mine in Japan, her name is Mika, told me that in order to create she has to accept that nature holds all the cards, and that she is unimportant: “When I feel nothingness, like when I’m in a Zen temple, that’s when I can do my work as an artist.

On the political level, accepting fear and death are key to overcoming the lies that we are being fed.

The power of lies depends on our fear. But when you accept death, you can overturn lies.

The process of becoming fearless and creative requires enormous concentration.

But here’s a secret:

For me, and I suspect for others, 80 percent of writing is establishing and maintaining concentration. Fifteen percent is imagination. Five percent is luck. And that’s not just every day. It’s often every hour.

Breaking through the denial imposed upon us by our natural human inclination to embrace lies is liberating—it releases the energy needed to accept the world in order to change it.

That’s undeniable.

References: Becker, Ernest (1973). The Denial of Death. New York, New York: Free Press.

This article is based on article of Scott Hass who is a author of a book Why Be Happy?: The Japanese Way of Acceptance and clinical psychologist.

There Is A Kind Of Mental Life After Death According To Diametrics (Psychology)

From the diametric point of view, a person is complex in the sense in which numbers are: that is, the sum of a real and of an imaginary part. The real part is the DNA, body, and brain; the imaginary is the mind, personality, and self. The real part decays and dies, but what of the imaginary part? DNA is potentially immortal (or at least, very long-lived by any standards) and religious belief promises immortality to the imaginary part—what it would call the soul or spirit. But you don’t have to be religious to realize that the imaginary, mental dimension to a person’s life can persist after their death, kept alive in the minds and memories of others, and indeed that to this extent, resurrection is possible.

From this point of view, death is more like pupation in insects: a point in a person’s life between the larval stage of their actual life and a final one in which they become the mental equivalent of an imago, such as a moth or butterfly. Visibly, this bears no relation to the larva, or caterpillar, and has a completely different function. The caterpillar is a voracious eating machine, and often a repellent one where its need to put off predators is concerned: some mimic bird droppings! The imago, by contrast, exists only to mate and to fulfil the ultimate goal of a living organism: to pass on its DNA. And in doing so, the imago acquires characteristics quite different from those of the larva, notably wings—often beautiful ones—and the ability to fly. Even its food source is transfigured when the nectar of flowers replaces the chewed leaves of the caterpillar.

Source: Wikimedia commons

People can undergo a similar transformation from a real, live, larval human being to the imagined, imago-like memory which emerges after their death and pupation, completing their metamorphosis and conferring the only real life after death anyone can expect: a wholly mental one, lived in the minds of their successors and sustained by the interest of future generations. Indeed, for some this transforms them into cultural icons—and even revered religious ones in the case of the martyred Romanovs (left). They may not have been saints while they lived, but they certainly are now: metamorphosis indeed!

“What you might call pupation from this point of view can begin while a person is still alive and seems to me to be a sympathetic way to view the concern with putting their affairs in order and the detachment from life that you see in many elderly people”, said Christopher Badcock, author of Imprinted Brain. “A person’s writings are the closest parallel to their DNA, at least to the extent that you could compare DNA to a text, and leaving your writings to be posthumously published—or at least read—is a kind of pupation. Indeed, in drafting my autobiography informed by insights from the imprinted brain theory I can see an even closer parallel between literacy and genomics in my own particular case: as in a palimpsest, a DNA text can be read beneath the words written over it”.

In fact, this might set a precedent—or at least, anticipate a likely development—in biography generally. Once personal genomics becomes widely established and known about, biographers are bound to take such genetic insights into account when trying to answer the question of what made their particular biographical subject tick. Biographers who today routinely take a psychologically-informed view of a subject’s childhood and family background can hardly ignore the kind of detailed genetic knowledge that will be increasingly on offer from DNA samples—and not necessarily just from the subject of course, but also perhaps from their relatives.

A final pertinent parallel with pupation is that this stage in a metamorphosing insect can last an entire winter, with the moth or butterfly only emerging in the spring. Much the same can happen where a person’s mental imago is concerned, and history is full of striking examples. In science in particular, brilliant butterflies have emerged to dazzle later generations decades after their real-life embodiments died: notable examples being Mendel (who remained in the pupal stage for a generation); Copernicus (whose death coincided with the publication of his pupal work, but which remained largely ignored and almost universally disparaged for more than a century); and even Darwin, who contrary to what his subsequent success might lead you to expect, was in fact generally discounted on the question of natural selection for fifty years after his death and, where sexual selection was concerned, for exactly a century until strikingly vindicated in 1971 with the publication of Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man.

This is important because, if iconic lives can be sanctified and literally canonized as those of the Romanovs were, they can also be vilified and anathematized as is today the fate of those who find their statues and such like being defenestrated. But as a visit to any major museum will immediately confirm, statues, stones, and even stained glass windows which have been vandalized, broken, and defaced can readily be rehabilitated in later, less iconoclastic times and to that extent find whatever degree of resurrection is due to them. Indeed, where science is concerned, even if you come to see someone more as a moth than a butterfly, their life as lost in the dark and their fate as self-immolated on a candle flame, you might still console yourself with the thought that they were at least seeking the light!

This article is republished here from Psychology today under common creative licenses.

Does Your Partner Try to Destroy Your Other Relationships? (Psychology)

Perhaps you tell your partner everything, and your partner similarly confides in you. Some of what you tell your partner involves your feelings about other people. You might have an older relative who, despite years of regular contact, occasionally upsets you with meddling in your affairs. The situation was bad enough all along, but most recently this relative is telling you that you’re wasting money on your latest home renovation. It’s a pandemic, and you’re spending more time at home, so you see this as a wise investment instead of a frivolous enterprise.

When you share your relative’s opinion with your partner, you’re surprised at how angry this makes your partner. What’s more, your partner points out that this relative is not only meddling too much, but is also patronizing and insulting. As you hear your partner continue to rant about that relative’s behavior, you start to realize just how intrusive it is. Now that you think about it, you decide that maybe it’s time to cut off your relationship with this relative in order to avoid such invasions of your well-being.

A new study by the University of Maryland’s Edward Lemay and colleagues (2020) shows just what happens when people’s partners start to influence how they feel about others outside of the relationship. Familiarly known as creating a “wedge,” this process can further alienate a partner from those outside others. Ironically, your partner’s behavior may not be in your best interest even though, as Lemay et al. observe, relationship satisfaction is strongly related to the belief that partners support each other. Indeed, according to the concept of “responsiveness,” attending to and supporting your partner’s needs and goals should build your bonds of intimacy.

One way people demonstrate responsiveness, unfortunately, turns out to be the basis for developing and expanding wedges between members of the couple and those with whom one of them is in conflict. Lemay and his fellow researchers propose that for you and your partner to feel most satisfied, you need to mitigate the downside of responsiveness with the many potential benefits to relationship satisfaction of showing you understand, support, validate, and care about your partner.

In Lemay et. al’s description, there are three players involved in the wedge-building process. The discloser is the person who confides about being upset with another person. The confidant is the partner who hears this disclosure. Adversaries are the people outside the relationship with whom the conflict exists. The Maryland research team tested a theoretical model that begins with the degree to which you feel emotionally close with your partner, which, in turn, leads you to value responsiveness. The next factor to come into play is the degree to which you need “negativity validation” (i.e., wanting your negative views to be confirmed).

The next step involves negativity-validating behavior. Here’s where the wedge-building comes into play. Your partner, wanting to be close to you, takes that bit of negativity from your disclosure and makes it seem worse than it was. The more your partner wants to maintain closeness, the more your partner may tend take the small pieces of negativity and ensure that they become full-grown barriers. A wedge-building partner will not talk you down from your high levels of conflict with the adversary but instead will use that conflict as a way of demonstrating just how close the two of you are.

In the words of the authors, the problem can be characterized as follows: “Hence, when confidants enact negativity-validating behaviors, disclosers may evaluate their adversaries’ morality more negatively, become less motivated to forgive their adversaries, more motivated to avoid them or seek revenge on them, and less committed to maintaining a relationship with them” (p. 106).

Given the high stakes involved in showing they support their partners, are there any confidants who resist the “negativity bandwagon?” As you might suspect, confidants high in agreeableness (in short, they are “nice”) should be the ones least likely to build wedges. They would be the ones who could find the balance between showing they support you while also helping you overcome the negativity that threatens your outside relationships.

With these theoretical elements in place, the authors conducted a series of seven studies intended to test the key pieces of the model. The first correlational study on an online sample established that there was, as predicted, a set of statistical pathways linking desires for closeness by confidants with validating behaviors that, in turn, led to wedge-like negative attributions to the adversary.

In the next three studies, the researchers turned their participants into confidants by having them read descriptions of hypothetical conflicts with adversaries in which they were experimentally induced either to validate or not validate the feelings of their disclosing partners. Once again, the findings supported the responsiveness-validation model.

The next two studies presented participants with instructions to recall a time in one of their own relationships in which they were the confidants who became upset with an adversary who transgressed against a discloser. The key measures in these studies involved the confidant recommending negative behaviors directed toward the adversary. The types of negative behaviors were typical “wedge-like” actions such as seeking revenge, getting even, avoidance and “reduced benevolence” (i.e., not wanting to make peace). These findings once again suggested that confidants who want to promote closeness can encourage disclosers to adopt more negative behaviors toward the adversary.

Finally, the research team put the behavior of confidants and disclosers into focus by having participants observe a situation in which they discussed what happened the last time an adversarial conflict occurred. Additionally, Lemay and his colleagues examined the role of agreeableness and self-esteem, as well as the length of the relationship and closeness of the discloser to the adversary. The findings showed that responsiveness significantly predicted the tendency for confidants to try to build wedges.

In all of this wedge formation, there was one glimmer of hope that benevolence could prevail, and that involved the degree to which the discloser was close to the adversary. As the authors noted, “This effect may reflect the fact that, independently of their goal to be responsive, confidants consider the costs and benefits of conflict resolution for the discloser when deciding whether to validate negativity”.

The lower likelihood that a confidant would try to undermine a tie with a close adversary may be relevant for thinking about a partner who tries to pry you from your family. A partner who truly cares about you will likely recognize that no matter how upset you may be with a relative or close friend at the moment, the best way to build responsiveness may be to help you, the discloser, achieve a peaceful resolution. The exception might be, as the authors point out, when your partner is trying to protect you from an abusive relationship with an adversary that you don’t recognize as abusive.

In the worst of all possible worlds, the opposite prevails, and your partner is just someone who likes to stir up mischief to see what happens. Such a partner doesn’t have your best interests in mind, and may even want to create a rift between you and your close friends and family in order to maintain exclusive rights to your emotional capital.

Returning to the earlier example, that meddling relative may be annoying from time to time, but that person may also be someone you’ve been close to before and will be close to once again. A partner who recognizes this will refrain from negativity validation the next time you get upset.

To sum up, the best way to maintain peace between your partner and those outside the relationship is to find that balance between being responsive and preserving emotional ties with the others you care about. Finding a partner who manages this delicate balance may just be key to fulfilling relationships with all of the important people in your life.

References: Lemay, E. P., Jr., Ryan, J. E., Fehr, R., & Gelfand, M. J. (2020). Validation of negativity: Drawbacks of interpersonal responsiveness during conflicts with outsiders. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(1), 104–135. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000214.supp (Supplemental)

This post is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.