The moral landscape of war

A registered report testing how the war context shapes morality’s constraints on default representations of possibility

H.M. Watkins, M.J. Brandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Mental representations of possibility in everyday contexts incorporate descriptive and prescriptive norms. People intuitively think that Mr X cannot perform an immoral action; even when upon deliberation they realise that the immoral action is in fact possible (Phillips & Cushman, 2017) . We replicate this “moral-possibility constraint”, providing further support for the notion that default representations of possibility are - at first pass - limited to moral alternatives.We also test how context affects representations of possibility by asking whether the same findings hold in a war context. This context has different prescriptive norms (e.g., it is permissible to kill combatants, but not non-combatants), and we use Phillips and Cushman’s (2017) reaction-time paradigm to test whether these prescriptive norms shape people’s representations of what is possible in war. We find that the moral-possibility constraint is sensitive to variation in degree of immorality (e.g., killing a person vs. torturing a child); howeverthe war context did not influence the constraint in the way we expected. The results further advance our understanding of the relationship between morality and domain-general cognition, and provide insight into the moral landscape of war.

Keywords: morality, war, intuition, moral psychology

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-51
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

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morality
Intuition
intuition
deliberation
cognition
psychology
paradigm
human being
time

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abstract = "Mental representations of possibility in everyday contexts incorporate descriptive and prescriptive norms. People intuitively think that Mr X cannot perform an immoral action; even when upon deliberation they realise that the immoral action is in fact possible (Phillips & Cushman, 2017) . We replicate this “moral-possibility constraint”, providing further support for the notion that default representations of possibility are - at first pass - limited to moral alternatives.We also test how context affects representations of possibility by asking whether the same findings hold in a war context. This context has different prescriptive norms (e.g., it is permissible to kill combatants, but not non-combatants), and we use Phillips and Cushman’s (2017) reaction-time paradigm to test whether these prescriptive norms shape people’s representations of what is possible in war. We find that the moral-possibility constraint is sensitive to variation in degree of immorality (e.g., killing a person vs. torturing a child); howeverthe war context did not influence the constraint in the way we expected. The results further advance our understanding of the relationship between morality and domain-general cognition, and provide insight into the moral landscape of war. Keywords: morality, war, intuition, moral psychology",
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