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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Moral Decision Making, Religious Strain, and the Experience of Moral Injury

Steven Lancaster and Maggie Miller
PsyArXiv Preprints


Moral injury is the recognition that acts perpetrated during combat, or other stressful situations, can having lasting psychological impacts. Models of moral injury examine the role of transgressive acts, moral appraisals of these acts, and the symptoms of moral injury. However, little research has examined potential pathways between these elements. The current study examined everyday moral decision making and aspects of religious functioning as possible mediators of these relationships in a military veteran sample. Our pre-registered structural equation model supported a relationship between acts and appraisals; however, this relationship was not mediated by moral decision making as we had hypothesized. Our results demonstrated that religious strain significantly mediated the relationship between moral appraisals and both self- and other-directed symptoms of moral injury. Additional research is needed to better understand how and which transgressive acts are appraised as morally wrong. Further research is also needed to better integrate moral decision making into our understanding of moral injury.

From the Discussion:

Contrary to our predictions, moral decision making did not mediate the relationship between acts and appraisals in our hypothesized model.  This is surprising due to moral conflict being seen as the core of moral injury experience (Jinkerson, 2016).  Given the importance of moral evaluations of one’s actions in moral injury, we expected that one’s “moral compass would make a significant contribution to this model (Drescher & Foy, 2008, p. 99).  It is not clear whether this null finding is due to the method in which moral decision making was assessed or if perhaps moral decision making for everyday experiences (or non-combat experiences) fails to play a role in how one evaluates their potentially transgressive experiences (Christensen & Gomila, 2012).  The EDMD is limited in at least two ways which may have affected our results.  First, the test lacks a contemplation component which is necessary for the psychological processing of an moral decision (Gunia, Wang, Huang, Wang, & Murnighan, 2012).  Second, given that the EDMD focuses on everyday experiences, it may be limited in its ability to assess the moral decisions made during stressful situations (Yousef et al., 2012).  While moral decision making did not mediate as the act-appraisal relationship as hypothesized, it was correlated with other-directed symptoms of moral injury and the MODINDICES output in MPLUS indicated this pathway would improve model fit.  While not hypothesized, one reason for this finding could be that higher altruism leads an individual to give the “benefit of the doubt” to others, particularly those with whom they have endured stressful or traumatic experiences (Staub & Vollhardt, 2008).  Given the relatively young status of the field, additional research is needed to better understand who experiences these acts as negative/wrong and for which types of events does this occur.  Future studies may want to incorporate a broad range of potential mediators including multiple indices of moral decision making.

The pre-print is here.