Most people are moral, despite their own predictions

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Moral behavior study
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When it comes to doing the right thing, researchers find most people are moral, even when they predict themselves to be otherwise.

Emotions drive morals

For a study, three groups of students were tested - one group was told they could find the right answer to a 15 question math test if they pressed the space bar on the computer. They were also offered $5 to get 10 correct answers. If they did hit the space bar, the researchers advised no one would know they cheated. Another group was told about the students given the opportunity to cheat and asked what they would do and a third group was just given the test.

Researchers from the Association for Psychological Science, attached electrodes to measure the student's heart rates, contractions, palm sweat and respiratory rate to gauge their emotional response. The study participants given the chance to cheat were the most emotional. They also refrained from cheating.

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The group that was asked whether they would cheat were the calmest and said they would act dishonestly more often than the students taking the test actually did. Those taking the test with no chance to cheat were also calm, showing the researchers higher level of emotion came from the moral dilemma faced by the group given a chance to cheat.

According to Rimma Teper, one of the study authors from the University of Toronto Scarborough, “If the stakes were higher—say, the reward was $100—the emotions associated with that potential gain might override the nervousness or fear associated with cheating,” says Teper. In future research, “we might try to turn this effect around” and see how emotion leads people to act less morally than they forecast.

She also says, although the students acted more morally than they predicted in the study, “There has been other work that has shown the opposite effect—that people are acting less morally” than they forecast."

She explains emotions drive morality, but when people are asked how they might behave, ..." they don’t have a good grasp of the intensity of the emotions they will feel”, so they misjudge. The findings that most people are more moral than they predict are encouraging.

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Comments

"She also says, although the students acted more morally than they predicted in the study, “There has been other work that has shown the opposite effect—that people are acting less morally” than they forecast."" So: We essentially know nothing about this issue then. As is all too common in the social "sciences", results cannot be reproduced, and studies provide contradictory results. Why even report on this then, or consider it science at all?