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People Would Rather Let Bad Things Happen Than Cause Them, Especially if Someone Is Watching

I wonder if this is because we’re removed from the process and thus emotionally detached with omission:

People are more comfortable committing sins of omission than commission—letting bad things happen rather than actively causing something bad. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that this is because they know other people will think worse of them if they do something bad than if they let something bad happen.

“Omissions and commissions come up relatively frequently in everyday life, and we sometimes puzzle over them,” says moral psychologist Peter DeScioli of Brandeis University, who conducted the study with John Christner and Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania. “If a cashier gives you an extra $20 bill at the register, some people think it’s okay to keep the money, but many of those people would never just swipe the twenty if the cashier wasn’t looking.” Psychologists have often thought that this is because the brain makes a mistake; it works through the moral calculations differently when we think about a sin of omission—not giving the $20 bill back—versus a sin of commission—stealing a $20 bill.


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