Past suffering can affect future praise

A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found that people tend to praise someone for good deeds as an adult after finding out that that person has also had to overcome adversity or suffering earlier in the day. life, such as abuse and neglect as a child. Philip Robbins, associate professor and chair of the philosophy department at MU College of Arts and Science, said the findings may help narrow a knowledge gap found in both psychology and philosophy, two disciplines that study human behavior.

“Historically, psychology and philosophy have focused more on the ‘dark’ side of human behavior, such as moral wrongdoing, and less attention has been paid to studying the ‘light’ side of human behavior, such as acts of altruism, said Robbins, the project’s principal investigator. deal with and respond to positive behaviors, such as praising. “

The research is based on the results of a survey of a total of 974 participants. It builds on previous findings by researchers that people tend to think that an adult who has committed a crime is less guilty and deserves less punishment, when told that the accused has suffered serious harm. in his childhood.

Robbins said the team’s findings are also relevant for thinking about criminal convictions, especially in capital punishment trials. Defense counsel often present evidence of suffering and victimization of clients in their early years, and previous and current studies by the authors support this practice. He added that the findings point to a larger issue of how people judge other people without knowing who they really are as individuals, because knowing what a person has been through in a lifetime can change how. we value his good deeds and his bad deeds.

“It’s important that we pay attention to human beings not only as creatures that harm one another, but also as creatures that do good to one another,” Robbins said. “Part of what is remarkable about our species is our ability to behave in prosocial ways, like cooperating and helping others, as well as antisocial ways, like competing with and harming them. “


The research was conducted by Robbins with Fernando Alvear, a graduate student in the Department of Philosophy, and Paul Litton, professor of law at the MU School of Law. Their article “Good Deeds and Hard Knocks: The Effect of Past Suffering on Praise for Moral Behavior” was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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