Priming Intuition Disfavors Instrumental Harm But Not Impartial Beneficence

Forthcoming in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

22 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2019 Last revised: 18 Apr 2019

See all articles by Valerio Capraro

Valerio Capraro

Middlesex University

Jim Everett

University of Oxford

Brian Earp

University of Oxford

Date Written: April 17, 2019


Understanding the cognitive underpinnings of moral judgment is one of most pressing problems in psychological science. Some highly-cited studies suggest that reliance on intuition decreases utilitarian (expected welfare maximizing) judgments in sacrificial moral dilemmas in which one has to decide whether to instrumentally harm (IH) one person to save a greater number of people. However, recent work suggests that such dilemmas are limited in that they fail to capture the positive, defining core of utilitarianism: commitment to impartial beneficence (IB). Accordingly, a new two-dimensional model of utilitarian judgment has been proposed that distinguishes IH and IB components. The role of intuition on this new model has not been studied. Does relying on intuition disfavor utilitarian choices only along the dimension of instrumental harm or does it also do so along the dimension of impartial beneficence? To answer this question, we conducted three studies (total N = 970, two preregistered) using conceptual priming of intuition versus deliberation on moral judgments. Our evidence converges on an interaction effect, with intuition decreasing utilitarian judgments in IH—as suggested by previous work—but failing to do so in IB. These findings bolster the recently proposed two-dimensional model of utilitarian moral judgment, and point to new avenues for future research.

Keywords: utilitarianism, deontology, dual process, intuition, deliberation, instrumental harm, impartial beneficence

JEL Classification: C90, C91, D01, D03, D31, D63

Suggested Citation

Capraro, Valerio and Everett, Jim and Earp, Brian, Priming Intuition Disfavors Instrumental Harm But Not Impartial Beneficence (April 17, 2019). Forthcoming in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Available at SSRN: or

Valerio Capraro (Contact Author)

Middlesex University ( email )

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

Jim Everett

University of Oxford ( email )

South Parks Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3UD
United Kingdom

Brian Earp

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

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