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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Mathematical model offers clear-cut answers to how morals will change over time

The Institute for Future Studies
Originally posted 13 APR 2022

Researchers at the Institute for Futures Studies in Stockholm, Sweden, have created a mathematical model to predict changes in moral opinion. It predicts that values about corporal punishment of children, abortion-rights and how parental leave should be shared between parents, will all move in liberal directions in the U.S. Results from a first test of the model using data from large opinion surveys continuously conducted in the U.S. are promising.

Corporal punishment of children, such as spanking or paddling, is still widely accepted in the U.S. But public opinion is changing rapidly, and in the United States and elsewhere around the world, this norm will soon become a marginal position. The right to abortion is currently being threatened through a series of court cases—but though change is slow, the view of abortion as a right will eventually come to dominate. A majority of Americans today reject the claim that parental leave should be equally shared between parents, but within 15 years, public opinion will flip, and a majority will support an equal division.

"Almost all moral issues are moving in the liberal direction. Our model is based on large opinion surveys continuously conducted in the U.S., but our method for analyzing the dynamics of moral arguments to predict changing public opinion on moral issues can be applied anywhere," says social norm researcher Pontus Strimling, a research leader at the Institute for Futures Studies, who together with mathematician Kimmo Eriksson and statistician Irina Vartanova conducted the study that will be published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday, April 13th.

From the Discussion

Overall, this study shows that moral opinion change can to some extent be predicted, even under unusually volatile circumstances. Note that the prediction method used in this paper is quite rudimentary. Specifically, the method is only based on a very simple survey measure of each opinion's argument advantage and the use of historical opinion data to calibrate a parameter for converting such measures to predicted change rates. Given that the direction is predicted completely based on surveys about argument advantage it is remarkable that the direction was correctly predicted in two-thirds of the cases (three-quarters if the issues related to singular events were excluded). Even so, the method can probably be improved.

Predicting how the U.S. public opinion on moral issues will change from 2018 to 2020 and beyond, Royal Society Open Science (2022).