By Stefano Passini & Paola Villano
Swiss Journal of Psychology
People’s reactions to crimes sometimes change depending on whether the perpetrators are members of their own ingroup or an outgroup. This observation results in questions concerning how moral reasoning works in intergroup situations. In this research, we analyzed the combined effect of the nationality of the protagonist in a moral dilemma and the participant’s social dominance orientation (SDO) attitudes on the participant’s level of moral reasoning. A total of 230 Italian participants responded to two moral dilemmas taken from the Defining Issues Test, which had been modified so that one was about an Italian and the other about a Romanian. The results showed a significant interaction between the dilemma, the protagonist’s nationality, and the participant’s SDO: The P scores (postconventional reasoning) of low-SDO participants were on the same level when they were judging people of either nationality, while high-SDO participants tended to have a higher P score when judging Italians as opposed to Romanians.
Although multiculturalism is on the rise in public opinion and politics, people sometimes judge criminal and deviant actions differently depending on the group membership of the person involved. For instance, the Italian media regularly report people being run over and even killed by drunk drivers. People's reactions to such events, however, differ depending on whether the perpetrators are members of their own ingroup or members of an outgroup. Moreover, when the aggressors are immigrants, the media do not consider these events to be related to the problems of road safety and alcohol alone. They often also relate these events to issues of immigration and national security, and they tend to judge the event more harshly than when the aggressors are ingroup members (see van Dijk, 2000). This shift of attention from the event itself to the person involved - in terms of his/her nationality - poses new questions concerning how moral reasoning works in intergroup situations.
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