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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

How social identity tunes moral cognition

Van Bavel, J. J., Packer, D.,  et al.
PsyArXiv.com (2022, November 18). 


In this chapter, we move beyond the treatment of intuition and reason as competing systems and outline how social contexts, and especially social identities, allow people to flexibly “tune” their cognitive reactions to moral contexts—a process we refer to as ‘moral tuning’. Collective identities—identities based on shared group memberships—significantly influence judgments and decisions of many kinds, including in the moral domain. We explain why social identities influence all aspects of moral cognition, including processes traditionally classified as intuition and reasoning. We then explain how social identities tune preferences and goals, expectations, and what outcomes care about. Finally, we propose directions for future research in moral psychology.

Social Identities Tune Preferences and Goals

Morally-relevant situations often involve conflicts between choices about which the interests of different parties are in tension. Moral transgressions typically involve an agent putting their own desires ahead of the interests, needs, or rights of others, thus causing them harm (e.g., Gray et al., 2012), whereas acts worthy of moral praise usually involve an agent sacrificing self-interest for the sake of someone else’s or the greater good. Value-computation frameworks of cooperation model how much people weigh the interests of different parties (e.g., their own versus others’) in terms of social preferences (see Van Bavel et al., 2022). Social preference parameters can, for example, capture individual differences in how much people prioritize their own outcomes over others’ (e.g., pro-selfs versus pro-socials as indexed by social value orientation; Balliet et al., 2009). These preferences, along with social norms, inform the computations that underlie decisions to engage in selfish or pro-social behavior (Hackel, Wills &Van Bavel, 2020).

We argue that social identity also influences social preferences, such that people tend to care more about outcomes incurred by in-group than out-group members (Tajfel & Turner, 1979;Van Bavel & Packer, 2021). For instance, highly identified group members appear to experience vicarious reward when they observe in-group (but not out-group) members experiencing positiveoutcomes, as indexed by activity in ventral striatum, a brain region implicated in hedonic reward (Hackel et al., 2017). Intergroup competition may exacerbate differences in concern for in-group versus out-group targets, causing people to feel empathy when in-group targets experience negative outcomes, but schadenfreude (pleasure in others’ pain) when out-group members experience these same events (Cikara et al., 2014). Shared social identities can also lead people to put collective interests ahead of their own individual interests in social dilemmas. For instance, making collective identities salient causes selfish individuals to contribute more to theirgroup than when these same people were reminded of their individual self (De Cremer & Van Vugt, 1999). This shift in behavior was not necessarily because they were less selfish, but rather because their sense of self had shifted from the individual to the collective level.



For centuries, philosophers and scientists have debated the role of emotional intuition and reason in moral judgment. Thanks to theoretical and methodological developments over the past few decades, we believe it is time to move beyond these debates. We argue that social identity can tune the intuitions and reasoning processes that underlie moral cognition (Van Bavel et al., 2015). Extensive research has found that social identities have a significant influence on social and moral judgment and decision-making (Oakes et al., 1994; Van Bavel & Packer, 2021). This approach offers an important complement to other theories of moral psychology and suggests a powerful way to shift moral judgments and decisions—by changing identities and norms, rather than hearts and minds.