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Cognition. 2011 Oct;121(1):154-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.05.010. Epub 2011 Jul 16.

The mismeasure of morals: antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas.

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Columbia University, Uris Hall 502, 3022 Broadway, New York, NY 10027, USA.


Researchers have recently argued that utilitarianism is the appropriate framework by which to evaluate moral judgment, and that individuals who endorse non-utilitarian solutions to moral dilemmas (involving active vs. passive harm) are committing an error. We report a study in which participants responded to a battery of personality assessments and a set of dilemmas that pit utilitarian and non-utilitarian options against each other. Participants who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness. These results question the widely-used methods by which lay moral judgments are evaluated, as these approaches lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that those individuals who are least prone to moral errors also possess a set of psychological characteristics that many would consider prototypically immoral.

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