Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

People attribute minds to robots, corpses that are targets of harm

Date:
June 17, 2013
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
As Descartes famously noted, there's no way to really know that another person has a mind -- every mind we observe is, in a sense, a mind we create. Now, new research suggests that victimization may be one condition that leads us to perceive minds in others, even in entities we don't normally think of as having minds, such as a corpse or a robot.

New research suggests that victimization may be one condition that leads us to perceive minds in others, even in entities we don't normally think of as having minds, such as a corpse or a robot.
Credit: eyewave / Fotolia

As Descartes famously noted, there's no way to really know that another person has a mind -- every mind we observe is, in a sense, a mind we create. Now, new research suggests that victimization may be one condition that leads us to perceive minds in others, even in entities we don't normally think of as having minds.

This research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, shows that people attribute minds to entities they perceive as being targets of harm, even when the entity in question is a robot or a corpse.

"People seem to believe that having a mind allows an entity to be part of a moral interaction -- to do good and bad things, or to have good and bad things done to them," says psychological scientist Adrian Ward, who conducted the research at Harvard University.

"This research suggests that the relationship may actually work the other way around: Minds don't create morality, morality creates minds."

Ward, together with Daniel Wegner of Harvard University and Andrew Olsen of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted five studies that investigated the relationship between morality and mind. The results consistently revealed that participants attributed 'more' mind to entities portrayed as targets of intentional harm.

For example, participants who read a story about a nurse who intentionally unplugged the food supply to a patient in a persistent vegetative state attributed more mind to the patient than those who read that the nurse performed her job satisfactorily. Participants also attributed more mind to a corpse when they read that it had been the target of harm.

Participants even attributed more mind to a George, a "highly complex social robot," when they read that George had been stabbed with a scalpel by a research scientist.

Surprisingly, people attributed "full" minds to entities when they were the targets of moral harm -- minds capable not just of experiencing harm, but also capable of experiencing emotions, feeling hunger, exerting self-control, and planning for the future.

Ward believes that the findings may help to explain how two people can look at the same entity -- for example, a fetus, a comatose patient, a gorilla, or a lab rat -- and see completely different capacities for thinking, feeling, and general consciousness:

"When these entities are thought of in moral terms, they're attributed more mind -- it seems that people have the sense that something wrong is happening, so someone must be there to receive that wrong."

Importantly, the results of the final study suggest that the effects of harm may depend on the preexisting mental status of the victim in question.

Participants who read that Sharon, a fully conscious adult human, was physically abused by her boss attributed less mind to Sharon than participants who read that her boss behaved normally. They attributed less ability to experience pain and less mind overall to Sharon, falling in line with previous research on dehumanization.

"Victimization may cause people to dehumanize other entities -- but only when these entities have a mind to begin with; entities with absent or liminal minds, in contrast, seem to gain minds as a result of victimization," the researchers write.

The research may have implications for hot-button issues centered on morality and mind, including issues surrounding animal rights, abortion, and end-of-life decisions. If moral intuitions lead to subjective perceptions of minds, investigating the objective realities of mental capacities is unlikely to resolve moral disagreements over what the 'right' course of action is.

Ward hopes to further explore how the so-called harm-made mind might influence actual decision making:

"Exploring this relationship will allow us to understand how different ways of presenting and discussing information about minds and morality may help people see eye-to-eye on contentious issues, and potentially come to a place of mutual understanding."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. F. Ward, A. S. Olsen, D. M. Wegner. The Harm-Made Mind: Observing Victimization Augments Attribution of Minds to Vegetative Patients, Robots, and the Dead. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612472343

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "People attribute minds to robots, corpses that are targets of harm." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130617122405.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2013, June 17). People attribute minds to robots, corpses that are targets of harm. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130617122405.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "People attribute minds to robots, corpses that are targets of harm." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130617122405.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) A study for University College London suggests obese people who are discriminated against gain more weight than those who are not. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins