Naming And Morality: How Having A Name Influences Perceptions Of Mind And Moral Status

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James B. Wyngaarden III (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
Andrew Monroe

Abstract: Mind perception serves as a basis for how people make judgments about the moral value of other beings. Perception of a greater capacity for experience (e.g., joy, suffering) in another being leads to greater attributions of value (i.e., greater wrongness of harming that being). Current research has primarily focused on the concept of “dehumanization,” where reducing one’s perception of mind in another being leads to reduced moral valuations of that being, opening the door to mistreatment. The present study investigates this mechanism in reverse, testing whether having a name serves to enhance perceived mindedness and increase moral value. Using pill bugs, we examined this concept by having participants interact with either a named (“Ellie”) or an unnamed bug, then rate perceptions of the bug’s mental characteristics (e.g., capacity for joy, suffering, etc.). Results showed that participants in the named bug condition rated the bug significantly higher on measures of both experiential and agentic mindedness. Participants were then told that the bug would be exterminated and were given the opportunity to offer an open-ended amount of money in order to save the bug. Contrary to my hypotheses, there was not a significant difference in money amounts between groups. These findings provide insight into the way that we perceive other minds and lay the foundation additional research questions about the connection between perceptions of mindedness and willingness to take action.

Additional Information

Wyngaarden III, J. (2020). Naming And Morality: How Having A Name Influences Perceptions Of Mind And Moral Status. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2020
Mind perception, morality, naming

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