Perceiving the agency of harmful agents : a test of dehumanization versus moral typecasting accounts

Khamitov, Mansur and Rotman, Jeff and Piazza, Jared (2016) Perceiving the agency of harmful agents : a test of dehumanization versus moral typecasting accounts. Cognition, 146. pp. 33-47. ISSN 0010-0277

[thumbnail of SSRN-id2658908]
PDF (SSRN-id2658908)
SSRN_id2658908.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.

Download (568kB)


It is clear that harmful agents are targets of severe condemnation, but it is much less clear how perceivers conceptualize the agency of harmful agents. The current studies tested two competing predictions made by moral typecasting theory and the dehumanization literature. Across six studies, harmful agents were perceived to possess less agency than neutral (non-offending) and benevolent agents, consistent with a dehumanization perspective but inconsistent with the assumptions of moral typecasting theory. This was observed for human targets (Studies 1-2b, and 4-5) and corporations (Study 3), and across various gradations of harmfulness (Studies 3-4). Importantly, denial of agency to harmful agents occurred even when controlling for perceptions of the agent’s likeability (Studies 2a and 2b) and while using two different operationalizations of agency (Study 2a). Study 5 showed that harmful agents are denied agency primarily through an inferential process, and less through motivations to see the agent punished. Across all six studies, harmful agents were deemed less worthy of moral standing as a consequence of their harmful conduct and this reduction in moral standing was mediated through reductions in agency. Our findings clarify a current tension in the moral cognition literature, which have direct implications for the moral typecasting framework.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Additional Information:
Evidence of acceptance on Publisher pdf 12 month embargo This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Cognition. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Cognition, 146, 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.09.009
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? harmfulnessagencymoral standingdehumanizationmoral typecastingmoral cognitionlinguistics and languagecognitive neuroscienceexperimental and cognitive psychologylanguage and linguistics ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
28 Sep 2015 11:05
Last Modified:
31 Dec 2023 00:35