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Empathy and Morality

Cambridge/ Munich Moral Psychology Network


Important: To attend the afternoon sessions, please sign up via here by July 10. [registration is closed]
To attend Rae Langton's keynote, please sign up with the CAS via the link.

from 2-5pm

location: Schellingstrasse 3, Room S005 (ground floor)

Refreshments served

Presentations by Riana Betzler (Cambridge), Carolina Pletti (LMU Munich), and Johannes Dörflinger (Konstanz)

The role of emotion in the resolution of moral dilemmas: subjective, behavioral, and electrophysiological data

Speaker: Carolina Pletti

In my talk I will describe three studies investigating the role of emotion in decision-making during the resolution of moral dilemmas. The aim was to test the dual process model of moral judgment (Greene et al., 2001, 2004), according to which emotional processing plays a causal role in driving judgments and decisions in moral dilemmas, in competition with rational reasoning. The studies also focused on how the intentionality of the action involved in the decision choice interacts with emotional processing by producing different judgment and decision patterns. Moreover, in two of the three studies the neural correlates of the decision process during the resolution of the dilemmas were investigated by means of event-related potentials. One study investigates if and how taking legal consequences into account during the resolution of the dilemmas affects participants’ choices and the emotional impact of the dilemma. A second study investigates the influence of emotional hyporeactivity, as typical of individuals with high trait psychopathy, on judgment and choices in moral dilemmas. Finally, the third study investigates the role of anticipated emotional consequences. Overall, the results suggest that the intentionality of the sacrifice influences decisions in addition to the emotional impact of the dilemma. At the same time, our findings are in line with the dual process model, as they show that emotional processing affects decisions in moral dilemmas, especially through the anticipation of the expected emotional consequences of the available options.

What protects people from emphasis effects in moral judgments: depth of reasoning or closed mindedness?

Speaker: Johannes Dörflinger

We demonstrate in three studies that emphasizing content in a moral dilemma by presenting it in emotionally expressive language does influence moral judgments. Emphasis leads to less consequentialist judgments if the emphasis is on negative consequences of a consequentialist choice, but it leads to more consequentialist judgments if the emphasis is on the negative consequences of a deontological choice. Following dual-process theories (Strack & Deutsch, 2007), planning to engage in thorough reflection is tested as a way of moderating emphasis effects; but emphasis effects occurred irrespective of whether participants planned to engage in thorough reflection or to decide spontaneously (Study 1). Importantly, however, action phase-related mindsets (Gollwitzer, 1990, 2012) did
moderate these effects. A deliberative mindset is associated with undirected attention and open-minded processing of information, while an implemental mindset is associated with focused attention on goal realization and closed-minded processing of information. Therefore, we expected and found that individuals in an implemental mindset are less susceptible to emphasis effects than individuals in a deliberative mindset (Studies 2 & 3). By using an eye-tracking task in Study 3, we demonstrated that our implemental mindset participants were indeed more focused — in particular on goal-directed means— than the deliberative mindset participants. The findings of our three studies suggest that the occurrence of an emphasis bias does not depend on how much we think about a moral dilemma (i.e., thoroughly vs. quickly), but rather how we think about it (i.e., based on a deliberative vs. an implemental mindset).

Empathy as a skill

Speaker: Riana Betzler

There has long been debate about what empathy is. On the one hand, it is a human value, the object of discussion in philosophy, literature, and history. On the other hand, empathy is a psychological capacity, the object of study of the psychological, neuroscientific, and social sciences. The humanistic enterprise, which views empathy as a value, and the scientific enterprise, which views empathy as a capacity, do not function in isolation from one another. In this way, empathy is both natural and normative. In this talk, I begin by explaining what I mean in saying that empathy is both natural and normative, drawing on literature from both the philosophy of science and recent empirical studies of empathy. I then sketch a new view of empathy that captures its dual character. This new view holds that empathy is best thought of as a skill, in the sense articulated in the skilled action literature (e.g., Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986; Fridland, 2013). I explain how thinking of empathy as a skill—as a form of skilful action—accounts for many of the things that have been said about it in both the philosophical and empirical literatures. This “empathy as a skill” view is especially compatible with recent findings that show the flexibility of empathy, its ability to be mediated by other psychological processes, and its context-dependency. It provides a way of furthermore accounting for the normative dimension of empathy and its status as a subject of moral psychology. Viewing empathy as a skill thereby has various upshots; it provides a way of synthesizing currently existing work and can also serve as a guide for structuring future research enterprises.


5 pm Reception

Empathy and first personal imaging

at 6.30 pm

Speaker: Prof. Rae Langton, Ph.D. | Chair: Prof. Dr. Christof Rapp (LMU)

Adam Smith has claimed that imagination is necessary for empathy, in the sense that we identify with the person we are empathising with. But such imagination could take other forms, like simulating the other person's feelings. In her talk, Rae Langton explains (1) how empathy involves first personal imagining, and (2) what empathy might teach us about the first personal. She argues that empathic imagining is a de se attitude that involves an imaginative self-ascription of the other person's properties.

for more information click here 

Interviews by PhiloCast

Interview with Dr Maria Mammen about her research projects

Interview with Dr Riana Betzler about her research projects

Interview with Dr Nora Heinzelmann about the workshop