Asymmetrical genetic attributions for prosocial versus antisocial behaviour

Article metrics

Abstract

Genetic explanations of human behaviour are increasingly common. While genetic attributions for behaviour are often considered relevant for assessing blameworthiness, it has not yet been established whether judgements about blameworthiness can themselves impact genetic attributions. Across six studies, participants read about individuals engaging in prosocial or antisocial behaviour, and rated the extent to which they believed that genetics played a role in causing the behaviour. Antisocial behaviour was consistently rated as less genetically influenced than prosocial behaviour. This was true regardless of whether genetic explanations were explicitly provided or refuted. Mediation analyses suggested that this asymmetry may stem from people’s motivating desire to hold wrongdoers responsible for their actions. These findings suggest that those who seek to study or make use of genetic explanations’ influence on evaluations of, for example, antisocial behaviour should consider whether such explanations are accepted in the first place, given the possibility of motivated causal reasoning.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Mean genetic attribution ratings in studies one and two, collapsed across vignettes.
Fig. 2: Mean genetic attribution ratings in studies three and four, collapsed across vignettes.
Fig. 3: Bootstrap mediation analyses in study four.
Fig. 4: Image used in the genetic explanation in study three.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

References

  1. 1.

    Dar-Nimrod, I. & Heine, S. J. Genetic essentialism: on the deceptive determinism of DNA. Psychol. Bull. 137, 800–818 (2011).

  2. 2.

    Tabb, K., Lebowitz, M. S. & Appelbaum, P. S. Behavioral genetics and attributions of moral responsibility. Behav. Genet. 49, 128–135 (2019).

  3. 3.

    Kvaale, E. P., Haslam, N. & Gottdiener, W. H. The ‘side effects’ of medicalization: a meta-analytic review of how biogenetic explanations affect stigma. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 33, 782–794 (2013).

  4. 4.

    Haslam, N. & Kvaale, E. P. Biogenetic explanations of mental disorder: the mixed-blessings model. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 24, 399–404 (2015).

  5. 5.

    Hoyt, C. L., Burnette, J. L., Auster-Gussman, L., Blodorn, A. & Major, B. The obesity stigma asymmetry model: the indirect and divergent effects of blame and changeability beliefs on antifat prejudice. Stigma Health 2, 53–65 (2017).

  6. 6.

    Lebowitz, M. S. & Appelbaum, P. S. Beneficial and detrimental effects of genetic explanations for addiction. Int. J. Soc. Psychiatry 63, 717–723 (2017).

  7. 7.

    Cheung, B. Y. & Heine, S. J. The double-edged sword of genetic accounts of criminality: causal attributions from genetic ascriptions affect legal decision making. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 41, 1723–1738 (2015).

  8. 8.

    Gray, K., Young, L. & Waytz, A. Mind perception is the essence of morality. Psychol. Inq. 23, 101–124 (2012).

  9. 9.

    Sarkissian, H. et al. Is belief in free will a cultural universal? Mind Lang. 25, 346–358 (2010).

  10. 10.

    McSwiggan, S., Elger, B. & Appelbaum, P. S. The forensic use of behavioral genetics in criminal proceedings: case of the MAOA-L genotype. Int. J. Law Psychiatry 50, 17–23 (2017).

  11. 11.

    Appelbaum, P. S. The double helix takes the witness stand: behavioral and neuropsychiatric genetics in court. Neuron 82, 946–949 (2014).

  12. 12.

    Denno, D. W. Revisiting the legal link between genetics and crime. Law Contemp. Probl. 69, 209–257 (2006).

  13. 13.

    Aspinwall, L. G., Brown, T. R. & Tabery, J. The double-edged sword: does biomechanism increase or decrease judges’ sentencing of psychopaths? Science 337, 846–849 (2012).

  14. 14.

    Scurich, N. & Appelbaum, P. S. Behavioural genetics in criminal court. Nat. Hum. Behav. 1, 772–774 (2017).

  15. 15.

    Fuss, J., Dressing, H. & Briken, P. Neurogenetic evidence in the courtroom: a randomised controlled trial with German judges. J. Med. Genet. 52, 730–737 (2015).

  16. 16.

    Appelbaum, P. S. & Scurich, N. Impact of behavioral genetic evidence on the adjudication of criminal behavior. J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law Online 42, 91–100 (2014).

  17. 17.

    Appelbaum, P. S., Scurich, N. & Raad, R. Effects of behavioral genetic evidence on perceptions of criminal responsibility and appropriate punishment. Psychol. Public Policy Law 21, 134–144 (2015).

  18. 18.

    Scurich, N. & Appelbaum, P. S. The blunt-edged sword: genetic explanations of misbehavior neither mitigate nor aggravate punishment. J. Law Biosci. 3, 140–157 (2016).

  19. 19.

    Robbins, P. & Litton, P. Crime, punishment, and causation: the effect of etiological information on the perception of moral agency. Psychol., Public Policy, Law 24, 118–127 (2018).

  20. 20.

    Gray, K. & Wegner, D. M. Moral typecasting: divergent perceptions of moral agents and moral patients. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 96, 505–520 (2009).

  21. 21.

    Gray, K. & Wegner, D. M. To escape blame, don’t be a hero—be a victim. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 47, 516–519 (2011).

  22. 22.

    Taylor, S. E. Asymmetrical effects of positive and negative events: the mobilization-minimization hypothesis. Psychol. Bull. 110, 67–85 (1991).

  23. 23.

    Wong, P. T. P. & Weiner, B. When people ask “why” questions, and the heuristics of attributional search. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 40, 650–663 (1981).

  24. 24.

    Morin-Chassé, A., Suhay, E. & Jayaratne, T. E. Discord over DNA: ideological responses to scientific communication about genes and race. J. Race Ethn. Polit. 2, 260–299 (2017).

  25. 25.

    Garretson, J. & Suhay, E. Scientific communication about biological influences on homosexuality and the politics of gay rights. Political Res. Q. 69, 17–29 (2015).

  26. 26.

    Scurich, N. & Shniderman, A. The selective allure of neuroscientific explanations. PloS One 9, e107529 (2014).

  27. 27.

    Suhay, E. & Jayaratne, T. E. Does biology justify ideology? The politics of genetic attribution. Public Opin. Q. 77, 497–521 (2013).

  28. 28.

    Christensen, K. D., Jayaratne, T., Roberts, J., Kardia, S. & Petty, E. Understandings of basic genetics in the United States: results from a national survey of black and white men and women. Public Health Genom. 13, 467–476 (2010).

  29. 29.

    Knobe, J. Person as scientist, person as moralist. Behav. Brain Sci. 33, 315–329 (2010).

  30. 30.

    Ditto, P. H., Pizarro, D. A. & Tannenbaum, D. Motivated moral reasoning. Psychol. Learn Motiv 50, 307–338 (2009).

  31. 31.

    Liu, B. S. & Ditto, P. H. What dilemma? Moral evaluation shapes factual belief. Soc. Psychol. Personal. Sci. 4, 316–323 (2012).

  32. 32.

    Clark, C. J., Chen, E. E. & Ditto, P. H. Moral coherence processes: constructing culpability and consequences. Curr. Opin. Psychol. 6, 123–128 (2015).

  33. 33.

    Knobe, J. Intentional action and side effects in ordinary language. Analysis 63, 190–194 (2003).

  34. 34.

    Hamlin, J. K. & Baron, A. S. Agency attribution in infancy: evidence for a negativity bias. PloS One 9, e96112 (2014).

  35. 35.

    Knobe, J. Intentional action in folk psychology: an experimental investigation. Philos. Psychol. 16, 309–324 (2003).

  36. 36.

    Leslie, A. M., Knobe, J. & Cohen, A. Acting intentionally and the side-effect effect: theory of mind and moral judgment. Psychol. Sci. 17, 421–427 (2006).

  37. 37.

    Morewedge, C. K. Negativity bias in attribution of external agency. J. Exp. Psychol.: Gen. 138, 535–545 (2009).

  38. 38.

    Clark, C. J. et al. Free to punish: a motivated account of free will belief. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 106, 501–513 (2014).

  39. 39.

    Alicke, M. D. Culpable control and the psychology of blame. Psychol. Bull. 126, 556–574 (2000).

  40. 40.

    Newman, G. E., De Freitas, J. & Knobe, J. Beliefs about the true self explain asymmetries based on moral judgment. Cogn. Sci. 39, 96–125 (2015).

  41. 41.

    Strohminger, N., Knobe, J. & Newman, G. The true self: a psychological concept distinct from the self. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 12, 551–560 (2017).

  42. 42.

    Hayes, A. F. Introduction to Mediation, Moderation, and Conditional Process Analysis: A Regression-Based Approach (Guilford, 2013).

  43. 43.

    Jayaratne, T. E. et al. The perennial debate: nature, nurture, or choice? Black and white Americans’ explanations for individual differences. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 13, 24–33 (2009).

  44. 44.

    Burns, J. M. & Swerdlow, R. H. Right orbitofrontal tumor with pedophilia symptom and constructional apraxia sign. Arch. Neurol. 60, 437–440 (2003).

  45. 45.

    Loughman, A. & Haslam, N. Neuroscientific explanations and the stigma of mental disorder: a meta-analytic study. Cogn. Res.: Princ. Implic. 3, 43 (2018).

  46. 46.

    Sinatra, G. M., Kienhues, D. & Hofer, B. K. Addressing challenges to public understanding of science: epistemic cognition, motivated reasoning, and conceptual change. Educ. Psychol. 49, 123–138 (2014).

  47. 47.

    Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T. & Gosling, S. D. Amazon’s mechanical turk: a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data?. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 6, 3–5 (2011).

  48. 48.

    Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A. & Bolger, N. in The Handbook of Social Psychology 4th edn (eds Gilbert, D. T., Fiske, S. T. & Lindzey, G.) 233–265(Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was funded by a grant from the Program on Genetics and Human Agency of the John D. Templeton Foundation. M.S.L. also received support from National Institutes of Health grant K99HG010084. Additional support for P.S.A. came from NIH grant RM1HG007257. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

M.S.L., K.T. and P.S.A. contributed to the conception and design of the experiments. M.S.L. collected and analysed the data. M.S.L. wrote an initial draft of the paper. All authors participated in editing the paper to create the final version.

Correspondence to Matthew S. Lebowitz.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information: Primary Handling Editor: Mary Elizabeth Sutherland

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–4, Supplementary Note 1, Supplementary Tables 1–5

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark