Behaviorist thinking in judgments of wrongness, punishment, and blame

Julian De Freitas, Samuel G. B. Johnson

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding

2 Citations (SciVal)
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Moral judgment depends upon inferences about agents’ beliefs, desires, and intentions. Here, we argue that in addition to these factors, people take into account the moral optimality of an action. Three experiments show that even agents who are ignorant about the nature of their moral decisions are held accountable for the quality of their decision—a kind of behaviorist thinking, in that such reasoning bypasses the agent’s mental states. In particular, whereas optimal choices are seen as more praiseworthy than suboptimal choices, decision quality has no further effect on moral judgments—a highly suboptimal choice is seen as no worse than a marginally suboptimal choice. These effects held up for judgments of wrongness and punishment (Experiment 1), positive and negative outcomes (Experiment 2), and agents with positive and negative intentions (Experiment 3). We argue that these results reflect a broader tendency to irresistibly apply the Efficiency Principle when explaining behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2015): Mind, Technology, and Society
EditorsD.C. Noelle
Place of PublicationAustin, Texas, USA
PublisherCognitive Science Society
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9781510809550
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2015
Event37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Mind, Technology and Society - Pasadena, USA United States
Duration: 22 Jul 201525 Jul 2015


Conference37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
Abbreviated titleCogSci 2015
Country/TerritoryUSA United States


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