Ruth M.J. Byrne and Shane Timmons
Volume 178, September 2018, Pages 82–91
Five experiments identify an asymmetric moral hindsight effect for judgments about whether a morally good action should have been taken, e.g., Ann should run into traffic to save Jill who fell before an oncoming truck. Judgments are increased when the outcome is good (Jill sustained minor bruises), as Experiment 1 shows; but they are not decreased when the outcome is bad (Jill sustained life-threatening injuries), as Experiment 2 shows. The hindsight effect is modified by imagined alternatives to the outcome: judgments are amplified by a counterfactual that if the good action had not been taken, the outcome would have been worse, and diminished by a semi-factual that if the good action had not been taken, the outcome would have been the same. Hindsight modification occurs when the alternative is presented with the outcome, and also when participants have already committed to a judgment based on the outcome, as Experiments 3A and 3B show. The hindsight effect occurs not only for judgments in life-and-death situations but also in other domains such as sports, as Experiment 4 shows. The results are consistent with a causal-inference explanation of moral judgment and go against an aversive-emotion one.
• Judgments a morally good action should be taken are increased when it succeeds.
• Judgments a morally good action should be taken are not decreased when it fails.
• Counterfactuals that the outcome would have been worse amplify judgments.
• Semi-factuals that the outcome would have been the same diminish judgments.
• The asymmetric moral hindsight effect supports a causal-inference theory.
The research is here.