Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Yu Gao

Advisor

Hanah Chapman

Committee Members

Anjali Krishnan

Natalie Kacinik

Wei Wang

Subject Categories

Biological Psychology | Social Psychology | Systems Neuroscience

Keywords

morality, judgment, emotion, false heartbeat feedback, psychophysiology

Abstract

Research on human morality is at a crossroads, with one side claiming that moral judgment is the result of rational inference and the other side claiming that it is the result of emotion-laden intuition. This study investigated whether emotion drives moral judgment by manipulating a core component of the experience of emotion: physiological arousal. The sample consisted of 77 undergraduate students at Brooklyn College (57% women, 43% men; mean age = 20.1). One group of participants was led to believe their heart was beating quickly, and another group slowly, while they read and evaluated a series of text vignettes depicting moral transgressions. Based on affect-as-information theory, I expected that perceiving elevated physiological arousal would intensify negative emotional reactions to the transgressions. If emotion drives moral judgment, this intensification would cause more severe moral condemnation. If emotion does not drive moral judgment, the intensification would have no effect on condemnation. I also tested several hypotheses related to individual differences: I expected perceiving elevated arousal to affect moral judgment more for participants who (a) are better at perceiving internal bodily signals, (b) are predisposed to react to internal bodily signals, and (c) have higher heart rate variability, which indicates greater functional integration of visceral afferent signals into the frontal cortex. Against expectations, participants in the slow heartbeat group gave more severe moral judgments than those in the fast group. This effect was neither mediated by an intensification of negative emotional reactions nor moderated by any individual differences. These findings do not straightforwardly support the claim that moral judgment depends on emotion, but they are evidence that it can be swayed by extraneous information.

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