Someone's responsible

Kevin Lewis

January 29, 2015

Harmful situations, impure people: An attribution asymmetry across moral domains

Alek Chakroff & Liane Young
Cognition, March 2015, Pages 30–37

People make inferences about the actions of others, assessing whether an act is best explained by person-based versus situation-based accounts. Here we examine people’s explanations for norm violations in different domains: harmful acts (e.g., assault) and impure acts (e.g., incest). Across four studies, we find evidence for an attribution asymmetry: people endorse more person-based attributions for impure versus harmful acts. This attribution asymmetry is partly explained by the abnormality of impure versus harmful acts, but not by differences in the moral wrongness or the statistical frequency of these acts. Finally, this asymmetry persists even when the situational factors that lead an agent to act impurely are stipulated. These results suggest that, relative to harmful acts, impure acts are linked to person-based attributions.


Priming social affiliation promotes morality – Regardless of religion

Nicholas Thomson
Personality and Individual Differences, March 2015, Pages 195–200

Whilst prior studies have shown religious priming spurs prosocial behavior, there is little evidence this is unique to religion. It could be that priming any social affiliation encourages prosocial behavior simply by representing, belonging, and being responsible to a group, as opposed to acting as an individual. The current study aims to test if priming social affiliation is associated with greater moral self-perception. Using a large sample (N = 801), this study included an experimental manipulation to tease out if the previously-demonstrated priming effects that increase morality may be unique to religious affiliation or are general to any meaningful social affiliation. Results showed priming social affiliation had a unique influence on morality. This priming effect was not different for those with a religious affiliation when compared to people with a non-religious affiliation. Religious affiliates may see themselves as more moral, and priming their religious affiliation did indeed induce greater morality, but this was also true for other social affiliations. Therefore, religion is not fundamental to moral priming, and it is likely to be the perceived benefits of being in a group that enhances prosociality. We discussed implications of belonging to a social group on morality and prosociality.


Monetizing illness: The influence of disability assistance priming on how we evaluate the health symptoms of others

Rourke O'Brien
Social Science & Medicine, March 2015, Pages 31–35

For low-income families in the United States disability assistance has emerged as a critical income support program in the post-welfare reform era. This article explores how this monetization of illness — tying receipt of government assistance to a physical or mental condition — influences how individuals evaluate the severity of another individual's health symptoms. Using data collected through a nationally representative survey experiment of adults in the United States (n = 1005) in May 2013, I find that respondents who are primed to consider the existence of disability assistance are less likely to rate the symptoms described in a hypothetical vignette as severe relative to the control group. I find evidence that this effect holds for both physical (back pain) and mental (depression) conditions for adults and behavioral conditions (ADHD) in children. Moreover, respondents in the experimental group were more likely to blame the individual for her health condition and this measure was found to partially mediate the effect of the disability assistance prime. These findings have important implications for researchers, policymakers and medical practitioners by illustrating how premising state assistance on a health condition may in turn shape how individuals evaluate the health symptoms of others.


Economic individualism and punitive attitudes: A cross-national analysis

Ryan Kornhauser
Punishment & Society, January 2015, Pages 27-53

This article examines the effect of economic individualism – a belief that individuals can and should be responsible for their own economic welfare – on punitive attitudes in the English-speaking western world. Using existing survey data from the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand, the relationship between both normative and descriptive economic individualism and support for stiffer sentences and the death penalty is empirically assessed. Relatively consistently, a positive and significant relationship exists between both measures of economic individualism and both measures of punitiveness. This article suggests possible causal and non-causal reasons for this finding, as well as implications for future research.


An Unscathed Past in the Face of Death: Mortality Salience Reduces Individuals’ Regrets

Selma Carolin Rudert et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2015, Pages 34–41

Folk wisdom and popular literature hold that, in the face of death, individuals tend to regret things in their lives that they have done or failed to do. Terror Management Theory (TMT), in contrast, allows for the prediction that individuals who are confronted with death try to minimize the experience of regret in order to retain a positive self-esteem. Three experiments put these competing perspectives to the test. Drawing on TMT, we hypothesized and found that participants primed with their own death regret fewer things than control-group participants. This pattern of results cannot be attributed to differing types of regrets (Study 1). Furthermore, we provide evidence suggesting that the effect is not purely a product of cognitive mechanisms such as differing levels of construal (Study 2), cognitive contrast, or deficits (Study 3). Rather, the reported results are best explained in terms of a motivational coping mechanism: When death is salient, individuals strive to bolster as well as protect their self-esteem and accordingly try to minimize the experience of regret. The results add to our conceptual understanding of regret and TMT, and suggest that a multitude of lifestyle guidebooks need updating.


Gender differences in honesty: Groups versus individuals

Gerd Muehlheusser, Andreas Roider & Niklas Wallmeier
Economics Letters, March 2015, Pages 25–29

Extending the die rolling experiment of Fischbacher and Föllmi-Heusi (2013), we compare gender effects with respect to unethical behavior by individuals and by two-person groups. In contrast to individual decisions, gender matters strongly under group decisions. We find more lying in male groups and mixed groups than in female groups.


The self in moral judgement: How self-affirmation affects the moral condemnation of harmless sexual taboo violations

Marlon Mooijman & Wilco Van Dijk
Cognition & Emotion, forthcoming

People frequently condemn harmless sexual taboo behaviours. Based on self-affirmation theory, we predicted that providing an opportunity to self-affirm decreases the tendency to morally condemn harmless sexual taboos. In Experiment 1, we found evidence that self-affirmation decreases the moral condemnation of harmless sexual taboos and ruled out that this was due to a decrease in how disgusting participants considered taboo acts. In Experiment 2, we replicated this effect and demonstrated the mediating role of self-directed threat emotions. These results demonstrate that the tendency to morally condemn harmless sexual taboos arises in part from the need to protect self-integrity. We discuss the implications for the role of the self and emotions in moral judgements and interventions aimed at increasing the acceptability of harmless sexual taboos.


The effect of specific and general rules on ethical decisions

Laetitia Mulder, Jennifer Jordan & Floor Rink
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, January 2015, Pages 115–129

We examined the effects of specific and general rules on ethical decisions and demonstrated, across five studies, that specifically-framed rules elicited ethical decisions more strongly than generally-framed rules. The effectiveness of specific rules was explained by reductions in people’s moral rationalizations. Alternative explanations that people feared being caught and punished or that people perceive no clear connection between general rules and the ethical decision, were ruled out. General rules exerted some effect on ethical decisions. In fact, whereas specific rules failed to affect ethical decisions that did not explicitly correspond with the rule, the effect of the general rule depended less on the type of behavior a person encountered. Our findings further suggest that combining a specific with a general rule provided no additive advantage, as people may interpret the general rule in light of the specific rule. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.


Testing the Prosocial Effectiveness of the Prototypical Moral Emotions: Elevation Increases Benevolent Behaviors and Outrage Increases Justice Behaviors

Julie Van de Vyver & Dominic Abrams
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2015, Pages 23–33

How can we overcome apathy and instigate a desire to help others? This research tests and compares the prosocial effects of two of the most prototypical emotions on a range of prosocial intentions and behaviors. Emotion-inducing videos were used to instigate states of moral elevation (felt when witnessing a moral virtue) and/or moral outrage (felt when witnessing a moral transgression). Although elevation and outrage derive from opposing appraisals, separate strands of research show that they both instigate a desire to help others. The current research tests the appraisal tendency framework to explore whether elevation and outrage increase prosociality across moral domains or whether their prosocial effects are domain specific. Results of Experiment 1 showed that elevation, but not outrage, increased donations to charity (i.e., benevolence domain). Experiment 2 showed that outrage, but not elevation, increased prosocial political action intentions (i.e., justice domain). Experiment 3 showed that outrage, but not elevation, increased compensation in a third-party bystander game (i.e., justice domain). This research shows that although elevation and outrage both inspire a desire to help others, they affect distinct types of prosocial behaviors, offering support for the appraisal tendency framework. Applied and theoretical implications are discussed.


Can We Regulate 'Good' People? An Exploratory Study of Subtle Conflicts of Interest Situations

Yuval Feldman & Eliran Halali
Harvard Working Paper, December 2014

The growing recognition of the notion of ‘good people’ suggests that many ethically relevant behaviors that were previously assumed to be choice-based, conscious, and deliberate decisions, are in many cases the product of automatic processes that prevent people from recognizing the wrongfulness of their behavior – an idea dubbed by several leading scholars as an ethical blind spot. With the rise of the focus of good people in psychology and management, the lack of discussion the implications of this growing literature to law and regulation is quite puzzling. The main question, this study will be attempt to explore is what are the implications of this literature to legal policy making. We examined experimentally the efficacy of deterrence- and morality-based interventions in preventing people who are in subtle conflict of interest from favoring their self-interest over their professional integrity and to behave objectively. Results demonstrate that the manipulated conflict was likely to “corrupt” people. Furthermore, explicit mechanisms (both deterrence- and morality-based) had a much larger constraining effect overall on participants’ judgment than did implicit measures, with no differences between deterrence and morality. The findings demonstrate how little is needed to create a risk to the integrity of individuals, but they also suggest that a modest explicit intervention can easily remedy much of the wrongdoing.


If Torture is Wrong, What About 24?: Torture and the Hollywood Effect

Erin Kearns & Joseph Young
American University Working Paper, August 2014

Since the shock of Abu Ghraib, scholars and policymakers have engaged in vigorous debate over both the efficacy and morality of torture. Research on torture has focused on a wide range of attitudes about torture, the use of torture, what constitutes torture, why torture persists, and the efficacy of using torture. These studies have generally examined participants’ attitudes but have neglected to assess behaviors in line with stated beliefs. We offer a novel design to address this gap by examining how perceived efficacy of torture impacts the support for torture and ultimately behaviors consistent with these beliefs. Using a mixed within-subjects and between-subjects design, we presented participants with dramatic depictions showing torture as either effective in eliciting information from a detainee, ineffective in this regard, or a neutral condition where torture is not used. We found that dramatic depictions of torture as being effective increased both stated level of support for torture and behavioral commitment to this belief. Interestingly, there was no difference in level of behavioral commitment between participants who saw dramatic depictions of torture, regardless of whether or not it was effective, which may indicate people are more likely to support aggression after seeing violence.


Shared Perceptions: Morality Is Embedded in Social Contexts

Nate Carnes, Brian Lickel & Ronnie Janoff-Bulman
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Morality helps make social life possible, but social life is embedded in many social contexts. Research on morality has generally neglected this and instead has emphasized people’s general beliefs. We therefore investigated the extent to which different moral principles are perceived as embedded in social contexts. We conducted two studies investigating how diverse social contexts influence beliefs about the operative moral principles in distinct group types. Study 1 examined these perceptions using a within-subjects design, whereas Study 2 utilized a between-subjects design. We found a high degree of consensus among raters concerning the operative moral principles in groups, and each group type was characterized by a qualitatively distinct pattern of applicable moral principles. Political orientation, a focus of past research on morality, had a small influence on beliefs about operative moral principles. The implications of these findings for our understanding of morality and its functional role in groups are discussed.


Forgiveness is not always divine: When expressing forgiveness makes others avoid you

Gabrielle Adams et al.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, January 2015, Pages 130–141

Organizational scholars have recently become interested in forgiveness as a way to resolve workplace conflicts and repair relationships. We question the assumption that forgiveness always has these relational benefits. In three studies we investigated participants’ responses to people who expressed forgiveness of them versus those who did not. We found that when the ostensible transgressor did not believe he or she had committed a wrongdoing, expressing forgiveness damaged the relationship relative to a control condition. This effect occurred when participants were made to believe that a real person had forgiven them (Studies 1 and 2) and when they imagined a co-worker had forgiven them (Study 3). Furthermore, in the absence of wrongdoing, participants’ perceptions of the forgiver as self-righteous mediated the effect of forgiveness on avoidance of forgivers (Studies 2 and 3). We discuss implications for conflict management.


Are corporations people too? The neural correlates of moral judgments about companies and individuals

Mark Plitt, Ricky Savjani & David Eagleman
Social Neuroscience, forthcoming

To investigate whether the legal concept of “corporate personhood” mirrors an inherent similarity in the neural processing of the actions of corporations and people, we measured brain responses to vignettes about corporations and people while participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging. We found that anti-social actions of corporations elicited more intense negative emotions and that pro-social actions of people elicited more intense positive emotions. However, the networks underlying the moral decisions about corporations and people are strikingly similar, including regions of the canonical theory of mind network. In analyzing the activity in these networks, we found differences in the emotional processing of these two types of vignettes: neutral actions of corporations showed neural correlates that more closely resembled negative actions than positive actions. Collectively, these findings indicate that our brains understand and analyze the actions of corporations and people very similarly, with a small emotional bias against corporations.


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