Intention matters to make you (im)moral: Positive-negative asymmetry in moral character evaluations

Is intention, even if unfulfilled, enough to make a person appear to be good or bad? In this study, we investigated the influence of unfulfilled intentions of an agent on subsequent moral character evaluations. We found a positive-negative asymmetry in the effect of intentions. Factual information concerning failure to fulfill a positive intention mitigated the morality judgment of the actor, yet this mitigation was not as evident for the negative vignettes. Participants rated an actor who failed to fulfill their negative intention as highly immoral, as long as there was an external explanation to its unfulfillment. Furthermore, both emotional and cognitive (i.e., informativeness) processes mediated the effect of negative intention on moral character. For the positive intention, there was a significant mediation by emotions, yet not by informativeness. Results evidence the relevance of mental states in moral character evaluations and offer affective and cognitive explanations to the asymmetry.