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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Intentional Sin and Accidental Virtue? Cultural Differences in Moral Systems Influence Perceived Intentionality

  • Author(s): Clark, Cory J
  • Bauman, Christopher W
  • Kamble, Shanmukh V
  • Knowles, Eric D
  • et al.

Indians and US Americans view harmful actions as morally wrong, but Indians are more likely than US Americans to perceive helping behaviors as moral imperatives. We utilize this cultural variability in moral belief systems to test whether and how moral considerations influence perceptions of intentionality (as suggested by theories of folk psychology; e.g., Knobe, 2003). Four experiments found that Indians attribute more intentionality than US Americans for helpful but not harmful (Studies 1-4) or neutral side-effects (Studies 2-3). Also, cross-cultural differences in intentionality judgments for positive actions reflect stronger praise motives (Study 3), and stronger devotion to religious beliefs and practices among Hindus (Study 4). These results provide the first direct support for the claim that features of moral belief systems influence folk psychology, and further suggest that the influence is not inherently asymmetrical; motivation to either blame or praise can influence judgments of intentionality.

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