Study suggests people hurt others to signal their own goodness
Findings from a new study from the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego reveal that people often hurt others because in their minds, it’s morally right or even obligatory to be violent and, by therefore, they do not respond rationally to material benefits.
The study has implications for the criminal justice system, suggesting that fines or jail time for bad behavior may not be the effective deterrent lawmakers hope.
“For the majority of offenders, it’s not worth inflicting damage solely from a place of cynical greed,” said psychologist Tage Rai, assistant professor of management at the Rady School of Management and author of the study. “For example, as we see with the January 6 hearings, many of the perpetrators of the attack on the Capitol believed that the election had been stolen from them and that they had a moral right to punish the members of Congress who harmed. of these people will be materially punished for their actions. What is unclear is whether this would prevent them from doing it again.
Rai’s findings, published in the journal Psychological Sciences, are based on multiple experiments with nearly 1,500 study participants. Subjects in an experimental group received a monetary bonus to punish others; however, when they were compensated for punishing, it actually made them less likely to do so.
“Monetary gains can conflict with their perceived moral justifications,” Rai said. “People punishing others for signaling their own goodness and receiving compensation can feel like they are motivated by greed rather than justice. However, I also find that if your peers tell you that you are still a good person even if you take the money, then you will have no moral qualms about hurting others for profit.”
Rai added that to prevent criminal acts, lawmakers should also leverage social pressure.
“When people are aware that they are being judged negatively by their peers, they may find themselves more inclined to question their claims of moral righteousness,” he said.
Much of Rai’s research aims to understand violent behavior and how to prevent it. His previous studies as well as the book he co-wrote Virtuous Violence reveal that most violent criminals have their own notions of what is right and wrong in a given situation.
Knowing that violent offenders often cite their own moral code as the reason they hurt people, Rai wanted to test this theory further by paying people to punish others in a lab experiment.
In four different experiments in an online economic game, he found that providing a monetary bonus to punish a third party nearly halved participants’ willingness to do so.
“The results suggest that people might be After reluctant to do harm as they stand to profit if they expect condemnation from their peers,” Rai said.
In conclusion, he says that understanding what draws people to violence is key to preventing it.
“If governments are trying to deter criminals, they should also aim to change the moral narratives that criminals use to justify their actions,” Rai said.
Tage S. Rai, Material Benefits Crowd Out Moralistic Punishment, Psychological sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1177/09567976211054786
Quote: Study suggests people hurt others to signal their own goodness (2022, June 21) Retrieved June 21, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-06-people-goodness.html
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