Perceiving the agency of harmful agents: A test of dehumanization versus moral typecasting accounts

by Mansur Khamitov, Jeff D. Rotman, Jared Piazza
Citation
Title:
Perceiving the agency of harmful agents: A test of dehumanization versus moral typecasting accounts
Author:
Mansur Khamitov, Jeff D. Rotman, Jared Piazza
Year: 
2016
Publication: 
Cognition
Volume: 
146
Issue: 
Start Page: 
33
End Page: 
47
Publisher: 
Elsevier
Language: 
English
URL: 
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027715300652
Select license: 
Creative Commons Attributions-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
DOI: 
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.09.009
PMID: 
ISSN: 
Abstract:
It is clear that harmful agents are targets of severe condemnation, but it is much less clear how perceivers conceptualize the agency of harmful agents. The current studies tested two competing predictions made by moral typecasting theory and the dehumanization literature. Across six studies, harmful agents were perceived to possess less agency than neutral (non-offending) and benevolent agents, consistent with a dehumanization perspective but inconsistent with the assumptions of moral typecasting theory. This was observed for human targets (Studies 1–2b and 4–5) and corporations (Study 3), and across various gradations of harmfulness (Studies 3 and 4). Importantly, denial of agency to harmful agents occurred even when controlling for perceptions of the agent’s likeability (Studies 2a and 2b) and while using two different operationalizations of agency (Study 2a). Study 5 showed that harmful agents are denied agency primarily through an inferential process, and less through motivations to see the agent punished. Across all six studies, harmful agents were deemed less worthy of moral standing as a consequence of their harmful conduct and this reduction in moral standing was mediated through reductions in agency. Our findings clarify a current tension in the moral cognition literature, which have direct implications for the moral typecasting framework.
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