Researchers at Yale conducted a range of experiments in order to understand how people judge others. They asked 1500 people to watch two strangers facing a dilemma – whether they should continue giving someone electric shocks in exchange for money. The ‘good’ person wouldn’t accept this deal while the ‘bad’ person did. The participants were then asked questions about their moral judgement of both individuals, and how confident they were about these views.
The researchers found that participants were quick and confident in deciding that the person refusing the money was ‘good’. While participants felt that what the ‘bad’ stranger had done was wrong, they were far less sure about it; so much so that when participants were shown the ‘bad’ people doing good acts, they swiftly changed their view.
The ‘good’ person wouldn’t accept this deal while the ‘bad’ person did
These findings seem to suggest that we have at least a basic predisposition to forgive others and to give people the benefit of the doubt when they behave poorly. Molly Crockett, a psychologist on the research team, points out that the human mind is constructed in a way that enables making and maintaining social relationships – even when people act badly towards us sometimes.
Being able to correctly assess the characters of others is a fundamental process in the development and maintenance of good relationships. If we were unable to rethink bad impressions based on accidental or occasional poor behaviour, we may end relationships rashly, which in turn would cause us to lose out on all the benefits of social connections.
These findings seem to suggest that we have at least a basic predisposition to forgive others and to give people the benefit of the doubt when they behave poorly
This work has allowed the researchers to develop new tools designed to measure impression formation, which might help scientists improve their understanding of relational dysfunction in more depth the future. For example, it might explain why people stay in bad relationships for so long if our default approach to people who hurt us or treat us poorly is to forgive. Additionally, some psychiatric disorders can make forming and keeping social relationships difficult; this development might shed some light on why that is and how to treat this problem.