With a clean conscience: Cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

  • Schnall S
  • Benton J
  • Harvey S
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Abstract

Theories of moral judgment have long empha- sized reasoning and conscious thought while downplaying the role of intuitive and contextual influences. However, recent research has demonstrated that incidental feelings of disgust can influence moral judgments andmake themmore severe. This study involved two experiments demonstrating that the reverse effect can occurwhen the notion of physical purity is made salient, thus making moral judgments less severe. After having the cognitive concept of cleanliness acti- vated (Experiment 1) or after physically cleansing them- selves after experiencing disgust (Experiment 2), partici- pants found certainmoral actions to be less wrong than did participants who had not been exposed to a cleanliness ma- nipulation. The findings support the idea that moral judg- ment can be driven by intuitive processes, rather than delib- erate reasoning.One of those intuitions appears to be physi- calpurity, because ithasastrongconnection tomoralpurity.

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