More People But Less Mind: How Number Affects Mind Perception and Decisions to Harm Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Cooley, Erin
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Most moral codes agree that harming another person is wrong. However, instances in which people cause widespread harm abound. One reason for this discrepancy between moral values and behavior may be that people have difficulty imagining groups of people experiencing suffering. In this research, I first propose that people sometimes harm groups more readily than individuals. Second I propose that greater harm for groups (versus individuals) may be driven by the perception that groups are less capable of mentally experiencing sensations such as pleasure and pain. In a Preliminary Study I tested whether people are more likely to harm many than one when the targets are outgroup members. Contrary to hypotheses, participants were more likely to harm one than many regardless of group membership. Next, in Study 1, I examined whether people perceive mind differently in groups of people as compared to individuals from those groups. As predicted, across 19 categories, groups were perceived as having less mental capacity for experience than individuals. Study 2 extended these findings to examine whether reduced perceptions of experience among groups is driven by cues to being a group and to evaluate implications for decisions to harm. Results revealed that participants attributed less experience to a group described as a single entity as compared to a group described as a collection of individuals, or an individual. Interestingly, however, participants were most likely to harm the group described as a collection of individuals, and perceptions of experience did not mediate decisions to harm. Results suggest that people sometimes are more likely to harm many than one, and that groups are attributed less of a capacity to experience than individuals. Future research should explore the mechanisms behind these seemingly independent effects.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Fredrickson, Barbara
  • Algoe, Sara
  • Gray, Kurt
  • Kurtz-Costes, Beth
  • Payne, B. Keith
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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