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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Morality beyond the WEIRD: How the nomological network of morality varies across cultures

Atari, M., Haidt, J., et al. (2023).
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Advance online publication.


Moral foundations theory has been a generative framework in moral psychology in the last 2 decades. Here, we revisit the theory and develop a new measurement tool, the Moral Foundations Questionnaire–2 (MFQ-2), based on data from 25 populations. We demonstrate empirically that equality and proportionality are distinct moral foundations while retaining the other four existing foundations of care, loyalty, authority, and purity. Three studies were conducted to develop the MFQ-2 and to examine how the nomological network of moral foundations varies across 25 populations. Study 1 (N = 3,360, five populations) specified a refined top-down approach for measurement of moral foundations. Study 2 (N = 3,902, 19 populations) used a variety of methods (e.g., factor analysis, exploratory structural equations model, network psychometrics, alignment measurement equivalence) to provide evidence that the MFQ-2 fares well in terms of reliability and validity across cultural contexts. We also examined population-level, religious, ideological, and gender differences using the new measure. Study 3 (N = 1,410, three populations) provided evidence for convergent validity of the MFQ-2 scores, expanded the nomological network of the six moral foundations, and demonstrated the improved predictive power of the measure compared with the original MFQ. Importantly, our results showed how the nomological network of moral foundations varied across cultural contexts: consistent with a pluralistic view of morality, different foundations were influential in the network of moral foundations depending on cultural context. These studies sharpen the theoretical and methodological resolution of moral foundations theory and provide the field of moral psychology a more accurate instrument for investigating the many ways that moral conflicts and divisions are shaping the modern world.

Here's my summary:

The article examines how the moral foundations theory (MFT) of morality applies to cultures outside of the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) world. MFT proposes that there are six universal moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression. However, previous research has shown that the relative importance of these foundations can vary across cultures.

The authors of the article conducted three studies to examine the nomological network of morality (i.e., the relationships between different moral foundations) in 25 populations. They found that the nomological network of morality varied significantly across cultures. For example, in some cultures, the foundation of care was more strongly related to the foundation of fairness, while in other cultures, the foundation of loyalty was more strongly related to the foundation of authority.

The authors argue that these findings suggest that MFT needs to be revised to take into account cultural variation. They propose that the nomological network of morality is shaped by a combination of universal moral principles and local cultural norms. This means that there is no single "correct" way to think about morality, and that what is considered moral in one culture may not be considered moral in another.

The article's findings have important implications for our understanding of morality and for cross-cultural research. They suggest that we need to be careful about making assumptions about the moral beliefs of people from other cultures. We also need to be aware of the ways in which culture can influence our own moral judgments.