Labelling an opinion ‘moral’ instantly makes it more resistant to change, a new study finds.
Mr Andrew Luttrell, the study’s first author, said:
“The perception that an attitude we hold is based on morality is enough to strengthen it.
For many people, morality implies a universality, an ultimate truth.
It is a conviction that is not easily changed.”
The researchers found it was surprisingly easy to strengthen people’s opinions by labelling them moral.
Professor Richard Petty, a study co-author, said:
“Morality can act as a trigger — you can attach the label to nearly any belief and instantly make that belief stronger.”
The results come from a series of experiments testing different ways of labelling people’s opinions.
One experiment compared labelling an opinion ‘moral’ with labelling it in terms of ‘tradition and equality’.
Mr Luttrell said:
“Morality had a lot more impact than the values of tradition and equality.
Students were more likely to act on their opinion of the student exam policy if they thought it had to do with morality.”
Another experiment on the subject of recycling tested the morality principle against notions of practicality.
Again, morality won out.
Mr Luttrell said:
“People held on to their moral beliefs in a way they didn’t for other values we studied, like tradition, equality and practicality.
But what was remarkable was how easy it was to lead people into thinking their views were based on moral principles.
People may be more willing to vote for a candidate or give money to an advocacy group if they believe it is a matter of morality.
They’re also less likely to be swayed by the opposition.”
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Lutrell et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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