ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2012, Vol. 44 ›› Issue (12): 1607-1617.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2012.01607

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The Role of Mental States and Causality in Moral Judgment: Examination on Dual-process Theory of Moral Judgment

DUAN Lei;MO Shu-Liang;FAN Cui-Ying;LIU Hua-Shan   

  1. (School of Psychology, Central China Normal University; Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyber Psychology and Behavior (Ministry of Education); Key Laboratary of Human development and Mental health of Hubei Province; Wuhan 430079)
  • Received:2010-10-12 Published:2012-12-25 Online:2012-12-25
  • Contact: MO Shu-Liang

Abstract: Moral judgment has been explored for many years. Cognitive development theorists have argued that moral judgment in adults mainly relied on intention, but attribution theorists have argued that causality played a key role in moral judgment. However, recent researchers put forward a dual-process theory of moral judgment, which distinguishes two processes of moral judgment: one which begins with harmful consequences and seeks a causally responsible agent, and the other which begins with an action and analyzes the mental states responsible for that action. The present study attempted to examine the rationality of this theory and to investigate the role of mental states and causality for younger children, older children and adults, and to explore children’s developmental process of moral judgment. In this study, 120 undergraduates, 120 children aged 10-11 and 120 adolescent aged 13-15 were tested for a moral sense of judgment. A 2 (desire: negative desire vs. neutral desire) ×2 (belief: negative belief vs. neutral belief) × 3 (causality: harm caused by the agents’ action, vs. no harm vs. harm caused by accidents) experimental design was conducted to test the roles of desire, belief and causality in moral judgment. Participants were presented with a series of stories, and then would answer two types of questions about the extent of the agents’ behavior badness and moral responsibility on a 7-point scale. Our findings were consistent with that of Cushman (2008), which showed that the roles of desire, belief, and causality were different under the two types of moral judgment questions. The results revealed that for 10-11 and 13~15 year-old children, there were significant main effects of desire and belief on the judgment of badness, which indicated that the judgment of badness was mainly based on the mental states of the agents. There were significant main effects of desire, belief, and causality on the judgment of moral responsibility for 10-11 year-olds, but no significant interaction effects were found. There were significant main effects of desire and causality, and significant interaction effects between desire and causality for 13-15 year-olds. The results showed that younger children paid more attention to the consequences and the mental states of the agents, but they cannot jointly use causal connection between behavior and consequence in the judgment of moral responsibility. In addition, younger and older participants did not use abstract mental states (e.g. belief) of the agents in the judgment of moral responsibility.The present study provided support for the dual-process theory of moral judgment. The results demonstrated that moral judgment of badness in adults mainly relied on mental states (e.g. desire, belief, and intention) and judgment of moral responsibility mainly jointly relied on the mental states of agents and causal analysis. There is a developmental process in jointly using information of mental states and causality for younger and older children in the judgments of moral responsibility. This study supported the dual-process theory of moral judgments, and provided additional data about development of moral judgment in children and adolescents.

Key words: dual-process of moral judgment, desire, belief, causality