What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief

27 Pages Posted: 4 May 2011 Last revised: 23 May 2012

See all articles by Brittany Liu

Brittany Liu

Kalamazoo College

Peter H. Ditto

University of California, Irvine - School of Social Ecology

Date Written: June 28, 2011


Moral dilemmas — like the “trolley problem” or real world examples like capital punishment — result from a conflict between consequentialist and deontological intuitions (i.e., whether ends justify means). We contend that people often resolve such moral conflict by aligning factual beliefs about consequences of acts with evaluations of the act’s inherent morality (i.e., morality independent of its consequences). In both artificial (Study 1) and real world (Study 2) dilemmas, the more an act was deemed inherently immoral, the more it was seen as unlikely to produce beneficial consequences and likely to involve harmful costs. Coherence between moral evaluations and factual beliefs increased with greater moral conviction, self-proclaimed topical knowledge, and political conservatism (Study 2). Reading essays about the inherent morality or immorality of capital punishment (Study 3) changed beliefs about its costs and benefits, even though no information about consequences was supplied. Implications for moral reasoning and political conflict are discussed.

Keywords: morality, intuition, cost-benefit analysis, motivated reasoning

Suggested Citation

Liu, Brittany and Ditto, Peter H., What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief (June 28, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1829825 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1829825

Brittany Liu (Contact Author)

Kalamazoo College

1200 Academy Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
United States

Peter H. Ditto

University of California, Irvine - School of Social Ecology ( email )

4312 Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway
Irvine, CA 92697
United States

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