Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Moral concerns are differentially observable in language

Kennedy, B., et al. (2020, May 7). 


Language is a psychologically rich medium for human expression and communication. While language usage has been shown to be a window into various aspects of people's social worlds, including their personality traits and everyday environment, its correspondence to people's moral concerns has yet to be considered. Here, we examine the relationship between language usage and the moral concerns of Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Purity as conceptualized by Moral Foundations Theory. We collected Facebook status updates (N = 107,798) from English-speaking participants (n = 2,691) along with their responses on the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. Overall, results suggested that self-reported moral concerns may be traced in language usage, though the magnitude of this effect varied considerably among moral concerns. Across a diverse selection of Natural Language Processing methods, Fairness concerns were consistently least correlated with language usage whereas Purity concerns were found to be the most traceable. In exploratory follow-up analyses, each moral concern was found to be differentially related to distinct patterns of relational, emotional, and social language. Our results are the first to relate individual differences in moral concerns to language usage, and to uncover the signatures of moral concerns in language.


Among the five moral foundations (Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Purity),Purity concerns are most traceable in social media language. Fairness concerns, on the other hand, are least traceable. Individuals who highly endorsed Purity shared religious and spiritual content on Facebook, whereas people who scored higher on Fairness were slightly more likely to share content related to social justice and equality. High levels of Care, Loyalty, and Authority were found to motivate a mixed collection of socially-oriented language categories. The link between moral concerns and language was found to extend beyond exclusively moral language. Overall, this research establishes a missing link in moral psychology by providing evidence that individual-level moral concerns are differentially associated with language data collected from individuals’ Facebook accounts.

1. Moral concerns are observable in language.
2. This signal is differential: each moral domain maps onto a distinct linguistic signature.
3. Exclusive moral language is not a great predictor of individuals' moral concerns.