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How materialism dehumanizes: For human action, it substitutes “caused” for “intended”

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In “Did Your Brain Make You Do It?” (New York Times, July 27, 2012).

John Monterosso and Barry Schwartz warn against brain-based interpretations of human behaviour, citing some research they did:

In our experiment, we asked participants to consider various situations involving an individual who behaved in ways that caused harm, including committing acts of violence. We included information about the protagonist that might help make sense of the action in question: in some cases, that information was about a history of psychologically horrific events that the individual had experienced (e.g., suffering abuse as a child), and in some cases it was about biological characteristics or anomalies in the individual’s brain (e.g., an imbalance in neurotransmitters). In the different situations, we also varied how strong the connection was between those factors and the behavior (e.g., whether most people who are abused as a child act violently, or only a few).

The pattern of results was striking. A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. Moreover, the participants in our study were much more likely, given a protagonist with a brain characteristic, to view the behavior as “automatic” rather than “motivated,” and to view the behavior as unrelated to the protagonist’s character. The participants described the protagonists with brain characteristics in ways that suggested that the “true” person was not at the helm of himself. The behavior was caused, not intended.

In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist’s behavior as intentional.

Yes, that is the dehumanization of materialism: “caused, not intended.”

See also: Philosopher blasts neuro-envy – outbreak is similar to Darwinitis, with similarly stupefying results

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allan at Brains on Purpose


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