The cognition of severe moral failure: A novel approach to the perception of evil

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I describe the perception of evil as a categorization judgment, based on a prototype, with extensive feedback loops and top-down influences. Based on the attachment approach to moral judgment (Govrin, 2014, 2018), I suggest that the perception of evil consists of four salient features: Extreme asymmetry between victim and perpetrator; a specific perceived attitude of the perpetrator toward the victim's vulnerability; the observer's inability to understand the perpetrator's perspective; and insuperable differences between the observer and perpetrator's judgment following the incident which shake the observer no less than the event itself. I then show that the perception of evil involves a cognitive bias: The observer is almost always mistaken in his attributions of a certain state of mind to the perpetrator. The philosophical and evolutionary significance of this bias is discussed as well as suggestions for future testing of the prototype model of evil.

Original languageEnglish
Article number557
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - 20 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Govrin.


  • Cognitive bias
  • Evil
  • Moral development
  • Moral judgments
  • Perspective taking
  • Prototype theory


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