The Moral Status of an Action Influences its Perceived Intentional Status in Adolescents with Psychopathic Traits

In Tania Lombrozo, Joshua Knobe & Shaun Nichols (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy: Volume 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 131-151 (2014)
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Moral judgments about an action are influenced by the action’s intentionality. The reverse is also true: judgments of intentionality can be influenced by an action’s moral valence. For example, respondents judge a harmful side-effect of an intended outcome to be more intentional than a helpful side-effect. Debate continues regarding the mechanisms underlying this “side-effect effect” and the conditions under which it will persist. The research behind this chapter tested whether the side-effect effect is intact in adolescents with psychopathic traits, who are characterized by persistent immoral behavior, deficient moral emotions, and impairments in some forms of moral judgment. Results showed no differences between healthy adolescents and those with psychopathic traits: both groups judged harmful side-effects to be more intentional than helpful side-effects by an approximately 2:1 ratio. The chapter discusses these results in light of hypothesized mechanisms underlying the side-effect effect, and in light of our current understanding of moral reasoning deficits in psychopathy.

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