You are here: Home / Research / Affective Dynamics of Moral Judgment

Affective Dynamics of Moral Judgment

When we decide whether an action is morally right or wrong, or whether a person deserves punishment and blame, are we driven by the heart or the head?  The answer to this question, which traces from Plato through Hume to the present day, turns out to be both.  Emotions are multifaceted and complex phenomena, built from concepts, core affect, and the situations around us.  Paying due attention to the dynamic construction of emotions can greatly advance our knowledge about how people manage their moral lives.  We have applied constructionist models of the mind to understand the relationship between affect, emotions, and moral judgment (Cameron, Lindquist, & Gray, 2015).  This constructionist perspective is novel for the field of moral psychology, because it challenges assumptions about emotions and moral domains as natural kinds, and instead suggests examining how domain-general mechanisms of affect, attention, and conceptual knowledge interact to shape moral decision-making.

In a different area of our lab's work, we use tools from social cognition–including implicit measurement and mathematical modeling–to understand moral judgment and empathy.  Many models of moral judgment emphasize the importance of implicit moral evaluations: spontaneous, unintentional evaluations of the morality of actions or persons. The EMP Lab has developed a novel measure of moral judgment called the Moral Categorization Task, along with a multinomial model that quantifies individual differences in implicit moral evaluations (Cameron, Payne, Sinnott-Armstrong, Scheffer, & Inzlicht, 2017). We have extended this paradigm to examine implicit moral evaluations in patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (Cameron, Reber, Spring, & Tranel, 2019).  We have created a similar approach to understand individual differences in intentional and unintentional empathy for the pain of others (Cameron, Spring, & Todd, 2017), extending that approach to examine empathy in physicians and non-physicians (Spring, Cameron, Todd, & McKee, 2019).  

Lastly, our lab is exploring the functions and consequences of different moral emotions. Recently, our lab has been examining moral outrage, or anger felt at the violation of moral standards. We have suggested that scientific discussion of outrage could benefit from juxtaposing considerations in moral psychology and the intergroup relations literature, to provide a broader picture of the causes and consequences of outrage (Spring, Cameron, & Cikara, 2018, 2019).