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The development of morality

Blair, Robert James Richard; (1992) The development of morality. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), University of London. Green open access


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Evidence that individuals distinguish between moral and conventional rules is reviewed. Moral rules prohibit actions that result in victims (e.g., violence, stealing, etc.). Conventional rules prohibit actions that do not result in victims (e.g., not saying please, dressing in opposite sex clothes). Previous theoretical accounts of the development of the moral/conventional distinction are discussed. These theories are contrasted with an approach that is developed here. It is proposed that there is a mechanism, a Violence Inhibition Mechanism (VIM), that is responsible for the previously observed aversive arousal response to the distress of others. It is proposed that this aversive arousal response is a prerequisite for the development of the moral/ conventional distinction, the moral emotions and the inhibition of violent behaviour. Previous accounts have stressed role taking as a prerequisite for the moral/ conventional distinction. However, this was found not to be the case. Autistics, already known to be lacking a 'Theory of Mind' and therefore unable to role take, were found to make the moral/ conventional distinction. It was hypothesized that Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) might be a consequence of a lack of VIM; the clinical description of APD stresses their lack of the moral emotions and their inability to inhibit their violent actions. In line with this, APD subjects were not found to make a moral/conventional distinction. Two rival explanations of APD were investigated: that APD is due to an inability to role take and; that APD is due to frontal lobe damage. APD subjects were not found to be impaired in either of these respects in comparison to criminal controls. A final investigation focused on the emotion attributions of APD subjects. It was hypothesized, given the contention that VIM is a prerequisite for the development of the moral emotions, that APD subjects might make anomalous attributions in victim situations though their attributions of other situations should prove normal. This study observed that while the attributions of APD subjects and criminal controls did not differ if the emotions attributed were happiness, sadness or embarrassment there was significant difference in victim situations where APD subjects were less likely to attribute guilt and more likely to attribute indifference than criminal controls. This finding was taken as indirect support of the VIM position. Additional tests, and implications of the VIM model are then discussed.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The development of morality
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS. Third party copyright material has been removed.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1318028
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