Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Morality and emotion

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Morality and emotion:
What role do emotions play in morality? how do morally corruptive life events elicit an emotional response?
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Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Morality is important in understanding individual's values and concerns regarding crimes.

"Your friend tells you that they committed a crime. They explain that they are having trouble sleeping at night and feel you are the only one they can trust with their confession. A few days later, you read in the paper that someone has been arrested for your friend’s crime." (figure 1.).

do you:

  1. Go to the police and tell them what you know?
  2. Encourage your friend to confess and warn him if he does not do so, you will tell?
  3. Say nothing because you will not betray a friend’s confidence?

Morality is defined as a system of principles and values concerning people's behaviour, which is generally accepted by a society or by a particular group of people.

When considering which option to choose, you'll find that there is no correct answer as the choice comes down to how the event would effect you personally. This is where one would consider how this question could elicit an emotional response.

Our emotions are defined as "synchronised brain based systems that coordinate feeling, bodily responses, purpose and expression so to ready the individual to adapt successfully to life circumstances.". They provide us with the purpose of survival to react to certain stimuli or to advance us in the world, making connections with those around us.

At the core of what are deemed 'moral emotions' are four similar emotions that she self-conscious variables. These are shame, guilt, sympathy and empathy (Tangney and Dearing 2002).

Ethics on the other hand, are decisions based upon individual character, and the more subjective understanding of right and wrong by individuals..........

What causes an emotion? first we must experience a life event (antecedent), which then triggers bodily arousal and neural pathways to fire. Our bodies then process this experience in a way that theorists are still trying to understand figure out. There have been three different suggestions that are considered the most current understanding. Cognitively, Behaviourally and a Dual Model Process which involves both processes happening simultaneously.

When considering the core moral emotions, we experience this feeling based on particular life events that have elicited a response that cause us to feel this way. As we consider the given example at the top, not everyones repose would be the same as the choice you've chosen due to a factoring amount of variables.

Theoretical Framework[edit | edit source]


Moral theorists stem from both philosophical and psychological backgrounds. Many have tried to determine where morality stems from, what processes are involved, the behaviours and intentions involved and the differentiation between it and ethics and conscience. The general consensus for morality at this point in time from a psychological point of view is that moral process are either (1) rational, effortful and explicit, and (2) emotional, quick and intuitive (De Neys and Glumicic, 2008). although the knowledge we lack is the process and procedure of how they interact with one another in order to reach a moral outcome. The three current models are as follows;

"Today, there is a general consensus in psychology and philosophy in favor of the differentiation of moral processes into two different classes: (1) rational, effortful and explicit, and (2) emotional, quick and intuitive (De Neys and Glumicic, 2008). The controversy remains, though, in how they interact. Among current models of moral processes and how they relate to each other, three distinct theories outstand (Greene and Haidt, 2002; Moll and Schulkin, 2009). The “social intuitionist theory” (Haidt, 2001) links research on automaticity (Bargh and Chartrand, 1999) to recent findings in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. The “cognitive control and conflict theory” (Greene et al., 2004) postulates that responses arising from emotion-related brain areas favor one outcome, while cognitive responses favor a different one (Kahneman and Frederick, 2007; McClure et al., 2007). According to the “cognitive and emotional integration theory,” behavioral choices cannot be split into cognitive vs. emotional. Complex contextual situations can make behavioral decisions exceptionally difficult (Gottfried, 1999; Moll et al., 2003)."

Kholberg - Moral Development Theory[edit | edit source]

Kohlberg had developed and extended on Piagets constructivist requirements for a stage model and created the Moral Development Theory. Inspired by Piagets work with children and their reactions to moral dilemmas, Kohlberg considered moral reasoning to be a result of cognitive processes that may exist even in the absence of any kind of emotions. Kohlberg had cemented down 3 levels, each with two sub categories explaining moral development across the life span. He'd stated that it is rare to regress in stages and that its not possible to jump stages. This is due to the fact that each stage is necessary in providing a perspective that is more comprehensive and integrated than the previous one.

The six stages are;

Level 1: (Pre-Conventional)

This level discusses moral reasoning that is commonly found in children but is not an exception to adults. It suggests an ego-centric approach whereby they judge morality based upon the consequence of the action.

  1. Obedience and Punishment Orientation
  2. Self-Interest Orientation - (whats in it for me?)

Level 2: (Conventional)

This level involves the moral process commonly found in adolescents and adults. Those who reason in a conventional way seek to judge their moral actions based on societal views and expectations.

  1. Interpersonal Accord and Conformity - (the good girl/boy attitude)
  2. Authority and Social-Order Maintaining Orientation - (law and order morality)

Level 3: (Post-Conventional)

The final level encompasses the idea that we are important as individuals and our views can be separated from societies before making a moral decision. Some people believe that laws can be unjust and should be changed.

  1. Social Contract Orientation
  2. Universal Ethical Principles - (principled conscience)


Haidt - Moral Foundations Theory[edit | edit source]

Moral foundations theory, founded by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt was developed to understand the variants of similarities and differences of morality across cultures. "The theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” " Every culture then builds upon these foundations to create their own institution. This theory was built upon the preface of social intuitionism. Social Intuitionism is a theory that suggests moral positions are non-verbal and behavioural. Intuitive and judging rather than a cognitive process. Haidt suggested that we have unconscious, intuitive heuristics in which dictate how we react to moral situations and thus underlie our moral behaviour. He states that we don't fully understand why we take the actions that we do and so we misinterpreted, if not hide the true reason as to how we led to that conclusion.

The five foundations are;

  • Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm
  • Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating
  • Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal
  • Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion
  • Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation. Based upon disgust.

Moral foundations theory

Greene - Dual Process Theory.[edit | edit source]

The “cognitive control and conflict theory” (Greene et al., 2004) postulates that responses arising from emotion-related brain areas favor one outcome, while cognitive responses favor a different one (Kahneman and Frederick, 2007; McClure et al., 2007)

  • what he discovered - dual process theory
  • his contributions / ideas

The empathy-altruism hypothesis?? Both of these models have life events happen that trigger an emotional and thus a behavioural response in order for the 'moral emotions' to be


Hullian tension-reduction model???

What is Morality? - values of society?[edit | edit source]

Morality stems from a combination of philosophical and psychological background. When morality was first defined, philosophers thought that it was an innate cognitive response to situations that we are inhibited within us. That moral decisions and judgements were made from rations, effortful cognitions. Psychologists on the other hand, believed that it was more emotional arousal, quick and intuitive. That our emotions dictated the the answer to a moral decision or judgment.

Morality is a set of behavioural principles set up by society to deem what actions are socially acceptable. These principles keep society from spiralling into chaos and its people conforming to an acceptable social standard of citizenship. Morality is taught and understood through our development as we are constantly learning what is 'okay' and what is not, and the 'why' behind it. This morality is learnt through trial and error of growing up and the teaching of those whom have raised us. Their influence is what assists in the emotional development we need to become functioning members of society.

This is how we also develop our ethics, these are the values we hold about life, our purpose, the questions we ask society and the principles we hold ourselves too.

, “ethics” leans towards decisions based upon individual character, and the more subjective understanding of right and wrong by individuals – whereas “morals” emphasises the widely-shared communal or societal norms about right and wrong.

Conscience : Conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual's moral philosophy or value system. - wiki

in terms of cognitive dissonance, it occurs when our values are contradicted. the values that we hold can elicit an emotional and behavioural response dependent on whether they are being challenged or agreed with.




Was developed by Kohlberg to gain understanding into which stage of moral development a person was at. He was interested in not what their answer was but their reasoning for choosing the answer they had.

Nature v nurture? - the underlying truth to how someone decides to make moral decisions comes down to their development.

It was considered that morality was an innate biological process we were born with. Yet research shows that the values we are brought up with, determine more so how we respond to stimuli and navigate the world around us. Children that have been brought-up under neglect and abuse may act more violently, their brains may be under developed and thus, mightn't act 'morally' correct from society's point of view, but their ethics may deem their reaction and actions as 'good'. Ethics and morality

Incorporate neuroscience involved:

When discussing morality,

decisions and moral emotions, its always a good idea to have a comprehensive idea of whats happening in the brain when we feel and move forward.

In a meta-analysis conducted by ..., their research shows comprehensive findings as to where moral decisions, reasoning and emotions are triggered in the brain as to how we process the information thats given to us. The following research touches on responses to both moral dilemmas and judgements.

as with emotions, our bodies react before our brains, this is a cogintive view

Brain density of moral neuroscience [1]

Green, Haidt, kohlberg et al., had completed comprehensive research on particular regions on the brain and where moral behaviour, decision making and emotions may trigger.

Frontal Lobe:

  • The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC): seems to play a crucial role in the mediation of the emotions engaged during moral processing
  • The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC): has been associated with morality, and has been implicated in the on-line representation of reward and punishment
  • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC): Greene and Paxton (2009) related it to lying processes, and others have hypothesized that it may trigger an executive function used to combine predictions based on social norms with inferences about the intent to deceive. His area is involved in cognitive control and problem-solving (Greene et al., 2004). The DLPFC plays an important role during the judgment of responsibility for crimes and its punishment from a third-party perspective

Parietal Lobe:

  • superior temporal sulcus (STS): seems to be the perception and representation of social information that may be crucial for making inferences about others' beliefs and intentions (Allison et al., 2000) and the representation of personhood (Greene and Haidt, 2002).
  • The temporo-parietal junction (TPJ): plays a key role in moral intuition and in belief attribution during moral processing in others

Limbic Lobe:

  • The posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) is known to be involved in the processing of personal memory, self-awareness and emotionally salient stimuli (Sestieri et al., 2011). It is one of the brain regions that exhibit greater engagement in personal than in impersonal dilemmas (Funk and Gazzaniga, 2009). Its activation has been related to social ability (Greene et al., 2004), empathy (Völlm et al., 2006) and forgiveness (Farrow et al., 2001), and can predict the magnitude of the punishments applied in criminal scenarios (Buckholtz et al., 2008).

Moral Emotions[edit | edit source]

What makes an emotion moral?[edit | edit source]

They're self-evaluative; meaning that they are complex "evoked by the individuals understanding and evaluation of the self" (??) These moral emotions are strongly dependent on ones personal subjective experiences and evaluations of the world around them (Drummond, 2006).

Haidt had determined on a cross cultural level that there are 4 distinct families, each with their own category of emotions that had been deemed universal for moral emotions. The families and emotions are as follows;

Self-critical:[edit | edit source]

Within the self-critical bubble the three emotions that occur are Shame, Embarrassment and Guilt. These negative emotions assist in making individuals conform to societal rules and social order.

Shame is elicited by the idea that we our coresleves are defective as we don't measure up to a 'standard' of morality, competence or aesthetics. Embarrassment is most likely to occur when social-conventional rules have been breached and thus damages our social identity within an social environment. Lastly, guilt is elicited simply by breaking moral rules and has a severe impact if it has caused harm or suffering to others within the process.

The action tendency for each of these is to create a submissive behaviour whereby we apologise and confess to our behaviours and in turn reduce our social presence.

Other critical:[edit | edit source]

Within the 'Other Critical' bubble, each of the following emotions are what motivate people to change their relationship with moral order and to make individuals change their ways.

Contempt is elicited by the behaviour of feeling morally superior to others, almost like looking down on someone for mockery. It weakens compassion for others as they're considered unworthy of it. It's action tendency is to not react or withdraw, rather to be on an uninterested or indifferent playing field and consider for future reference that the object of contempt be treated with less consideration and respect in the future.

Anger, is most commonly occurring in those whom are morally underdeveloped. Toddler's for example who haven't learnt to self regulate as they're still developing cognitively. Its emotional behaviour is evoked by unjustified insults and is a sympathetic behaviour as others can become triggered on our behalf. The actions for this behaviour are usually revenge based and result in a motivation to humiliate or attack those who are perceived as acting immorally.

Disgust on the other hand Darwin (????) refers to as "something revolting, primarily in relation to the sense of taste as actually perceived or vividly imagined; and secondly to anything which causes a feeling, through the sense of smell, touch and even of eyesight". The action tendencies for disgust is the removal or avoidance of the individual or thing and leads to wanting to cleanse the self of this feeling both emotional and physical (Rozin & Fallon, 1987;Rozin et al., 1993). It is a harsh emotion as it condemns people for 'what they are, not just who they are'. If one can consider the stigma around homosexuals within a society.

Other suffering:[edit | edit source]

people genuinely feel bad when others suffer and sometimes even feel motivated to help others.

sympathy is an emotional reposes to distress

Compassion; mostly strongly felt towards kin and family is elicited by signs of suffering from another individual, although is felt for strangers too. Its an emotion that encourages others to assist in a time of need in order to help alleviate the suffering of others. thus the action tendency of this emotion is to help or comfort others.

Other praising:[edit | edit source]

focuses on the benefits of positive emotions. These emotions encourage individuals to create social bonds, improve upon themselves and practice the skills they hone.

people are sensitive to good deeds and moral exemplars

Gratitude is the equivalent of 'reciprocal altruism', its a motivator to respond to moral behaviour in encouraging others to compensate for those that help them. Gratitude is actioned via showing friendliness and trying to express thanks by reciprocate with offering something in return.

Awe is elicited by exposure to certain beauty and a sense of perfection. The reason this emotion is considered a 'moral emotion' is due to

Elevation is elicited by moral beauty, e.g acts of charity, kindness and self-sacrifice can be powerful.

action tendencies; are more likely to help other people by donating to charity or b writing about their life goals. elevation has been described as something close to being like a god, someone of moral exemplar. Thus when people are exposed to this, they may consider that elevation as a 'moral reset button' creating a virtuous ripple effect........

What Role Do Emotions Play In Morality?[edit | edit source]

Our emotions and particularly the ones that are highly correlated with morality, assist in determining our behavioural responses, our decision making process and ...

negative moral emotions such as shame and guilt

Behavioural responses - development.[edit | edit source]

Compelling scientific evidence for this view comes from emotionally impaired patients who have sustained injuries to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a key area of the brain for integrating emotion and cognition (Bechara et al 1999, Damasio 1994). In suffering this impairment, it effects their ability to feel emotion and make optimal decisions by

Emotions evoked by suffering, such as sympathy and empathy, often lead people to act ethically toward others. ... So, while we may believe that our moral decisions are influenced most by our philosophy or religious values, in truth our emotions play a significant role in our ethical decision-making.

We are built with innate systems to moral decision making, this can be found across all cultures. Psychopaths for example have shown they are underdeveloped in negative core emotions and thus they're moral decision making is lacking.

Decision making:[edit | edit source]

Moral decision making is the ability to produce a reasonable and defensible answer to an ethical question.

moral judgement??

children need a lot of training to conform to moral rules, and parents spend a lot of time giving their children moral instruction.

Cognitive Dissonance[edit | edit source]

1 1.What emotions are encompassed in Other Critical

Anger, Disgust and Contempt
Sympathy and Empathy
Awe and Elevation

2 2.What part of the brain is plays a key role in moral intuition?


3 3. Which theorist came up with Moral Development?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotions have been shown to have an impact upon our decision making and judgments within morally dillimic situations. The emotions that are predominantly found in these situations are within the families found within Haidt's theory. When we first consider moral emotions we attribute them with the negative ones such as anger, contempt and disgust. It should be noted that there is another side of that coin whereby we positively attribute morality with how others can show above and beyond traits of kindness. Neuroscience has been conducted on different regions of the brain as to where these moral emotions may occur and how we decipher morality. These findings haven't necessarily been able to provide us with a clear indication of 'what comes first' in terms of whether we react physiologically followed by an emotional response and then a cognitive one; or whether we process the information at hand and then proceed to react emotionally to the stimuli. We understand that Ethics and Conscience goes hand in hand with Morality although they are not necessarily the same thing, rather they impact one another.

The biggest idea we can commit to, is that morality is developed throughout the lifespan and without this nurturing guidance, we may not fully develop to reach our full emotional capacity.

Future research continues to decipher the process from different theorists in which we respond to moral stimuli and how large the impact of emotions and moral emotions play. It also seeks to more neurological research as to define help break down the questions we seek to answer. "Given that morality is a highly complex process influenced by many factors, future studies should take into account individual differences (e.g., personality, genetics, religiosity, cultural and socioeconomic level) in order to understand the variety of mechanisms that govern it."

See Also[edit | edit source]

Important points about this section:

  1. Provide up to approximately half-a-dozen internal (wiki) links to relevant:
    1. Wikiversity pages especially motivation and emotion book chapters
    2. Wikipedia articles
  2. Present in alphabetical order.
  3. Include the source in parentheses.

References[edit | edit source]

Brelavs, G. (2013). Moral emotions, conscience, and cognitive dissonance. Booksc.Xyz.

Callahan, S. (1988). The Role of Emotion in Ethical Decisionmaking. The Hastings Center Report, 18(3), 9–14. JSTOR.

Haidt, J. (2003). The Moral Emotions. Citeseerx.Ist.Psu.Edu.‌

Handbook of Moral Development. (2010). Google Books.

Horne, Z., & Powell, D. (2016). How Large Is the Role of Emotion in Judgments of Moral Dilemmas? PLOS ONE, 11(7), e0154780.

Lerner, J. S., Li, Y., Valdesolo, P., & Kassam, K. S. (2015). Emotion and Decision Making. Annual Review of Psychology, 66(1), 799–823.

Moral Emotions and Moral Behavior. (2019). Annual Reviews.

Moral Foundations Theory | (2011). Moralfoundations.Org.

Moral Emotions. (2020, August 17). Ethics Unwrapped.

Pascual, L., Rodrigues, P., & Gallardo-Pujol, D. (2013). How does morality work in the brain? A functional and structural perspective of moral behavior. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7.

Sheikh, S., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (2009). The “Shoulds” and “Should Nots” of Moral Emotions: A Self-Regulatory Perspective on Shame and Guilt. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(2), 213–224.

The emotional basis of moral judgments. (2020). Philosophical Explorations.

  1. Pascual, Leo; Rodrigues, Paulo; Gallardo-Pujol, David (2013-09-12). "How does morality work in the brain? A functional and structural perspective of moral behavior". Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 7. doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00065. ISSN 1662-5145. PMID 24062650. PMC 3770908.