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
Showing posts with label Cross Cultural. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cross Cultural. Show all posts

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Anticipation of future cooperation eliminates minimal ingroup bias in children and adults

Misch, A., Paulus, M., & Dunham, Y. (2021). 
Journal of Experimental Psychology: 
General, 150(10), 2036–2056.


From early in development, humans show a strong preference for members of their own groups, even in so-called minimal (i.e., arbitrary and unfamiliar) groups, leading to tremendous negative consequences such as outgroup discrimination and derogation. A better understanding of the underlying processes driving humans’ group mindedness is an important first step toward fighting discrimination and inequality on a bigger level. Based on the assumption that minimal group allocation elicits the anticipation of future within-group cooperation, which in turn elicits ingroup preference, we investigate whether changing participants’ anticipation from within-group cooperation to between-group cooperation reduces their ingroup bias. In the present set of five studies (overall N = 465) we test this claim in two different populations (children and adults), in two different countries (United States and Germany), and in two kinds of groups (minimal and social group based on gender). Results confirm that changing participants’ anticipation of who they will cooperate with from ingroup to outgroup members significantly reduces their ingroup bias in minimal groups, though not for gender, a non-coalitional group. In summary, these experiments provide robust evidence for the hypothesis that children and adults encode minimal group membership as a marker for future collaboration. They show that experimentally manipulating this expectation can eliminate their minimal ingroup bias. This study sheds light on the underlying cognitive processes in intergroup behavior throughout development and opens up new avenues for research on reducing ingroup bias and discrimination.

From the General Discussion

The present set of studies advances the field in several important ways. First, it summarizes and tests a plausible theoretical framework for the formation of ingroup bias in the minimal group paradigm, thereby building on accounts that explain the origins of categorization based on allegiances and coalitions (e.g., Kurzban et al., 2001). Drawing on both evolutionary assumptions (Smith, 2003; West, Griffin, & Gardner, 2007; West, El Mouden, & Gardner, 2011) and social learning accounts (e.g., Bigler & Liben, 2006; 2007), our explanation focuses on interdependence and cooperation(Balliet et al., 2014; Pietraszewski, 2013; 2020; Yamagishi & Kiyonari, 2000).It extends these onto the formation of intergroup bias in attitudes: Results of our studies support the hypotheses that the allocation in a minimal group paradigm elicits the anticipation of cooperation, and that the anticipation of cooperation is one of the key factors in the formation of ingroup bias, as evident in the robust results across 4 experiments and several different measures. We therefore concur with the claim that the minimal group paradigm is not so minimal at all (Karp et al.,1993), as it (at least) elicits the expectation to collaborate.

Furthermore, our results show that the anticipation of cooperation alone is already sufficient to induce (and reduce) ingroup bias (Experiment 2). This extends previous research emphasizing the importance of the cooperative activity (e.g., Gaertner et al., 1990; Sherif et al., 1961),and highlights the role of the cognitive processes involved in cooperative behavior.  In our experiment, the cooperative activity in itself had no additional effect on the formation of ingroup bias. However, it is important to note the cooperation was operationalized here in a minimal way, and it is possible that a more direct operationalization and a more interactive experience of cooperation with the other children might have a stronger effect on children's attitudes, a subject for further research.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

'Moral molecules’ – a new theory of what goodness is made of

Oliver Scott Curry and others
Originally posted 1 NOV 21

Here are two excerpts:

Research is converging on the idea that morality is a collection of rules for promoting cooperation – rules that help us work together, get along, keep the peace and promote the common good. The basic idea is that humans are social animals who have lived together in groups for millions of years. During this time, we have been surrounded by opportunities for cooperation – for mutually beneficial social interaction – and we have evolved and invented a range of ways of unlocking these benefits. These cooperative strategies come in different shapes and sizes: instincts, intuitions, inventions, institutions. Together, they motivate our cooperative behaviour and provide the criteria by which we evaluate the behaviour of others. And it is these cooperative strategies that philosophers and others have called ‘morality’.

This theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ relies on the mathematical analysis of cooperation provided by game theory – the branch of maths that is used to describe situations in which the outcome of one’s decisions depends on the decisions made by others. Game theory distinguishes between competitive ‘zero-sum’ interactions or ‘games’, where one player’s gain is another’s loss, and cooperative ‘nonzero-sum’ games, win-win situations in which both players benefit. What’s more, game theory tells us that there is not just one type of nonzero-sum game; there are many, with many different cooperative strategies for playing them. At least seven different types of cooperation have been identified so far, and each one explains a different type of morality.


Hence, seven types of cooperation explain seven types of morality: love, loyalty, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness and property rights. And so, according to this theory, it is morally good to: 1) love your family; 2) be loyal to your group; 3) return favours; 4) be heroic; 5) defer to superiors; 6) be fair; and 7) respect property. (And it is morally bad to: 1) neglect your family; 2) betray your group; 3) cheat; 4) be a coward; 5) disrespect authority; 6) be unfair; or 7) steal.) These morals are evolutionarily ancient, genetically distinct, psychologically discrete and cross-culturally universal.

The theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ explains, from first principles, many of the morals on those old lists. Some of the morals correspond to one of the basic types of cooperation (as in the case of courage), while others correspond to component parts of a basic type (as in the case of gratitude, which is a component of reciprocity).

Sunday, May 9, 2021

For Whom Does Determinism Undermine Moral Responsibility? Surveying the Conditions for Free Will Across Cultures

I. Hannikainen, et. al.
Front. Psychol., 05 November 2019


Philosophers have long debated whether, if determinism is true, we should hold people morally responsible for their actions since in a deterministic universe, people are arguably not the ultimate source of their actions nor could they have done otherwise if initial conditions and the laws of nature are held fixed. To reveal how non-philosophers ordinarily reason about the conditions for free will, we conducted a cross-cultural and cross-linguistic survey (N = 5,268) spanning twenty countries and sixteen languages. Overall, participants tended to ascribe moral responsibility whether the perpetrator lacked sourcehood or alternate possibilities. However, for American, European, and Middle Eastern participants, being the ultimate source of one’s actions promoted perceptions of free will and control as well as ascriptions of blame and punishment. By contrast, being the source of one’s actions was not particularly salient to Asian participants. Finally, across cultures, participants exhibiting greater cognitive reflection were more likely to view free will as incompatible with causal determinism. We discuss these findings in light of documented cultural differences in the tendency toward dispositional versus situational attributions.


At the aggregate level, we found that participants blamed and punished agents whether they only lacked alternate possibilities (Miller and Feltz, 2011) or whether they also lacked sourcehood (Nahmias et al., 2005; Nichols and Knobe, 2007). Thus, echoing early findings, laypeople did not take alternate possibilities or sourcehood as necessary conditions for free will and moral responsibility.

Yet, our study also revealed a dramatic cultural difference: Throughout the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, participants viewed the perpetrator with sourcehood (in the CI scenario) as freer and more morally responsible than the perpetrator without sourcehood (in the AS scenario). Meanwhile, South and East Asian participants evaluated both perpetrators in a strikingly similar way. We interpreted these results in light of cultural variation in dispositional versus situational attributions (Miller, 1984; Morris and Peng, 1994; Choi et al., 1999; Chiu et al., 2000). From a dispositionist perspective, participants may be especially attuned to the absence of sourcehood: When an agent is the source of their action, people may naturally conjure dispositionist explanations that refer to her goals, desires (e.g., because “she wanted a new life”) or character (e.g., because “she is ruthless”). In contrast, when actions result from a causal chain originating at the beginning of the universe, explanations of this sort – implying sourcehood – seem particularly unsatisfactory and incomplete. In contrast, from a situationist perspective, whether the agent could be seen as the source of her action may be largely irrelevant: Instead, a situationist may think of others’ behavior as the product of extrinsic pressures – from momentary upheaval, to the way they were raised, social norms or fate – and thus perceive both agents, in the CI and AS cases, as similar in matters of free will and moral responsibility.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The weirdness of belief in free will

Berniūnas, R, et al.
Consciousness and Cognition
Volume 87, January 2021, 103054


It has been argued that belief in free will is socially consequential and psychologically universal. In this paper we look at the folk concept of free will and its critical assessment in the context of recent psychological research. Is there a widespread consensus about the conceptual content of free will? We compared English “free will” with its lexical equivalents in Lithuanian, Hindi, Chinese and Mongolian languages and found that unlike Lithuanian, Chinese, Hindi and Mongolian lexical expressions of “free will” do not refer to the same concept free will. What kind people have been studied so far? A review of papers indicate that, overall, 91% of participants in studies on belief in free will were WEIRD. Thus, given that free will has no cross-culturally universal conceptual content and that most of the reviewed studies were based on WEIRD samples, belief in free will is not a psychological universal.


• The concept of free will has no cross-culturally universal conceptual content.

• Most of the reviewed studies on belief in free will were based on WEIRD samples.

• The term “free will” is inadequate for cross-cultural research.

From the General Discussion

Unfortunately, there has been little effort in cross-cultural (construct and external) validation of the very concept of free will. In explicating the folk concept of free will, Monroe and Malle (2010) showed that the ability to make decisions and choice are the most prototypical features (see also Feldman, 2017; Feldman et al., 2014). However, this is a description only of intuitions of English speaking participants. Here we tested whether there is a widespread consensus about the conceptual content (of free will) across culturally and linguistically diverse samples — hence, universality and cultural hypotheses. Overall, on the basis of free-listing results, it could be argued that two lexical expressions of English “free will” and Lithuanian “laisva valia” refer to the same concept of free will. Whereas Chinese ziyou yizhi, Hindi svatantra icchā, and Mongolian chölöötei khüsel, as newly constructed lexical expressions of “free will”, do not refer to the same concept of free will.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Humans display a ‘cooperative phenotype’ that is domain general and temporally stable

Peysakhovich, A., Nowak, M. & Rand, D.
Nat Commun 5, 4939 (2014).


Understanding human cooperation is of major interest across the natural and social sciences. But it is unclear to what extent cooperation is actually a general concept. Most research on cooperation has implicitly assumed that a person’s behaviour in one cooperative context is related to their behaviour in other settings, and at later times. However, there is little empirical evidence in support of this assumption. Here, we provide such evidence by collecting thousands of game decisions from over 1,400 individuals. A person’s decisions in different cooperation games are correlated, as are those decisions and both self-report and real-effort measures of cooperation in non-game contexts. Equally strong correlations exist between cooperative decisions made an average of 124 days apart. Importantly, we find that cooperation is not correlated with norm-enforcing punishment or non-competitiveness. We conclude that there is a domain-general and temporally stable inclination towards paying costs to benefit others, which we dub the ‘cooperative phenotype’.

From the Discussion

Here we have presented a range of evidence in support of a ‘cooperative phenotype’: cooperation in anonymous, one-shot economic games reflects an inclination to help others that has a substantial degree of domain generality and temporal stability. The desire to pay costs to benefit others, so central to theories of the evolution and maintenance of cooperation, is psychologically relevant and can be studied using economic games. Furthermore, our data suggest that norm-enforcing punishment and competition may not be part of this behavioral profile: the cooperative phenotype appears to be particular to cooperation.

Phenotypes are displayed characteristics, produced by the interaction of genes and environment. Though we have shown evidence of the existence (and boundaries) of the cooperative phenotype, our experiments do not illuminate whether cooperators are born or made (or something in between). Previous work has shown that cooperation varies substantially across cultures, and is influenced by previous experience, indicating an environmental contribution. On the other hand, a substantial heritable component of cooperative preferences has also been demonstrated, as well as substantial prosocial behaviour and preferences among babies and young children. The ‘phenotypic assay’ for cooperation offered by economic games provides a powerful tool for future researchers to illuminate this issue, teasing apart the building blocks of the cooperative phenotype.

The research is here.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Social norms and cultural diversity in the development of third-party punishment

B. R. House and others
Proceedings of The Royal Society
Biological Sciences, 28720192794 (2020)


Human cooperation is probably supported by our tendency to punish selfishness in others. Social norms play an important role in motivating third-party punishment (TPP), and also in explaining societal differences in prosocial behaviour. However, there has been little work directly linking social norms to the development of TPP across societies. In this study, we explored the impact of normative information on the development of TPP in 603 children aged 4–14, across six diverse societies. Children began to perform TPP during middle childhood, and the developmental trajectories of this behaviour were similar across societies. We also found that social norms began to influence the likelihood of performing TPP during middle childhood in some of these societies. Norms specifying the punishment of selfishness were generally more influential than norms specifying the punishment of prosocial behaviour. These findings support the view that TPP of selfishness is important in all societies, and its development is shaped by a shared psychology for responding to normative information. Yet, the results also highlight the important role that children's prior knowledge of local norms may play in explaining societal variation in the development of both TPP and prosociality.

From the Conclusion and Discussion Section

Children's bias towards punishing selfish third parties increased during middle childhood, and this developmental pattern is similar across societies. Middle childhood is also when children across diverse societies become more prosocial and more averse to advantageous inequity. This raises the possibility that prosociality, advantageous inequity aversion and TPP may be developmentally coupled. In each of these cases, individuals incur personal costs to produce fairer outcomes for others. One explanation for this is that children become more responsive to social norms during middle childhood, leading them to become more likely to conform to social norms. This is consistent with our finding that norm primes begin to shape behaviour during middle childhood (although TPP norm primes were not effective in all societies).

The research is here.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

For whom does determinism undermine moral responsibility? Surveying the conditions for free will across cultures

Ivar Hannikainen and others
PsyArXiv Preprints
Originally published October 15, 2019


Philosophers have long debated whether, if determinism is true, we should hold people morally responsible for their actions since in a deterministic universe, people are arguably not the ultimate source of their actions nor could they have done otherwise if initial conditions and the laws of nature are held fixed. To reveal how non-philosophers ordinarily reason about the conditions for free will, we conducted a cross-cultural and cross-linguistic survey (N = 5,268) spanning twenty countries and sixteen languages. Overall, participants tended to ascribe moral responsibility whether the perpetrator lacked sourcehood or alternate possibilities. However, for American, European, and Middle Eastern participants, being the ultimate source of one’s actions promoted perceptions of free will and control as well as ascriptions of blame and punishment. By contrast, being the source of one’s actions was not particularly salient to Asian participants. Finally, across cultures, participants exhibiting greater cognitive reflection were more likely to view free will as incompatible with causal determinism. We discuss these findings in light of documented cultural differences in the tendency toward dispositional versus situational attributions.

The research is here.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Challenges to capture the big five personality traits in non-WEIRD populations

Rachid Laajaj, Karen Macours, and others
Science Advances  10 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5226


Can personality traits be measured and interpreted reliably across the world? While the use of Big Five personality measures is increasingly common across social sciences, their validity outside of western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) populations is unclear. Adopting a comprehensive psychometric approach to analyze 29 face-to-face surveys from 94,751 respondents in 23 low- and middle-income countries, we show that commonly used personality questions generally fail to measure the intended personality traits and show low validity. These findings contrast with the much higher validity of these measures attained in internet surveys of 198,356 self-selected respondents from the same countries. We discuss how systematic response patterns, enumerator interactions, and low education levels can collectively distort personality measures when assessed in large-scale surveys. Our results highlight the risk of misinterpreting Big Five survey data and provide a warning against naïve interpretations of personality traits without evidence of their validity.

The research is here.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Seven moral rules found all around the world

University of Oxford
Originally released February 12, 2019

Anthropologists at the University of Oxford have discovered what they believe to be seven universal moral rules.

The rules: help your family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others' property. These were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

Previous studies have looked at some of these rules in some places – but none has looked at all of them in a large representative sample of societies. The present study, published in Current Anthropology, is the largest and most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of morals ever conducted.

The team from Oxford's Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology (part of the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography) analysed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources.

Dr. Oliver Scott Curry, lead author and senior researcher at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, said: "The debate between moral universalists and moral relativists has raged for centuries, but now we have some answers. People everywhere face a similar set of social problems, and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them. As predicted, these seven moral rules appear to be universal across cultures. Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code. All agree that cooperating, promoting the common good, is the right thing to do."

The study tested the theory that morality evolved to promote cooperation, and that – because there are many types of cooperation – there are many types of morality. According to this theory of 'morality as cooperation," kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest. Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favours, feel guilt and gratitude, make amends, and forgive. And conflict resolution explains why we engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity, why we defer to our superiors, why we divide disputed resources fairly, and why we recognise prior possession.

The information is here.

Friday, February 15, 2019

‘Science and the Good’ Review: The Anatomy of Morality

Julian Baggini
The Wall Street Journal
Originally published Jan. 15, 2019

Here is the conclusion of this book review:

But the authors’ core idea here—that if morality lacks some ultimate, non-natural basis, then it isn’t really morality—is a hangover from a Christian-Platonic way of thinking. For evidence that there is another way, look to China. There the ethics of an entire civilization has for millennia been based on a Confucian philosophy that concerns itself with how we live good lives and create an orderly society in the here and now—without pointing to a metaphysical realm for justification. Messrs. Hunter and Nedelisky rule out the possibility that what we understand as morality in the West might be revisable without our losing what is most essential about it.

They are right, however, to warn that such a deflated morality—concerned primarily with the pragmatics of social harmony—risks becoming a “sophisticated intellectualization for our pervasive regime of instrumental rationality.” Their important and timely book reminds us that ethics at its best challenges rather than justifies the status quo, which is why a purely descriptive science of ethics is never enough.

The info is here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Many Cultures, One Psychology?

Nicolas Geeraert
American Scientist
Originally published in the July-August issue

Here is an excerpt:

The Self

If you were asked to describe yourself, what would you say? Would you list your personal characteristics, such as being intelligent or funny, or would you use preferences, such as “I love pizza”? Or perhaps you would instead mention social relationships, such as “I am a parent”? Social psychologists have long maintained that people are much more likely to describe themselves and others in terms of stable personal characteristics than they are to describe themselves in terms of their preferences or relationships.

However, the way people describe themselves seems to be culturally bound. In a landmark 1991 paper, social psychologists Hazel R. Markus and Shinobu Kitayama put forward the idea that self-construal is culturally variant, noting that individuals in some cultures understand the self as independent, whereas those in other cultures perceive it as interdependent.

People with an independent self-construal view themselves as free, autonomous, and unique individuals, possessing stable boundaries and a set of fixed characteristics or attributes by which their actions are guided. Independent self-construal is more prevalent in Europe and North America. By contrast, people with an interdependent self-construal see themselves as more connected with others close to them, such as their family or community, and think of themselves as a part of different social relationships.

The information is here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When is a lie acceptable? Work and private life lying acceptance depends on its beneficiary

Katarzyna Cantarero, Piotr Szarota, E. Stamkou, M. Navas & A. del Carmen Dominguez Espinosa
The Journal of Social Psychology 
Pages 1-16 | Received 02 Jan 2017, Accepted 25 Apr 2017, Published online: 14 Aug 2017


In this article we show that when analyzing attitude towards lying in a cross-cultural setting, both the beneficiary of the lie (self vs other) and the context (private life vs. professional domain) should be considered. In a study conducted in Estonia, Ireland, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Sweden (N = 1345), in which participants evaluated stories presenting various types of lies, we found usefulness of relying on the dimensions. Results showed that in the joint sample the most acceptable were other-oriented lies concerning private life, then other-oriented lies in the professional domain, followed by egoistic lies in the professional domain; and the least acceptance was shown for egoistic lies regarding one’s private life. We found a negative correlation between acceptance of a behavior and the evaluation of its deceitfulness.

Here is an excerpt:

Research shows differences in reactions to moral transgressions depending on the culture of the respondent as culture influences our moral judgments (e.g., Gold, Colman, & Pulford, 2014; Graham, Meindl, Beall, Johnson, & Zhang, 2016). For example, when analyzing transgressions of community (e.g., hearing children talking with their teacher the same way as they do towards their peers) Indian participants showed more moral outrage than British participants (Laham, Chopra, Lalljee, & Parkinson, 2010). Importantly, one of the main reasons why we can observe cross-cultural differences in reactions to moral transgressions is that culture influences our perception of whether an act itself constitutes a moral transgression at all (Haidt, 2001; Haidt & Joseph, 2004; Shweder, Mahapatra, & Miller, 1987; Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park, 1997). Haidt, Koller and Dias (1993) showed that Brazilian participants would perceive some acts of victimless yet offensive actions more negatively than did Americans. The authors argue that for American students some of the acts that were being evaluated (e.g., using an old flag of ones’ country to clean the bathroom) fall outside the moral domain and are only a matter of social convention, whereas Brazilians would perceive them as morally wrong.

The paper is here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Personal values in human life

Lilach Sagiv, Sonia Roccas, Jan Cieciuch & Shalom H. Schwartz
Nature Human Behaviour (2017)


The construct of values is central to many fields in the social sciences and humanities. The last two decades have seen a growing body of psychological research that investigates the content, structure and consequences of personal values in many cultures. Taking a cross-cultural perspective we review, organize and integrate research on personal values, and point to some of the main findings that this research has yielded. Personal values are subjective in nature, and reflect what people think and state about themselves. Consequently, both researchers and laymen sometimes question the usefulness of personal values in influencing action. Yet, self-reported values predict a large variety of attitudes, preferences and overt behaviours. Individuals act in ways that allow them to express their important values and attain the goals underlying them. Thus, understanding personal values means understanding human behaviour.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Five Myths About the Role of Culture in Psychological Research

Qi Wang
Association of Psychological Science
Originally posted December 20, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Twenty years of cultural research that my colleagues and I have done on the development of social cognition, including autobiographical memory, future thinking, the self, and emotion knowledge, illustrate how cultural psychological science can provide unique insights into psychological processes and further equip researchers with additional tools to understand human behavior.

There are five assumptions that often distract or discourage researchers from integrating cultural factors into their work, and I aim here to deconstruct them.

Assumption 1. Cultural Psychological Science Focuses Only on Finding Group Differences

This understanding of what cultural psychological science can do is far from being complete. In our research, my colleagues and I have learned how culturally prioritized self-goals guide autobiographical memory. Autonomous self-goals, prioritized in Western, particularly European American, cultures, motivate individuals to focus on and remember idiosyncratic details and subjective experiences that accentuate the individual. In contrast, relational self-goals like those prioritized in East Asian cultures motivate individuals to attend to and remember information about collective activities and significant others.

By experimentally manipulating self-goals of autonomy and relatedness, we are able to make European Americans recall socially oriented memories as East Asians usually do, and make East Asians recall self-focused memories as European Americans usually do. In a study I conducted with APS Fellow Michael A. Ross, University of Waterloo, Canada, we asked European American and Asian college students to describe themselves as either unique individuals (i.e., autonomous-self prime) or as members of social groups (i.e., relational-self prime). We then asked them to recall their earliest childhood memories. In both cultural groups, those whose autonomous self-goals were activated prior to the recall reported more self-focused memories, whereas those whose relational self-goals were made salient recalled more socially oriented memories.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Moral minds

By Kirsten Weir
The Monitor on Psychology
September 2016, Vol 47, No. 8
Print version: page 42

Here is an excerpt:

"As young as you can test them, babies like good guys and don't like bad guys," Bloom says. "This suggests some sort of nascent moral understanding very early on."

Bloom likens that understanding to the building blocks of human language. "There's some evidence we start with rudimentary language capacity, but languages across the world differ in all sorts of ways," he says. "Obviously, culture matters."

Other psychologists, meanwhile, have tried to understand why morality varies from culture to culture, while retaining some common themes. Haidt's moral foundations theory proposes that there are at least six (and likely more) systems that provide a foundation of morality: care/harm; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation; and liberty/oppression.

The article is here.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Small-scale societies exhibit fundamental variation in the role of intentions in moral judgment

H. Clark Barrett and others
PNAS 2016 113 (17) 4688-4693
Published ahead of print March 28, 2016


Intent and mitigating circumstances play a central role in moral and legal assessments in large-scale industrialized societies. Although these features of moral assessment are widely assumed to be universal, to date, they have only been studied in a narrow range of societies. We show that there is substantial cross-cultural variation among eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural) in the extent to which intent and mitigating circumstances influence moral judgments. Although participants in all societies took such factors into account to some degree, they did so to very different extents, varying in both the types of considerations taken into account and the types of violations to which such considerations were applied. The particular patterns of assessment characteristic of large-scale industrialized societies may thus reflect relatively recently culturally evolved norms rather than inherent features of human moral judgment.


It is widely considered a universal feature of human moral psychology that reasons for actions are taken into account in most moral judgments. However, most evidence for this moral intent hypothesis comes from large-scale industrialized societies. We used a standardized methodology to test the moral intent hypothesis across eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural). The results show substantial variation in the degree to which an individual’s intentions influence moral judgments of his or her actions, with intentions in some cases playing no role at all. This dimension of cross-cultural variation in moral judgment may have important implications for understanding cultural disagreements over wrongdoing.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A cultural look at moral purity: wiping the face clean

Lee SWS, Tang H, Wan J, Mai X and Liu C
Front. Psychol. (2015) 6:577.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00577


Morality is associated with bodily purity in the custom of many societies. Does that imply moral purity is a universal psychological phenomenon? Empirically, it has never been examined, as all prior experimental data came from Western samples. Theoretically, we suggest the answer is not so straightforward—it depends on the kind of universality under consideration. Combining perspectives from cultural psychology and embodiment, we predict a culture-specific form of moral purification. Specifically, given East Asians' emphasis on the face as a representation of public self-image, we hypothesize that facial purification should have particularly potent moral effects in a face culture. Data show that face-cleaning (but not hands-cleaning) reduces guilt and regret most effectively against a salient East Asian cultural background. It frees East Asians from guilt-driven prosocial behavior. In the wake of their immorality, they find a face-cleaning product especially appealing and spontaneously choose to wipe their face clean. These patterns highlight both culturally variable and universal aspects of moral purification. They further suggest an organizing principle that informs the vigorous debate between embodied and amodal perspectives.

The article is here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Ethics of Suicide Digital Archive

The Ethics of Suicide Digital Archive is a partnership between the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library and Oxford University Press. We encourage you to participate by adding your comments in the spaces provided below each reading. You will need to create a reader account before commenting. The Digital Archive adheres to the Privacy Policy of the J. Willard Marriott Library.

Because of the serious and often delicate nature of the topic, all comments will be moderated before appearing on the website. We will not approve any comments that we find to be cruel, inconsiderate, disrespectful, or otherwise generally ill-advised, but we will welcome corrections, challenges, differences in interpretation, serious reflection, and in general comments consistent with academic freedom and the University of Utah’s Speech Policy.

The entire archive is here.

Note: This site serves as an excellent resource for those contemplating the ethics of suicide.  The archive has brief entries.  The entries are categorized by author as well as by geographical region, era, and intellectual/religious/cultural traditions.  Finally, there are categories of sin versus martyrdom.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The causal cognition of wrong doing: incest, intentionality, and morality

Rita Astuti and Maurice Bloch
Front. Psychol., 18 February 2015


The paper concerns the role of intentionality in reasoning about wrong doing. Anthropologists have claimed that, in certain non-Western societies, people ignore whether an act of wrong doing is committed intentionally or accidentally. To examine this proposition, we look at the case of Madagascar. We start by analyzing how Malagasy people respond to incest, and we find that in this case they do not seem to take intentionality into account: catastrophic consequences follow even if those who commit incest are not aware that they are related as kin; punishment befalls on innocent people; and the whole community is responsible for repairing the damage. However, by looking at how people reason about other types of wrong doing, we show that the role of intentionality is well understood, and that in fact this is so even in the case of incest. We therefore argue that, when people contemplate incest and its consequences, they simultaneously consider two quite different issues: the issue of intentionality and blame, and the much more troubling and dumbfounding issue of what society would be like if incest were to be permitted. This entails such a fundamental attack on kinship and on the very basis of society that issues of intentionality and blame become irrelevant. Using the insights we derive from this Malagasy case study, we re-examine the results of Haidt’s psychological experiment on moral dumbfoundedness, which uses a story about incest between siblings as one of its test scenarios. We suggest that the dumbfoundedness that was documented among North American students may be explained by the same kind of complexity that we found in Madagascar. In light of this, we discuss the methodological limitations of experimental protocols, which are unable to grasp multiple levels of response. We also note the limitations of anthropological methods and the benefits of closer cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The entire article is here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Collaborating across cultures

Working with scientists from the Arab world improved my worldview, my career and my life. I urge you to collaborate with researchers from other cultures, too.

By Thomas Eissenberg, PhD
Monitor on Psychology
December 2014, Vol 45, No. 11
Print version: page 60

Working with scientists from the Arab world improved my worldview, my career and my life. I urge you to collaborate with researchers from other cultures, too.

One reason to collaborate across cultures is that many global problems — environmental degradation, disease, conflict and inequity — cannot be addressed comprehensively without global partnerships.
Yet crafting empirically based solutions with colleagues around the world involves ethical issues that extend beyond those typically considered by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). That is, rewarding and successful cross-cultural collaboration demands that partners re-dedicate themselves to basic ethical principles that involve interactions with research participants and also interactions among researchers themselves.

The entire article is here.