Kupfer, T. R., Inbar, Y. & Yybur, J.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 91, November 2020, 104043
Perceived intent is a pivotal factor in moral judgement: intentional moral violations are considered more morally wrong than accidental ones. However, a body of recent research argues that intent is less important for moral judgements of impure acts – that it, those acts that are condemned because they elicit disgust. But the literature supporting this claim is limited in multiple ways. We conducted a new test of the hypothesis that condemnation of purity violations operates independently from intent. In Study 1, participants judged the wrongness of moral violations that were either intentional or unintentional and were either harmful (e.g., stealing) or impure (e.g., public defecation). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness ratings that did not vary across harmful and disgusting scenarios. In Study 2, a registered report, participants judged the wrongness of disgust-eliciting moral violations that were either mundane and dyadic (e.g., serving contaminated food) or abnormal and self-directed (e.g., consuming urine). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness judgements that did not vary across mundane and abnormal scenarios. Findings challenge the claim that moral judgements about purity violations rely upon unique psychological mechanisms that are insensitive to information about the wrongdoer's mental state.
From the Discussion
Across two studies, we found that participants rated intentional disgusting acts more morally wrong than unintentional disgusting acts. Study 1 showed that intent had a large effect on moral judgement of mundane, dyadic impure acts, such as serving contaminated food, or urinating in public. Moreover, the effect of intent on moral judgement was not different for harm and purity violations. Study 2 showed that there was also a large effect of intent on moral judgement of abnormal, self-directed, purity violations, using scenarios similar to those frequently used in past research, such as eating a pet dog (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016), drinking urine (e.g., Young & Saxe, 2011), or eating cloned human meat (e.g., Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011). In Study 2 the effect of intent did not differ across abnormal, self-directed purity violations and mundane, dyadic purity violations. These results are inconsistent with previous findings purporting to show little or no effect of intent on moral judgements of impure acts (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016; Chakroff et al., 2015; Young & Saxe, 2011).