Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Morality shifting
by Leidner, Bernhard, Ph.D., New School University, 2010, 69; 3403446
Abstract (Summary)

Recent research (Castano & Giner-Sorolla, 2006; Leidner, Castano, Giner-Sorolla, & Zaiser, in press) on moral disengagement from ingroup-committed atrocities raises the question whether people suspend morality altogether or whether they stick to morality, yet without judging the ingroup’s actions as immoral. I propose morality shifting as a useful conceptual tool and actual psychological mechanism. It occurs when individuals shift from one system of morality to another, to preserve their image of themselves as moral beings. My model integrates morality, group processes, and social identity literature. Literature on morality indicates that individuals can follow various morality principles, the most universally endorsed principle in Western cultures being that of harm and fairness. Group processes and social identity literature argue that part of one’s identity is derived from membership in social groups. Thus, learning about immoral actions carried out by ingroup members constitutes a threat to the self. This threat causes a shift from harm/fairness to ingroup/loyalty principles, which focus on what is good for the ingroup, as opposed to what is fair. Such a shift, then, has detrimental effects on intergroup relations. Two experiments investigated morality shifting in the context of intergroup violence. I predicted that only ingroup violence threatens people’s identity, so they shift their morals away from harm and fairness, allowing for the judgment “not immoral” and identity protection. In Study 1 (N = 140), participants read about atrocities committed by either an ingroup or an outgroup and then completed, in an allegedly unrelated study, the Moral Foundation Questionnaire (Haidt & Graham, 2007). It was found that both harm and fairness were rated as less important and relevant than loyalty and authority in the ingroup-perpetrator as compared to the outgroup-perpetrator condition. The reverse was true for loyalty. Study 2 (N = 40) was a conceptual replication of Study 1, but using an implicit measure of concept accessibility (Lexical Decision Task). It was found that loyalty and authority were more accessible in the ingroup-perpetrator as compared to the outgroup-perpetrator condition, while the reverse was true for harm and fairness. This research demonstrates that people engage in morality shifting under identity threat.

Keywords. morality; morality shifting; moral disengagement; intergroup processes.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Castano, Emanuele
Commitee: Ginges, Jeremy, Hirst, William, Sherman, Rachel
School: New School University
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-B 71/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social psychology, International Relations, Experimental psychology
Keywords: Intergroup processes, Moral disengagement, Morality, Morality shifting
Publication Number: 3403446
ISBN: 978-1-109-76976-0
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