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Title: Evil embodied : the moral contagion belief
Author: Voorst, Arnoud Ferdinand Arthur van
ISNI:       0000 0004 2729 5582
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2012
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Psychological moral contagion - the belief that negative and positive moral states can be transferred to objects via touch - is anecdotally widespread across different populations but, to date, has received little empirical examination. Six experiments were conducted to test people's moral contagion beliefs, specifically in the context of verbal and nonverbal measures. Experiment 1 tested whether participants would show avoidant behaviour to an alleged interaction partner based on the moral status of a donor whose organ this partner received. Results, measured as distance between chairs the participants was asked to set up, were inconclusive. Experiment 2 to 5 tested whether physical contact with an object would lead to cleansing desires based on the moral status of the previous owner of the object. Cleansing desires were measured by rating desirability of cleaning products. Instead of an increase in cleansing desires, the moral status of the owner seemed to generally influence desirability of both cleaning and non- cleaning products negatively: touching an item owned by an evil person made products less desirable compared to touching an item owned by a good person. An attempt to explain this effect by controlling for tendency to associate states of moral and physical states of purity and pollution with a Brief Implicit Association Test (Experiment 4) proved inconclusive. Experiment 5 offers support for the possibility that individual differences exist in how moral contagion is experienced. In Experiment 6 we show that participants asked to touch a jumper that previously belonged to a morally evil person subsequently choose a cleaning product over a pencil as reward on an unrelated task. Such a preference does not occur amongst participants who touched a jumper belonging to a morally good person. Further controls rule out the possibility that this effect is driven by pure association or by the participants' willingness to comply.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available