Review : Liberals and Conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations – 1/2

Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of personality and social psychology,96(5), 1029. This paper by Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt & Brian Nosek (University of Virginia) uses Moral Foundations Theory  (MFT) to test whether liberals and conservatives give different weightings to 5 sets of moral intuitions. The 5 moral intuitions tested in the paper are (the latest version of  MFT has 6 foundations with one for Liberty being added):

  1. Harm/Care
  2. Fairness/reciprocity
  3. Ingroup/loyalty
  4. Authority/respect
  5. Purity/sanctity

Their conclusion is that liberals and conservative do in fact place different weightings on each of these moral intuitions.  Liberals strongly favour the moral intuitions of Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity in their decision making while conservatives rely on a more balanced weighting of all the moral intuitions.  Hence giving rise to distinct types of moral reasoning which are fundamentally different in their decision architecture.  Consequently, as political groups become more polarised the ability of individuals in one group to interpret the moral reasoning of individuals in another group becomes increasingly difficult.  Even when the ultimate goal is the same. Continue reading

Moral Foundations Theory

Moral Foundations Theory is pioneered by psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph.  At its core is the idea that there are a set of distinct and fundamental building blocks that can be used to describe moral behaviour.

There are 6 distinct moral foundations that influence moral behaviour :

  1. Care/harm for others (think – parental care)
  2. Fairness/cheating (think – mating strategy -> Maynard-Smith’s ‘sneaky fuckers’)
  3. Liberty/oppression (along the lines of appetite for change, for the new)
  4. Loyalty/betrayal (along the lines of group altruism)
  5. Authority/subversion (think – eusocial tendencies)
  6. Sanctity/degradation (think – cleanliness as a virtue)

Contrary to expectations, weightings for each of these 6 building blocks across large groups of people are not randomly distributed. When the presence of these moral building blocks is tested through questionnaires people tend to fall into a small number of distinct groups.  The major liberal & conservative political groups show distinct differences in the weightings they attribute to each moral foundation.  People with strongly liberal views heavily weight the 1st three of Care, Fairness & Liberty while those with conservative views tend to weight all equally.

Continue reading

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