Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2014 Vol. 26, No. 5, 597
Previous research shows that when people judge moral acceptability of others' harmful behaviour, they not only take into account information about the consequences of the act but also an actor's belief while carrying out the act. A two-process model has been proposed to account for this pattern of moral judgements and posits: (1) a causal process that detects the presence of a harmful outcome and is motivated by empathic aversion stemming from victim suffering; (2) a mental state-based process that attributes beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. to the agent in question and is motivated by imagining personally carrying out harmful actions. One prediction of this model would be that personality traits associated with empathy deficits would find accidental harms more acceptable not because they focus on innocent intentions but because they have reduced concern for the victim's well-being. In this study, we show that one such personality trait, viz. alexithymia, indeed exhibits the predicted pattern and this increased acceptability of accidental harm in alexithymia is mediated by reduced dispositional empathic concern. Results attest to the validity of two-process model of intent-based moral judgements and emphasise key role affective empathy plays in harm-based moral judgements.
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