Moral Parochialism and Causal Appraisal of Transgressive Harm in Seoul and Los Angeles

Published in Scientific Reports, 2022

Recommended citation: Holbrook, C., Yoon, L., Fessler, D. M. T., Moser, C., Delgado, J. D., Kim, H. (2022). Moral Parochialism and Causal Appraisal of Transgressive Harm in Seoul and Los Angeles. Scientific Reports, 12, 14227.

The evolutionary fitness payoffs of moral condemnation are greatest within an individual’s immediate social milieu. Accordingly, insofar as human moral intuitions have been shaped by adaptive design, we can expect transgressive harms to be perceived as more wrong when transpiring in the here and now than when occurring at a distance, or with the approval of local authority figures. This moral parochialism hypothesis has been supported by research conducted in diverse societies, but has yet to be tested in an East Asian society, despite prior research indicating that East Asians appraise transgressive acts as being caused by situational and contextual factors to a greater extent than do Westerners, who tend to emphasize dispositional factors (i.e., the transgressor’s personal nature). Here, in a quasi-experiment using field samples recruited in Seoul and Los Angeles, we tested i) the moral parochialism hypothesis regarding the perceived wrongness of transgressions, as well as ii) the extent to which these wrongness judgments might be influenced by cross-cultural differences in causal appraisals. Despite notably large differences across the two societies in situational versus dispositional appraisals of the causes of the transgressions, replicating previous findings elsewhere, in both societies we found that transgressions were deemed less wrong when occurring at spatial or temporal remove or with the consent of authorities. These findings add to the understanding of morality as universally focused on local affairs, notwithstanding cultural variation in perceptions of the situational versus dispositional causes of (im)moral acts.

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