There is a widespread conviction that people distinguish two kinds of acts: on the one hand, acts that are generalisably wrong because they go against universal principles of harm, justice, or rights; on the other hand, acts that are variably right or wrong depending on the social context. In this paper we criticise existing methods that measure generalisability. We report new findings indicating that a modification of generalisability measures is in order. We discuss our findings in light of recent criticisms (...) of moral/conventional research. (shrink)
The moral/conventional task has been widely used to study the emergence of moral understanding in children and to explore the deficits in moral understanding in clinical populations. Previous studies have indicated that moral transgressions, particularly those in which a victim is harmed, evoke a signature pattern of responses in the moral/conventional task: they are judged to be serious, generalizable and not authority dependent. Moreover, this signature pattern is held to be pan-cultural and to emerge early in development. However, almost all (...) the evidence for these claims comes from studies using harmful transgressions of the sort that primary school children might commit in the schoolyard. In a study conducted on the Internet, we used a much wider range of harm transgressions, and found that they do not evoke the signature pattern of responses found in studies using only schoolyard transgressions. Paralleling other recent work, our study provides preliminary grounds for skepticism regarding many conclusions drawn from earlier research using the moral/conventional task. (shrink)
If rituals persist in part because of their memory-taxing attributes, from whence do they arise? I suggest that magical practices form the core of rituals, and that many such practices derive from learned pseudo-causal associations. Spurious associations are likely to be acquired during problem-solving under conditions of ambiguity and danger, and are often a consequence of imitative social learning. (Published Online February 8 2007).
Stigmata, wounds resembling those of Christ, have been reported since the 13th century. The wounds typically appear in association with visions following prolonged fasting. This paper argues that self-starvation holds the key to understanding this unique event. Stigmata may result from self-mutilation occurring during dissociation, phenomena precipitated in part by dietary constriction. Psychophysiological mechanisms produced by natural selection adjust the salience of risk in light of current resource abundance. As a result, artificial dietary constriction results in indifference to harm. A (...) variety of data links dramatic dietary constriction, reduced serotonergic functioning, altered states of consciousness, and self-injurious behavior. Catholic representations of Christ's crucifixion provide a cultural context that both motivates and lends meaning to the experiences of individuals whose predispositions and life histories increase the likelihood of dietary constriction, dissociation, and self-mutilation. Examining this case raises interesting questions about both the evolutionary and the cultural grounds for defining individual psychopathology. (shrink)