Harm Case

Kevin Lewis

December 06, 2022

When Do Observers Deprioritize Due Process for the Perpetrator and Prioritize Safety for the Victim in Response to Information-Poor Allegations of Harm?
Maja Graso et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming 


We examined how observers assess information-poor allegations of harm (e.g., “my word against yours” cases), in which the outcomes of procedurally fair investigations may favor the alleged perpetrator because the evidentiary standards are unmet. Yet this lack of evidence does not mean no harm occurred, and some observers may be charged with deciding whether the allegation is actionable within a collective. On the basis of theories of moral typecasting, procedural justice, and uncertainty management, we hypothesized that observers would be more likely to prioritize the victim’s safety (vs. to prioritize due process for the perpetrator) and view the allegation as actionable when the victim-alleged perpetrator dyad members exhibit features that align with stereotypes of victims and perpetrators. We supported our hypothesis with four studies using various contexts, sources of perceived prototypicality, due-process prioritization, and samples (students from New Zealand, Ns = 137 and 114; Mechanical Turk workers from the United States; Ns = 260 and 336).

A moral trade-off system produces intuitive judgments that are rational and coherent and strike a balance between conflicting moral values
Ricardo Andrés Guzmán et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 October 2022 


How does the mind make moral judgments when the only way to satisfy one moral value is to neglect another? Moral dilemmas posed a recurrent adaptive problem for ancestral hominins, whose cooperative social life created multiple responsibilities to others. For many dilemmas, striking a balance between two conflicting values (a compromise judgment) would have promoted fitness better than neglecting one value to fully satisfy the other (an extreme judgment). We propose that natural selection favored the evolution of a cognitive system designed for making trade-offs between conflicting moral values. Its nonconscious computations respond to dilemmas by constructing “rightness functions”: temporary representations specific to the situation at hand. A rightness function represents, in compact form, an ordering of all the solutions that the mind can conceive of (whether feasible or not) in terms of moral rightness. An optimizing algorithm selects, among the feasible solutions, one with the highest level of rightness. The moral trade-off system hypothesis makes various novel predictions: People make compromise judgments, judgments respond to incentives, judgments respect the axioms of rational choice, and judgments respond coherently to morally relevant variables (such as willingness, fairness, and reciprocity). We successfully tested these predictions using a new trolley-like dilemma. This dilemma has two original features: It admits both extreme and compromise judgments, and it allows incentives — in this case, the human cost of saving lives — to be varied systematically. No other existing model predicts the experimental results, which contradict an influential dual-process model.

Moral judgements reflect default representations of possibility
Jane Acierno, Sarah Mischel & Jonathan Phillips
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 19 December 2022


Moral judgement requires representing what is possible: judging that someone ought to do something implies that they actually can do that thing; and if they cannot do that thing, then it is not the case that they ought to have done it. Moral judgements are often made quickly and effortlessly, suggesting that they may rely on default, rather than deliberative, representations of what is possible. To investigate this possibility, we asked participants to make 10 different kinds of moral judgements either very fast or more slowly about 240 different actions across 12 contexts. We found that these moral judgements were more similar to one another when participants were forced to quickly assess the morality of immoral actions, suggesting a common default template for moral judgement that becomes more differentiated upon reflection. When making moral permissibility judgements quickly, participants were more likely to judge that improbable, irrational and impossible actions were not permissible, indicating that default representations of permissibility may be reflecting default representations of possibility. A direct investigation revealed a close relationship between default representations of possibility and fast judgements of moral permissibility. These findings demonstrate the role of default representations of possibility in moral cognition.

In the eye of the beholder: Situational and dispositional predictors of perceiving harm in others' words
April Bleske-Rechek et al.
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming


One manifestation of society's increased sensitivity and reactivity to harm is the notion that words can be labeled as harmful, regardless of how subtle and regardless of their intent, if perceived as harmful by the receiver of that speech (Haslam, 2016). However, it is unclear what specific words should be considered harmful, particularly if harm is in the eye of the beholder (Lilienfeld, 2017). Here, we tested the hypothesis that situational and dispositional factors can prime individuals to interpret others' verbal communications as harmful. In Study 1 (n = 217 U.S. college students), a one-sentence prime about harmful words led individuals to perceive ambiguous phrases from others as harmful. In Study 2 (n = 1092 U.S. college students), participants showed far more within-person than between-person consistency in their emotional reactions to widely varying ambiguous statements, and negative emotionality was a consistent predictor of between-person differences in feeling hurt and anxious by such statements. Taken together, findings from the two studies raise the possibility that well-intentioned efforts to boost awareness of the potential harm conveyed in others' words may have the inadvertent effect of exacerbating perceptions of harm, particularly among individuals already inclined toward such perceptions.

Online Conspiracy Groups: Micro-Bloggers, Bots, and Coronavirus Conspiracy Talk on Twitter
Henrich Greve et al.
American Sociological Review, forthcoming 


Conspiracies are consequential and social, yet online conspiracy groups that consist of individuals (and bots) seeking to explain events or a system have been neglected in sociology. We extract conspiracy talk about the COVID-19 pandemic on Twitter and use the biterm topic model (BTM) to provide a descriptive baseline for the discursive and social structure of online conspiracy groups. We find that individuals enter these communities through a gateway conspiracy theory before proceeding to extreme theories, and humans adopt more diverse conspiracy theories than do bots. Event-history analyses show that individuals tweet new conspiracy theories, and tweet inconsistent theories simultaneously, when they face a threat posed by a rising COVID-19 case rate and receive attention from others via retweets. By contrast, bots are less responsive to rising case rates, but they are more consistent, as they mainly tweet about how COVID-19 was deliberately created by sinister agents. These findings suggest human beings are bricoleurs who use conspiracy theories to make sense of COVID-19, whereas bots are designed to create moral panic. Our findings suggest that conspiracy talk by individuals is defensive in nature, whereas bots engage in offense.

Sadistic or less reactive? Reconsidering the sadism-pleasure link
William Hart, Charlotte Kinrade & Joshua Lambert
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming


People higher in sadism presumably experience pleasure upon witnessing another person's suffering (i.e., the “sadistic-pleasure mechanism”). However, some data suggests that this foundational hypothesis may be inaccurate; we propose the data are consistent with assuming that people higher in sadism are less reactive to negative stimuli (i.e., the blunted-reactivity mechanism). In this preregistered study, we pitted predictions from a sadistic-pleasure mechanism against predictions from a blunted-reactivity mechanism. Participants (N = 508) read about a target who suffered various humiliating social situations; as a between-subjects manipulation, they imagined they were the target (self-condition) or that the target was an unknown third party (other condition). The data were inconsistent with the sadistic-pleasure mechanism but consistent with the proposed blunted-reactivity mechanism of sadism. Specifically, as suggested by the blunted-reactivity mechanism, people with higher sadism indicated less reactivity (as indexed by less target suffering and less displeasure) to the same extents in the self and the other condition.

Anticipatory Threat Mitigates the Breakdown of Group Cooperation
Maria Lojowska, Jörg Gross & Carsten De Dreu
Psychological Science, forthcoming 


Humans are exposed to environmental and economic threats that can profoundly affect individual survival and group functioning. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that threat exposure can increase collective action, the effects of threat on decision-making have been mainly investigated at the individual level. Here we examine how threat exposure and concomitant physiological responses modulate cooperation in small groups. Individuals (N = 105, ages 18–34 years) in groups of three were exposed to threat of electric shocks while deciding how much to contribute to a public good. Threat of shock induced a state of physiological freezing and, compared with no-threat conditions, reduced free riding and enabled groups to maintain higher cooperation over time. Exploratory analyses revealed that more cooperative responses under threat were driven by stronger baseline prosociality, suggesting that habitual prosociality is reinforced under threat. The current results support the view that human groups respond to outside threat with increased cooperation.

In Goal Pursuit, I Think Flexibility Is the Best Choice for Me but Not for You
Sydney Scott & Elanor Williams
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming 


Consumers regularly attempt to improve themselves. This research examines how consumers think about flexibility during goal pursuit, for themselves and others. Flexibility involves leaving details of a plan, such as when to go to the gym or what to eat, open or easy to change, whereas rigid plans determine those details in advance. Here, several studies across a variety of goals show that people usually choose rigid plans for others. However, people are more likely to opt for some flexibility in their own plans. This occurs because many people believe flexible plans are less effective, but also more appealing (or less unpleasant), than rigid ones. Choosing for oneself, versus for someone else, increases the degree to which one follows one’s heart (i.e., relies on feelings and desires), which makes people more likely to choose the more appealing option, flexibility. Asking people to “follow their heads” instead (i.e., rely on logic and reason) causes people to choose similar (rigid) plans for themselves and others. Finally, the authors use this framework to increase preferences for rigid fitness plans in a field experiment. This research provides insight into the psychology of flexibility and how to nudge consumers to set themselves up for success.

Emotional, motivational and attitudinal consequences of autonomous prosocial behaviour
Nicholas Kelley et al.
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming 


When do prosocial actors experience positive versus negative psychological outcomes from helping others? In four studies and an internal meta-analysis, we tested the hypothesis that autonomy shapes the psychological consequences of helping others. In Study 1, prosocial behaviour was associated with a robust pattern of negative well-being outcomes (i.e., depression, anxiety, stress) for individuals low but not high in autonomy. In Studies 2–4, relative to reflecting on a neutral interpersonal experience, reflecting on an autonomous helping experience increased sadness and happiness, strengthened intentions to help in the future and raised support for social welfare. By contrast, reflecting on a controlled helping experience increased negative emotions and decreased positive emotions, but did not affect attitudes or behavioural intentions. Collectively, the findings indicate that autonomy (or lack thereof) shapes the emotional, motivational and attitudinal consequences of helping behaviour.


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