Feinberg, M., Kovacheff, C., Teper, R., & Inbar, Y. (2019).
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(1), 50-72.
A large literature demonstrates that moral convictions guide many of our thoughts, behaviors, and social interactions. Yet, we know little about how these moral convictions come to exist. In the present research we explore moralization—the process by which something that was morally neutral takes on moral properties—examining what factors facilitate and deter it. In 3 longitudinal studies participants were presented with morally evocative stimuli about why eating meat should be viewed as a moral issue. Study 1 tracked students over a semester as they took a university course that highlighted the suffering animals endure because of human meat consumption. In Studies 2 and 3 participants took part in a mini-course we developed which presented evocative videos aimed at inducing moralization. In all 3 studies, we assessed participants’ beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and cognitions at multiple time points to track moral changes and potential factors responsible for such changes. A variety of factors, both cognitive and affective, predicted participants’ moralization or lack thereof. Model testing further pointed to two primary conduits of moralization: the experience of moral emotions (e.g., disgust, guilt) felt when contemplating the issue, and moral piggybacking (connecting the issue at hand with one’s existing fundamental moral principles). Moreover, we found individual differences, such as how much one holds their morality as central to their identity, also predicted the moralization process. We discuss the broad theoretical and applied implications of our results.
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