Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 128–135 | Cite as

Behavioral Genetics and Attributions of Moral Responsibility

  • Kathryn TabbEmail author
  • Matthew S. Lebowitz
  • Paul S. Appelbaum
Original Research


While considerable research has examined how genetic explanations for behavior impact assessments of moral responsibility, results across studies have been inconsistent. Some studies suggest that genetic accounts diminish ascriptions of responsibility, but others show no effect. Nonetheless, conclusions from behavior genetics are increasingly mobilized on behalf of defendants in court, suggesting a widespread intuition that this sort of information is relevant to assessments of blameworthiness. In this paper, we consider two sorts of reasons why this kind of intuition, if it exists, is not consistently revealed in empirical studies. On the one hand, people may have complex and internally conflicting intuitions about the relationship between behavior genetics and moral responsibility. On the other hand, it may be that people are motivated to think about the role of genetics in behavior differently depending on the moral valence of the actions in question.


Behavior genetics Moral psychology Social cognition Moral responsibility Motivated cognition 



This study was funded by the Genetics and Human Agency Grant from the John Templeton Foundation and the Center for Research on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics, NHGRI (Grant Number 1P50HG007257).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Paul S. Appelbaum declares he has no conflict of interest. Matthew S. Lebowitz declares he has no conflict of interest. Kathryn Tabb declares she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Tabb
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Matthew S. Lebowitz
    • 1
  • Paul S. Appelbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Research on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics, Department of PsychiatryColumbia University Medical CenterNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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