Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Morality in real life versus the lab.

The majority of studies on morality have used artificial controlled laboratory settings where study participants respond to presented moral issues (such as the famous speeding trolley dilemma: Should you sacrifice one person to save five?). Hoffman et al. have now gone into the real world homeostasis of morality, by calling volunteer study participants on their cell phones at random times to note moral acts that they committed or were the target of, that they witnessed directly, or that they heard about. This allowed them to analyze daily dynamics in a way not possible in the laboratory studies. Their findings confirmed several laboratory studies on moral contagion (receiving a good deed makes it more likely for us to give one), moral licensing (doing good entitles a bit of doing bad), political differences in moral values and concerns, and overoptimistically predicting one's own future moral behavior but accurately predicting the not-so-moral future behavior of others. They found little difference in daily moral behavior between religious and nonreligious people.
The science of morality has drawn heavily on well-controlled but artificial laboratory settings. To study everyday morality, we repeatedly assessed moral or immoral acts and experiences in a large (N = 1252) sample using ecological momentary assessment. Moral experiences were surprisingly frequent and manifold. Liberals and conservatives emphasized somewhat different moral dimensions. Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts. Being the target of moral or immoral deeds had the strongest impact on happiness, whereas committing moral or immoral deeds had the strongest impact on sense of purpose. Analyses of daily dynamics revealed evidence for both moral contagion and moral licensing. In sum, morality science may benefit from a closer look at the antecedents, dynamics, and consequences of everyday moral experience.

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