research interests

mind and morality

What is it that makes us see a person's behavior as worthy of blame or praise? One of the strongest contributors is the person's state of mind. Consider these common exclamations of moral disapproval: "You knew that wasn't the truth!", "You wanted to make her upset!", or "You cheated on purpose!" All three exclamations focus on the mental states of the harmdoer by asserting that the bad outcome was something that the person knew about, wanted, or intended.

These three elements of a person's state of mind (what the person knows/believes, desires, and intends) constitute ordinary people's concept of intentionality, or their categorization of behavior as intentional or not. Many studies have shown that when negative behaviors are intentional (as opposed to accidental), they are seen as more immoral and blameworthy. In other words, mental state inferences appear to strongly impact moral judgments.

However, recent work turns this relationship on its head, arguing that the morality of a behavior influences whether it is seen as intentional. Specifically, people appear to view morally negative behaviors (but not positive or neutral ones) as intentional, even when usual components such as desire or intention are missing. This research suggests that people's concept of intentionality may be directly influenced by the morality of behavior and their own affective responses to it.

My research examines how people make judgments about a person's mind when they evaluate morally-charged behaviors. In doing so, it aims to clarify the relationship between judgments of mind on the one hand (e.g., beliefs, desires, and intention) and judgments of morality on the other (e.g., blame and praise). Do mental state judgments guide moral judgments, or is the pattern reversed? To what extent are people's judgments of mind biased by moral considerations?

timing of intentionality and morality judgments

Debates about the direction of causal influence between mind judgments and moral judgments rely on a question of timing. If one judgment causally influences the other, then the judgments should have different temporal latencies. Ongoing research in our lab assesses the timing of mind and moral judgments, with the aim of disentangling the direction of causal influence between them.

blame-praise asymmetries

Research in non-moral domains argues for negative-positive asymmetries in many aspects of human cognition and behavior. For example, people pay attention to and remember negative stimuli better than positive ones, their relationship quality is impacted more by negative events than positive ones, and so on. My research investigates how such asymmetries may be reflected in people's moral judgments. For example, are blame judgments more extreme than praise judgments? Is blame influenced by mental states to a greater extent than praise?