What, If Anything, Can Syndromes Like Autism and Sociopathy/Psychopathy Tell Us About the Roles Reason and Emotion Can in Play in Shaping Moral Judgment?
However, in order to determine if autistics can be a valid case study for morality it must be established what should be used to determine what counts as, at least, moral enough. The first thing to take into account is, in fact, moral performance. As stated by Prinz in the quote above, the moral/conventional distinction is a key indicator of moral performance. The moral/conventional distinction is the ability to tell a moral rule from one that is merely conventional.
Crucially, however, this relationship held only for individuals without ASD. While ASD diagnostic status did not directly predict either judgment, those with ASD did not base their moral acceptability judgments on emotional information. Findings are consistent with evidence demonstrating that decision-making is less subject to emotional biases in those with ASD. In typical individuals, alexithymia was associated with atypical moral acceptability judgments. Individuals with more severe alexithymia considered it less acceptable to induce happiness in others, and more acceptable to induce sadness, fear, disgust, and anger. In individuals with ASD, however, alexithymia did not predict moral acceptability judgments. This differential pattern of results suggests the reliance on two different strategies when making judgments of moral acceptability. This conclusion was supported by analyses comparing the identification of emotion with moral acceptability judgments; whereas the degree to which emotion identification was (a)typical correlated with moral acceptability judgments in those without ASD, these were uncorrelated in individuals with ASD. Although typical individuals judged the moral acceptability of emotion-evoking statements based on the emotion likely to be evoked, and alexithymia, characterized by reduced emotion identification, negatively impacted on this process, those with ASD did not rely on emotion judgments when judging moral acceptability. If alexithymia predicts moral judgments in disorders, screening for alexithymia may contribute to decreasing the proportion of individuals with mental health issues currently in the criminal justice system. Systematic examination of the role of alexithymia across a number of clinical conditions is therefore warranted to fully characterize moral reasoning in individuals with psychiatric conditions.
Moreover, due to the work of the psychologist Robert Hare, focusing on psychopathy appears to be more promising than considering the general notion of antisocial personality disorder.3 In the last three decades, Hare has offered and investigated an operational refinement of Harvey Cleckley's classical clinical characterization of psychopathy (Hare 1991, Cleckley 1976). Hare's notion of psychopathy demarcates a relevant subgroup amongst the individuals that are classified as having antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM IV) (American Psychiatric Association 1994).
In clinical practice, patients are often on more than one points of this neurodevelopmental spectrum and each aspect of the spectrum that they present with needs treatment.
Hare RD. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Multi-Health Systems; Toronto: 1991.
Cleckley HM. The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify some Issues About the So-called Psychopathic Personality. Mosby; St. Louis (MO): 1976.
American Psychiatric Association . Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th Ed. American Psychiatric Association; Washington, D.C: 1994.
Blair J, Mitchell D, Blair K. The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain. Blackwell; Oxford: 2005.
Patrick CJ, editor. Handbook of Psychopathy. The Guildford Press; New York/London: 2006.