Effects of Suboptimally Presented Erotic Pictures on Moral Judgments: A Cross-Cultural Comparison.
ABSTRACT: Previous research has identified a set of core factors that influence moral judgments. The present study addresses the interplay between moral judgments and four factors: (a) incidental affects, (b) sociocultural context, (c) type of dilemma, and (d) participant's sex. We asked participants in two different countries (Colombia and Spain) to judge the acceptability of actions in response to personal and impersonal moral dilemmas. Before each dilemma an affective prime (erotic, pleasant or neutral pictures) was presented suboptimally. Our results show that: a) relative to neutral priming, erotic primes increase the acceptance of harm for a greater good (i.e., more utilitarian judgments), b) relative to Colombians, Spanish participants rated causing harm as less acceptable, c) relative to impersonal dilemmas, personal dilemmas reduced the acceptance of harm, and d) relative to men, women were less likely to consider harm acceptable. Our results are congruent with findings showing that sex is a crucial factor in moral cognition, and they extend previous research by showing the interaction between culture and incidental factors in the making of moral judgments.
Project description:Moral dilemmas often concern actions that involve causing harm to others in the attempt to prevent greater harm. But not all actions of this kind are equal in terms of their moral evaluation. In particular, a harm-causing preventive action is typically regarded as less acceptable if the harm is a means to achieve the goal of preventing greater harm than if it is a foreseen but unintended side-effect of the action. Likewise, a harm-causing preventive action is typically deemed less acceptable if it directly produces the harm than if it merely initiates a process that brings about the harmful consequence by its own dynamics. We report three experiments that investigated to which degree these two variables, the instrumentality of the harm (harm as means vs. side-effect; Experiments 1, 2, and 3) and personal force (personal vs. impersonal dilemmas; Experiments 2 and 3) influence deontological (harm-rejection) and utilitarian (outcome-maximization) inclinations that have been hypothesized to underly moral judgments in harm-related moral dilemmas. To measure these moral inclinations, the process dissociation procedure was used. The results suggest that the instrumentality of the harm and personal force affect both inclinations, but in opposite ways. Personal dilemmas and dilemmas characterized by harm as a means evoked higher deontological tendencies and lower utilitarian tendencies, than impersonal dilemmas and dilemmas where the harm was a side-effect. These distinct influences of the two dilemma conceptualization variables went undetected if the conventional measure of moral inclinations, the proportion of harm-accepting judgments, was analyzed. Furthermore, although deontological and utilitarian inclinations were found to be largely independent overall, there was some evidence that their correlation depended on the experimental conditions.
Project description:This study provides exploratory evidence about how behavioral and neural responses to standard moral dilemmas are influenced by religious belief. Eleven Catholics and 13 Atheists (all female) judged 48 moral dilemmas. Differential neural activity between the two groups was found in precuneus and in prefrontal, frontal and temporal regions. Furthermore, a double dissociation showed that Catholics recruited different areas for deontological (precuneus; temporoparietal junction) and utilitarian moral judgments [dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC); temporal poles], whereas Atheists did not (superior parietal gyrus for both types of judgment). Finally, we tested how both groups responded to personal and impersonal moral dilemmas: Catholics showed enhanced activity in DLPFC and posterior cingulate cortex during utilitarian moral judgments to impersonal moral dilemmas and enhanced responses in anterior cingulate cortex and superior temporal sulcus during deontological moral judgments to personal moral dilemmas. Our results indicate that moral judgment can be influenced by an acquired set of norms and conventions transmitted through religious indoctrination and practice. Catholic individuals may hold enhanced awareness of the incommensurability between two unequivocal doctrines of the Catholic belief set, triggered explicitly in a moral dilemma: help and care in all circumstances-but thou shalt not kill.
Project description:Is it acceptable and moral to sacrifice a few people's lives to save many others? Research on moral dilemmas in psychology, experimental philosophy, and neuropsychology has shown that respondents judge utilitarian personal moral actions (footbridge dilemma) as less appropriate than equivalent utilitarian impersonal moral actions (trolley dilemma). Accordingly, theorists (e.g., Greene et al., 2001) have argued that judgments of appropriateness in personal moral dilemmas are more emotionally salient and cognitively demanding (taking more time to be rational) than impersonal moral dilemmas. Our novel findings show an effect of psychological accessibility (driven by partial contextual information; Kahneman, 2003) on utilitarian moral behavior and response time for rational choices. Enhanced accessibility of utilitarian outcomes through comprehensive information about moral actions and consequences boosted utility maximization in moral choices, with rational choices taking less time. Moreover, our result suggests that previous results indicating emotional interference, with rational choices taking more time to make, may have been artifacts of presenting partial information.
Project description:Adult psychopaths have deficits in emotional processing and inhibitory control, engage in morally inappropriate behavior, and generally fail to distinguish moral from conventional violations. These observations, together with a dominant tradition in the discipline which sees emotional processes as causally necessary for moral judgment, have led to the conclusion that psychopaths lack an understanding of moral rights and wrongs. We test an alternative explanation: psychopaths have normal understanding of right and wrong, but abnormal regulation of morally appropriate behavior. We presented psychopaths with moral dilemmas, contrasting their judgments with age- and sex-matched (i) healthy subjects and (ii) non-psychopathic, delinquents. Subjects in each group judged cases of personal harms (i.e. requiring physical contact) as less permissible than impersonal harms, even though both types of harms led to utilitarian gains. Importantly, however, psychopaths' pattern of judgments on different dilemmas was the same as those of the other subjects. These results force a rejection of the strong hypothesis that emotional processes are causally necessary for judgments of moral dilemmas, suggesting instead that psychopaths understand the distinction between right and wrong, but do not care about such knowledge, or the consequences that ensue from their morally inappropriate behavior.
Project description:Embodied models suggest that moral judgments are strongly intertwined with first-hand somatic experiences, with some pointing to disgust, and others arguing for a role of pain/harm. Both disgust and pain are unpleasant, arousing experiences, with strong relevance for survival, but with distinctive sensory qualities and neural channels. Hence, it is unclear whether moral cognition interacts with sensory-specific properties of one somatic experience or with supramodal dimensions common to both. Across two experiments, participants evaluated ethical dilemmas and subsequently were exposed to disgusting (olfactory) or painful (thermal) stimulations of matched unpleasantness. We found that moral scenarios enhanced physiological and neural activity to subsequent disgust (but not pain), as further supported by an independently validated whole-brain signature of olfaction. This effect was mediated by activity in the posterior cingulate cortex triggered by dilemma judgments. Our results thus speak in favor of an association between moral cognition and sensory-specific properties of disgust.
Project description:The profound nature of moral judgment has been discussed and debated for centuries. When facing the trade-off between pursuing moral rights and seeking better consequences, most people make different moral choices between two kinds of dilemmas. Such differences were explained by the dual-process theory involving an automatic emotional response and a controlled application of utilitarian decision-rules. In neurocognitive studies, the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) has been demonstrated to play an important role in cognitive "rational" control processes in moral dilemmas. However, the profile of results across studies is not entirely consistent. Although one transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) study revealed that disrupting the right DLPFC led to less utilitarian responses, other TMS studies indicated that inhibition of the right DLPFC led to more utilitarian choices. Moreover, the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ) is essential for its function of integrating belief and intention in moral judgment, which is related to the emotional process according to the dual-process theory. Relatively few studies have reported the causal relationship between TPJ and participants' moral responses, especially in moral dilemmas. In the present study, we aimed to demonstrate a direct link between the neural and behavioral results by application of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in the bilateral DLPFC or TPJ of our participants. We observed that activating the right DLPFC as well as inhibiting the left DLPFC led to less utilitarian judgments, especially in moral-personal conditions, indicating that the right DLPFC plays an essential role, not only through its function of moral reasoning but also through its information integrating process in moral judgments. It was also revealed that altering the excitability of the bilateral TPJ using tDCS negligibly altered the moral response in non-moral, moral-impersonal and moral-personal dilemmas, indicating that bilateral TPJ may have little influence over moral judgments in moral dilemmas.
Project description:Moral judgments, whether delivered in ordinary experience or in the courtroom, depend on our ability to infer intentions. We forgive unintentional or accidental harms and condemn failed attempts to harm. Prior work demonstrates that patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) deliver abnormal judgments in response to moral dilemmas and that these patients are especially impaired in triggering emotional responses to inferred or abstract events (e.g., intentions), as opposed to real or actual outcomes. We therefore predicted that VMPC patients would deliver abnormal moral judgments of harmful intentions in the absence of harmful outcomes, as in failed attempts to harm. This prediction was confirmed in the current study: VMPC patients judged attempted harms, including attempted murder, as more morally permissible relative to controls. These results highlight the critical role of the VMPC in processing harmful intent for moral judgment.
Project description:The Foreign-Language effect (FLe) on morality describes how late bilinguals make different decisions on moral judgements, when presented in either their native or foreign language. However the relevance of this phenomenon to early bilinguals, where a language's "nativeness" is less distinct, is unknown. This study aims to verify the effect of early bilinguals' languages on their moral decisions and examine how language experience may influence these decisions. Eighty-six early English-Chinese bilinguals were asked to perform a moral dilemmas task consisting of personal and impersonal dilemmas, in either English or Mandarin Chinese. Information on language experience factors were also collected from the participants. Findings suggest that early bilinguals do show evidence of a language effect on their moral decisions, which is dependent on how dominant they are in the language. Particularly, the more dominant participants were in their tested language, the larger the difference between their personal and impersonal dilemma response choice. In light of these findings, the study discusses the need to re-examine how we conceptualize the FLe phenomenon and its implications on bilinguals' moral judgement. It also addresses the importance of treating bilingualism as multidimensional, rather than a unitary variable.
Project description:The psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgment have been the focus of extensive recent research. Here we show that serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) genotype predicts responses to moral dilemmas featuring foreseen harm to an innocent.Participants in this study judged the acceptability of actions that would unintentionally or intentionally harm an innocent victim in order to save others' lives. An analysis of variance revealed a genotype × scenario interaction, F(2, 63) = 4.52, p = .02. Results showed that, relative to long allele homozygotes (LL), carriers of the short (S) allele showed particular reluctance to endorse utilitarian actions resulting in foreseen harm to an innocent individual. LL genotype participants rated perpetrating unintentional harm as more acceptable (M = 4.98, SEM = 0.20) than did SL genotype participants (M = 4.65, SEM = 0.20) or SS genotype participants (M = 4.29, SEM = 0.30). No group differences in moral judgments were observed in response to scenarios featuring intentional harm.The results indicate that inherited variants in a genetic polymorphism that influences serotonin neurotransmission influence utilitarian moral judgments as well. This finding is interpreted in light of evidence that the S allele is associated with elevated emotional responsiveness.
Project description:Despite the prevalence of physical exertion and fatigue during military, firefighting and disaster medicine operations, sports or even daily life, their acute effects on moral reasoning and moral decision-making have never been systematically investigated. To test the effects of physical exertion on moral reasoning and moral decision-making, we administered a moral dilemma task to 32 male participants during a moderate or high intensity cycling intervention. Participants in the high intensity cycling group tended to show more non-utilitarian reasoning and more non-utilitarian decision-making on impersonal but not on personal dilemmas than participants in the moderate intensity cycling group. Exercise-induced exertion and fatigue, thus, shifted moral reasoning and moral decision-making in a non-utilitarian rather than utilitarian direction, presumably due to an exercise-induced limitation of prefrontally mediated executive resources that are more relevant for utilitarian than non-utilitarian reasoning and decision-making.