Good deeds and hard knocks: The effect of past suffering on praise for moral behavior

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 97 (2021)
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Are judgments of praise for moral behavior modulated by knowledge of an agent's past suffering at the hands of others, and if so, in what direction? Drawing on multiple lines of research in experimental social psychology, we identify three hypotheses about the psychology of praise — typecasting, handicapping, and non-historicism — each of which supports a different answer to the question above. Typecasting predicts that information about past suffering will augment perceived patiency and thereby diminish perceived agency, making altruistic actions seem less praiseworthy; handicapping predicts that this information will make altruistic actions seem more effortful, and hence more praiseworthy; and non-historicism predicts that judgments of praise will be insensitive to information about an agent's experiential history. We report the results of two studies suggesting that altruistic behavior tends to attract more praise when the experiential history of the agent involves coping with adversity in childhood rather than enjoying prosperity (Study 1, N = 348, p = .03, d = 0.45; Study 2, N = 400, p = .02, d = 0.39), as well as the results of a third study suggesting that altruistic behavior tends to be evaluated more favorably when the experiential history of the agent includes coping with adversity than in the absence of information about the agent's past experience (N = 226, p = .002). This pattern of results, we argue, is more consistent with handicapping than typecasting or non-historicism.



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Author Profiles

Fernando Alvear
University of Missouri, Columbia
Philip Robbins
University of Missouri, Columbia

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References found in this work

Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Thomas E. Hill & Arnulf Zweig.
Achievement.Gwen Bradford - 2015 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Mind Perception is the Essence of Morality.Kurt Gray, Liane Young & Adam Waytz - 2012 - Psychological Inquiry 23 (2):101-124.

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