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Saturday, January 15, 2022

What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief

B. Lui, & P. Ditto
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2013;4(3):316-323. doi:10.1177/1948550612456045


Moral dilemmas—like the “trolley problem” or real-world examples like capital punishment—result from a conflict between consequentialist and deontological intuitions (i.e., whether ends justify means). The authors contend that people often resolve such moral conflict by aligning factual beliefs about consequences of acts with evaluations of the act’s inherent morality (i.e., morality independent of its consequences). In both artificial (Study 1) and real-world (Study 2) dilemmas, the more an act was deemed inherently immoral, the more it was seen as unlikely to produce beneficial consequences and likely to involve harmful costs. Coherence between moral evaluations and factual beliefs increased with greater moral conviction, self-proclaimed topical knowledge, and political conservatism (Study 2). Reading essays about the inherent morality or immorality of capital punishment (Study 3) changed beliefs about its costs and benefits, even though no information about consequences was supplied. Implications for moral reasoning and political conflict are discussed.

From the General Discussion

While individuals can and do appeal to principle in some cases to support their moral positions, we argue that this is a difficult stance psychologically because it conflicts with well-rehearsed economic intuitions urging that the most rational course of action is the one that produces the most favorable cost–benefit ratio. Our research suggests that people resolve such dilemmas by bringing cost–benefit beliefs into line with moral evaluations, such that the right course of action morally becomes the right course of action practically as well.Study 3 provides experimental confirmation of a pattern implied by both our own and others’ correlational research(e.g., Kahan, 2010): People shape their descriptive understand-ing of the world to fit their prescriptive understanding of it.