A cognitive developmental approach to morality: investigating the psychopath

Cognition 57 (1):1-29 (1995)

Abstract

Various social animal species have been noted to inhibit aggressive attacks when a conspecific displays submission cues. Blair (1993) has suggested that humans possess a functionally similar mechanism which mediates the suppression of aggression in the context of distress cues. He has suggested that this mechanism is a prerequisite for the development of the moral/conventional distinction; the consistently observed distinction in subject's judgments between moral and conventional transgressions. Psychopaths may lack this violence inhibitor. A causal model is developed showing how the lack of this mechanism would explain the core behavioural symptoms associated with the psychopathic disorder. A prediction of such a causal model would be that psychopaths should fail to make the moral/conventional distinction. This prediction was confirmed. The implication of this finding for other theories of morality is discussed.

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