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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2016 Aug;42(8):1077-91. doi: 10.1177/0146167216651408. Epub 2016 Jun 8.

Pleasure From Another's Pain: The Influence of a Target's Hedonic States on Attributions of Immorality and Evil.

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University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA.


Can people's feelings about harm (i.e., their hedonic reactions) lead them to be morally condemned, even if they do not cause the harm themselves? We show that individuals who experience pleasure at serious harm that has befallen another person are judged both immoral and evil. This effect occurs for harm-causing actors, and for observers who play no role in causing the harm; actors can also be judged as immoral and evil when they experience mere indifference (Study 1). Observers are more likely to be similarly judged when they experience direct rather than indirect pleasure from harm caused to another (Study 2). The effects of pleasure are dissociable from those of malevolent desires (Study 3). Targets' experience of pleasure at the harm caused to another person leads to the social exclusion of observers (Studies 1-3) and the harsh punishment of actors, including the death penalty (Studies 1, 4a, and 4b).


evil; harm; hedonic state; moral judgment; pleasure

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