Category: Morality

Private Good Deeds That Appear To Compensate For Bad Public Behaviour Make People Seem Hypocritical

By Emma Young

It’s hard to find a clearer example of moral hypocrisy than this: in 2015, Josh Duggar, a family values activist and director of a lobby group set up “to champion marriage and family as the foundation of civilisation, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society” was outed as holding an account with a dating service for people who are married or in relationships.

As Kieran O’Connor at the University of Virginia and colleagues point out in a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, Duggar’s apparently virtuous public image was in stark contrast to his private behaviour. This was a classic case, then, of hypocrisy. But as the team now reveal through a compelling series of seven studies, another type of discrepancy is seen as being hypocritical too. That’s when individuals are perceived to use private good deeds to assuage their guilt over morally dubious public works.

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We Tend To See Acts We Disapprove Of As Deliberate — A Bias That Helps Explain Why Conservatives Believe In Free Will More Than Liberals

By guest blogger Jesse Singal

One of the most important and durable findings in moral and political psychology is that there is a tail-wags-the-dog aspect to human morality. Most of us like to think we have carefully thought-through, coherent moral systems that guide our behaviour and judgements. In reality our behaviour and judgements often stem from gut-level impulses, and only after the fact do we build elaborate moral rationales to justify what we believe and do.

A new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines this issue through a fascinating lens: free will. Or, more specifically, via people’s judgments about how much free will others had when committing various transgressions. The team, led by Jim A. C. Everett of the University of Kent and Cory J. Clark of Durham University, ran 14 studies geared at evaluating the possibility that at least some of the time the moral tail wags the dog: first people decide whether someone is blameworthy, and then judge how much free will they have, in a way that allows them to justify blaming those they want to blame and excusing those they want to excuse.

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When Deciding How To Improve Our Personalities, Moral Character Is Not A Priority

By Emily Reynolds

No matter how high your self-confidence, it’s likely that you have certain traits you’d change given the opportunity: maybe you’d turn down your anxiety, feel more outgoing in company, or be a bit less lazy. One 2016 study found that 78% of people wanted to better embody at least one of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, or openness to experience), so the desire to change who you are is not uncommon.

But are we so keen to change how moral we are? That is, how concerned are we really about being a good or bad person? A new study published in Psychological Science suggests that we’d rather spend time improving those parts of us that aren’t morally relevant, with traits like honesty, compassion and fairness taking a back seat.

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Liberals And Conservatives Feel Moral Outrage In Different Parts Of The Body — But There’s Also A Lot Of Overlap

By Emily Reynolds

There are lots of differences between those who express opposing political affiliations — and they may not just be ideological. Liberals and conservatives have different shopping habits, for instance, with one series of studies finding that liberals preferred products that made them feel unique, whilst conservatives picked brands that made them feel better than others. They even view health risks differently when they’re choosing what to eat.

But could there also be physiological differences between liberals and conservatives? Some evidence seems to suggest this might be the case, though as we reported earlier this month past findings, such as differences in physiological responses to fear, may not be as solid as previously thought. However, new research in Psychological Science has found that people of different political affiliations may differ in another way: where in the body they feel emotions relating to moral concerns. Continue reading “Liberals And Conservatives Feel Moral Outrage In Different Parts Of The Body — But There’s Also A Lot Of Overlap”

Character – “Caught” Or “Taught”?

Multi-ethnic preschool teacher and students in classroomBy Emma Young

How do you measure the success of a child’s education? Test results are one thing, and according to a recent global survey, British children have risen in the league tables for both maths and reading. However, these same teens reported among the lowest levels of life satisfaction. They may be performing well academically, but they’re not thriving.

This isn’t a problem only in the UK, of course. At a recent conference that I attended, organised by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, research psychologists, education specialists, economists and philosophers from around the world met to discuss how to help individuals and societies flourish in the 21st century. One word hung in the air as key: “character”.

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The More We See Fake News, The More Likely We Are To Share It

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By Emily Reynolds

Over the last few years, so-called “fake news” — purposefully untrue misinformation spread online — has become more and more of a concern. From extensive media coverage of the issue to government committees being set up for its investigation, fake news is at the top of the agenda — and more often than we’d like, on top of our newsfeeds.

But how does exposure to misinformation impact the way we respond to it? A new study, published in Psychological Science, suggests that the more we see it, the more we’re likely to spread it. And considering the fact that fake news is more likely to go viral than real news, this could have worrying implications.

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Good At Heart? 10 Psychology Findings That Reveal The Better Side Of Humanity

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By Matthew Warren

Last year we published a list of ten psychology findings that reveal the worst of human nature. Research has shown us to be dogmatic and over-confident, we wrote, with a tendency to look down on minorities and assume that the downtrodden deserve their fate. Even young children take pleasure in the suffering of others, we pointed out.

But that’s only half of the story. Every day, people around the world fight against injustices, dedicate time and resources to helping those less fortunate than them, or just perform simple acts of kindness that brighten the lives of those around them. And psychology has as much to say about this brighter side of humanity as it does the darker one. So here we explore some of the research that demonstrates just how kind and compassionate we can be.

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Psychological Study Of “Moral Grandstanding” Helps Explain Why Social Media Is So Toxic

GettyImages-529194971.jpgBy Emma Young

What is it about social media that makes discussions about controversial topics so caustic and unpleasant? A variety of reasons have been put forward — such as the tendency for outrage to self-perpetuate, as we reported earlier this week. But now a new study, published in PLoS One, implicates a concept so far explored in philosophy rather than psychology. This is “moral grandstanding” — publicly opining on morality and politics to impress others, and so to seek social status.

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We’re Not Great At Thinking About The Long-Term Consequences Of Catastrophes That Threaten Our Existence

GettyImages-187023310.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Imagine that tomorrow a catastrophe wipes out 99% of the world’s population. That’s clearly not a desirable scenario — we would all agree that a peaceful, continued existence is preferable. Now imagine that the disaster kills everyone, wiping out the human race. Most of us would rate that as an even worse occurrence.

But how do we see the relative severity of these different possibilities?  Is there a bigger difference between nothing happening and 99% of people dying, or between 99% and 100% of people being wiped out?

This thought-experiment was first posed by the philosopher Derek Parfit, who thought most people would believe the first difference is greater — after all, going from business-as-usual to almost total annihilation is a big step. He, on the other hand, felt the second difference was greater by far: even if just a tiny fraction of humans survive, civilisation could continue for millions of years, but if humanity is wiped from the face of the Earth, then it’s all over.

Now a new study in Scientific Reports has found that, like Parfit predicted, most people don’t seem to share his view of human extinction as a “uniquely bad” catastrophe — until they are forced to go beyond their gut feeling and reflect on what extinction really means in the long term.

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When People Close To Us Behave Immorally, We Are Inclined To Protect Them — Even If Their Crimes Are Particularly Heinous

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By Matthew Warren

If you saw a stranger break into someone’s house in the middle of the night, you’d probably call the police. But what if it was a friend or family member who was committing the crime? A new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks at the tension between wanting to punish people who commit immoral acts and protecting those with whom we have close relationships. And it turns out that if someone close to us behaves immorally, we tend to err on the side of protecting them — even if their crime is especially egregious.

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