Format

Send to

Choose Destination
J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Aug;143(4):1600-15. doi: 10.1037/a0036149. Epub 2014 Mar 17.

The myth of harmless wrongs in moral cognition: Automatic dyadic completion from sin to suffering.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina.
2
Department of Marketing, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado.

Abstract

When something is wrong, someone is harmed. This hypothesis derives from the theory of dyadic morality, which suggests a moral cognitive template of wrongdoing agent and suffering patient (i.e., victim). This dyadic template means that victimless wrongs (e.g., masturbation) are psychologically incomplete, compelling the mind to perceive victims even when they are objectively absent. Five studies reveal that dyadic completion occurs automatically and implicitly: Ostensibly harmless wrongs are perceived to have victims (Study 1), activate concepts of harm (Studies 2 and 3), and increase perceptions of suffering (Studies 4 and 5). These results suggest that perceiving harm in immorality is intuitive and does not require effortful rationalization. This interpretation argues against both standard interpretations of moral dumbfounding and domain-specific theories of morality that assume the psychological existence of harmless wrongs. Dyadic completion also suggests that moral dilemmas in which wrongness (deontology) and harm (utilitarianism) conflict are unrepresentative of typical moral cognition.

PMID:
24635184
DOI:
10.1037/a0036149
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for American Psychological Association
Loading ...
Support Center