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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Why Moral Judgments Affect Happiness Attributions: Testing the Fittingness and True Self Hypotheses

Prinzing, M., Knobe, J., & Earp, B. D.
(2022, November 25). 


Past research has found that people attribute less happiness to morally bad agents than to morally good agents. One proposed explanation for this effect is that attributions of emotions like happiness are influenced by judgments about their fittingness (i.e., whether they are merited). Another is that emotion attributions are influenced by judgments about whether they reflect the agent’s true self (i.e., who the agent is “deep down”). These two kinds of judgments are highly entangled for happiness, but perhaps less so for other emotions. Accordingly, we tested these hypotheses by examining attributions of happiness, love, sadness, and hatred. In Study 1, manipulating the fittingness of an agent’s emotion affected emotion attributions only when it also affected true self judgments. In Study 2, manipulating whether an agent’s emotion reflects his true self affected attributions of all emotions, regardless of the effects on fittingness judgments. Studies 3-4 examined attributions of “true happiness,” “true love,” “true sadness,” and “true hatred.” The fittingness manipulation again influenced attributions of “true” emotions only where it also affected true self judgments, whereas the true self manipulation affected attributions of all four “true” emotions. Overall, these results cast serious doubt on the fittingness hypothesis and offer some support for the true self hypothesis, which could be developed further in future work.


What are “True” Emotions?

Past  theoretical work on “true” emotions, such as true love and true happiness, has centered on the idea that emotions are true when they are fitting (De Sousa, 2002; Hamlyn, 1989; Salmela,  2006;  Solomon,  2002).  Yet  the  results  of  Studies  3-4  indicate  that  this  is  not  what ordinary people think. We found that manipulating the fittingness of happiness and love affects their perceived trueness, but not so for sadness or hatred. By contrast, the true self manipulation affects the perceived trueness of all four emotions.These findings provide at least some initial support for a very different hypothesis about what people mean when they say that an emotion is “true,” namely, that an emotion is seen as “true” to the extent that it is seen as related in a certain kind of way to the agent’s true self.

Further  research  could  continue  to  explore  this  hypothesis.  One  potential  source  of evidence would be patterns in people’s judgments about whether it even makes sense to use the word  “true”  to  describe  a  particular  emotion.  In other  work  (Earp  et  al.,  2022),  we  asked participants about the degree to which it makes sense to call various emotions “true.” Happiness and love had the highest average scores, with most people thinking it makes perfect sense to say “true happiness” or “true love.” Grumpiness and lust had the lowest averages, with most people thinking that it does not make any sense to say “true grumpiness” or “true lust.” A natural further question would be whether the true self hypothesis can explain this pattern. Is there a general tendency such that the emotions that can appropriately be called “true” are also the emotions that people think can be rooted in a person’s true self? 

As another strategy for better understanding the way people apply the word “true” with emotion words, we might turn to research on apparently similar phrases that are not concerned with emotions in particular: for example, “true scientist,” “true work of art,” or “true friend” (Del Pinal, 2018; Knobe et al., 2013; Leslie, 2015; Reuter, 2019). It’s possible that, although “true” is also used in these cases, it means something quite different and unrelated to what it means when applied to emotions. However, it’s also possible that it is related, and that insight could therefore be gained by investigating connections with these seemingly distant concepts.