Two Distinct Moral Mechanisms for Ascribing and Denying Intentionality.

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2015-12-04

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Abstract

Philosophers and legal scholars have long theorized about how intentionality serves as a critical input for morality and culpability, but the emerging field of experimental philosophy has revealed a puzzling asymmetry. People judge actions leading to negative consequences as being more intentional than those leading to positive ones. The implications of this asymmetry remain unclear because there is no consensus regarding the underlying mechanism. Based on converging behavioral and neural evidence, we demonstrate that there is no single underlying mechanism. Instead, two distinct mechanisms together generate the asymmetry. Emotion drives ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while the consideration of statistical norms leads to the denial of intentionality for positive consequences. We employ this novel two-mechanism model to illustrate that morality can paradoxically shape judgments of intentionality. This is consequential for mens rea in legal practice and arguments in moral philosophy pertaining to terror bombing, abortion, and euthanasia among others.

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10.1038/srep17390

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Ngo, L, M Kelly, CG Coutlee, RM Carter, W Sinnott-Armstrong and SA Huettel (2015). Two Distinct Moral Mechanisms for Ascribing and Denying Intentionality. Sci Rep, 5. p. 17390. 10.1038/srep17390 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11093.

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Scholars@Duke

Huettel

Scott Huettel

Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

Research in my laboratory investigates the brain mechanisms underlying economic and social decision making; collectively, this research falls into the field of “decision neuroscience” or "neuroeconomics". My laboratory uses fMRI to probe brain function, behavioral assays to characterize individual differences, and other physiological methods (e.g., eye tracking, pharmacological manipulation, genetics) to link brain and behavior. Concurrent with research on basic processes, my laboratory has also investigated the application of new analysis methods for fMRI data, including functional connectivity analyses, pattern classification analyses, and combinatoric multivariate approaches. We have also been applying computational methods to problems in behavioral economics and consumer decision making.  

I have also been very active in outreach, mentorship, and educational activities; as examples, I am lead author on the textbook Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Sinauer Associates; 3rd edition in 2014), I teach Fundamentals of Decision Science, Decision Neuroscience and Neuroethics, and many of my postdoctoral and graduate trainees now lead research laboratories of their own.


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