What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief

Brittany Liu

University of California, Irvine

Peter H. Ditto

University of California, Irvine

May 18, 2012

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: morality, cost-benefit analysis, motivated reasoning

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Date posted: June 1, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Liu, Brittany and Ditto, Peter H., What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief (May 18, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2071478 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2071478

Contact Information

Brittany Liu (Contact Author)
University of California, Irvine ( email )
4201 Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway
Psychology & Social Behavior Dept
Irvine, CA 62697-7085
United States
Peter H. Ditto
University of California, Irvine ( email )
Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States
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