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Keywords:

  • Person-centered moral judgments;
  • act-person dissociations;
  • informational value;
  • racism;
  • prejudice;
  • racial slurs

Abstract

Inferences about moral character may often drive outrage over symbolic acts of racial bigotry. Study 1 demonstrates a theoretically predicted dissociation between moral evaluations of an act and the person who carries out the act. Although Americans regarded the private use of a racial slur as a less blameworthy act than physical assault, use of a slur was perceived as a clearer indicator of poor moral character. Study 2 highlights the dynamic interplay between moral judgments of acts and persons, demonstrating that first making person judgments can bias subsequent act judgments. Privately defacing a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. led to greater moral condemnation of the agent than of the act itself only when the behavior was evaluated first. When Americans first made character judgments, symbolically defacing a picture of the civil rights leader was significantly more likely to be perceived as an immoral act. These studies support a person-centered account of outrage over bigotry and demonstrate that moral evaluations of acts and persons converge and diverge under theoretically meaningful circumstances. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.