New research suggests how we make moral judgments is often different from how we believe those decisions evolve.
Although we would like to think that our judgments are always well thought-out, researchers have discovered that our moral judgments are often based on intuition. Since our emotions drive our intuitions, our gut feel that something is “right” or “wrong” — that is, our moral compass — is actually an emotional response.
In some cases, however, we seem to be able to override these initial reactions, say researchers.
Matthew Feinberg, Ph.D., and colleagues hypothesized that this might be the result of reappraisal, a process by which we dampen the intensity of our emotions by focusing on an intellectual description of why we are experiencing the emotion.
In a course of several studies, participants read stories describing moral dilemmas involving behaviors participants would probably find disgusting. Participants who reappraised the scenarios logically were less likely to make intuition-based moral judgments.
These findings suggest that although our emotional reactions elicit moral intuitions, these emotions can also be regulated.
“In this way,” the researchers write, “we are both slave and master, with the capacity to be controlled by, but also shape, our emotion-laden judgmental processes.”
This study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science