By Emily Largent
Although many lament that the ubiquity of smartphones has contributed to a recent decline in etiquette, a study published this week in Science suggests that smartphones’ ubiquity may make them a valuable–if surprising–tool for studying modern morality.
Most moral judgment experiments are lab-based and driven by hypotheticals. By contrast, this was a field experiment that focused on the moral judgments people make in their daily lives. The authors recruited 1,252 adults from the U.S. and Canada. Participants were contacted via text message five times each day over a three-day period. Each time, they were asked “whether they committed, were the target of, witnessed, or learned about a moral or immoral act within the past hour.” For each moral or immoral event, participants described via text what the event was about; provided situational context; and provided information about nine moral emotions (e.g., guilt and disgust). Political ideology and religiosity were assessed during an intake survey.
Participants reported a moral or immoral event on 28.9% of responses (n = 3,828). Moral and immoral events had similar overall frequencies. The authors found political ideology was reliably associated with the types of moral problems people identified. Liberals mentioned events related to Fairness/Unfairness, Liberty/Oppression, and Honesty/Dishonesty more frequently than did conservatives. By contrast, conservatives were more likely to mention events related to Loyalty/Disloyalty, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. Continue reading