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 Moral Self. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moral Self. Show all posts

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Generosity without borders: The interactive effect of spatial distance and donation goals on charitable giving

A. Jing Xu, M. A. Rodas, C. J. Torelli
Organizational Behavior and 
Human Decision Processes
Volume 161, November 2020, Pages 65-78


Although past research suggests that people are more likely to donate money to nearby causes to maximize their positive impact on others’ lives, donations to foreign causes are growing rapidly. Incorporating both other-focused impact goals and self-focused moral goals into our conceptualization, we propose that an interplay between the accessibility of impact/moral goals and the spatial distance between donors and recipients of charitable causes (e.g., faraway vs. nearby recipients) influences charitable behaviors (e.g., donation amounts and charitable choices). Specifically, when the goal to maintain a moral self-concept (impact recipients’ lives) is accessible, donors experience a more expansive conception of their moral circle (apply the “closeness-equals-impact” heuristic) and donate more money to faraway (nearby) causes. We further demonstrate that moral (impact) goals are more abstract (concrete) motivations, and their effects also emerge when priming an abstract (concrete) mindset. Five studies support these predictions while ruling out alternative interpretations.


• The goal to maintain a moral self-concept leads to higher donations to faraway causes.

• This effect is mediated by perceived expansion of one’s circle of moral regard.

• The goal to impact recipients’ lives leads to higher donations to nearby causes.

• Moral goals are abstract and can be activated by an abstract mindset.

• Impact goals are concrete and can be activated by a concrete mindset.

• Self-importance of moral identity moderates the effect of spatial distance on donations.

The research is here.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Moral Self and Moral Duties

Everett, J. A. C., Skorburg, J. A., & Savulescu, J.
(2020, January 6).


Recent research has begun treating the perennial philosophical question, “what makes a person the same over time?” as an empirical question. A long tradition in philosophy holds that psychological continuity and connectedness of memories are at the heart of personal identity. More recent experimental work, following Strohminger & Nichols (2014), has suggested that persistence of moral character, more than memories, is perceived as essential for personal identity. While there is a growing body of evidence supporting these findings, a critique by Starmans & Bloom (2018) suggests that this research program conflates personal identity with mere similarity. To address this criticism, we explore how loss of someone’s morality or memories influence perceptions of identity change, and perceptions of moral duties towards the target of the change. We present participants with a classic ‘body switch’ thought experiment and after assessing perceptions of identity persistence, we present a moral dilemma, asking participants to imagine that one of the patients must die (Study 1) or be left alone in a care home for the rest of their life (Study 2). Our results highlight the importance of the continuity of moral character, suggesting lay intuitions are tracking (something like) personal identity, not just mere similarity.

The ending:

Finally, it is important to reiterate that our work here seeks to shed light on  ordinary  people’s intuitions  about personal  identity and  moral duties and  not  to  draw  metaphysical  conclusions  about  the  nature  of  personal identity per se. We show that ordinary people think that morality is important for psychological  continuity  and  that this judgment  is  related  to  sub-sequent perceptions of moral duties. It is possible that people are mistaken about  the  nature  of  personal  identity  or  their  moral  duties,  but  that  is a debate for another paper.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Addiction, Identity, Morality

Earp, B.D., Skorburg, J.A. Everett, J. & Savulescu, J.
(2019) AJOB Empirical Bioethics, 10:2, 136-153.
DOI: 10.1080/23294515.2019.1590480

Background: Recent literature on addiction and judgments about the characteristics of agents has focused on the implications of adopting a “brain disease” versus “moral weakness” model of addiction. Typically, such judgments have to do with what capacities an agent has (e.g., the ability to abstain from substance use). Much less work, however, has been conducted on the relationship between addiction and judgments about an agent’s identity, including whether or to what extent an individual is seen as the same person after becoming addicted.

Methods: We conducted a series of vignette-based experiments (total N = 3,620) to assess lay attitudes concerning addiction and identity persistence, systematically manipulating key characteristics of agents and their drug of addiction.

Conclusions: In Study 1, we found that U.S. participants judged an agent who became addicted to drugs as being closer to “a completely different person” than “completely the same person” as the agent who existed prior to the addiction. In Studies 2–6, we investigated the intuitive basis for this result, finding that lay judgments of altered identity as a consequence of drug use and addiction are driven primarily by perceived negative changes in the moral character of drug users, who are seen as having deviated from their good true selves.

The research is here.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Moral identity relates to the neural processing of third-party moral behavior

Carolina Pletti, Jean Decety, & Markus Paulus
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience


Moral identity, or moral self, is the degree to which being moral is important to a person’s self-concept. It is hypothesized to be the “missing link” between moral judgment and moral action. However, its cognitive and psychophysiological mechanisms are still subject to debate. In this study, we used Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) to examine whether the moral self concept is related to how people process prosocial and antisocial actions. To this end, participants’ implicit and explicit moral self-concept was assessed. We examined whether individual differences in moral identity relate to differences in early, automatic processes (i.e. EPN, N2) or late, cognitively controlled processes (i.e. LPP) while observing prosocial and antisocial situations. Results show that a higher implicit moral self was related to a lower EPN amplitude for prosocial scenarios. In addition, an enhanced explicit moral self was related to a lower N2 amplitude for prosocial scenarios. The findings demonstrate that the moral self affects the neural processing of morally relevant stimuli during third-party evaluations. They support theoretical considerations that the moral self already affects (early) processing of moral information.

Here is the conclusion:

Taken together, notwithstanding some limitations, this study provides novel insights into the
nature of the moral self. Importantly, the results suggest that the moral self concept influences the
early processing of morally relevant contexts. Moreover, the implicit and the explicit moral self
concepts have different neural correlates, influencing respectively early and intermediate processing
stages. Overall, the findings inform theoretical approaches on how the moral self informs social
information processing (Lapsley & Narvaez, 2004).

Monday, August 28, 2017

Death Before Dishonor: Incurring Costs to Protect Moral Reputation

Andrew J. Vonasch, Tania Reynolds, Bo M. Winegard, Roy F. Baumeister
Social Psychological and Personality Science 
First published date: July-21-2017


Predicated on the notion that people’s survival depends greatly on participation in cooperative society, and that reputation damage may preclude such participation, four studies with diverse methods tested the hypothesis that people would make substantial sacrifices to protect their reputations. A “big data” study found that maintaining a moral reputation is one of people’s most important values. In making hypothetical choices, high percentages of “normal” people reported preferring jail time, amputation of limbs, and death to various forms of reputation damage (i.e., becoming known as a criminal, Nazi, or child molester). Two lab studies found that 30% of people fully submerged their hands in a pile of disgusting live worms, and 63% endured physical pain to prevent dissemination of information suggesting that they were racist. We discuss the implications of reputation protection for theories about altruism and motivation.

The article is here.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Truth or Punishment: Secrecy and Punishing the Self

Michael L. Slepian and Brock Bastian
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
First Published July 14, 2017, 1–17


We live in a world that values justice; when a crime is committed, just punishment is expected to follow. Keeping one’s misdeed secret therefore appears to be a strategic way to avoid (just) consequences. Yet, people may engage in self-punishment to right their own wrongs to balance their personal sense of justice. Thus, those who seek an escape from justice by keeping secrets may in fact end up serving that same justice on themselves (through self-punishment). Six studies demonstrate that thinking about secret (vs. confessed) misdeeds leads to increased self-punishment (increased denial of pleasure and seeking of pain). These effects were mediated by the feeling one deserved to be punished, moderated by the significance of the secret, and were observed for both self-reported and behavioral measures of self-punishment.

Here is an excerpt:

Recent work suggests, however, that people who are reminded of their own misdeeds will sometimes seek out their own justice. That is, even subtle acts of self-punishment can restore a sense of personal justice, whereby a wrong feels to have been righted (Bastian et al., 2011; Inbar et al., 2013). Thus,
we predicted that even though keeping a misdeed secret could lead one to avoid being punished by others, it still could prompt a desire for punishment all the same, one inflicted by the self.

The article is here.

Note: There are significant implications in this article for psychotherapists.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Managing for Academic Integrity in Higher Education: Insights From Behavioral Ethics

Sheldene Simola
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology
Vol 3(1), Mar 2017, 43-57.

Despite the plethora of research on factors associated with academic dishonesty and ways of averting it, such dishonesty remains a significant concern. There is a need to identify overarching frameworks through which academic dishonesty might be understood, which might also suggest novel yet research-supported practical insights aimed at prevention. Hence, this article draws upon the burgeoning field of behavioral ethics to highlight a dual processing framework on academic dishonesty and to provide additional and sometimes counterintuitive practical insights into preventing this predicament. Six themes from within behavioral ethics are elaborated. These indicate the roles of reflective, conscious deliberation in academic (dis)honesty, as well as reflexive, nonconscious judgment; the roles of rationality and emotionality; and the ways in which conscious and nonconscious situational cues can cause individual moral identity or moral standards to become more or less salient to, and therefore influential in, decision-making. Practical insights and directions for future research are provided.

The article is here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Consistent Belief in a Good True Self in Misanthropes and Three Interdependent Cultures.

J. De Freitas, H. Sarkissian, G. E. Newman, I. Grossmann, and others
Cognitive Science, 2017 Jun 6.


People sometimes explain behavior by appealing to an essentialist concept of the self, often referred to as the true self. Existing studies suggest that people tend to believe that the true self is morally virtuous; that is deep inside, every person is motivated to behave in morally good ways. Is this belief particular to individuals with optimistic beliefs or people from Western cultures, or does it reflect a widely held cognitive bias in how people understand the self? To address this question, we tested the good true self theory against two potential boundary conditions that are known to elicit different beliefs about the self as a whole. Study 1 tested whether individual differences in misanthropy-the tendency to view humans negatively-predict beliefs about the good true self in an American sample. The results indicate a consistent belief in a good true self, even among individuals who have an explicitly pessimistic view of others. Study 2 compared true self-attributions across cultural groups, by comparing samples from an independent country (USA) and a diverse set of interdependent countries (Russia, Singapore, and Colombia). Results indicated that the direction and magnitude of the effect are comparable across all groups we tested. The belief in a good true self appears robust across groups varying in cultural orientation or misanthropy, suggesting a consistent psychological tendency to view the true self as morally good.

A version of the paper is here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Face-saving or fair-minded: What motivates moral behavior?

Alexander W. Cappelen  Trond Halvorsen  Erik Ø. Sørensen  Bertil Tungodden
Journal of the European Economic Association (2017) 15 (3): 540-557.


We study the relative importance of intrinsic moral motivation and extrinsic social motivation in explaining moral behavior. The key feature of our experiment is that we introduce a dictator game design that manipulates these two sources of motivation. In one set of treatments, we manipulate the moral argument for sharing, in another we manipulate the information given to the recipient about the context of the experiment and the dictator's decision. The paper offers two main findings. First, we provide evidence of intrinsic moral motivation being of fundamental importance. Second, we show that extrinsic social motivation matters and is crowding-in with intrinsic moral motivation. We also show that intrinsic moral motivation is strongly associated with self-reported charitable giving outside the lab and with political preferences.

The research is here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Should We Outsource Our Moral Beliefs to Others?

Grace Boey
3 Quarks Daily
Originally posted May 29, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Setting aside the worries above, there is one last matter that many philosophers take to be the most compelling candidate for the oddity of outsourcing our moral beliefs to others. As moral agents, we’re interested in more than just accumulating as many true moral beliefs as possible, such as ‘abortion is permissible’, or ‘killing animals for sport is wrong’. We also value things such as developing moral understanding, cultivating virtuous characters, having appropriate emotional reactions, and the like. Although moral deference might allow us to acquire bare moral knowledge from others, it doesn’t allow us to reflect or cultivate these other moral goods which are central to our moral identity.

Consider the value we place on understanding why we think our moral beliefs are true. Alison Hills notes that pure moral deference can’t get us to such moral understanding. When Bob defers unquestioningly to Sally’s judgment that abortion is morally permissible, he lacks an understanding of why this might be true. Amongst other things, this prevents Bob from being able to articulate, in his own words, the reasons behind this claim. This seems strange enough in itself, and Hills argues for at least two reasons why Bob’s situation is a bad one. For one, Bob’s lack of moral understanding prevents him from acting in a morally worthy way. Bob wouldn’t deserve any moral praise for, say, shutting down someone who harasses women who undergo the procedure.

Moreover, Bob’s lack of moral understanding seems to reflect a lack of good moral character, or virtue. Bob’s belief that ‘late-term abortion is permissible’ isn’t integrated with the rest of his thoughts, motivations, emotions, and decisions. Moral understanding, of course, isn’t all that matters for virtue and character. But philosophers who disagree with Hills on this point, like Robert Howell and Errol Lord, also note that moral deference reflects a lack of virtue and character in other ways, and can prevent the cultivation of these traits.

The article is here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What do we evaluate when we evaluate moral character?

Erik G. Helzer & Clayton R. Critcher


Despite growing interest in the topic of moral character, there is very little precision
and a lack of agreement among researchers as to what is evaluated when people evaluate
character. In this chapter we define moral character in novel social cognitive terms and offer
empirical support for the idea that the central qualities of moral character are those deemed
essential for social relationships.

Here is an excerpt:

We approach this chapter from the theoretical standpoint that the centrality of character
evaluation is due to its function in social life. Evaluation of character is, we think, inherently a
judgment about a person’s qualifications for being a solid long-term social investment. That is,
people attempt to suss out moral character because they want to know whether a particular agent
is the type of person who likely possesses the necessary (even if not sufficient) qualities they
expect in a social relationship. In developing these ideas theoretically and empirically, we
consider what form moral character takes, discuss what this proposal suggests about how people
may and do assess others’ moral character, and identify an assortment of qualities that our
perspective predicts will be central to moral character.

The book chapter is here.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The True Self: A psychological concept distinct from the self.

Strohminger N., Newman, G., and Knobe, J. (in press).
Perspectives on Psychological Science.

A long tradition of psychological research has explored the distinction between characteristics that are part of the self and those that lie outside of it. Recently, a surge of research has begun examining a further distinction. Even among characteristics that are internal to the self, people pick out a subset as belonging to the true self. These factors are judged as making people who they really are, deep down. In this paper, we introduce the concept of the true self and identify features that distinguish people’s
understanding of the true self from their understanding of the self more generally. In particular, we consider recent findings that the true self is perceived as positive and moral, and that this tendency is actor-observer invariant and cross-culturally stable. We then explore possible explanations for these findings and discuss their implications for a variety of issues in psychology.

The paper is here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Moral Cleansing

Colin West and Chen-Bo Zhong
Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 3 November 2015

Moral cleansing describes behaviors aimed at restoring moral self-worth in response to past transgressions. People are motivated to maintain a moral self-image and to eliminate apparent gaps between their perceived self-image and their desired moral self. Moral cleansing behaviors fall into three over-arching categories. Restitution cleansing behaviors directly resolve past misdeeds. Behavioral cleansing involves counter-balancing across multiple dimensions of the moral self whereby threats in one sub-domain are alleviated by bolstering a separate sub-domain. Symbolic cleansing includes restitution behaviors that are only symbolically connected to the provoking moral threat, such as physical or ritual cleansing. The moral cleansing literature seeks to understand these seemingly erratic sequences of compensatory behaviors.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” -Oscar Wilde

• We review the literature on the psychology of moral cleansing.
• There are three categories: restitution, behavioral, and symbolic cleansing.
• The psychological mechanism is based on a malleable moral self-image.
• Moral cleansing examines the implications of sequential ethical decision-making.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Philosophy (Psychology): Personal Identity

Wireless Philosophy
Published on Jun 8, 2015

Using the method of experimental philosophy, Nina Strohminger (Yale University) and Shaun Nichols (University of Arizona) compare philosophical and everyday answers to the question "Which aspect of the self is most essential for personal identity?"

Dr. Nina Strohminger was kind enough to share thoughts on her research in the Ethics and Psychology podcast: The Moral Self, Moral Injury, and Moral Emotions.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Being true to your true self

By David Shoemaker
Originally published May 24, 2015

Here is an excerpt

Philosophers who work on the nature of responsibility very often insist that ignorance of the moral status of one’s action is sufficient to excuse — or at least mitigate — one from responsibility. If you didn’t know that what you were doing was wrong, after all, how could it be appropriate to hold you responsible for not refraining from doing it?  This view is thought to hold symmetrically across negative and positive cases: not only does ignorance excuse (or mitigate) one from blame for bad actions, it also excuses (or mitigates) one from praise for good actions to the same extent.

This is not, however, how ordinary people view the matter. My colleague David Faraci and I have investigated the matter several times, and each time we get the same results. When asked about JoJo, people overwhelmingly think that his moral ignorance does mitigate his blameworthiness, albeit only a little bit (versus someone like him without that background). However, when people are asked about a case like Huck’s, they respond that his moral ignorance doesn’t mitigate his praiseworthiness at all; indeed, in some studies, we have found that people think his moral ignorance actually makes him more praiseworthy for what he did than a morally undeprived counterpart.

The entire blog post is here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Me, My “Self” and You: Neuropsychological Relations between Social Emotion, Self-Awareness, and Morality

By Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
Emotion Review July 2011 vol. 3 no. 3 313-315


Social emotions about others’ mind states, for example, compassion for psychological pain or admiration for virtue, are an important foundation for morality because they help us decide how to treat other people. Although these emotions are ostensibly concerned with the mental qualities and situations of others, they can precipitate intimately subjective reflections on the quality of one’s own social life and mind, and via these reflections incite a desire to engage in meaningful moral actions. Our interview and neural data suggest that the shift from social emotion to introspection may be facilitated by conscious mental evaluation of emotion-related visceral sensations.

The entire paper is here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Minneapolis VA studies invisible scars from combat

By Jeremy Olson
The Star Tribune
Updated August 11, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

A study of survey results for 814 Minnesota National Guard members who served in Iraq over the past decade showed that those who experienced moral injury had higher levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Moral injury generally refers to any type of guilt, shame, or depression that arises from actions that may have violated deeply held beliefs. But for this study, which was presented at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center last month, soldiers met the criteria if they killed in combat, felt their actions were unforgivable, and believed that God had abandoned them.

The lack of resiliency among soldiers who met this definition was alarming, said Dr. Irene Harris, the VA psychologist leading the research. “Basically, [they feel] at my spiritual functioning level, I don’t think I belong here in the world. I’m not worth it. I have a sense that I should not be here.’’

The entire article is here.

Podcast Episode 7: The Moral Self, Moral Injury, and Moral Emotions addresses the moral self and moral injury related to PTSD.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How to Be Good

An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right?

By Larissa MacFarqhar
The New Yorker
Originally published September 5, 2011

Here are two excerpts:

Parfit is thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world. He has written two books, both of which have been called the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century—since 1874, when Henry Sidgwick’s “The Method of Ethics,” the apogee of classical utilitarianism, was published. Parfit’s first book, “Reasons and Persons,” was published in 1984, when he was forty-one, and caused a sensation. The book was dense with science-fictional thought experiments, all urging a shift toward a more impersonal, non-physical, and selfless view of human life.


Parfit believes that there are true answers to moral questions, just as there are to mathematical ones. Humans can perceive these truths, through a combination of intuition and critical reasoning, but they remain true whether humans perceive them or not. He believes that there is nothing more urgent for him to do in his brief time on earth than discover what these truths are and persuade others of their reality. He believes that without moral truth the world would be a bleak place in which nothing mattered. This thought horrifies him.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Creating a 'morality pill' more a question of ethics than science

By Katie Collins
Originally posted May 16, 2014

Is there any way that we could create a drug that would make us moral? This is the question Molly Crockett, neuroscientist at Oxford University, posed to the crowd at a Brain Boosters event organised as part of the NERRI Project in London this week.

Crockett was tackling the subject of neuro-enhancement -- the idea that we could potentially use science to make our brains in some way better. Much of the discussion at the event revolved around intelligence, but Crockett instead chose to tackle the subject of personality -- and more specifically, morality.

The entire article is here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Episode 7: The Moral Self, Moral Injury, and Moral Emotions

In this episode, John interviews Dr. Nina Strohminger about moral psychology and her research on the moral self and moral emotions.  While they discuss her research about the moral self and moral emotions, the discussion leads to clinical examples related to values in psychotherapy, moral injury and other conditions treated by psychologists.  John and Nina also exchange ideas on emotions in decision-making.

At the end of this podcast, the listener will be able to:

1. Describe the moral self,
2. Explain moral injury and how it applies to psychotherapy,
3. Identify how emotions are important to decision-making.


Nina Strohminger and Shaun Nichols

Nina Strohminger, Richard L. Lewis, and David D. Meyer

John Gavazzi and Sam Knapp

Morality, Disgust and Countertransference in Psychotherapy
John Gavazzi and Sam Knapp

Shira Maguen and Brett Litz

Scrupulosity: Where OCD Meets Religion, Faith and Belief
Kevin Foss, The OCD Center of Los Angeles