Not Our Fault: Judgments of Apathy Versus Harm Toward Socially Proximal Versus Distant Others

Michael Gilead, Yair Ben David, Yael Ecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The current research aimed to delineate the moral intuitions that underlie apathy toward the suffering of socially distant others. Past research has shown that people endorse in-group-focused morality, according to which the fate of socially distant others is discounted, and harm-focused morality, according to which the omission of care is viewed less negatively as compared to the commission of harm. In the current study, we investigated how these two moral principles interact, by examining whether increased social distance differentially attenuates the severity of moral judgments concerning acts of apathy and harm. The results of five studies show that judgments concerning the omission of care are dependent on social distance, whereas judgments concerning the commission of harm are not. The findings challenge normative theories of morality that deny the legitimacy of “positive rights” and positive theories of morality that see harm and care as two end points of the same psychological continuum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)568-575
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • care
  • harm
  • moral foundations theory
  • moral judgment
  • political ideology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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