Blame & Punishment

Morality is not like some kind of cosmic bank, where you can deposit good deeds and use them to offset future misdeeds. People ignore heroic pasts when assigning blame.

Being a fine, upstanding citizen with lots of accolades will not help if one is accused of crime — in fact it will hurt, U.S. researchers suggest. "People may come down even harder on someone like the Dalai Lama, than they do on 'Joe Blow,'" says study author Kurt Gray. "However, in our research those who have suffered in the past received significantly less blame — even if such suffering was both totally unrelated to the misdeed and long since past." In the experiments involved in the study, those who highlighted past suffering were held less responsible for transgressions and given less punishment.

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