Molly J Crockett

Molly J Crockett
University College London | UCL · Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience

About

92
Publications
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7,318
Citations
Additional affiliations
September 2006 - March 2011
University of Cambridge
September 2001 - June 2005

Publications

Publications (92)
Article
When people judge acts of kindness or cruelty, they often look beyond the act itself to infer the agent’s motives. These inferences, in turn, can powerfully influence moral judgements. The mere possibility of self-interested motives can taint otherwise helpful acts, whereas morally principled motives can exonerate those behind harmful acts. In this...
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Humans have long sought experiences that transcend or change their sense of self. By weakening boundaries between the self and others, such transformative experiences may lead to enduring changes in moral orientation. Here we investigated the psychological nature and prosocial correlates of transformative experiences by studying participants before...
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Selfishness is central to many theories of human morality, yet its psychological nature remains largely overlooked. Psychologists often draw on classical conceptions of selfishness from evolutionary biology (i.e., selfish gene theory), economics (i.e., rational self-interest), and philosophy (i.e., psychological egoism), but such characterizations...
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Technological advances are enabling roles for machines that present novel ethical challenges. The study of 'AI ethics' has emerged to confront these challenges, and connects perspectives from philosophy, computer science, law, and economics. Less represented in these interdisciplinary efforts is the perspective of cognitive science. We propose a fr...
Preprint
From ‘likes’ on social media, to seeing other people eat in a restaurant, every day we constantly observe other people receiving rewards. Theoretical accounts posit that vicarious processing of these rewards might be linked to people’s sensitivity to internal body states (interoception) and facilitates a tendency to act prosocially to obtain positi...
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Serotonin is involved in updating responses to changing environmental circumstances. Optimising behaviour to maximise reward and minimise punishment may require shifting strategies upon encountering new situations. Likewise, autonomic responses to threats are critical for survival yet must be modified as danger shifts from one source to another. Wh...
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Helping other people can entail risks for the helper. For example, when treating infectious patients, medical volunteers risk their own health. In such situations, decisions to help should depend on the individual’s valuation of others’ well-being (social preferences) and the degree of personal risk the individual finds acceptable (risk preferences...
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A dislike of waiting for pain, aptly termed 'dread', is so great that people will increase pain to avoid delaying it. However, despite many accounts of altruistic responses to pain in others, no previous studies have tested whether people take delay into account when attempting to ameliorate others' pain. We examined the impact of delay in 2 experi...
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Judgments of whether an action is morally wrong depend on who is involved and the nature of their relationship. But how, when, and why social relationships shape moral judgments is not well understood. We provide evidence to address these questions, measuring cooperative expectations and moral wrongness judgments in the context of common social rel...
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Humans have an exceptional ability to cooperate relative to many other species. We review the neural mechanisms supporting human cooperation, focusing on the prefrontal cortex. One key feature of human social life is the prevalence of cooperative norms that guide social behavior and prescribe punishment for noncompliance. Taking a comparative appro...
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Trust in leaders is central to citizen compliance with public policies. One potential determinant of trust is how leaders resolve conflicts between utilitarian and non-utilitarian ethical principles in moral dilemmas. Past research suggests that utilitarian responses to dilemmas can both erode and enhance trust in leaders: sacrificing some people t...
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Moral outrage shapes fundamental aspects of social life and is now widespread in online social networks. Here, we show how social learning processes amplify online moral outrage expressions over time. In two preregistered observational studies on Twitter (7331 users and 12.7 million total tweets) and two preregistered behavioral experiments ( N = 2...
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Humans are averse to both having less (i.e., disadvantageous inequity aversion [IA]) and having more than others (i.e., advantageous IA). However, the social-affective traits that drive individual differences in IA are not well understood. Here, by combining a modified dictator game and a computational model, we found in a sample of incarcerated ad...
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Moral behavior is susceptible to peer influence. How does information from peers influence moral preferences? We used drift-diffusion modeling to show that peer influence changes the value of moral behavior by prioritizing the choice attributes that align with peers' goals. Study 1 (N = 100; preregistered) showed that participants accurately inferr...
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Adults punish moral transgressions to satisfy both retributive motives (such as wanting antisocial others to receive their ‘just deserts’) and consequentialist motives (such as teaching transgressors that their behaviour is inappropriate). Here, we investigated whether retributive and consequentialist motives for punishment are present in children...
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Moral behavior requires learning how our actions help or harm others. Theoretical accounts of learning propose a key division between "model-free" algorithms that cache outcome values in actions and "model-based" algorithms that map actions to outcomes. Here, we tested the engagement of these mechanisms and their neural basis as participants learne...
Preprint
Full-text available
Selfishness is central to many theories of human morality, yet its psychological nature remains largely overlooked. Psychologists often rely on classical conceptions of selfishness from economics (i.e., rational self-interest) and philosophy (i.e. psychological egoism), but such characterizations offer limited insight into the richer, motivated nat...
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Impatience can be formalized as a delay discount rate, describing how the subjective value of reward decreases as it is delayed. By analogy, selfishness can be formalized as a social discount rate, representing how the subjective value of rewarding another person decreases with increasing social distance. Delay and social discount rates for reward...
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Guilt is a quintessential emotion in interpersonal interactions and moral cognition. Detecting the presence and measuring the intensity of guilt-related neurocognitive processes is crucial to understanding the mechanisms of social and moral phenomena. Existing neuroscience research on guilt has been focused on the neural correlates of guilt states...
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How do people judge whether someone deserves moral praise for their actions? In contrast to the large literature on moral blame, work on how people attribute praise has, until recently, been scarce. However, there is a growing body of recent work from a variety of subfields in psychology (including social, cognitive, developmental, and consumer) su...
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Background Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental disorder characterized by marked interpersonal disturbances, including difficulties trusting others and volatile impressions of others’ moral character, often resulting in premature relationship termination. We tested a hypothesis that moral character inference is disrupted in BPD...
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Tomasello (2020) argues that a sense of moral obligation emerges from the creation of a collaborative "we" motivating us to fulfill our cooperative duties. We suggest that "we" takes many forms, entailing different obligations, depending on the type (and underlying functions) of the relationship(s) in question. We sketch a framework of such types,...
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Highlights • Moralistic punishment discourages others' perceived moral transgressions. • Engaging in punishment includes two stages: detecting a norm violation and deciding to punish. • Neural salience network is involved in detecting norm violations. • Neural valuation network is activated when deciding to engage in moralistic punishment. • Gender...
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The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive global health crisis. Because the crisis requires large-scale behaviour change and places significant psychological burdens on individuals, insights from the social and behavioural sciences can be used to help align human behaviour with the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts. Here...
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People often prioritize their own interests, but also like to see themselves as moral. How do individuals resolve this tension? One way to both pursue personal gain and preserve a moral self-image is to misremember the extent of one’s selfishness. Here, we test this possibility. Across five experiments (N=3190), we find that people tend to recall b...
Preprint
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Serotonin is implicated in aversive processing and updating responses to changing environmental circumstances. Optimising behaviour to maximise reward and minimise punishment may require shifting strategies upon encountering new situations. Likewise, emotional reactions to threats are critical for survival yet must be modified as danger shifts from...
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Prosocial behaviours-actions that benefit others-fundamentally shape our interpersonal interactions. Psychiatric disorders have been suggested to be related to prosocial disturbances, which may underlie many of their social impairments. However, broader affective traits, present in different degrees in both psychiatric and healthy populations, have...
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Stress changes our social behavior. Traditionally, stress has been associated with “fight-or-flight” – the tendency to attack an aggressor, or escape the stressor. But stress may also promote the opposite pattern, i.e., “tend-and-befriend” – increased prosociality toward others. It is currently unclear which situational or physiological factors pro...
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To win friends, help the needy, avoid exploitation or influence strangers, people must make decisions that are inherently uncertain. In their compelling and insightful perspective on resolving social uncertainty1, FeldmanHall and Shenhav (henceforth F&S) join a growing movement combining computational approaches with social psychological theory2. F...
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Individuals exposed to community violence are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior, resulting in a dramatic increase in contact with justice and social service systems. Theoretical accounts suggest that disruptions in learning underlie the link between exposure to violence and maladaptive behaviors. However, empirical evidence specifying th...
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Sense of ownership is a ubiquitous and fundamental aspect of human cognition. Here we used model-based functional magnetic resonance imaging and a novel minimal ownership paradigm to probe the behavioural and neural mechanisms underpinning ownership acquisition for ourselves, friends and strangers. We find a self-ownership bias at multiple levels o...
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Previous work has demonstrated that people are more likely to trust “deontological” agents who reject harming one person to save many others than “consequentialist” agents who endorse such instrumental harms, which could explain the higher prevalence of non-consequentialist moral intuitions. Yet consequentialism involves endorsing not just instrume...
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People form moral impressions rapidly, effortlessly and from a remarkably young age1–5. Putatively ‘bad’ agents command more attention and are identified more quickly and accurately than benign or friendly agents5–12. Such vigilance is adaptive, but can also be costly in environments where people sometimes make mistakes, because incorrectly attribu...
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Humans face a fundamental challenge of how to balance selfish interests against moral considerations. Such trade‐offs are implicit in moral decisions about what to do; judgments of whether an action is morally right or wrong; and inferences about the moral character of others. To date, these three dimensions of moral cognition–decision‐making, judg...
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Uncertainty about how our choices will affect others infuses social life. Past research suggests uncertainty has a negative effect on prosocial behaviour1–12 by enabling people to adopt self-serving narratives about their actions1,13. We show that uncertainty does not always promote selfishness. We introduce a distinction between two types of uncer...
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Uncertainty about how our choices will affect others infuses social life. Past research suggests uncertainty has a negative effect on prosocial behavior by enabling people to adopt self-serving narratives about their actions. We show that uncertainty does not always promote selfishness. We introduce a distinction between two types of uncertainty th...
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Acute stress affects human decision making. It has been argued that there are systematic sex differences in behavioral responses to acute stress, with males showing a 'fight or flight' and females showing a 'tend and befriend' response. A 'tend and befriend' response would suggest that women become more cooperative under acute stress, while men do...
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An optimistic learning bias leads people to update their beliefs in response to better-than-expected good news but neglect worse-than-expected bad news. Because evidence suggests that this bias arises from self-concern, we hypothesized that a similar bias may affect beliefs about other people’s futures, to the extent that people care about others....
Preprint
An optimistic learning bias leads people to update their beliefs in response to better-than-expected “good news”, but neglect worse-than-expected “bad news”. Because evidence suggests this bias arises from self-concern, we hypothesized that a similar bias may affect beliefs about others’ future, to the extent that people care about others. Here, we...
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Conspicuous consumption refers to the phenomenon where individuals purchase goods for signalling social status, rather than for its inherent functional value. This study (n = 166 male participants) investigated how the outcome of a social competition influenced conspicuous consumption, and its association with competition-induced testosterone react...
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Moral systems universally prohibit harming others for personal gain. However, we know little about how such principles guide moral behavior. Using a task that assesses the financial cost participants ascribe to harming others versus themselves, we probed the relationship between moral behavior and neural representations of profit and pain. Most par...
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Moral psychology research has highlighted several factors critical for evaluating the morality of another's choice, including the detection of norm-violating outcomes, the extent to which an agent caused an outcome, and the extent to which the agent intended good or bad consequences, as inferred from observing their decisions. However, person-cente...
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Humans often give in to temptations that are in conflict with valuable long-term goals like health or saving for the future. Such willpower failures represent a prevalent problem in everyday life and in many psychiatric disorders. Strategies that increase resistance to temptations could therefore improve overall societal well-being. One important s...
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Serotonin has been implicated in promoting self-control, regulation of hunger and physiological homeostasis, and regulation of caloric intake. However, it remains unclear whether the effects of serotonin on caloric intake reflect purely homeostatic mechanisms, or whether serotonin also modulates cognitive processes involved in dietary decision maki...
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People show empathic responses to otherspain, yet how they choose to apportion pain between themselves and others is not well understood. To address this question, we observed choices to reapportion social allocations of painful stimuli and, for comparison, also elicited equivalent choices with money. On average people sought to equalize allocation...
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An aversion to harming others is a core component of human morality and is disturbed in antisocial behavior [1-4]. Deficient harm aversion may underlie instrumental and reactive aggression, which both feature in psychopathy [5]. Past work has highlighted monoaminergic influences on aggression [6-11], but a mechanistic account of how monoamines regu...
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Concern for the suffering of others is central to moral decision making. How humans evaluate others' suffering, relative to their own suffering, is unknown. We investigated this question by inviting subjects to trade off profits for themselves against pain experienced either by themselves or an anonymous other person. Subjects made choices between...
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Humans will incur costs to punish others who violate social norms. Theories of justice highlight 2 motives for punishment: a forward-looking deterrence of future norm violations and a backward-looking retributive desire to harm. Previous studies of costly punishment have not isolated how much people are willing to pay for retribution alone, because...
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Age-related cognitive changes may contribute to impairments in making complex social decisions. Interpersonal conflict is a key factor behind suicidal behavior in old age, with suicidal motivations ranging from escape to revenge. Such conflicts may prove catastrophic for people prone to suicide, in part because of their tendency to make disadvantag...