Being similar while judging right and wrong: The effects of personal and situational similarity on moral judgements

Emilia Pascal
Published Online:
20 Jul 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 54 Issue 2

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Abstract This study investigated the effects of similarity with the transgressor and the victim on the perceived immorality of the transgression. Participants read two stories describing a person that cheated on their partner and a police officer that mistreated somebody. In the first story we manipulated participants' personal similarity to the transgressor and in the second their personal similarity to the victim. In each story, participants' past situational similarity to the target character was assessed according to their previous experiences of being in the same position. Results show that both personal and past situational similarity to the transgressor determine less severe moral judgements, while personal and past situational similarity with the victim have the opposite effect. We also tested several potential mediators of these effects, derived from competing theoretical accounts of the influence of similarity on perceived responsibility. Empathy emerged as mediating most of the effects of similarity on moral judgements, except those induced by past situational similarity with the victim. The foreseen probability of being in a similar situation mediated only the effects of similarity to the transgressor, and not those of similarity to the victim. Overall, results highlight the complex mechanisms of the influences of similarity on moral judgements.

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