On the Right Side

Kevin Lewis

March 15, 2010

The contact principle and utilitarian moral judgments in young children

Sandra Pellizzoni, Michael Siegal & Luca Surian
Developmental Science, March 2010, Pages 265-270

In three experiments involving 207 preschoolers and 28 adults, we investigated the extent to which young children base moral judgments of actions aimed to protect others on utilitarian principles. When asked to judge the rightness of intervening to hurt one person in order to save five others, the large majority of children aged 3 to 5 years advocated intervention in contrast to another situation with the reverse cost/benefit ratio. This course of action was seen as acceptable by most children only when it did not require the agent to have physical contact with the victim and the victim's harm was intended to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Overall, the children's responses were remarkably similar to those reported in adult studies. These findings document the extent to which some constraints on moral judgment are present in early human development.


How I Vote Depends on How I Feel: The Differential Impact of Anger and Fear on Political Information Processing

Michael Parker & Linda Isbell
Psychological Science, forthcoming

"These results suggest that fear predicts greater reliance on detailed issue-agreement information as a basis for voting decisions, whereas anger predicts greater reliance on general criteria...Feelings of anger may promote voting for candidates who are well recognized, regardless of their beliefs on issues. However, fear may encourage individuals to vote for candidates whose positions on specific issues are congruent with their own, thus leading to more thoughtful, meaningful, and self-relevant choices."


System Justification and the Meaning of Life: Are the Existential Benefits of Ideology Distributed Unequally Across Racial Groups?

Lindsay Rankin, John Jost & Cheryl Wakslak
Social Justice Research, September 2009, Pages 312-333

In this research, we investigated the relations among system justification, religiosity, and subjective well-being in a sample of nationally representative low-income respondents in the United States. We hypothesized that ideological endorsement of the status quo would be associated with certain existential and other psychological benefits, but these would not necessarily be evenly distributed across racial groups. Results revealed that religiosity was positively associated with subjective well-being in general, but the relationship between system justification and well-being varied considerably as a function of racial group membership. For low-income European Americans, stronger endorsement of system justification as an ideology was associated with increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and a wide range of existential benefits, including life satisfaction and a subjective sense of security, meaning, and mastery. These findings are consistent with the notion that system justification satisfies psychological needs for personal control and serves a palliative function for its adherents. However, many of these effects were considerably weakened or even reversed for African American respondents. Thus, the psychological benefits associated with religiosity existed for both racial groups, whereas the benefits of system justification were distributed unequally across racial groups.


Moral Decisions and Testosterone: When the Ends Justify the Means

Dana Carney & Malia Mason
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Behavioral endocrinology research suggests that testosterone may play a role in moral decision making. Studies involving human and nonhuman animals indicate that high basal testosterone is associated with decreased aversion to risk and an increased threshold for conflict, fear, stress, and threat. We tested the role of testosterone in moral decision making. We predicted and found that individuals high in testosterone are more likely to make utilitarian decisions - specifically when doing so involves acts of aggression and social cost.


Explaining Mass Support for Agricultural Protectionism: Evidence from a Survey Experiment During the Global Recession

Megumi Naoi & Ikuo Kume
University of California Working Paper, February 2010

Why do citizens in advanced industrialized countries bear the high price of agricultural products? Conventional wisdom suggests that agricultural interests secure government protection because producers are concentrated and better politically organized than diffused consumers. Due to its focus on producer capacity for collective action, however, the literature fails to account for the high levels of mass support for agricultural protectionism in advanced industrialized nations. This paper presents new evidence from a survey experiment in Japan conducted during the current global recession (December 2008) that accounts for this puzzle. Using randomly assigned visual stimuli, the experiment activates respondents' identification with either producer or consumer interests and proceeds to ask attitudinal questions regarding food imports. The results suggest that consumer-priming has no reductive or additive effects on the respondents' support for liberalizing food imports. Surprisingly, the producer-priming increases respondents' opposition to food import, particularly among those who fear future job insecurity. We further disentangle the puzzling finding that consumers think like producers for the issue of food import along two mechanisms: "sympathy" for farmers and "projection" of their own job insecurities. The results lend strong support to the projection hypothesis.


Influence of Message Sidedness, Pictures, and Need for Cognition on Beliefs and Behavior: The Terri Schiavo Case

Michael Czuchry & Brooke Gray
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, March 2009, Pages 762-789

The Terri Schiavo case received intense national and international media coverage. The current investigation examined students' beliefs on whether or not Terri's feeding tube should have been removed, as well as attitudes and behavior. Students either received a persuasive message that came from the husband's perspective or the parents' perspective, crossed with a picture that either suggested Terri was interactive vs. one that suggested she was not. The results indicate that beliefs were altered by the perspective that students received, even after intense media coverage had presumably "hardened" attitudes. Students with low or high need for cognition were also influenced by pictures that either matched or mismatched the perspective they received.


Socioeconomic Status and Beliefs about God's Influence in Everyday Life

Scott Schieman
Sociology of Religion, Spring 2010, Pages 25-51

This study examines the differences in beliefs about God's influence in everyday life across levels of socioeconomic status (SES) and whether that association is contingent upon religious involvement (i.e., frequency of praying, attendance, reading religious texts, and subjective religiosity). I focus specifically on the beliefs in divine involvement and divine control. Using data from two national 2005 surveys of Americans, I observe the following: (1) overall, SES is associated negatively with beliefs in divine involvement and control; (2) with the exception of reading religious texts, each indicator of religious involvement is associated with higher levels of beliefs in divine involvement or divine control; (3) SES interacts with each dimension of religious involvement such that the negative association between SES and divine involvement or control is attenuated at higher levels of religious involvement. I discuss the contributions of this research for theoretical perspectives on the relationship between SES and beliefs about God's influence in everyday life, underscoring the need to assess religious involvement in these processes.


"End-of-life" biases in moral evaluations of others

George Newman, Kristi Lockhart & Frank Keil
Cognition, May 2010, Pages 343-349

When evaluating the moral character of others, people show a strong bias to more heavily weigh behaviors at the end of an individual's life, even if those behaviors arise in light of an overwhelmingly longer duration of contradictory behavior. Across four experiments, we find that this "end-of-life" bias uniquely applies to intentional changes in behavior that immediately precede death, and appears to result from the inference that the behavioral change reflects the emergence of the individual's "true self".


On the wrong side of the trolley track: Neural correlates of relative social valuation

Mina Cikara, Rachel Farnsworth, Lasana Harris & Susan Fiske
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming

Using moral dilemmas, we (i) investigate whether stereotypes motivate people to value ingroup lives over outgroup lives and (ii) examine the neurobiological correlates of relative social valuation using fMRI. Saving ingroup members, who seem warm and competent (e.g. Americans), was most morally acceptable in the context of a dilemma where one person was killed to save five people. Extreme outgroup members, who seem neither warm nor competent (e.g. homeless), were the worst off; it was most morally acceptable to sacrifice them and least acceptable to save them. Sacrificing these low-warmth, low-competence targets to save ingroup targets, specifically, activated a neural network associated with resolving complex tradeoffs: medial PFC (BA 9, extending caudally to include ACC), left lateral OFC (BA 47) and left dorsolateral PFC (BA 10). These brain regions were recruited for dilemmas that participants ultimately rated as relatively more acceptable. We propose that participants, though ambivalent, overrode general aversion to these tradeoffs when the cost of sacrificing a low-warmth, low-competence target was pitted against the benefit of saving ingroup targets. Moral decisions are not made in a vacuum; intergroup biases and stereotypes weigh heavily on neural systems implicated in moral decision making.


Comparing Democrats and Republicans on Intrinsic and Extrinsic Values

Kennon Sheldon & Charles Nichols
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, March 2009, Pages 589-623

Although claimed differences in values have played a prominent role in recent U.S. politics, the value systems of typical Republicans and Democrats have not been evaluated within a relevant dimensional framework. In 4 studies, party members were compared on extrinsic (money, popularity, image) and intrinsic (intimacy, helping, growth) values. Republicans were consistently higher on extrinsic relative to intrinsic values, a pattern suggested by past research to be personally and socially problematic. In Study 4, Republicans were also lower in a different measure of prosocial values, derived from social-dilemma research. All studies found an interaction such that only nonreligious Republicans were lower than Democrats on the intrinsic value of helping needy others. Implications for contemporary political discourse are discussed.


Selective exposure: The impact of collectivism and individualism

Andreas Kastenmuller, Tobias Greitemeyer, Eva Jonas, Peter Fischer & Dieter Frey
British Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming

Previous research has found that people prefer information that supports rather than conflicts with their decisions (selective exposure). In the present three studies, we investigated the impact of collectivism and individualism on this bias. First, based on previous findings showing that collectivists compared to individualists are inclined to seek the 'middle way' and tend towards self-criticism, we predicted and found that the confirmation bias was more negative among collectivists compared to individualists. Second, we assumed that the difference between selected supporting versus conflicting information would move more in favour of conflicting information among both collectivists and individualists when the domain was important to them. As predicted (chronic and primed), collectivists and individualists, respectively, sought more conflicting (compared to supporting) information depending on whether collectivistic (e.g. the family) or individualistic (e.g. one's own uniqueness) attributes were important.


On the "Exporting" of Morality: Its Relation to Political Conservatism and Epistemic Motivation

Benjamin Peterson, Allegra Smith, David Tannenbaum & Moira Shaw
Social Justice Research, September 2009, Pages 206-230

A new phenomenon, moral exporting (ME), is introduced to capture active attempts to promote certain views of morality to others. It was hypothesized that political conservatives would be more likely to exhibit ME, due in part to strong epistemic concerns for certainty that may become attached to the moral domain. Related items from the 1988 and 2006 General Social Surveys were analyzed, and new scales were developed to better assess ME and specific moral-related epistemic concerns (moral absolutism). In a second study, these scales were administered to a large college student sample along with measures of political ideology and need for closure (NFC). Results generally showed that political conservatism was strongly related to the new ME factor. Further analysis determined that both moral absolutism (MA) and NFC accounted for significant portions of this relationship, but that the specific epistemic construct (MA) was a more proximal mediator. Discussion centers on further distinguishing ME and MA from related constructs, as well as on future research and applications.

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