Monthly Archives: March 2016

Bad is Bad, But How Bad Depends

moral intent

Our study found no support for the strong version of the Moral Intent Hypothesis.

Striking another person with intent to harm is wrong, we’d almost all certainly agree. But, if it was done in self-defense, we might reconsider that judgment. We might think that it was necessary and, thus, not quite as bad as a blindsided sucker punch thrown for no apparent reason. But, we might also consider that person a hero for standing up to a bully.

In the US, where I grew up, it’s pretty standard to take into account mitigating factors and intent when judging whether something’s wrong . In fact, its codified into law throughout the US and is thus considered by judges and juries when sentencing those who have perpetrated such behavior.

The role of mitigating factors and intent in shaping moral judgments has been called a universal feature of human moral psychology. Meaning that our brain just works this way and thus we should see similar moral reasoning in all people, in all societies from the simplest to the most complex. (1)

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Survival of the Aggressive?

They say love is worth fighting for, and it appears men in some small-scale societies have to do exactly that to play the mating game. Tara-Lyn Carter, a master’s student in biological anthropology at The Australian National University, and I conducted a study of behaviour and beliefs related to male aggression in 78 societies from around the world.

COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Studioportret_van_een_krijger_uit_Nias_in_vol_ornaat_TMnr_60039092We found support for our hypothesis that, if these aspects of male aggression have been shaped by sexual selection—that they arise and stick around in societies because they offer an advantage in competing for mates—they will be more prevalent in societies where the intensity of mating competition is higher.

We were able to rule out alternative hypotheses, such as the notion that these behaviours and beliefs are simply due to socialization to a warlike society, or that shared environments and shared cultural histories may account for the associations.

The paper is now published:

Carter TL, Kushnick G (2018) Male aggressiveness as intrasexual contest competition in a cross-cultural sample. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 72, 83. Link


Photo Source:

Photograph of warrior from Nias (North Sumatra, Indonesia)
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence
Attribution: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures

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