A Caltech Library Service

Does It Matter Whether You or Your Brain Did It? An Empirical Investigation of the Influence of the Double Subject Fallacy on Moral Responsibility Judgments

Maoz, Uri and Sita, Kellienne R. and van Boxtel, Jeroen J. A. and Mudrik, Liad (2019) Does It Matter Whether You or Your Brain Did It? An Empirical Investigation of the Influence of the Double Subject Fallacy on Moral Responsibility Judgments. Frontiers in Psychology, 10 . Art. No. 950. ISSN 1664-1078. PMCID PMC6502898. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00950.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Creative Commons Attribution.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Despite progress in cognitive neuroscience, we are still far from understanding the relations between the brain and the conscious self. We previously suggested that some neuroscientific texts that attempt to clarify these relations may in fact make them more difficult to understand. Such texts—ranging from popular science to high-impact scientific publications—position the brain and the conscious self as two independent, interacting subjects, capable of possessing opposite psychological states. We termed such writing ‘Double Subject Fallacy’ (DSF). We further suggested that such DSF language, besides being conceptually confusing and reflecting dualistic intuitions, might affect people’s conceptions of moral responsibility, lessening the perception of guilt over actions. Here, we empirically investigated this proposition with a series of three experiments (pilot and two preregistered replications). Subjects were presented with moral scenarios where the defendant was either (1) clearly guilty, (2) ambiguous, or (3) clearly innocent while the accompanying neuroscientific evidence about the defendant was presented using DSF or non-DSF language. Subjects were instructed to rate the defendant’s guilt in all experiments. Subjects rated the defendant in the clearly guilty scenario as guiltier than in the two other scenarios and the defendant in the ambiguously described scenario as guiltier than in the innocent scenario, as expected. In Experiment 1 (N = 609), an effect was further found for DSF language in the expected direction: subjects rated the defendant less guilty when the neuroscientific evidence was described using DSF language, across all levels of culpability. However, this effect did not replicate in Experiment 2 (N = 1794), which focused on different moral scenario, nor in Experiment 3 (N = 1810), which was an exact replication of Experiment 1. Bayesian analyses yielded strong evidence against the existence of an effect of DSF language on the perception of guilt. Our results thus challenge the claim that DSF language affects subjects’ moral judgments. They further demonstrate the importance of good scientific practice, including preregistration and—most critically—replication, to avoid reaching erroneous conclusions based on false-positive results.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Maoz, Uri0000-0002-7899-1241
van Boxtel, Jeroen J. A.0000-0003-2643-0474
Mudrik, Liad0000-0003-3564-6445
Additional Information:© 2019 Maoz, Sita, van Boxtel and Mudrik. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. Received: 19 December 2018; Accepted: 09 April 2019; Published: 30 April 2019. Ethics Statement: This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of IRB#15-001094, UCLA IRB North with written informed consent from all subjects. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The protocol was approved by UCLA IRB North. Author Contributions: UM, JvB, and LM conceived the study and wrote the manuscript. KS and UM ran the experiments and analyzed the results. JvB reanalyzed the results. UM, KS, JvB, and LM commented on the manuscript and revised it. This project was partially supported by the Bial Grant 388/2014 and by internal Chapman Funds to UM. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. We thank Gideon Yaffe for his help with the design of these experiments and for various discussions about the interpretation of the results.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Bial Grant388/2014
Chapman UniversityUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:closet dualism, “my brain made me do it,” moral responsibility, conceptual confusions in neuroscience, moral scenarios, Double Subject Fallacy
PubMed Central ID:PMC6502898
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190515-143331388
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Maoz U, Sita KR, van Boxtel JJA and Mudrik L (2019) Does It Matter Whether You or Your Brain Did It? An Empirical Investigation of the Influence of the Double Subject Fallacy on Moral Responsibility Judgments. Front. Psychol. 10:950. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00950
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:95519
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:15 May 2019 22:59
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 17:13

Repository Staff Only: item control page