On having very long arms: how the availability of technological means affects moral cognition

Thinking and Reasoning 22 (2):184-208 (2016)
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Abstract

ABSTRACTModern technological means allow for meaningful interaction across arbitrary distances, while human morality evolved in environments in which individuals needed to be spatially close in order to interact. We investigate how people integrate knowledge about modern technology with their ancestral moral dispositions to help relieve nearby suffering. Our first study establishes that spatial proximity between an agent's means of helping and the victims increases people's judgement of helping obligations, even if the agent is constantly far personally. We then report and meta-analyse 20 experiments elucidating the cognitive mechanisms behind this effect, which include inferences of increased efficaciousness and personal involvement. Implications of our findings for the scientific understanding of ancestral moral dispositions in modern environments are discussed, as well as suggestions for how these insights might be exploited to increase charitable giving. Our meta-analysis provides a practical example..

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