Acts, Persons, and Intuitions: Person-Centered Cues and Gut Reactions to Harmless Transgressions


Social Psychological and Personality Science

April 2014, vol. 5, n°3, pp.279-285

Departments: Management & Human Resources

Keywords: Person-centered moral judgments, Moral intuitions, Social intuitionist model, Moral dumbfounding, Informational value, Act-person dissociations

Negative gut reactions to harmless-but-offensive transgressions can be driven by inferences about the moral character of the agent more so than condemnation of the act itself. Dissociations between moral judgments of acts and persons emerged, such that participants viewed a harmless-but-offensive transgression to be a less immoral act than a harmful act, yet more indicative of poor moral character. Participants were more likely to become "morally dumbfounded'' when asked to justify their judgments of a harmless-but-offensive act relative to a harmful act. However, they were significantly less likely to become morally dumbfounded when asked to justify character judgments of persons who engaged in the harmless-but-offensive transgression, an effect based in part on the information-rich nature of such behaviors. Distinguishing between evaluations of acts and persons helps account for both moral outrage over harmless transgressions and when individuals are (and are not) at a loss to explain their own judgments