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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Role of Emotion Regulation in Moral Judgment

Helion, C. & Ochsner, K.N.
Neuroethics (2018) 11: 297.


Moral judgment has typically been characterized as a conflict between emotion and reason. In recent years, a central concern has been determining which process is the chief contributor to moral behavior. While classic moral theorists claimed that moral evaluations stem from consciously controlled cognitive processes, recent research indicates that affective processes may be driving moral behavior. Here, we propose a new way of thinking about emotion within the context of moral judgment, one in which affect is generated and transformed by both automatic and controlled processes, and moral evaluations are shifted accordingly. We begin with a review of how existing theories in psychology and neuroscience address the interaction between emotion and cognition, and how these theories may inform the study of moral judgment. We then describe how brain regions involved in both affective processing and moral judgment overlap and may make distinct contributions to the moral evaluation process. Finally, we discuss how this way of thinking about emotion can be reconciled with current theories in moral psychology before mapping out future directions in the study of moral behavior.

Here is an excerpt:

Individuals may up- or down- regulate their automatic emotional responses to moral stimuli in a way that encourages goal-consistent behavior. For example, individuals may down-regulate their disgust when evaluating dilemmas in which disgusting acts occurred but no one was harmed, or they may up-regulate anger when engaging in punishment or assigning blame. To observe this effect in the wild, one need go no further than the modern political arena. Someone who is politically liberal may be as disgusted by the thought of two men kissing as someone who is politically conservative, but may choose to down-regulate their response so that it is more in line with their political views [44]. They can do this in multiple ways, including reframing the situation as one about equality and fairness, construing the act as one of love and affection, or manipulating personal relevance by thinking about homosexual individuals whom the person knows. This affective transformation would rely on controlled emotional processes that shape the initial automatically elicited emotion (disgust) into a very different emotion (tolerance or acceptance). This process requires motivation, recognition (conscious or non-conscious) that one is experiencing an emotion that is in conflict with ones goals and ideals, and a reconstruction of the situation and one’s emotions in order to come to a moral resolution. Comparatively, political conservatives may be less motivated to do so, and may instead up-regulate their disgust response so that their moral judgment is in line with their overarching goals. In contrast, the opposite regulatory pattern may occur (such that liberals up-regulate emotion and conservatives down-regulate emotion) when considering issues like the death penalty or gun control.