Effects of genetic and experiential explanations for killing on subsequent bug-killing behaviour and moral acceptance of killing
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
This study examined people’s attitudes towards killing bugs and their bug-killing behaviour in the context of nature vs. nurture explanations of bug killing. Previous research shows that exposure to genetic (i.e., nature) explanations could have undesirable effects on people’s attitudes and behaviour, compared to the exposure to experiential(i.e., nurture) explanations. Genetic explanations for killing may affect attitudes towards killing and killing behaviour, because they suggest that killing behaviour is predetermined or programmed by nature. Such explanations may also be used by individuals to overcome guilt and dissonance from prior killing or killing in which they are about to participate. This study tested the idea that exposure to genetic explanations for bug killing would lead people to view killing bugs as more morally acceptable, as well as lead them to kill more bugs. A sample of university students was randomly assigned into three conditions, in which they read either genetic or experiential explanations for why people kill bugs or read a neutral passage. The study utilised a procedure in which participants were led to believe that they were killing bugs (although in actuality no bugs were killed), to observe their killing behaviour in a self-paced killing task. Half of the participants were also asked to kill a bug prior to the self-paced killing task. Results showed that participants who read genetic explanations viewed bug killing as more morally acceptable, compared to participants who read experiential explanations, and this occurred particularly among those who engaged in the prior killing task. However, no similar effects emerged for the number of bugs killed, though there was a positive correlation between the moral acceptance of bug killing and the number of bugs killed. Implications of genetic explanations with respect to aggression and killing are discussed.