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Showing posts with label Purity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Purity. Show all posts

Friday, January 12, 2024

Out, damned spot: Can the “Macbeth Effect” be replicated?

Earp, B. D., Everett, J. A. C., et al. (2014).
Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 91–98.


Comments on an article by Zhong, and Liljenquist (see record 2004-22267-003). Zhong and Liljenquist (2006) reported evidence of a “Macbeth Effect” in social psychology: a threat to people's moral purity leads them to seek, literally, to cleanse themselves. In an attempt to build upon these findings, we conducted a series of direct replications of Study 2 from Z&L's seminal report. We used Z&L's original materials and methods, investigated samples that were more representative of the general population, investigated samples from different countries and cultures, and substantially increased the power of our statistical tests. Despite multiple good-faith efforts, however, we were unable to detect a “Macbeth Effect” in any of our experiments. We discuss these findings in the context of recent concerns about replicability in the field of experimental social psychology.

Here is my summary:

In a seminal study published in 2006, Zhong and Liljenquist introduced the concept of the "Macbeth Effect," which suggests that moral transgressions lead to a desire for physical cleansing. This phenomenon was inspired by Shakespeare's play "Macbeth," in which Lady Macbeth's obsession with washing her hands reflects her guilt over her murderous actions.

Building on Zhong and Liljenquist's work, Earp et al. (2014) conducted a series of experiments to replicate the Macbeth Effect. They used various methods, including manipulating participants' moral states through writing tasks and exposing them to reminders of moral cleanliness. However, despite their efforts, they were unable to consistently find evidence for the Macbeth Effect.

The authors' inability to replicate the original findings raises questions about the robustness of the Macbeth Effect. They suggest that more research is needed to understand the conditions under which moral transgressions lead to a desire for physical cleansing. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of conducting replications in psychological research to ensure the reliability of findings.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

It’s not only political conservatives who worry about moral purity

K. Gray, W. Blakey, & N. DiMaggio
Originally posted 13 July 23

Here are two excerpts:

What does this have to do with differences in moral psychology? Well, moral psychologists have suggested that politically charged arguments about sexuality, spirituality and other subjects reflect deep differences in the moral values of liberals and conservatives. Research involving scenarios like this one has seemed to indicate that conservatives, unlike liberals, think that maintaining ‘purity’ is a moral good in itself – which for them might mean supporting what they construe as the ‘sanctity of marriage’, for example.

It may seem strange to think about ‘purity’ as a core driver of political differences. But purity, in the moral sense, is an old concept. It pops up in the Hebrew Bible a lot, in taboos around food, menstruation, and divine encounters. When Moses meets God at the Burning Bush, God says to Moses: ‘Do not come any closer, take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Why does God tell Moses to take off his shoes? Not because his shoes magically hurt God, but because shoes are dirty, and it’s disrespectful to wear your shoes in the presence of the creator of the universe. Similarly, in ancient Greece, worshippers were often required to endure long purification rituals before looking at sacred religious idols or engaging in different spiritual rites. These ancient moral practices seem to reflect an intuition that ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’.

In the modern era, purity has repeatedly appeared at the centre of political battlegrounds, as in clashes between US conservatives and liberals over sexual education and mores in the 1990s. It was around this time that the psychologist Jonathan Haidt began formulating a theory to help explain the moral divide. Moral foundations theory argues that liberals and conservatives are divided because they rely on distinct moral values, including purity, to different degrees.


A harm-focused perspective on moral judgments related to ‘purity’ could help us better understand and communicate with moral opponents. We all grasp the importance of protecting ourselves and our loved ones from harm. Learning that people on the ‘other side’ of a political divide care about questions of purity because they connect these to their understanding of harm can help us empathise with different moral opinions. It is easy for a liberal to dismiss a conservative’s condemnation of dead-chicken sex when it is merely said to be ‘impure’; it is harder to be dismissive if it’s suggested that someone who makes a habit of that behaviour might end up harming people.

Explicitly grounding discussions of morality in perceptions of harm could help us all to be better citizens of a ‘small-L liberal’ society – one in which the right to swing our fists ends where others’ noses begin. If something seems disgusting, impure and immoral to you, take some time to try to articulate the harms you intuitively perceive. Talking about these potential harms may help other people understand where you are coming from. Of course, someone might not share your judgment that harm is being done. But identifying perceived harms at least puts the conversation in terms that everyone understands.

Here is my summary:

The authors define purity as "the state of being free from contamination or pollution."  They argue that people on both the left and the right care about purity because they associate it with safety and well-being.
They provide examples of how liberals and conservatives can both use purity-related language, such as "desecrate" and "toxic." They propose a new explanation of moral judgments that suggests that people care about purity when they perceive that 'impure' acts can lead to harm.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Are there really so many moral emotions? Carving morality at its functional joints

Fitouchi L., André J., & Baumard N.
To appear in L. Al-Shawaf & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.)
The Oxford Handbook of Evolution and the Emotions.
New York: Oxford University Press.


In recent decades, a large body of work has highlighted the importance of emotional processes in moral cognition. Since then, a heterogeneous bundle of emotions as varied as anger, guilt, shame, contempt, empathy, gratitude, and disgust have been proposed to play an essential role in moral psychology.  However, the inclusion of these emotions in the moral domain often lacks a clear functional rationale, generating conflations between merely social and properly moral emotions. Here, we build on (i) evolutionary theories of morality as an adaptation for attracting others’ cooperative investments, and on (ii) specifications of the distinctive form and content of moral cognitive representations. On this basis, we argue that only indignation (“moral anger”) and guilt can be rigorously characterized as moral emotions, operating on distinctively moral representations. Indignation functions to reclaim benefits to which one is morally entitled, without exceeding the limits of justice. Guilt functions to motivate individuals to compensate their violations of moral contracts. By contrast, other proposed moral emotions (e.g. empathy, shame, disgust) appear only superficially associated with moral cognitive contents and adaptive challenges. Shame doesn’t track, by design, the respect of moral obligations, but rather social valuation, the two being not necessarily aligned. Empathy functions to motivate prosocial behavior between interdependent individuals, independently of, and sometimes even in contradiction with the prescriptions of moral intuitions. While disgust is often hypothesized to have acquired a moral role beyond its pathogen-avoidance function, we argue that both evolutionary rationales and psychological evidence for this claim remain inconclusive for now.


In this chapter, we have suggested that a specification of the form and function of moral representations leads to a clearer picture of moral emotions. In particular, it enables a principled distinction between moral and non-moral emotions, based on the particular types of cognitive representations they process. Moral representations have a specific content: they represent a precise quantity of benefits that cooperative partners owe each other, a legitimate allocation of costs and benefits that ought to be, irrespective of whether it is achieved by people’s actual behaviors. Humans intuit that they have a duty not to betray their coalition, that innocent people do not deserve to be harmed, that their partner has a right not to be cheated on. Moral emotions can thus be defined as superordinate programs orchestrating cognition, physiology and behavior in accordance with the specific information encoded in these moral representations.    On this basis, indignation and guilt appear as prototypical moral emotions. Indignation (“moral anger”) is activated when one receives fewer benefits than one deserves, and recruits bargaining mechanisms to enforce the violated moral contract. Guilt, symmetrically, is sensitive to one’s failure to honor one’s obligations toward others, and motivates compensation to provide them the missing benefits they deserve. By contrast, often-proposed “moral” emotions – shame, empathy, disgust – seem not to function to compute distinctively moral representations of cooperative obligations, but serve other, non-moral functions – social status management, interdependence, and pathogen avoidance (Figure 2). 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Moral disciplining: The cognitive and evolutionary foundations of puritanical morality

Fitouchi, L., André, J., & Baumard, N. (2022).
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-71.


Why do many societies moralize apparently harmless pleasures, such as lust, gluttony, alcohol, drugs, and even music and dance? Why do they erect temperance, asceticism, sobriety, modesty, and piety as cardinal moral virtues? According to existing theories, this puritanical morality cannot be reduced to concerns for harm and fairness: it must emerge from cognitive systems that did not evolve for cooperation (e.g., disgust-based “Purity” concerns). Here, we argue that, despite appearances, puritanical morality is no exception to the cooperative function of moral cognition. It emerges in response to a key feature of cooperation, namely that cooperation is (ultimately) a long-term strategy, requiring (proximately) the self-control of appetites for immediate gratification. Puritanical moralizations condemn behaviors which, although inherently harmless, are perceived as indirectly facilitating uncooperative behaviors, by impairing the self-control required to refrain from cheating. Drinking, drugs, immodest clothing, and unruly music and dance, are condemned as stimulating short-term impulses, thus facilitating uncooperative behaviors (e.g., violence, adultery, free-riding). Overindulgence in harmless bodily pleasures (e.g., masturbation, gluttony) is perceived as making people slave to their urges, thus altering abilities to resist future antisocial temptations. Daily self-discipline, ascetic temperance, and pious ritual observance are perceived as cultivating the self-control required to honor prosocial obligations. We review psychological, historical, and ethnographic evidence supporting this account. We use this theory to explain the fall of puritanism in WEIRD societies, and discuss the cultural evolution of puritanical norms. Explaining puritanical norms does not require adding mechanisms unrelated to cooperation in our models of the moral mind.


Many societies develop apparently unnecessarily austere norms, depriving people from the harmless pleasures of life. In face of the apparent disconnect of puritanical values from cooperation, the latter have either been ignored by cooperation-centered theories of morality, or been explained by mechanisms orthogonal to cooperative challenges, such as concerns for the purity of the soul, rooted in disgust intuitions. We have argued for a theoretical reintegration of puritanical morality in the otherwise theoretically grounded and empirically supported perspective of morality as cooperation. For deep evolutionary reasons, cooperation as a long-term strategy requires resisting impulses for immediate pleasures. To protect cooperative interactions from the threat of temptation, many societies develop preemptive moralizations aimed at facilitating moral self-control. This may explain why, aside from values of fairness, reciprocity, solidarity or loyalty, many societies develop hedonically restrictive standards of sobriety, asceticism, temperance, modesty, piety, and self-discipline.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Affective Harm Account (AHA) of Moral Judgment: Reconciling Cognition and Affect, Dyadic Morality and Disgust, Harm and Purity

Kurt Gray, Jennifer K. MacCormack, et al.
In Press (2022)
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Moral psychology has long debated whether moral judgment is rooted in harm vs. affect. We reconcile this debate with the Affective Harm Account (AHA) of moral judgment. The AHA understands harm as an intuitive perception (i.e., perceived harm), and divides “affect” into two: embodied visceral arousal (i.e., gut feelings) and stimulus-directed affective appraisals (e.g., ratings of disgustingness). The AHA was tested in a randomized, double-blind pharmacological experiment with healthy young adults judging the immorality, harmfulness, and disgustingness of everyday moral scenarios (e.g., lying) and unusual purity scenarios (e.g., sex with a corpse) after receiving either a placebo or the beta-blocker propranolol (a drug that dampens visceral arousal). Results confirmed the three key hypotheses of the AHA. First, perceived harm and affective appraisals are neither competing nor independent but intertwined. Second, although
both perceived harm and affective appraisals predict moral judgment, perceived harm is consistently relevant across all scenarios (in line with the Theory of Dyadic Morality), whereas affective appraisals are especially relevant in unusual purity scenarios (in line with affect-as-information theory). Third, the “gut feelings” of visceral arousal are not as important to morality as often believed. Dampening visceral arousal (via propranolol) did not directly impact moral judgment, but instead changed the relative contribution of affective appraisals to moral judgment—and only in unusual purity scenarios. By embracing a constructionist view of the mind that blurs traditional dichotomies, the AHA reconciles historic harm-centric and current affect-centric theories, parsimoniously explaining judgment differences across various moral scenarios without requiring any “moral foundations.”


Moral psychology has long debated whether moral judgment is grounded in affect or harm. Seeking to reconcile these apparently competing perspectives, we have proposed an Affective Harm Account (AHA) of moral judgment. This account is conciliatory because it highlights the importance of both perceived harm and affect, not as competing considerations but as joint partners—two different horses yoked together pulling the cart of moral judgment.

The AHA also adds clarity to the previously murky nature of “affect” in moral psychology, differentiating it both in nature and measurement as (at least) two phenomena—embodied, free-floating, visceral arousal (i.e., “gut feelings”) and self-reported, context-bound, affective appraisals (i.e., “this situation is gross”). The importance of affect in moral judgment—especially the “gut feelings” of visceral arousal—was tested via administration of propranolol, which dampens visceral arousal via beta-adrenergic receptor blockade. Importantly, propranolol allows us to manipulate more general visceral arousal (rather than targeting a specific organ, like the gut, or a specific state, like nausea). This increases the potential generalizability of these findings to other moral scenarios (beyond disgust) where visceral arousal might be relevant. We measured the effect of propranolol (vs. placebo) on ratings of moral condemnation, perceived harm, and affective appraisals (i.e., operationalized as ratings of disgust, as in much past work). These ratings were obtained for both everyday moral scenarios (Hofmann et al., 2018)—which are dyadic in structure and thus obviously linked to harm—and for unusual purity scenarios, which are frequently linked to affective appraisals of disgust (Horberg et al., 2009). This study offers support for the three hypotheses of the AHA.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

How pills undermine skills: Moralization of cognitive enhancement and causal selection

E. Mihailov, B. R. López, F. Cova & I. R. Hannikainen
Consciousness and Cognition
Volume 91, May 2021, 103120


Despite the promise to boost human potential and wellbeing, enhancement drugs face recurring ethical scrutiny. The present studies examined attitudes toward cognitive enhancement in order to learn more about these ethical concerns, who has them, and the circumstances in which they arise. Fairness-based concerns underlay opposition to competitive use—even though enhancement drugs were described as legal, accessible and affordable. Moral values also influenced how subsequent rewards were causally explained: Opposition to competitive use reduced the causal contribution of the enhanced winner’s skill, particularly among fairness-minded individuals. In a follow-up study, we asked: Would the normalization of enhancement practices alleviate concerns about their unfairness? Indeed, proliferation of competitive cognitive enhancement eradicated fairness-based concerns, and boosted the perceived causal role of the winner’s skill. In contrast, purity-based concerns emerged in both recreational and competitive contexts, and were not assuaged by normalization.


• Views on cognitive enhancement reflect both purity and fairness concerns.

• Fairness, but not purity, concerns are surmounted by normalizing use.

• Moral opposition to pills undermines user’s perceived skills.

From the Discussion

In line with a growing literature on causal selection (Alicke, 1992; Icard et al., 2017; Kominsky et al. 2015), judgments of the enhanced user’s skill aligned with participants’ moral attitudes. Participants who held permissive attitudes were more likely to causally attribute success to agents’ skill and effort, while participants who held restrictive attitudes were more likely to view the pill as causally responsible. This association resulted in stronger denial of competitive users’ talent and ability, particularly among fairness-minded individuals. 

The moral foundation of purity, comprising norms related to spiritual sanctity and bodily propriety, and which appeals predominantly to political conservatives (Graham et al., 2009), also predicted attitudes toward enhancement. Purity-minded individuals were more likely to condemn enhancement users, regardless of whether cognitive enhancement was normal or rare. This categorical opposition may elucidate the origin of conservative bioethicists’ (e.g., Kass, 2003) attitudes toward human enhancement: i.e., in self-directed norms regulating the proper care of one’s own body (see also Koverola et al., 2021). Finally, whereas explicit reasoning about interpersonal concerns and the unjust treatment of others accompanied fairness-based opposition, our qualitative analyses data did not reveal a cogent, purity-based rationale—which could be interpreted as evidence that purity-based opposition is not guided by moral reasoning to the same degree (Mihailov, 2016). 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Justin Welby tells Church of England to stop using NDAs amid racism claims

Originally posted 20 Apr 21

Justin Welby said he had not been aware confidentiality agreements were being used to stop people speaking publicly.

He told Times Radio the documentary was "rightly shaming".

Mr Welby added that he was "horrified" to hear the extent of racist abuse within the Church.

"I have said many times that I am totally against NDAs [non-disclosure agreements]. NDAs are unacceptable. I am just horrified by that and horrified by the fact of racism," he said.

Together with the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, he has written to senior members of the Church, telling them confidentiality agreements are no longer to be used.

The Church of England is releasing a report later this week, which it says will include plans to address racism within its own ranks.

Dr Elizabeth Henry, the Church's former adviser on race relations, quit her job last year because she said she felt disillusioned.

"I felt frustrated by the lack of progress with issues of racism," she told Panorama.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Liberty University vs. Jerry Falwell Jr.: A white Christian morality tale

Anthea Butler
Originally posted 20 Apr 21

Here is an excerpt:

The story of Falwell's fall from grace, the Liberty lawsuit and the struggle to regain Liberty's moral high ground is a larger morality tale for the white evangelical movement. After years of proclaiming that sexual, fiscal and spiritual morality were important for their faith and institutions, white evangelicals showed America otherwise by overwhelmingly supporting Donald Trump. Falwell's role in solidifying that support, like his father's Moral Majority movement, was about aligning white evangelicals to Republican power, money and prestige.

But now that's coming back to haunt him. His sin, in the eyes of Liberty University, was to betray the carefully crafted image his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., created, with social media posts and an unseemly public persona that worshipped wealth. White evangelicals have been very good at consolidating power, which they often prioritize over true morality. But heaven help the man who tarnishes the brand.

In response to the lawsuit, Falwell claims that the university has "gone off the rails" and that the suit is "full of lies and half-truths." Falwell filed his own defamation lawsuit against Liberty in October, only to drop it two months later. He continues, however, to claim that the university has damaged his reputation.

Responding to the lawsuit via Twitter, Falwell alleged that "the Exec. Comm of the LU board has made another attempt to defame me and discredit my record following a series of harsh and unnecessary actions against my children, Becki and me."

Monday, March 15, 2021

What is 'purity'? Conceptual murkiness in moral psychology.

Gray, K., DiMaggio, N., Schein, C., 
& Kachanoff, F. (2021, February 3).


Purity is an important topic in psychology. It has a long history in moral discourse, has helped catalyze paradigm shifts in moral psychology, and is thought to underlie political differences. But what exactly is “purity?” To answer this question, we review the history of purity and then systematically examine 158 psychology papers that define and operationalization (im)purity. In contrast to the many concepts defined by what they are, purity is often understood by what it isn’t—obvious dyadic harm. Because of this “contra”-harm understanding, definitions and operationalizations of purity are quite varied. Acts used to operationalize impurity include taking drugs, eating your sister’s scab, vandalizing a church, wearing unmatched clothes, buying music with sexually explicit lyrics, and having a messy house. This heterogeneity makes purity a “chimera”—an entity composed of various distinct elements. Our review reveals that the “contra-chimera” of purity has 9 different scientific understandings, and that most papers define purity differently from how they operationalize it. Although people clearly moralize diverse concerns—including those related to religion, sex, and food—such heterogeneity in conceptual definitions is problematic for theory development. Shifting definitions of purity provide “theoretical degrees of freedom” that make falsification extremely difficult. Doubts about the coherence and consistency of purity raise questions about key purity-related claims of modern moral psychology, including the nature of political differences and the cognitive foundations of moral judgment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Moral Inversion of the Republican Party

Peter Wehner
The Atlantic
Originally posted 4 Feb 20

Here are two excerpts:

So how did the Republican Party end up in this dark place?

It’s complex, but surely part of the explanation rests with the base of the party, which today is composed of a significant number of people who are militant, inflamed, and tribalistic. They are populist, anti-institutional, and filled with grievances. They very nearly view politics as the war of all against all. And in far too many cases, they have entered a world of make-believe. That doesn’t describe the whole of the Republican Party’s grassroots movement, of course, but it describes a disturbingly large portion of it, and Republicans who hope to rebuild the party will get nowhere unless and until they acknowledge this. (Why the base has become radicalized is itself a tangled story.)

The base’s movement toward extremism preceded Trump, and inevitably complicated life for Republican lawmakers; they were understandably wary of speaking out in ways that would alienate their supporters, that would catalyze a primary challenge and might well cost them a general election. But that fear and reticence in the age of Trump—a man willing to cross any line, violate any standard, dehumanize any opponent—produced a catastrophe. In some significant respects, the GOP is a party that has been morally inverted.


Republicans can’t erase the past four years; with rare exceptions they were, to varying degrees, complicit in the Trump legacy—the lies, the lawlessness, the brutality of our politics, the wounds to our country. But there is the opportunity for Republicans in a post-Trump era to forge a different path, one that again places morality at the center of politics. Republicans can choose to live within the truth rather than within the lie, to stand for simple decency, to play a role in building a state that is reasonably humane and just. This starts with its political leadership, which needs to break some terribly bad habits, including thinking one thing and saying another. It starts with the courage to confront the maliciousness in its ranks rather than cater to it.

I don’t know if Republicans are up to the task right now, and I certainly understand those who doubt it. But there are plenty of people willing to help them try.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Reexamining the role of intent in moral judgements of purity violations

Kupfer, T. R., Inbar, Y. & Yybur, J.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 91, November 2020, 104043


Perceived intent is a pivotal factor in moral judgement: intentional moral violations are considered more morally wrong than accidental ones. However, a body of recent research argues that intent is less important for moral judgements of impure acts – that it, those acts that are condemned because they elicit disgust. But the literature supporting this claim is limited in multiple ways. We conducted a new test of the hypothesis that condemnation of purity violations operates independently from intent. In Study 1, participants judged the wrongness of moral violations that were either intentional or unintentional and were either harmful (e.g., stealing) or impure (e.g., public defecation). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness ratings that did not vary across harmful and disgusting scenarios. In Study 2, a registered report, participants judged the wrongness of disgust-eliciting moral violations that were either mundane and dyadic (e.g., serving contaminated food) or abnormal and self-directed (e.g., consuming urine). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness judgements that did not vary across mundane and abnormal scenarios. Findings challenge the claim that moral judgements about purity violations rely upon unique psychological mechanisms that are insensitive to information about the wrongdoer's mental state.

From the Discussion

Across two studies, we found that participants rated intentional disgusting acts more morally wrong than unintentional disgusting acts. Study 1 showed that intent had a large effect on moral judgement of mundane, dyadic impure acts, such as serving contaminated food, or urinating in public. Moreover, the effect of intent on moral judgement was not different for harm and purity violations. Study 2 showed that there was also a large effect of intent on moral judgement of abnormal, self-directed, purity violations, using scenarios similar to those frequently used in past research, such as eating a pet dog (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016), drinking urine (e.g., Young & Saxe, 2011), or eating cloned human meat (e.g., Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011). In Study 2 the effect of intent did not differ across abnormal, self-directed purity violations and mundane, dyadic purity violations. These results are inconsistent with previous findings purporting to show little or no effect of intent on moral judgements of impure acts (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016; Chakroff et al., 2015; Young & Saxe, 2011).

Italics added.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Religious moral righteousness over care: a review and a meta-analysis

Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 40, August 2021, Pages 79-85


Does religion enhance an ‘extended’ morality? We review research on religiousness and Schwartz’s values, Haidt’s moral foundations (through a meta-analysis of 45 studies), and deontology versus consequentialism (a review of 27 studies). Instead of equally encompassing prosocial (care for others) and other values (duties to the self, the community, and the sacred), religiosity implies a restrictive morality: endorsement of values denoting social order (conservation, loyalty, and authority), self-control (low autonomy and self-expansion), and purity more strongly than care; and, furthermore, a deontological, non-consequentialist, righteous orientation, that could result in harm to (significant) others. Religious moral righteousness is highest in fundamentalism and weakens in secular countries. Only spirituality reflects an extended morality (care, fairness, and the binding foundations). Evolutionarily, religious morality seems to be more coalitional and ‘hygienic’ than caring.


• We meta-analyzed 45 studies on religion and Haidt’s five moral foundations.

• Religiosity implies high purity, authority, and loyalty; care is involved only weakly.

• Only spirituality reflects extended morality: care, fairness, and the binding values.

• Results parallel findings on religion and Schwartz’s values across the world.

• Religious morality is primarily deontological, non-consequentialist, and righteous.


On the basis of the findings of the various research areas examined in this article, we think it is reasonable to infer that the role of religious (ingroup) prosociality in forming and consolidating large coalitions involving reciprocal interpersonal helping may have been overestimated in the contemporary evolutionary psychology of religion.  This role may not reflect the very center of religious morality. Rather, the results of the present review suggest that the evolutionary perspectives of religion focusing on the importance of hygienic and righteous/coalitional morality (avoidance of pathogens, loyalty, group conformity, as well as preservation of personal and social order) may be more central in explaining, from a moral perspective, religions’ origin and maintenance.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Changing morals: we’re more compassionate than 100 years ago, but more judgmental too

N. Haslam, M. J. McGrady, & M. A. Wheeler
The Conversation
Originally published 4 March 19

Here is an excerpt:

Differently moral

We found basic moral terms (see the black line below) became dramatically scarcer in English-language books as the 20th century unfolded – which fits the de-moralisation narrative. But an equally dramatic rebound began in about 1980, implying a striking re-moralisation.

The five moral foundations, on the other hand, show a vastly changing trajectory. The purity foundation (green line) shows the same plunge and rebound as the basic moral terms. Ideas of sacredness, piety and purity, and of sin, desecration and indecency, fell until about 1980, and rose afterwards.

The other moralities show very different pathways. Perhaps surprisingly, the egalitarian morality of fairness (blue) showed no consistent rise or fall.

In contrast, the hierarchy-based morality of authority (grey) underwent a gentle decline for the first half of the century. It then sharply rose as the gathering crisis of authority shook the Western world in the late 1960s. This morality of obedience and conformity, insubordination and rebellion, then receded equally sharply through the 1970s.

Ingroup morality (orange), reflected in the communal language of loyalty and unity, insiders and outsiders, displays the clearest upward trend through the 20th century. Discernible bumps around the two world wars point to passing elevations in the “us and them” morality of threatened communities.

Finally, harm-based morality (red) presents a complex but intriguing trend. Its prominence falls from 1900 to the 1970s, interrupted by similar wartime bumps when themes of suffering and destruction became understandably urgent. But harm rises steeply from about 1980 in the absence of a single dominating global conflict.

The info is here.

Friday, July 24, 2020

These Evangelical Women Are Abandoning Trump and the Church

Sara Stankorb
Originally posted 23 July 20

Here is an excerpt:

In exit polls from the 2016 election, 80% of white evangelicals and the majority of self-identified Christians said they voted for Donald Trump. The thrice-married, profane, biblically illiterate, sexually predacious candidate mirrored no beatitudes. While some believers rejected Trump for lack of decency, for many Christian voters, his personal failings were not disqualifying — here, at last, was a president who could muscle forward their political interests.

In her 2019 book, Red State Christians, journalist and Lutheran pastor Angela Denker describes traveling across the country after the election, talking to Christian voters and trying to understand their relationship with Donald Trump. Denker argues Trump may not know much about the Bible or evangelical Christianity, but his rhetoric resonated with a civic religion common in many Evangelical churches, especially in the South, “with its unique blend of nostalgia, plus a little misogyny and dog-whistle race politics on the side.” There’s a degree to which many churches have adopted a Christian nationalism that has wrapped faith tightly in patriotism and relies, in some cases, less on the gospel and more on “God, guns, and country.”

Many Southern Baptist churches celebrate the Sundays closest to the Fourth of July and Veterans Day with as much fervor as Easter, with services that might feature the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sermons on American exceptionalism, and video montages of war veterans. It’s a church-country linkage popularized during the Cold War, a perceived battle against threats to “Christian America” rooted in a dominionist theology that portrays the white European settlement of America as a fulfillment of God’s promise. Winning the culture wars and “restoring” Christian political primacy became a spiritual mandate, a restoration of God’s promise. By the time Obama’s administration championed same-sex marriage and birth control coverage, “Democrats sounded like foreigners to Red State Christians across the South and rural America,” writes Dennker.

The info is here.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Marine Corps bans public display of Confederate flag on all bases worldwide

Elliot Henney
Originally posted 6 June 20

The Marine Corps has banned all public displays of the Confederate flag from Marine Corp installations worldwide.

The Marines issued guidance on Friday on how commanders are to identify and remove the display of the flag within workplaces, common-access areas, and public areas on their installations.

The ban includes bumper stickers, clothing, mugs, posters, and flags.

The Marines say that the flag "presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline."

Exceptions to the new rule include state flags that incorporate the Confederate flag, state-issued license plates with a depiction of the Confederate flag, and Confederate soldier's gravesites.

The info is here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Constructionist Review of Morality and Emotions: No Evidence for Specific Links Between Moral Content and Discrete Emotions

Image result for moral emotionsCameron, C. D., Lindquist, K. A., & Gray K.
Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 
2015 Nov;19(4):371-94.
doi: 10.1177/1088868314566683.


Morality and emotions are linked, but what is the nature of their correspondence? Many "whole number" accounts posit specific correspondences between moral content and discrete emotions, such that harm is linked to anger, and purity is linked to disgust. A review of the literature provides little support for these specific morality-emotion links. Moreover, any apparent specificity may arise from global features shared between morality and emotion, such as affect and conceptual content. These findings are consistent with a constructionist perspective of the mind, which argues against a whole number of discrete and domain-specific mental mechanisms underlying morality and emotion. Instead, constructionism emphasizes the flexible combination of basic and domain-general ingredients such as core affect and conceptualization in creating the experience of moral judgments and discrete emotions. The implications of constructionism in moral psychology are discussed, and we propose an experimental framework for rigorously testing morality-emotion links.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Certain Moral Values May Lead to More Prejudice, Discrimination

American Psychological Association Pressor
Released December 20, 2018

People who value following purity rules over caring for others are more likely to view gay and transgender people as less human, which leads to more prejudice and support for discriminatory public policies, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“After the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality and the debate over bathroom rights for transgender people, we realized that the arguments were often not about facts but about opposing moral beliefs,” said Andrew E. Monroe, PhD, of Appalachian State University and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General®.

“Thus, we wanted to understand if moral values were an underlying cause of prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Monroe and his co-author, Ashby Plant, PhD, of Florida State University, focused on two specific moral values — what they called sanctity, or a strict adherence to purity rules and disgust over any acts that are considered morally contaminating, and care, which centers on disapproval of others who cause suffering without just cause — because they predicted those values might be behind the often-heated debates over LGBTQ rights. 

The researchers conducted five experiments with nearly 1,100 participants. Overall, they found that people who prioritized sanctity over care were more likely to believe that gay and transgender people, people with AIDS and prostitutes were more impulsive, less rational and, therefore, something less than human. These attitudes increased prejudice and acceptance of discriminatory public policies, according to Monroe.

The info is here.

The research is here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How Trump’s Hateful Speech Raises the Risks of Violence

Cass Sunstein
Originally posted October 28, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Is President Donald Trump responsible, in some sense, for the mailing of bombs to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders? Is he responsible, in some sense, for the slaughter at the Pittsburgh synagogue?

If we are speaking in terms of causation, the most reasonable answer to both questions, and the safest, is: We don’t really know. More specifically, we don’t know whether these particular crimes would have occurred in the absence of Trump’s hateful and vicious rhetoric (including his enthusiasm for the despicable cry, “Lock her up!”).

But it’s also safe, and plenty reasonable, to insist that across the American population, hateful and vicious rhetoric from the president of the United States is bound to increase risks of violence. Because of that rhetoric, the likelihood of this kind of violence is greater than it would otherwise be. The president is responsible for elevating the risk that people will try to kill Democrats and others seen by some of his followers as “enemies of the people” (including journalists and Jews).

To see why, we should investigate one of the most striking findings in modern social psychology that has been replicated on dozens of occasions. It goes by the name of “group polarization.”

The basic idea is that when people are listening and talking to one another, they tend to end up in a more extreme position in the same direction of the views with which they began. Groups of like-minded people can become radicalized.

The info is here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

For some evangelicals, a choice between Moore and morality

Marc Fisher
The Washington Post
Originally posted November 16, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

What’s happening in the churches of Alabama — a state where half the residents consider themselves evangelical Christians, double the national average, according to a Pew Research study — is nothing less than a battle for the meaning of evangelism, some church leaders say. It is a titanic struggle between those who believe there must be one clear, unalterable moral standard and those who argue that to win the war for the nation’s soul, Christians must accept morally flawed leaders.

Evangelicals are not alone in shifting their view of the role moral character should play in choosing political leaders. Between 2011 and last year, the percentage of Americans who say politicians who commit immoral acts in their private lives can still behave ethically in public office jumped to 61 percent from 44 percent, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings poll. During the same period, the shift among evangelicals was even more dramatic, moving from to 72 percent from 30 percent, the survey found.

“What you’re seeing here is rank hypocrisy,” said John Fea, an evangelical Christian who teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “These are evangelicals who have decided that the way to win the culture is now uncoupled from character. Their goal is the same as it was 30 years ago, to restore America to its Christian roots, but the political playbook has changed.

The article is here.

And yes, I live in Mechanicsburg, PA, by I don't know John Fea.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Judgments of Moral Responsibility and Wrongness for Intentional and Accidental Harm and Purity Violations

Mary Parkinson and Ruth M.J. Byrne
The Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology 


Two experiments examine whether people reason differently about intentional and accidental violations in the moral domains of harm and purity, by examining moral responsibility and wrongness judgments for violations that affect others or the self. The first experiment shows that intentional violations are judged to be worse than accidental ones, regardless of whether they are harm or purity violations, e.g., Sam poisons his colleague versus Sam eats his dog, when participants judge how morally responsible was Sam for what he did, or how morally wrong was what Sam did. The second experiment shows that violations of others are judged to be worse than violations of the self, regardless of whether they are harm or purity violations, when their content and context is matched, e.g., on a tropical holiday Sam orders poisonous starfruit for dinner for his friend, or for himself, versus on a tropical holiday Sam orders dog meat for dinner for his friend, or for himself. Moral reasoning is influenced by whether the violation was intentional or accidental, and whether its target was the self or another person, rather than by the moral domain, such as harm or purity.

The article is here.