Scientific American Mind:
When a bad deed makes headlines, the first thing we want to know is whether the perpetrator did it “on purpose.” Intention matters in our moral judgments, as we intuitively realize and many studies confirm. Now studies suggest that this focus on the cause of an event can distort our understanding of the damage done—and knowing harm has been inflicted can even change the way we view the victims, ascribing them pain and consciousness when none might exist.
In a study published in July in Psychological Science, Princeton University psychologists Daniel Ames and Susan Fiske asked 80 study participants to read a vignette about a company CEO who had either accidentally or intentionally made a poor investment that resulted in lower pay for his employees. Those who thought the CEO had intentionally made the mistake estimated the harm done to his employees on a scale of 0 to 100 to be 39 percent larger than those who thought it was accidental.
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