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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Moral Evaluations Depend Upon Mindreading Moral Occurrent Beliefs

By Clayton R. Critcher, Erik G. Helzer, David Tannenbaum, and David A. Pizarro

Abstract

People evaluate the moral character of others not merely based on what they do, but why they do
it. Because an agent’s state of mind is not directly observable, people typically engage in
mindreading—attempts at inferring mental states—when forming moral evaluations. The present
paper identifies a heretofore unstudied focus of mindreading, moral occurrent beliefs—the
cognitions (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, principles, concerns, rules) accessible in an agent’s mind
while confronting a morally-relevant decision that could provide a moral justification for a
particular course of action. Whereas previous mindreading research has examined how people
“reason back” to make sense of why agents behaved as they did, we instead ask how mindread
occurrent beliefs (MOBs) constrain moral evaluations for an agent’s subsequent actions. Our
studies distinguish three accounts of how MOBs influence moral evaluations, show that people
rely on MOBs spontaneously (instead of merely when experimental measures draw attention to
them), and identify non-moral cues (e.g., whether the situation demands a quick decision) that
guide MOBs. Implications for theory of mind, moral psychology, and social cognition are
discussed.

The entire paper is here.