What We Talk about When We Talk about Morality

Deontological, Consequentialist, and Emotive Language Use in Justifications across Foundation-specific Moral Violations

Morality is inherently social, yet much extant work in moral psychology ignores the central role of social processes in moral phenomena. To partly address this, the current paper examined the content of persuasive moral communication – the way people justify their moral attitudes in persuasive contexts. Across two studies, we explored variation in justification content (deontological, consequentialist, or emotive) as a function of moral foundations. Using justification selection techniques (Study 1) and open-ended justification production (Study 2), results demonstrate a preference (a) for deontological appeals in justifications for the sanctity foundation, (b) for consequentialist appeals for the individualizing foundations (care and fairness), and (c) for emotive appeals in justifications for the binding foundations (loyalty, authority and sanctity). The current research questions the generality of inferences about the primacy of emotions/intuition in moral psychology research and highlights the important role of reasons in persuasive moral communication.

Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Received December 6, 2015; revision accepted May 15, 2016

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