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Mental Health - Neuroscience - Science Policy

Omissions and Byproducts across Moral Domains
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Author: Peter DeScioli et al.

by Peter DeScioli, Kelly Asao, Robert Kurzban

Research indicates that moral violations are judged less wrong when the violation results from omission as opposed to commission, and when the violation is a byproduct as opposed to a means to an end. Previous work examined these effects mainly for violent offenses such as killing. Here we investigate the generality of these effects across a range of moral violations including sexuality, food, property, and group loyalty. In Experiment 1, we observed omission effects in wrongness ratings for all of the twelve offenses investigated. In Experiments 2 and 3, we observed byproduct effects in wrongness ratings for seven and eight offenses (out of twelve), respectively, and we observed byproduct effects in forced-choice responses for all twelve offenses. Our results address an ongoing debate about whether different cognitive systems compute moral wrongness for different types of behaviors (surrounding violence, sexuality, food, etc.), or, alternatively, a common cognitive architecture computes wrongness for a variety of behaviors.