Skip to main content

Imagining wrong: Fictitious contexts mitigate condemnation of harm more than impurity

Sabo, John S., Giner-Sorolla, Roger (2017) Imagining wrong: Fictitious contexts mitigate condemnation of harm more than impurity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146 (1). pp. 134-153. ISSN 0096-3445. E-ISSN 1939-2222. (doi:10.1037/xge0000251) (KAR id:59821)

PDF Author's Accepted Manuscript
Language: English
Download (356kB) Preview
[thumbnail of Imagining Wrong JEPG FINAL.pdf]
This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology.
Request an accessible format
Official URL


Over five experiments we test the fictive pass asymmetry hypothesis. Following observations of ethics and public reactions to media, we propose that fictional contexts, such as reality, imagination, and virtual environments, will mitigate people’s moral condemnation of harm violations, more so than purity violations. That is, imagining a purely harmful act is given a “fictive pass,” in moral judgment, whereas imagining an abnormal act involving the body is evaluated more negatively because it is seen as more diagnostic of bad character. For Experiment 1, an undergraduate sample (N = 250) evaluated nine vignettes depicting an agent committing either violations of harm or purity in real life, watching them in films, or imagining them. For Experiments 2 and 3, online participants (N = 375 and N = 321, respectively) evaluated a single vignette depicting an agent committing a violation of harm or purity that either occurred in real life, was imagined, watched in a film, or performed in a video game. Experiment 4 (N = 348) used an analysis of moderated mediation to demonstrate that the perceived wrongness of fictional purity violations is explained both by the extent to which they are seen as a cue to, and a cause of, a poor moral character. Lastly, Experiment 5 (N = 484) validated our manipulations and included the presumption of desire as an additional mediator of the fictive pass asymmetry effects. We discuss implications for moral theories of act and character, anger and disgust, and for media use and regulation.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1037/xge0000251
Uncontrolled keywords: morality, fiction, imagination, judgment, anger, disgust
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Roger Giner-Sorolla
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2017 17:36 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Giner-Sorolla, Roger:
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year