Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Monday, January 6, 2014

Motivated Moral Reasoning in Psychotherapy

John D. Gavazzi, Psy.D., ABPP
Samuel Knapp, Ed.D., ABPP

            In the research literature on psychology and morality, the concept of motivated moral reasoning is relevant to psychotherapy. Motivated moral reasoning occurs when a person’s decision-making skills are motivated to reach a specific moral conclusion. Research on motivated moral reasoning can be influenced by factors such as the perception of intentionality of others and the social nature of moral reasoning (Ditto, Pizarro, & Tannenbaum, 2009). In this article, we will focus on the intuitive, automatic, and affective nature of motivated moral reasoning as these types of judgments occur in psychotherapy. The goal of this article is to help psychologists remain vigilant about the possibilities of motivated moral reasoning in the psychotherapy relationship.


Individuals typically believe that moral judgments are primarily principle-based, well-reasoned, and cognitive. Individuals also trust that moral judgments are made from a top-down approach, meaning moral agents start with moral ideals or principles first, and then apply those principles to a specific situation. Individuals typically believe moral decisions are based on well-reasoned principles, consistent over time and reliable across situations. Ironically, the research reveals that, unless primed for a specific moral dilemma (such as serving on jury duty), individuals typically use a bottom-up strategy in moral reasoning. Research on self-report of moral decisions shows that individuals seek justifications and ad hoc confirmatory data points to support the person’s reflexive decision. Furthermore, the reasoning for moral decisions is context-dependent, meaning that the same moral principles are not applied consistently over time and across situations. Finally, individuals use automatic, intuitive, and emotional processes when making important decisions (Ditto, Pizarro, & Tannenbaum, 2009). While the complexity of moral reasoning depends on a number of factors, individuals tend to make moral judgments first, and answer questions later (and only if asked).

The entire article is here.
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