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Moral Decisions for [and in] Groups

Project Description:


Animals from groups avoid being eaten by predators. This is called "safety in numbers" rule. But do we humans also hide in the groups to avoid harm and feel safer? Do we also avoid less harm in groups from a punisher? Do we perceive a person in a group less guilty for any kind of immoral act? How does our brain perceive groups and responsibility in them? What is the computational mechanism underlying that? My research is mainly about collective morality and group perception, either when we are part of them or when we are just observing them. In my research, I try to answer the questions above.

For now, I want to know if someone who is not directly involved in collective harm, punish a person in the group more, comparing to a situation when that person is alone. Psychological and brain imaging studies have shown that attribution of punishment is a dual process, composed of two distinct neuro-cognitive components: intention inference (did they mean to harm?) and outcome monitoring (what was the consequence of the harm?). I want to know if the punishment would be reduced in collective harm in comparison to the individual harm with respect to intention and outcome of a harmful act. I tested this hypothesis previously with 1100 participants: Participants punished people in group less for intentional and accidental murders. Right now, I am doing a study to replicate this effect, to extend it and to figure out what other variables are modulating this effect. For the next steps, I will be using fMRI and computational models to see the neural and computational mechanisms of the “spread of punishment” for different conditions.


  • Anita Keshmirian (LMU)
  • Ophelia Deroy (LMU)
  • Bahador Bahrami (LMU)
  • Fiery Cushman (Harvard)


  • GSN
  • LMU
  • Harvard (some part of the project)