An Actor's Knowledge and Intent Are More Important in Evaluating Moral Transgressions Than Conventional Transgressions

Carly Giffin, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

An actor's mental states—whether she acted knowingly and with bad intentions—typically play an important role in evaluating the extent to which an action is wrong and in determining appropriate levels of punishment. In four experiments, we find that this role for knowledge and intent is significantly weaker when evaluating transgressions of conventional rules as opposed to moral rules. We also find that this attenuated role for knowledge and intent is partly due to the fact that conventional rules are judged to be more arbitrary than moral rules; whereas moral transgressions are associated with actions that are intrinsically wrong (e.g., hitting another person), conventional transgressions are associated with actions that are only contingently wrong (e.g., wearing pajamas to school, which is only wrong if it violates a dress code that could have been otherwise). Finally, we find that it is the perpetrator's belief about the arbitrary or non-arbitrary basis of the rule—not the reality—that drives this differential effect of knowledge and intent across types of transgressions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-133
Number of pages29
JournalCognitive Science
Volume42
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

Keywords

  • Decision making
  • Mental states
  • Moral evaluation
  • Punishment
  • Transgressions

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