The Effect of Cognitive Load on Intent‐Based Moral Judgment

Cognitive Science 45 (4):e12965 (2021)
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Abstract

When making a moral judgment, people largely care about two factors: Who did it (causal responsibility), and did they intend to (intention)? Since Piaget's seminal studies, we have known that as children mature, they gradually place greater emphasis on intention, and less on mere bad outcomes, when making moral judgments. Today, we know that this developmental shift has several signature properties. Recently, it has been shown that when adults make moral judgments under cognitive load, they exhibit a pattern similar to young children; that is, their judgments become notably more outcome based. Here, we show that all of the same signature properties that accompany the outcome‐to‐intent shift in childhood characterize the “intent‐to‐outcome” shift obtained under cognitive load in adults. These findings hold important implications for current theories of moral judgment.

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