University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-868
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007


Three experiments investigated the relationship between the presumption of harm in harmfree violations of creatural norms (taboos) and the moral emotions of anger and disgust. In Experiment 1, participants made a presumption of harm to others from taboo violations, even in conditions described as harmless and not involving other people; this presumption was predicted by anger and not disgust. Experiment 2 manipulated taboo violation and included a cognitive load task to clarify the post hoc nature of presumption of harm. Experiment 3 was similar but more accurately measured presumed harm. In Experiments 2 and 3, only without load was symbolic harm presumed, indicating its post hoc function to justify moral anger, which was not affected by load. In general, manipulations of harmfulness to others predicted moral anger better than moral disgust, whereas manipulations of taboo predicted disgust better. The presumption of harm was found on measures of symbolic rather than actual harm when a choice existed. These studies clarify understanding of the relationship between emotions and their justification when people consider victimless, offensive acts.

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