Be still my beating heart … smashed fingers, battered shins and fake murder

If you (yup, you) use a fake weapon to brutally beat a stranger, and then slit his throat, and then shoot him in the face, and then you assault a little baby, will your heart and blood pump like mad — even if you know that it’s all a trick and the man will suffer no harm and the baby is just a life-like doll? An American experiment sought an answer to that question.

You can read about it in a study called Simulating Murder: the Aversion to Harmful Action, published in the journal Emotion. The authors, Fiery Cushman [pictured below, with colleagues from his lab], Kurt Gray, Allison Gaffey and Wendy Berry Mendes, are respectively at Harvard University, the University of Maryland, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of California, San Francisco.

So begins this month’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

cushman

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