Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Two Distinct Moral Mechanisms for Ascribing and Denying Intentionality
The study by LawrenceNgo, Meagan Kelly, Christopher G. Coutlee, R. McKell Carter, WalterSinnott-Armstrong & Scott A. Huettel, Publishedonline: 04 December 2015 shows why we react more emotionally to bad things people do, then the good people do.
In the study, more than 660 people took traditional surveys that included reading about different scenarios with negative and positive outcomes (like spreading weed killer and hurting a neighbor’s crops, or spreading anti-fungals and protecting a neighbor’s crops). Twenty others had their brains scanned as they read the scenarios and assessed how intentional the actions had been.
The negative stories were more likely to trigger a reaction stemming from the amygdala, an emotional center deep inside the scanned brains. Positive actions were more likely to set off a statistical, reasoned approach, without lighting up the amygdala at all.
Philosophers and legal scholars have long theorized about how intentionality serves as a critical input for morality and culpability, but the emerging field of experimental philosophy has revealed a puzzling asymmetry. People judge actions leading to negative consequences as being more intentional than those leading to positive ones.
The implications of this asymmetry remain unclear because there is no consensus regarding the underlying mechanism. Based on converging behavioral and neural evidence, we demonstrate that there is no single underlying mechanism. Instead, two distinct mechanisms together generate the asymmetry. Emotion drives ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while the consideration of statistical norms leads to the denial of intentionality for positive consequences.
We employ this novel two-mechanism model to illustrate that morality can paradoxically shape judgments of intentionality. This is consequential for mens rea in legal practice and arguments in moral philosophy pertaining to terror bombing, abortion, and euthanasia among others
Across a series of three experiments, converging behavioral and neural evidence demonstrates two distinct and dissociable mechanisms for judgments of intentionality. Emotions drives higher ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while statistical norms derived from beliefs about how often people behave in similar ways underlie the denial of intentionality for positive consequences. Further analysis shows that moral judgments of blame and credit can serve as inputs for intentionality judgments, rather than only the other way around.
Ngo, L. et al. Two Distinct Moral Mechanisms for Ascribing and Denying Intentionality. Sci. Rep. 5, 17390; doi: 10.1038/srep17390 (2015).