The relative importance of target and judge characteristics in shaping the moral circle

Bastian Jaeger*, Matti Wilks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

People's treatment of others (humans, nonhuman animals, or other entities) often depends on whether they think the entity is worthy of moral concern. Recent work has begun to investigate which entities are included in a person's moral circle, examining how certain target characteristics (e.g., species category, perceived intelligence) and judge characteristics (e.g., empathy, political orientation) shape moral inclusion. However, the relative importance of target and judge characteristics in predicting moral inclusion remains unclear. When predicting whether a person will deem an entity worthy of moral consideration, how important is it to know who is making the judgment (i.e., characteristics of the judge), who is being judged (i.e., characteristics of the target), and potential interactions between the two factors? Here, we address this foundational question by conducting a variance component analysis of the moral circle. In two studies with participants from the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia (N = 836), we test how much variance in judgments of moral concern is explained by between-target differences, between-judge differences, and by the interaction between the two factors. We consistently find that all three components explain substantial amounts of variance in judgments of moral concern. Our findings provide two important insights. First, an increased focus on interactions between target and judge characteristics is needed, as these interactions explain as much variance as target and judge characteristics separately. Second, any theoretical account that aims to provide an accurate description of moral inclusion needs to consider target characteristics, judge characteristics, and their interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13362
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal
Issue number10
Early online date8 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • moral circle
  • moral judgment
  • nonhuman animals
  • multilevel modeling


Dive into the research topics of 'The relative importance of target and judge characteristics in shaping the moral circle'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this