Jonas Nagel and Michael R Waldmann (2013)

Deconfounding distance effects in judgments of moral obligation

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(1):237-252.

A heavily disputed question of moral philosophy is whether spatial distance between agent and victim is normatively relevant for the degree of obligation to help strangers in need. In this research, we focus on the associated descriptive question whether increased distance does in fact reduce individuals' sense of helping obligation. One problem with empirically answering this question is that physical proximity is typically confounded with other factors, such as informational directness, shared group membership, or increased efficaciousness. In a series of 5 experiments, we show that distance per se does not influence people's moral intuitions when it is isolated from such confounds. We support our claims with both frequentist and Bayesian statistics. We relate these findings to philosophical arguments concerning the normative relevance of distance and to psychological theories linking distance cues to higher level social cognition. The effects of joint versus separate evaluation paradigms on moral judgments are also discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Sponsor: University of Göttingen, Courant Research Centre. Other Details: “Evolution of Social Behaviour” (funded by the German Initiative of Excellence). Recipients: No recipient indicated