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How musicality changes moral consideration: People judge musical entities as more wrong to harm

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A growing literature shows that music increases prosocial behavior. Why does this occur? We propose a novel hypothesis, informed by moral psychology: evidence of others’ musicality may promote prosociality by leading us to judge musical individuals as having enhanced moral standing. This effect may be largely indirect, by increasing perceptions of how intelligent and emotionally sensitive musical individuals are. If so, simply knowing about others’ musicality should affect moral evaluations, such as wrongness to harm. Across four experiments (total N = 550), we found supportive evidence. Information that an animal or person had the capacity and motivation to engage with music led participants to judge these entities as more wrong to harm than matched neutral or non-musical counterparts. Similarly, knowing that a person was not musical made people judge them as less wrong to harm than neutral or musical counterparts. As predicted, musicality was positively associated with perceptions of capacities for emotionality and intelligence, and these broader factors partially mediated the relationship between musicality and wrongness to harm. These effects were not influenced by participants’ own musicality. Thus, non-moral attributes like musicality can impact moral consideration, carrying implications for social behavior and for interventions to promote prosociality.

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