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Intuitive Moral Judgments are Robust across Variation in Gender, Education, Politics and Religion: A Large-Scale Web-Based Study

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Research on moral psychology has frequently appealed to three, apparently consistent patterns: (1) Males are more likely to engage in transgressions involving harm than females; (2) educated people are likely to be more thorough in their moral deliberations because they have better resources for rationally navigating and evaluating complex information; (3) political affiliations and religious ideologies are an important source of our moral principles. Here, we provide a test of how four factors ‐ gender, education, politics and religion ‐ affect intuitive moral judgments in unfamiliar situations. Using a large-scale sample of participants (n=8778) who voluntarily logged on to the internet-based Moral Sense Test (available online at <ext-link ext-link-type="url" xlink:href="http://moral.wjh.harvard.edu">http://moral.wjh.harvard.edu</ext-link>), we analyzed responses to 145 unique moral and conventional scenarios that varied widely in content. Although each demographic or cultural factor sometimes yielded a statistically significant difference in the predicted direction (e.g., men giving more utilitarian judgments than women; religious individuals giving more deontological/rule-based judgments than atheists), these differences were consistently associated with extremely small effect sizes. We conclude that gender, education, politics and religion are likely to be relatively insignificant for moral judgments of unfamiliar scenarios. We discuss these results in light of current debates concerning the mechanisms underlying our moral judgments and, especially, the idea that we share a universal moral sense that constrains the range of cross-cultural variation.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Harvard University Cambridge, MA 02138 USA, Email: kbanerj@wjh.harvard.edu; 2: Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University, Georgetown University Washington, DC 20057 USA; 3: Department of Psychology, Harvard University Cambridge, MA 02138 USA Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Cambridge, MA 02138 USA

10.1163/156853710X531186
/content/journals/10.1163/156853710x531186
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/content/journals/10.1163/156853710x531186
2010-01-01
2016-04-30

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