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A growing literature shows that music drives prosocial behavior (Clarke, DeNora, & Vuoskoski, 2015). Why does this occur? We propose a novel hypothesis: Evidence of others’ musicality may promote prosociality by affecting judgments of others’ moral worth (where others fall on the continuum of moral standing, see Goodwin, 2015). If so, simply knowing about others’ musicality should affect moral decisions. We test this in 3 experiments (total N=1000). Participants were introduced to nine characters, and asked which of each pairing of characters felt more wrong to harm (36 trials/participant). We manipulated musicality across two matched character pairs: Two humans and two monkeys, with one of each pair described as musical, and one not described as musical (matched for length/style). Musical entities were reliably judged more wrong to harm than their matched counterparts (ps<.01). This was the case for both animal and human individuals (Exps. 1, 2) and across animal species (Exps. 2, 3). Why would this occur? Participants saw the same set of characters, but judged their musicality, intelligence, emotional or physical sensitivity (Exp. 3). People judged musical entities more intelligent and more sensitive (ps<.001), two factors known to drive moral decisions (Goodwin, 2015). Musicality also independently contributed to predicting wrongness-to-harm judgments (p=0.025). Overall, we find that musicality is deeply interwoven with moral decision-making. These findings dramatically expand the range of contexts in which music can be expected to promote prosociality, and provide a novel conception of music’s relation to the social mind.
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