AbstractIn recent years, moral psychologists (Haidt, 2001; Greene, Sommerville, Nystrom, Darly & Cohen, 2001) have shown evidence of emotion as the primary factor in moral reactions and reaching moral judgments. Further, studies have found that deontological judgments (e.g., 'do no harm') are driven by emotional responses, and utilitarian judgments (i.e., judgments made to maximise positive consequence) are driven by slow and cognitive moral reasoning (Greene et al., 2001). This study considered the association between individual differences and moral reactions and judgments. It was expected that individuals with high levels of Trait Anger (frequency of anger experienced when unprovoked and unfairly treated; Spielberger, 1996) would be more likely to highly value the moral domains of harm and fairness, and would give deontological responses to moral dilemmas. The results did not support the hypotheses. The findings suggest that a specific sample that is highly representative of the population is needed to identify the association between individual differences and moral judgments.
Perceptions of morality play a crucial role in our lives at individual, national and global levels. When witnessing moral violations such as harm and injustice, individuals experience anger (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011a). The emotional implications such as this, of the failure to recognise common moral consensus, may be detrimental to the harmonious functioning of society, especially when involving controversial legislative policies such as gay marriage and interrogational torture. Despite the widely accepted notion that moral intuitions derive from social and cultural influences (Higgins, 1996; Haidt, 2001), citizens of a nation almost never fully agree on morality-related issues. This research focused on the possibility that individual differences such as Trait Anger (TA; Spielberger, 1996) have an impact on moral reactions and judgments.
Moral psychologists have primarily focused on reasoning ability and intuition as two competing factors in reaching moral judgments. Rationalists argue that moral judgments are reached with slow and effortful moral reasoning, whereas social intuitionists argue that moral reasoning is a post hoc construction made after an initial moral judgment has been reached based on intuition and emotion (Haidt, 2001). It is suggested that moral intuitions derive from cultural and social influences; Culturally absorbed ethics become readily available in one's mind, therefore increasing the degree of its accessibility when processing stimuli (Higgins, 1996) such as moral dilemmas.
However, according to the dual-process theory of moral judgment (Greene, Nystrom,Engell, Darley & Cohen, 2004; Greene, 2009), both emotional and cognitive processes are used when making moral judgments. More specifically, Greene et al.'s (2001) research regarding emotional engagement in moral judgment using impersonal and personal trolley dilemma (elaborated in the method section; Thomson, 1986) found that different types of responses and processes are employed depending on the moral dilemma in question. When facing personal moral dilemmas in which individuals are directly and personally engaged with a moral violation, automatic emotional responses are made, resulting in deontological judgments. On the other hand, effortful moral reasoning processes are used when facing impersonal dilemmas in which individuals are indirectly engaged with moral violations, resulting in utilitarian judgments (Greene et al., 2004).
In addition to these findings, a number of research has been carried out to seek associations between specific emotions (i.e., anger, disgust, empathy) and moral reactions and judgments (See Gault, 1997; Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011a, 2011b). Little distinction has been made between moral outrage (i.e., anger experienced due to moral violations) and personal or empathic anger (i.e., anger experienced due to violation of self-interest or the interest of the cared-for ones) (Batson et al., 2007; Batson, Chao & Givens, 2008). However, as mentioned above, anger is said to arise when harmful acts or violations of individual rights (i.e., fairness) occur (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011a). Further, individuals experience empathic anger when witnessing victims of justice violations (Hoffman, 2000).
Following this logic, we suspected that individual differences in the proneness to experience anger would have an impact on moral reactions and judgments. Specifically, this study focused on the TA scale (Spielberger, 1996), which measures the frequency and tendency with which one experiences anger both when unprovoked and when unfairly criticised or treated; and two of Haidt's five moral domains, Harm and Fairness, using the Moral Foundations Questionnaire Judgment Subscale (MFQ_J; Graham et al., 2011) for measurement. We suspected that individuals with high scores in TA would respond more intuitively to moral dilemmas involving harm and injustice than those with lower scores, and therefore more likely to reach deontological judgments, following the findings of Greene et al. (2001). Thus, It was hypothesized that TA would be positively correlated with both MFQ_Harm and MFQ_Fairness. It was also hypothesized that TA would be negatively correlated with utilitarian responses to the impersonal and personal trolley dilemmas.
Participants596 second-year Psychology students enrolled in Personality and Social Psychology at the University of Melbourne, 445 females (74.7 %) and 151 males (25.3 %), participated in the research as a part of a laboratory class exercise. The age of the students ranged from 18 to 68 years, with the mean age of 22.42, SD=6.41.
Participants completed five questionnaires intended to measure individual differences, moral reactions and moral judgments. Three of the questionnaires were used for this research. The 10-item sub-scale of State-Trait Anger Scale (STAXI; Spielberger, 1996), TA scale, was used to measure an individual's general predisposition to experience anger and how frequently an individual experiences anger when treated or criticised unfairly (Forgays, Forgays & Spielberger, 1997). The responses were made on a 4-point scale, 1=almost never; 2=sometimes; 3=often; 4=almost always. No items were reverse scored. The mean of the scores was calculated, with higher scores indicating a greater level of anger temperament and reaction (Forgays, Forgays & Spielberger, 1997).
MFQ_J, developed by Graham et al. (2011) on the basis of Haidt's five moral domains, was used to assess the degree to which the participants agreed with moral statements based on emotions and intuitions (Graham et al., 2011). Each domain contained 3 statements with responses recorded on a 6-point scale, from 1=strongly disagree to 6=strongly agree. No items were reverse scored. Responses from two of the five domains, Harm and Fairness, were used as part of this research. The means were calculated, with higher scores indicating a higher level of agreement with and value for the relevant domain.
Two kinds of trolley dilemmas (Thomson, 1986) were used to assess how morally acceptable the participants judged it would be to kill one person to save five people from a runaway trolley. Impersonal and Personal dilemma scenarios were used with the expectation that the degree of emotional engagement (i.e., TA) would play a crucial role in making the moral judgment (Greene et al., 2001). The responses were measured on a 6-point scale, from 1=absolutely unacceptable to 6=absolutely acceptable. The means for each dilemma were calculated. High scores indicate utilitarian responses whereas low scores indicate deontological responses (Greene et al., 2004).
Towards the end of the laboratory class, students were instructed to complete questionnaires presented on a computer. The questionnaires were not carried out under a specific time limit, although typically completed in approximately 20 minutes. After the questions regarding demographic information (i.e., gender and age), the questionnaires were presented in the following order: (1) TA Scale (Spielberger, 1996), (2) MFQ_J (Graham et al., 2011), (3) Impersonal and Personal Trolley Dilemma (Moore, Clark, & Kane, 2008).
ResultsA correlation design was used to find the associations between TA and emotional and deontological responses to the trolley dilemmas, and between TA and MFQ_Harm and Fairness.
The mean statistics is presented in Table 1. The results suggested that the participants had low levels of TA and moderately high levels for both MFQ_Harm and MFQ_Fairness. The responses for the impersonal trolley dilemma were slightly utilitarian and the personal dilemma slightly deontological.
Means and Standard Deviations for Trait Anger, MFQ_Harm, MFQ_Fairness, Impersonal Trolley Dilemma and Personal Trolley Dilemma
Impersonal Trolley Dilemma
Personal Trolley Dilemma
A test for Pearson's correlation coefficient found an unexpected significant negative correlation between TA and MFQ_Harm, r(594) = -.12, p<.05. No significant correlation was revealed between TA and MFQ_Fairness, r(594) = .01, p>0.5. Similarly, there were no significant correlations between TA and impersonal trolley dilemma, r(594) = -.02, p>0.5, or between TA and personal trolley dilemma, r(594) = .03, p>.05.
The present study aimed to find the influence of TA on moral reactions and judgments. It was expected that higher levels of TA would be associated with greater levels of moral reaction against harm and for fairness, and with more intuitive and deontological moral judgments.
The hypotheses were not supported: TA was found to be negatively correlated with MFQ_Harm, while no significant association was found between TA and MFQ_Fairness. There were no significant correlations between TA and deontological responses for impersonal and personal moral dilemmas.
One of the possible explanations is the cultural and ethnic differences between the participants. Culturally learned ethics become intuitive in one's mind (Higgins, 1996), so that no conscious effort is needed to apply such cultural values in moral reactions and in the process of making moral judgments (Haidt, 2001). Typically, individuals from Western countries highly value and moralize autonomy (i.e., fairness, 'do no harm') compared to those from non-Western countries who tend to moralize community and/or divinity (i.e., authority, loyalty and purity) to a higher degree (Henrich, 2009). It is plausible that cultural influences can override individual traits, leading non-Western students with high TA scores to give low or medium scores to autonomy-related responses, MFQ_Harm and MFQ_Fairness. Future researchers could consider recruiting participants from specific backgrounds to identify the impact of personal traits in moral reactions and judgments.
Another possible explanation may be the difference between moral outrage and personal or empathic anger (Batson et al., 2007; Batson, Chao & Givens, 2008). Although there are no clear-cut distinctions, studies have found that higher levels of anger are experienced when self-interest or the interest of the ones for whom one cares have been violated compared to when general moral principles of harm and fairness have been violated (Batson et al., 2007; Batson, Chao & Givens, 2008). The moral dilemmas and domains presented in the questionnaires were hypothetical and theoretical, which were unlikely to relate to the participants at a personal level, and therefore not provoking personal anger. This suggests that even in individuals with higher tendency to experience anger at injustice, the moral reactions and judgments are dependent on situational and surrounding factors - i.e., whether the moral violations have personal negative effects on the subject.
Other explanations for the unsupported hypotheses may lie in the limitations of the study. Greene et al.'s study (2001) of the impact of emotional engagement in moral judgments found that deontological judgments are driven by emotional and intuitive responses. In the current research, the trolley dilemmas were unlikely to provoke high levels of emotional engagement in participants while completing the questionnaires, as students were introduced to the dilemmas the previous day in a lecture. This may have altered or decreased the strength of the initial intuition (Haidt, 2001), as the students presumably engaged in extensive moral reasoning for the purposes of the psychology course. The outcome may have been different if the participants were not familiar with the concepts of the research. Further, there was a predominantly larger number of females than males. Gender difference is said to have some impact on the expressing of emotions (Gault, 1997), and thus, the results do not represent the wider community as a whole.
In conclusion, this research found that Trait Anger is not necessarily associated with one's tendency to be angered by moral violations of harm and fairness, and the likelihood of using emotional and intuitive responses in making moral judgments. This suggests a lack of, or weak, association between individual differences and moral reactions and judgments. It appears that future research of similar kind involving a sample more representative of the population is needed.
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