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Moral judgements are made quicker than practical ones: study

Press Trust of India  |  New York 

The study also found that judgements based on morality are extreme but flexible and can be readily shifted and made with other considerations in mind.

"Little work has been done on how attaching morality to a particular judgement or decision may affect that outcome," said Jay Van Bavel, one of the study's co-authors from New York University.

"Our findings show that we make and see decisions quite differently if they are made with a morality frame.

But, despite these differences, there is now evidence that we can shift judgements so they are based on practical, rather than moral, considerations - and vice versa," Jay Van said in a statement.

"Our findings suggest that deciding to frame any issue as moral or not may have important consequences," said co-author Ingrid Haas, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"Once an issue is declared moral, people's judgements about that issue become more extreme, and they are more likely to apply those judgements to others," Haas said.

"Ultimately, the way that people make decisions is likely to affect their behaviour," said co-author Dominic Packer, an assistant professor at Lehigh University.

"People may act in ways that violate their moral values when they make decisions in terms of pragmatic concerns - dollars and cents - rather than in a moral frame. In ongoing research, we are examining factors that can trigger moral forms of decision making, so that people are more likely to behave in line with their values," Packer said.

Researchers conducted three experiments at Ohio State's Social Cognitive Science lab in which they prompted subjects to evaluate a variety of decisions from either moral or non-moral (pragmatic) standpoints.

The showed that morality-based decisions were made significantly faster than non-morality ones and that the decisions with a moral underpinning were more extreme - they rated, on a 1 to 7 scale, moral decisions more extremely than they did pragmatic ones.

The study also revealed flexibility in what people consider to be moral or non-moral decisions.

When the study's subjects were randomly assigned moral and non-moral judgements they had different responses to the same decision, depending on whether or not it was framed as a moral or pragmatic decision, indicating that how we view a particular decision (buying organic food, reporting a crime) may be malleable.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

First Published: Thu, November 29 2012. 15:25 IST