Dwang vermindert de verantwoordelijkheid die we voelen voor de consequenties van ons gedragStanley Milgram deed in de jaren ’60 een onderzoek waarbij hij proefpersonen elektrische schokken liet geven aan andere proefpersonen. De schokken waren niet echt maar dat wisten de proefpersonen niet en verrassend vele proefpersonen bleken bereid de schokken toe te dienen (lees meer). Een nieuw onderzoek van Casper et al. (2016) laat zien dat het brein informatie over een handeling die onder dwang plaatsvindt anders verwerkt dan een handeling die vrijwillig plaatsvindt. Wanneer gedrag onder dwang heeft plaatsgevonden, ervaart het brein meer afstand tussen het gedrag en de consequenties van dat gedrag. Onder dwang ziet de persoon dus minder relatie tussen het eigen gedrag en de consequenties van dat gedrag. De persoon voelt zich daardoor minder verantwoordelijk voor de consequenties van het betreffende gedrag.

Coercion Changes the Sense of Agency in the Human Brain

Casper et al. (2016)

Summary: People may deny responsibility for negative consequences of their actions by claiming that they were “only obeying orders.” The “Nuremberg defense” offers one extreme example, though it is often dismissed as merely an attempt to avoid responsibility. Milgram’s classic laboratory studies reported widespread obedience to an instruction to harm, suggesting that social coercion may alter mechanisms of voluntary agency, and hence abolish the normal experience of being in control of one’s own actions. However, Milgram’s and other studies relied on dissembling and on explicit measures of agency, which are known to be biased by social norms. Here, we combined coercive instructions to administer harm to a co-participant, with implicit measures of sense of agency, based on perceived compression of time intervals between voluntary actions and their outcomes, and with electrophysiological recordings. In two experiments, an experimenter ordered a volunteer to make a key-press action that caused either financial penalty or demonstrably painful electric shock to their co-participant, thereby increasing their own financial gain. Coercion increased the perceived interval between action and outcome, relative to a situation where participants freely chose to inflict the same harms. Interestingly, coercion also reduced the neural processing of the outcomes of one’s own action. Thus, people who obey orders may subjectively experience their actions as closer to passive movements than fully voluntary actions. Our results highlight the complex relation between the brain mechanisms that generate the subjective experience of voluntary actions and social constructs, such as responsibility.

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