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Morality in everyday life

Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1340-1343
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251560

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Moral homeostasis in real life vs. the lab

Individuals who witnessed a moral deed are more likely than nonwitnesses to perform a moral deed themselves and are also more likely to allow themselves to act immorally. Hofmann et al. asked smartphone users to report their encounters with morality (see the Perspective by Graham). Most moral judgment experiments are lab-based and don't allow for conclusions based on what people experience in their daily lives. This field experiment revealed that people experience moral events frequently in daily life. A respondent's ideology influenced the kind of event reported and the frequency, which is consistent with moral foundations theory.

Science, this issue p. 1340; see also p. 1242

Abstract

The science of morality has drawn heavily on well-controlled but artificial laboratory settings. To study everyday morality, we repeatedly assessed moral or immoral acts and experiences in a large (N = 1252) sample using ecological momentary assessment. Moral experiences were surprisingly frequent and manifold. Liberals and conservatives emphasized somewhat different moral dimensions. Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts. Being the target of moral or immoral deeds had the strongest impact on happiness, whereas committing moral or immoral deeds had the strongest impact on sense of purpose. Analyses of daily dynamics revealed evidence for both moral contagion and moral licensing. In sum, morality science may benefit from a closer look at the antecedents, dynamics, and consequences of everyday moral experience.

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