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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Actions Speak Louder Than Outcomes in Judgments of Prosocial Behavior

Daniel A. Yudkin, Annayah M. B. Prosser, and Molly J. Crockett
Emotion (2018).

Recently proposed models of moral cognition suggest that people's judgments of harmful acts are influenced by their consideration both of those acts' consequences ("outcome value"), and of the feeling associated with their enactment ("action value"). Here we apply this framework to judgments of prosocial behavior, suggesting that people's judgments of the praiseworthiness of good deeds are determined both by the benefit those deeds confer to others and by how good they feel to perform. Three experiments confirm this prediction. After developing a new measure to assess the extent to which praiseworthiness is influenced by action and outcome values, we show how these factors make significant and independent contributions to praiseworthiness. We also find that people are consistently more sensitive to action than to outcome value in judging the praiseworthiness of good deeds, but not harmful deeds. This observation echoes the finding that people are often insensitive to outcomes in their giving behavior. Overall, this research tests and validates a novel framework for understanding moral judgment, with implications for the motivations that underlie human altruism.

Here is an excerpt:

On a broader level, past work has suggested that judging the wrongness of harmful actions involves a process of “evaluative simulation,” whereby we evaluate the moral status of another’s action by simulating the affective response that we would experience performing the action ourselves (Miller et al., 2014). Our results are consistent with the possibility that evaluative simulation also plays a role in judging the praiseworthiness of helpful actions.  If people evaluate helpful actions by simulating what it feels like to perform the action, then we would expect to see similar biases in moral evaluation as those that exist for moral action. Previous work has shown that individuals often do not act to maximize the benefits that others receive, but instead to maximize the good feelings associated with performing good deeds (Berman et al., 2018; Gesiarz & Crockett, 2015; Ribar & Wilhelm, 2002). Thus, the asymmetry in moral evaluation seen in the present studies may reflect a correspondence between first-person moral decision-making and third-person moral evaluation.

Download the pdf here.