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J Abnorm Psychol. 2012 Aug;121(3):659-67. doi: 10.1037/a0027489. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Psychopathy increases perceived moral permissibility of accidents.

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Department of Psychology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA.


Psychopaths are notorious for their antisocial and immoral behavior, yet experimental studies have typically failed to identify deficits in their capacities for explicit moral judgment. We tested 20 criminal psychopaths and 25 criminal nonpsychopaths on a moral judgment task featuring hypothetical scenarios that systematically varied an actor's intention and the action's outcome. Participants were instructed to evaluate four classes of actions: accidental harms, attempted harms, intentional harms, and neutral acts. Psychopaths showed a selective difference, compared with nonpsychopaths, in judging accidents, where one person harmed another unintentionally. Specifically, psychopaths judged these actions to be more morally permissible. We suggest that this pattern reflects psychopaths' failure to appreciate the emotional aspect of the victim's experience of harm. These findings provide direct evidence of abnormal moral judgment in psychopathy.

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