Patterns of Moral Judgment Derive From Nonmoral Psychological Representations

Department of Psychology, Harvard University Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cognitive Science A Multidisciplinary Journal (Impact Factor: 2.59). 08/2011; 35(6):1052-75. DOI: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01167.x
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Ordinary people often make moral judgments that are consistent with philosophical principles and legal distinctions. For example, they judge killing as worse than letting die, and harm caused as a necessary means to a greater good as worse than harm caused as a side-effect (Cushman, Young, & Hauser, 2006). Are these patterns of judgment produced by mechanisms specific to the moral domain, or do they derive from other psychological domains? We show that the action/omission and means/side-effect distinctions affect nonmoral representations and provide evidence that their role in moral judgment is mediated by these nonmoral psychological representations. Specifically, the action/omission distinction affects moral judgment primarily via causal attribution, while the means/side-effect distinction affects moral judgment via intentional attribution. We suggest that many of the specific patterns evident in our moral judgments in fact derive from nonmoral psychological mechanisms, and especially from the processes of causal and intentional attribution.

1 Follower
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Past research has identified a number of asymmetries based on moral judgments. Beliefs about (a) what a person values, (b) whether a person is happy, (c) whether a person has shown weakness of will, and (d) whether a person deserves praise or blame seem to depend critically on whether participants themselves find the agent's behavior to be morally good or bad. To date, however, the origins of these asymmetries remain unknown. The present studies examine whether beliefs about an agent's “true self” explain these observed asymmetries based on moral judgment. Using the identical materials from previous studies in this area, a series of five experiments indicate that people show a general tendency to conclude that deep inside every individual there is a “true self” calling him or her to behave in ways that are morally virtuous. In turn, this belief causes people to hold different intuitions about what the agent values, whether the agent is happy, whether he or she has shown weakness of will, and whether he or she deserves praise or blame. These results not only help to answer important questions about how people attribute various mental states to others; they also contribute to important theoretical debates regarding how moral values may shape our beliefs about phenomena that, on the surface, appear to be decidedly non-moral in nature.
    Cognitive Science A Multidisciplinary Journal 07/2014; 39(1). DOI:10.1111/cogs.12134
  • Source
    Proceedings of IEEE International Symposium on Ethics in Engineering, Science, and Technology (ETHICS); 01/2014
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: A central question in the study of moral psychology is how immediate intuition interacts with more thoughtful deliberation in the generation of moral judgments. The present study sheds additional light on this question by comparing adults' judgments of moral permissibility with their judgments of physical possibility-a form of judgment that also involves the coordination of intuition and deliberation (Shtulman, Cognitive Development 24:293-309, 2009). Participants (N = 146) were asked to judge the permissibility of 16 extraordinary actions (e.g., Is it ever morally permissible for an 80-year-old woman to have sex with a 20-year-old man?) and the possibility of 16 extraordinary events (e.g., Will it ever be physically possible for humans to bring an extinct species back to life?). Their tendency to judge the extraordinary events as possible was predictive of their tendency to judge the extraordinary actions as permissible, even when controlling for disgust sensitivity. Moreover, participants' justification and response latency patterns were correlated across domains. Taken together, these findings suggest that modal judgment and moral judgment may be linked by a common inference strategy, with some individuals focusing on why actions/events that do not occur cannot occur, and others focusing on how those same actions/events could occur.
    Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 04/2013; DOI:10.3758/s13423-013-0429-9


Available from