Earp, B. D., et al. (2020, September 18).
Our judgments of whether an action is morally wrong depend on who is involved and their relationship to one another. But how, when, and why do social relationships shape such judgments? Here we provide new theory and evidence to address this question. In a pre- registered study of U.S. participants (n = 423, nationally representative for age, race and gender), we show that particular social relationships (like those between romantic partners, housemates, or siblings) are normatively expected to serve distinct cooperative functions – including care, reciprocity, hierarchy, and mating – to different degrees. In a second pre- registered study (n = 1,320) we show that these relationship-specific norms, in turn, influence the severity of moral judgments concerning the wrongness of actions that violate cooperative expectations. These data provide evidence for a unifying theory of relational morality that makes highly precise out-of-sample predictions about specific patterns of moral judgments across relationships. Our findings show how the perceived morality of actions depends not only on the actions themselves, but also on the relational context in which those actions occur.
From the Discussion
In other relationships, by contrast, such as those between friends, family members, or romantic partners --so-called “communal” relationships --reciprocity takes a different form: that of mutually expected responsiveness to one another’s needs. In this form of reciprocity, each party tracks the other’s needs (rather than specific benefits provided) and strives to meet these needs to the best of their respective abilities, in proportion to the degree of responsibility each has assumed for the other’s welfare. Future work should distinguish between these two types of reciprocity: that is, mutual care-based reciprocity in communal relationships (when both partners have similar needs and abilities) and tit-for-tat reciprocity between “transactional” cooperation partners who have equal standing or claim on a resource.