CE28 - Cognition, éducation, formation tout au long de la vie

Third-party moral evaluation: Cognitive conflict resolution as the keystone of judgments of accidental moral transgressions – AXICONF

Submission summary

The purpose of the AXICONF project is to provide new insights - with the help of a multitude of methodological approaches - on how people resolve the internal conflict they experience when they judge accidental harms. The cognitive conflict triggered when observing an accidental harm stems from the need to reconcile an innocent intent, that would normally exempt a condemnation (e.g., “Jean inadvertently spilled hot coffee on Emilie's arm.”), against the emotional distress resulting from the harmful consequences for the victim (e.g., "Emilie suffered second degree burns and had to endure excruciating pain.").
The starting point for this project is the observation that different people look at the same accident and judge the actor very differently. Why is that? Existing work suggests that a greater focus on the consequence of the accident (i.e., injured person; “the victim suffered so much”) leads to greater empathy for the suffering victim which leads to a strong condemnation. In contrast, an analysis which mainly considers the intentional component of the agent (i.e., innocent intent; “but the agent didn’t mean to harm”) would result in dilution of severity of moral evaluation.
In order to understand the operation of the cognitive conflict mechanism and its consequences on moral judgment, the AXICONF project is organized around three complementary axes of investigation: (1) The first axis aims to understand the factors that modulate the experience of cognitive conflict in situations of accidental transgression. The aim here is to explore the psychological factors that modulate the experience of a cognitive conflict: the nature of the intent, the perception of the agent's moral character, and the severity of the outcome. This axis also aims to investigate the possible influence of external factors that can modulate the strength of cognitive conflict, such as a scarcity of material resources, or evolutionary factors (intrasexual competition). (2) The second axis aims to elucidate the key dispositional factors that lie at the heart of individual differences in how such cognitive conflict is resolved. This would help us better understand the impact of cognitive properties, personality dimensions, and psychological regulation processes on the evaluation process of moral transgressions. (3) In the third and the last axis), physiological (skin conductance, heart rate variability) and neurophysiological (EEG) measurements will be used to capture the characteristic markers of this cognitive conflict experience. In addition to making the experience of conflict more significantly coincide with the judgment processes, this fundamental aspect of the AXICONF project will make it possible to acquire information on the psychological function of the severity of the punitions issued at the time of assessing accidental transgressions, in particular about a possible compensatory mechanism due to the empathetic effect triggered by the narrative. This axis will complement the other components of this project by assaying neural fingerprints of the dispositional and external factors that affect experience and resolution of cognitive conflict.
Taken together, this body of work will provide a comprehensive window into the psychological and neural basis of experience and resolution of cognitive conflict in the context of accidents. This work can also meaningfully inform the debate underlying the dual-process approach (intuition vs. reason) to moral judgment, and has potential real-life implication by providing a nuanced understanding of how lay intuitions can play a role in legal decision making about accidental transgressions.

Project coordination

Bastien TRÉMOLIÈRE (Université Toulouse II Jean Jaurés)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CHROME CHROME: Détection, évaluation, gestion des risques chroniques et émergents
UT2J Université Toulouse II Jean Jaurés
Harvard University / Department of Psychology

Help of the ANR 211,463 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 36 Months

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