The Effects of Intent, Outcome, and Causality on Moral Judgments and Decision Processes

Psychol Belg. 2022 Jul 4;62(1):218-229. doi: 10.5334/pb.1157. eCollection 2022.


Over the past decade, moral judgments and their underlying decision processes have more frequently been considered from a dynamic and multi-factorial perspective rather than a binary approach (e.g., dual-system processes). The agent's intent and his or her causal role in the outcome-as well as the outcome importance-are key psychological factors that influence moral decisions, especially judgments of punishment. The current research aimed to study the influence of intent, outcome, and causality variations on moral decisions, and to identify their interaction during the decision process by embedding the moral scenarios within an adapted mouse-tracking paradigm. Findings of the preregistered study (final n = 80) revealed main effects for intent, outcome, and causality on judgments of punishment, and an interaction between the effects of intent and causality. We furthermore explored the dynamics of these effects during the decision process via the analysis of mouse trajectories in the course of time. It allowed detecting when these factors intervened during the trial time course. The present findings thus both replicate and extend previous research on moral judgment, and evidence that, despite some ongoing challenges, mouse-tracking represents a promising tool to investigate moral decision-making.

Keywords: causality; decision process; intent; moral judgment; mouse-tracking; outcome.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the French National Research Agency in the framework of the ‘Investissements d’avenir’ programs ANR-15-IDEX-02 and ANR-11-LABX-0025-01.