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Journal Article

The role of emotions for moral judgments depends on the type of emotion and moral scenario


Singer,  Tania
Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Switzerland;
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Ugazio, G., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2012). The role of emotions for moral judgments depends on the type of emotion and moral scenario. Emotion, 12(3), 579-590. doi:10.1037/a0024611.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A1D7-3
Emotions seem to play a critical role in moral judgment. However, the way in which emotions exert their influence on moral judgments is still poorly understood. This study proposes a novel theoretical approach suggesting that emotions influence moral judgments based on their motivational dimension. We tested the effects of two types of induced emotions with equal valence but with different motivational implications (anger and disgust), and four types of moral scenarios (disgust-related, impersonal, personal, and beliefs) on moral judgments. We hypothesized and found that approach motivation associated with anger would make moral judgments more permissible, while disgust, associated with withdrawal motivation, would make them less permissible. Moreover, these effects varied as a function of the type of scenario: the induced emotions only affected moral judgments concerning impersonal and personal scenarios, while we observed no effects for the other scenarios. These findings suggest that emotions can play an important role in moral judgment, but that their specific effects depend upon the type of emotion induced. Furthermore, induced emotion effects were more prevalent for moral decisions in personal and impersonal scenarios, possibly because these require the performance of an action rather than making an abstract judgment. We conclude that the effects of induced emotions on moral judgments can be predicted by taking their motivational dimension into account. This finding has important implications for moral psychology, as it points toward a previously overlooked mechanism linking emotions to moral judgments.