Kevin Lewis

February 05, 2019

Why so serious? A laboratory and field investigation of the link between morality and humor
Kai Chi Yam et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Previous research has identified many positive outcomes resulting from a deeply held moral identity, while overlooking potential negative social consequences for the moral individual. Drawing from Benign Violation Theory, we explore the tension between moral identity and humor, and the downstream workplace consequence of such tension. Consistent with our hypotheses, compared with participants in the control condition, participants whose moral identities were situationally activated (Study 1a) or chronically accessible (Study 1b) were less likely to appreciate humor and generate jokes others found funny (Study 2), especially humor that involved benign moral violations. We also found that participants with a strong moral identity do not generally compensate for their lack of humor by telling more jokes that do not involve moral violations (Study 3). Additional field studies demonstrated that employees (Study 4) and leaders (Study 5) with strong moral identities and who display ethical leadership are perceived as less humorous by their coworkers and subordinates, and to the extent that this is the case are less liked in the workplace. Study 5 further demonstrated two competing mediating pathways — leaders with strong moral identities are perceived as less humorous but also as more trustworthy, with differentiated effects on interpersonal liking. Although having moral employees and leaders can come with many benefits, our research shows that there can be offsetting costs associated with an internalized moral identity: reduced humor and subsequent likability in the workplace.

The physiological basis of psychological disgust and moral judgments
Jessica Tracy, Conor Steckler & Gordon Heltzel
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, January 2019, Pages 15-32


To address ongoing debates about whether feelings of disgust are causally related to moral judgments, we pharmacologically inhibited spontaneous disgust responses to moral infractions and examined effects on moral thinking. Findings demonstrated, first, that the antiemetic ginger (Zingiber officinale), known to inhibit nausea, reduces feelings of disgust toward nonmoral purity-offending stimuli (e.g., bodily fluids), providing the first experimental evidence that disgust is causally rooted in physiological nausea (Study 1). Second, this same physiological experience was causally related to moral thinking: ginger reduced the severity of judgments toward purity-based moral violations (Studies 2 and 4) or eliminated the tendency for people higher in bodily sensation awareness to make harsher moral judgments than those low in this dispositional tendency (Study 3). In all studies, effects were restricted to moderately severe purity-offending stimuli, consistent with preregistered predictions. Together, findings provide the first evidence that psychological disgust can be disrupted by an antiemetic and that doing so has consequences for moral judgments.

Even arbitrary norms influence moral decision-making
Campbell Pryor, Amy Perfors & Piers Howe
Nature Human Behaviour, January 2019, Pages 57–62


It is well known that individuals tend to copy behaviours that are common among other people — a phenomenon known as the descriptive norm effect. This effect has been successfully used to encourage a range of real-world prosocial decisions, such as increasing organ donor registrations. However, it is still unclear why it occurs. Here, we show that people conform to social norms, even when they understand that the norms in question are arbitrary and do not reflect the actual preferences of other people. These results hold across multiple contexts and when controlling for confounds such as anchoring or mere-exposure effects. Moreover, we demonstrate that the degree to which participants conform to an arbitrary norm is determined by the degree to which they self-identify with the group that exhibits the norm. Two prominent explanations of norm adherence — the informational and social sanction accounts — cannot explain these results, suggesting that these theories need to be supplemented by an additional mechanism that takes into account self-identity.

Are everyday sadists specifically attracted to violent video games and do they emotionally benefit from playing those games?
Tobias Greitemeyer, Niklas Weiß & Tobias Heuberger
Aggressive Behavior, March/April 2019, Pages 206-213


The present research tested the hypothesis that everyday sadists show a distinct preference for violent video games and examined the relationship between everyday sadism and participant's mood after violent video game play. In Study 1, participants watched three trailers for video games that differed in their level of violent content. Whereas everyday sadists were attracted to a violent video game, there was no significant positive association between everyday sadism and attraction to the nonviolent video games. Study 2 showed that after playing a violent video game, there was a significant positive relationship between everyday sadism and participant's positive mood and a negative relationship between everyday sadism and participant's negative mood. In contrast, after playing a nonviolent video game, the relationship between everyday sadism and participant's negative mood was less pronounced. Overall, these studies show that everyday sadists specifically like to play violent video games and suggest that this tendency is adaptive in that they emotionally benefit from playing violent video games.

Hitting below the belt: Masculine honor beliefs and perceptions of unfair fighting behavior
Conor O'Dea, Amanda Martens & Donald Saucier
Aggressive Behavior, forthcoming


We examined the effect of masculine honor beliefs on perceptions of unfair fighting behavior. We proposed competing hypotheses about the nature of this relationship. Our Reputation by Any Means Hypothesis predicted masculine honor beliefs would be positively related to perceptions of unfair fighting behavior as permissible because they increase the likelihood of success. Conversely, our Reputation by Honorable Means Hypothesis predicted masculine honor beliefs would be negatively related to perceptions of unfair fighting behavior as permissible due to the importance of demonstrating masculinity through socially acceptable means (e.g., hitting above the belt). Across three studies, our results were generally consistent with the Reputation by Any Means Hypothesis. Individuals higher in masculine honor beliefs reporting greater perceptions of the fighting behavior as permissible, indicating they believe it is important, when involved in a physical fight, to win and to do so by any means necessary.

Can empathy close the racial divide and gender gap in death penalty support?
Brian Godcharles et al.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming


Public opinion data indicate that the majority of US respondents support the death penalty. Research has consistently indicated, however, that Blacks and females are significantly less likely to support capital punishment than their White and male counterparts. Past research efforts attempting to account for these differences have, at best, only partially accounted for them: the racial divide and gender gap in death penalty support, while narrowed, remained evident. This study proposes that empathy, particularly ethnocultural empathy, may be a key explanatory correlate of death penalty support and that racial and gender differences in empathy may fully explain the observed racial and gender differences in death penalty support. This study uses three forms of empathy measures (cognitive, affective, and ethnocultural) to test this hypothesis using survey data from a sample of undergraduate students. Our results show that neither a variety of other “known correlates” of death penalty support nor cognitive or affective empathy scales were able to fully account for the observed racial difference in death penalty support. Ethnocultural empathy, however, was successful in reducing the effect of race on death penalty support to nonsignificance. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to have done so.

Beyond harmfulness and impurity: Moral wrongness as a violation of relational motivations
Beyza Tepe & Arzu Aydinli-Karakulak
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Building on Rai and Fiske’s (2011) Relationship Regulation Theory, we argue that violation of relational motives will predict the perception of the moral wrongness of moral transgressions better than violation of harmlessness or purity. We also argue that “metarelational threat” plays an important role in determining the degree of moral wrongness of a particular act. To test our propositions, we conducted 6 studies, 3 with Turkish and American respondents. Scenarios where a relational component was present were perceived as more morally relevant (Study 1, N = 199). We found that relational motive violations predicted perceived moral wrongness better than violations of harmlessness or purity (Study 2, N = 261) and that metarelational threat partially mediated this relationship (Study 3, N = 357). Turkish participants generally based their judgments on the principle of unity, whereas the Americans tended to base theirs on the principle of equality. Study 4 (N = 138) confirmed the key findings and indicated that harmfulness was not related to moral wrongness when relational motive violation was low, but it did predict perceptions of moral wrongness when relational motivation was high. Study 5 (N = 152), by contrast, showed that harmfulness and impurity were superior to violations of relational motives in predicting the perceived moral wrongness of severe harmful and impure behaviors. Study 6 (N = 134) addressed this inconsistency and confirmed that relational motivations matter for perceptions of moral wrongness. Implications of the current research for understanding morality are discussed, and avenues for future research are recommended.


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