Running to do evil: Costs incurred by perpetrators affect moral judgment

Julian Jara-EttingerMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Nathaniel KimMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Paul MuentenerMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Laura SchulzMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstract

Humans evaluate transgressors focusing on their intentions and the outcome. Here we propose that, in addition to these factors, we also take into account the cost and reward of actions, supported by a fundamental inferential process we call a “naïve utility calculus.” Because inferences about costs and rewards trade off, observers can infer that agents who incur higher costs place a higher value on acting. This inference has implications for moral judgments. Our account predicts, somewhat paradoxically, that the higher the costs a perpetrator incurs in transgressing, the more harshly observers will judge him. Less paradoxically, the same principle holds for helpful actions: controlling for intention and outcome, more costly helpful actions will be given more credit. Consistent with our framework, we find that adults and preschoolers make graded social evaluations guided by the costs of the actions.

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Running to do evil: Costs incurred by perpetrators affect moral judgment (5.6 MB)



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