Deconfounding Distance Effects in Moral Reasoning


A central question of moral philosophy and moral psychology is whether spatial distance is morally relevant (Kamm, 2007). Does spatial distance reduce our sense of obligation to help strangers in great need? One problem of assessing this question is that distance between agent and victim is typically confounded with other factors, such as saliency of the victim’s need, costs for the agent, or location of the agent’s means. The goal of our experiments is to find out whether spatial distance per se matters in people’s intuitions. Whereas the first two experiments seem to indicate that spatial distance between the agent and the victim or between the agent’s means and the victim affect subjects’ intuitions, Experiment 3 and a closer look at Experiment 2 both reveal that the assumed distance effects disappear if the compared cases are properly deconfounded. Implications of these findings for theories of psychological distance are discussed.

Back to Table of Contents