People often think that something must have a mind to be part of a moral interaction. However, the present research suggests that minds do not create morality but that morality creates minds. In four experiments, we found that observing intentional harm to an unconscious entity—a vegetative patient, a robot, or a corpse—leads to augmented attribution of mind to that entity. A fifth experiment reconciled these results with extant research on dehumanization by showing that observing the victimization of conscious entities leads to reduced attribution of mind to those entities. Taken together, these experiments suggest that the effects of victimization vary according to victims’ preexisting mental status and that people often make an intuitive cognitive error when unconscious entities are placed in harm’s way. People assume that if apparent moral harm occurs, then there must be someone there to experience that harm—a harm-made mind. These findings have implications for political policies concerning right-to-life issues.
Friday, June 28, 2013
The Harm-Made Mind
Here is a fascinating bit from Daniel Wegner and his collaborators. (I cite Wegner extensively in my "I-Illusion" web-lecture in introductory lectures sections of the left had column of this web page.)