The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘intention’

Fiery Cushman at Harvard law School – Video

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 8, 2010

From The Harvard Law Record (Sept. 2009):

On September 21st, Fiery Cushman, a newly-minted PhD recipient and post-doctoral fellow at Harvard’s Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative, presented some of his recent research at an event titled “Outcome vs. Intent: Which Do We Punish, and Why?” Cushman’s work suggests that at a gut-level, people assess whether a behavior was morally right or wrong by looking at the actor’s intentions, but when assigning punishment, people are overwhelmingly interested in outcomes, even if an outcome was accidental.

Cushman described several experiments where he was able to look at a participant’s intentions in isolation from the actual outcome of the participant’s actions. In one case, participants were given the choice of dice that would later be rolled to assign rewards to a second, receiving party. When given the opportunity, the recipient would consistently punish more often when the dice produced less favorable rewards, even if the initial participant intended to provide rewards generously. This work has interesting implications for tort law, explaining in part why findings of negligence lead to large compensatory rewards even in the absence of any intentional action.

Below is the video of that fascinating talk.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, “Law Students Flock to Situationism,” “Fiery Cushman at Harvard Law School,” Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “John Darley on ‘Justice as Intuitions’ – Video,” “The Situation of Punishment in Schools,” Why We Punish,” “Kevin Jon Heller on The Cognitive Psychology of Mens Rea,” Mark Lanier visits Professor Jon Hanson’s Tort Class (web cast),” and “Situationist Torts – Abstract.”

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fiery Cushman at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2009

SALMS Logo Small 2 for WebsiteTomorrow (Monday, September 21), the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) at Harvard Law School is hosting a talk, titled “Outcome vs. Intent: Which Do We Punish and Why?,” by Professor Fiery Cushman. The abstract for the talk is as follows:

Sometimes people cause harm accidentally; other times they attempt to cause harm, but fail. How do ordinary people treat cases where intentions and outcomes are mismatched? Dr. Cushman will present a series of studies suggesting that while people’s judgments of moral wrongness depend overwhelmingly on an assessment of intent, their judgments of deserved punishment exhibit substantial reliance on accidental outcomes as well. This pattern of behavior is present at an early age and consistent across both survey-based and behavioral economic paradigms. These findings raise a question about the function of our moral psychology: why do we judge moral wrongness and deserved punishment by different standards? Dr. Cushman will present evidence that punishment is sensitive to accidental outcomes in part because it is designed to teach social partners not to engage in harmful behaviors and because teaching on the basis of outcomes is more effective than teaching on the basis of intentions.

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The event will take place in Hauser 104 at Harvard Law School, from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.  For more information, e-mail salms@law.harvard.edu.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “John Darley on ‘Justice as Intuitions’ – Video,” “The Situation of Punishment in Schools,” Why We Punish,” “Kevin Jon Heller on The Cognitive Psychology of Mens Rea,” Mark Lanier visits Professor Jon Hanson’s Tort Class (web cast),” and “Situationist Torts – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Pain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 13, 2009

Shock CapFrom Harvard University, “Pain Hurts More if the Person Hurting You Means It”:

Researchers at Harvard University have discovered that our experience of pain depends on whether we think someone caused the pain intentionally. In their study, participants who believed they were getting an electrical shock from another person on purpose, rather than accidentally, rated the very same shock as more painful. Participants seemed to get used to shocks that were delivered unintentionally, but those given on purpose had a fresh sting every time.

The research, published in the current issue of Psychological Science, was led by Kurt Gray, a graduate student in psychology, along with Daniel Wegner, professor of psychology.

It has long been known that our own mental states can alter the experience of pain, but these findings suggest that our perceptions of the mental states of others can also influence how we feel pain.

“This study shows that even if two harmful events are physically identical, the one delivered with the intention to hurt actually hurts more,” says Gray. “Compare a slap from a friend as she tries to save us from a mosquito versus the same slap from a jilted lover. The first we shrug off instantly, while the second stings our cheek for the rest of the night.”

The study’s authors suggest that intended and unintended harm cause different amounts of pain because they differ in meaning.

“From decoding language to understanding gestures, the mind distills meaning from our social environment,” says Gray. “An intended harm has a very different meaning than an accidental harm.”

The study included 48 participants who were paired up with a partner who could administer to them either an audible tone or an electric shock. In the intentional condition, participants were shocked when their partner chose the shock option. In the unintentional condition, participants were shocked when their partner chose the tone option. Thus, in this condition, they only received a shock when their partner did not intend them to receive one. The computer display ensured that participants both knew their partner’s choice and that a shock would be coming, to ensure the shock was not more surprising in the unintentional condition.

Despite identical shock voltage between conditions, those in the intentional condition rated the shocks as significantly more painful. Furthermore, those in the unintentional condition habituated to the pain, rating them as decreasingly painful, while those in the intentional condition continued to feel the full sting of pain.

Gray suggests that it may be evolutionarily adaptive for this difference in meaning to be represented as different amounts of pain.

“The more something hurts, the more likely we are to take notice and stop whatever is hurting us,” he says. “If it’s an accidental harm, chances are it’s a one-time thing, and there’s no need to do anything about it. If it’s an intentional harm, however, it may be the first of many, so it’s good to take notice and do something about it. It makes sense that our bodies and brains might amplify our experience of pain when we know that the pain could signal threats to our survival.”

These findings speak to how people experience pain and negative life events. If negative events are seen as intended, they may hurt more. This helps to explain why torture is so excruciating – not only are torture techniques themselves exceptionally painful, but it’s the thought that counts–and makes torture hurt more than mere pain.

On the other hand, if negative events are seen as unintended, they may hurt less. This may explain, in part, why people in abusive relationships sometimes continue to stay in them. By rationalizing that an abusive partner did not intend harm, some victims may reduce their experience of pain, which could make them less likely to leave the relationship and escape the abuse.

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You can download a copy of the fascinating paper, Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). The sting of intentional pain. Psychological Science, 19, 1260-1262, here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Racial Situation of Pain Relief,” “The Legal Brain,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “Moral Psychology Primer,” and “Quick Introduction to Experimental (Situationist?) Philosophy.”

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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