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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dynamic Moral Judgments and Emotions

Magda Osman
Published Online June 2015 in SciRes.


We may experience strong moral outrage when we read a news headline that describes a prohibited action, but when we gain additional information by reading the main news story, do our emotional experiences change at all, and if they do in what way do they change? In a single online study with 80 participants the aim was to examine the extent to which emotional experiences (disgust, anger) and moral judgments track changes in information about a moral scenario. The evidence from the present study suggests that we systematically adjust our moral judgments and our emotional experiences as a result of exposure to further information about the morally dubious action referred to in a moral scenario. More specifically, the way in which we adjust our moral judgments and emotions appears to be based on information signalling whether a morally dubious act is permitted or prohibited.

From the Discussion

The present study showed that moral judgments changed in response to different details concerning the moral scenarios, and while participants gave the most severe judgments for the initial limited information regarding the scenario (i.e. the headline), they adjusted the severity of their judgments downwards as more information was provided (i.e. main story, conclusion). In other words, when context was provided for why a morally dubious action was carried out, people used this to inform their later judgments and consciously integrated this new information into their judgments of the action. Crucially, this reflects the fact that judgments and emotions are not fixed, and that they are likely to operate on rational processes (Huebner, 2011, 2014; Teper et al., 2015). More to the point, this evidence suggests that there may well be an integrated representation of the moral scenario that is based on informational content as well as personal emotional experiences that signal the valance on which the information should be judged. The evidence from the present study suggests that both moral judgments and emotional experiences change systematically in response to changes in information that critically concern the way in which a morally dubious action should be evaluated.

A pdf can be downloaded here.