Anthropology

Moral judgment across cultures

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  26 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6413, pp. 416-417
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6413.416-e

The importance of intentions in moral judgments varies across cultures. One theory holds that these differences are driven by variation in cultural norms regarding the acceptability of inferring other peoples' mental states. To test this question, McNamara et al. investigated moral judgments among indigenous iTaukei Fijians whose cultural norms discourage mental-state reasoning. Participants judged cases in which an actor transgressed by accident more harshly than cases in which an actor intended to do harm but failed to do so. When participants were primed to focus on thoughts in a follow-up study, this pattern reversed. These data suggest that moral and legal theories that emphasize intention may emerge from an implicit focus on mental states that is often taken for granted in Western contexts.

Cognition 182, 95 (2019).

Navigate This Article