To strengthen an opinion, simply say it is based on morality

man
Credit: George Hodan/public domain

Simply telling people that their opinions are based on morality will make them stronger and more resistant to counterarguments, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that people were more likely to act on an opinion - what psychologists call an attitude - if it was labeled as moral and were more resistant to attempts to change their mind on that subject.

The results show why appeals to by politicians and advocacy groups can be so effective, said Andrew Luttrell, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at The Ohio State University.

"The perception that an attitude we hold is based on morality is enough to strengthen it," Luttrell said.

"For many people, morality implies a universality, an ultimate truth. It is a conviction that is not easily changed."

The key finding was how easy it was to strengthen people's beliefs by using the 'moral' label, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State.

"Morality can act as a trigger - you can attach the label to nearly any belief and instantly make that belief stronger," Petty said.

Other co-authors of the study were Pablo Briñol of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain and Benjamin Wagner of St. Thomas Aquinas College. The results are published in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

In one experiment, 183 read an essay favoring the adoption of a senior comprehensive exam policy at their university. They were asked to provide their thoughts in response to the essay.

The students were then told by the researchers that the views they expressed seemed to be based on morality, tradition or equality.

Participants were then asked to rate how willing they would be to sign a petition in favor of the exam policy and to put their names on a list of students who favor the exam policy, and which way they would vote on the issue.

The results showed that the attitudes of students who were told that their views on the exam policy were based on morality were more likely to predict their behavior than the attitudes of students who were told their views were based on equality or tradition.

"Morality had a lot more impact than the values of tradition and equality," Luttrell said.

"Students were more likely to act on their opinion of the student exam policy if they thought it had to do with morality."

Two other experiments involved a more universal issue - recycling. One of these studies involved college students and the other involved older adults who were not in school.

In these experiments, participants read a brief introduction to the topic of recycling and then were asked to list the thoughts they had about the issue.

In this case, the researchers told the participants that their thoughts related to either morality or to the practicality of recycling. Participants then reported their attitudes toward recycling.

Nearly all of the participants had positive views on recycling. So the researchers then asked them to read a short persuasive essay with arguments against the benefits of recycling.

Then, the researchers again measured the participants' views on recycling.

Results showed that who were told their views on recycling were based on morality were less likely to change their minds than those who were told their views were based on practical concerns.

"People held on to their moral beliefs in a way they didn't for other values we studied, like tradition, equality and practicality," Luttrell said.

"But what was remarkable was how easy it was to lead into thinking their views were based on moral principles."

The results suggest that appeals to morality can be very effective to groups and political candidates trying to appeal to their supporters.

"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," Luttrell said. "They're also less likely to be swayed by the opposition."


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May 31, 2016
A number of important points.
Among other things, the fact that this works with imbeciles who can't think for themselves, who can't assess an assertion to see if it is valid or not. And that can impact another facet of the situation.
When the effect works, it is not necessarily because people see it as firm and unchanging. Many people have firm and unchanging ideas and that doesn't make many automatically accept what they say. Many perversely go the opposite way if they think something is someone's firmly held belief. The imbeciles can be affected by the belief that deep seated decency, which they likely have never engaged in, motivates the idea.
And it is misleading to talk about "opinion". Many if not most who use this method use it to promote not their feelings on a subject but a craven, politically oriented power grab or get rich quick scheme.

May 31, 2016
The results show why appeals to morality by politicians and advocacy groups can be so effective

Sure. Since no one really has any good definition of what moral behavior actually *is* it's easy to appeal to morality. In effect it's just another way of saying "it's what you like to do anyways", since everyone thinks they are 'moral' (Heck...I know *soldiers* who think being one is moral...go figure)

Morality is something you get given by an outside group. A lone person growing up on an island can't be moral or immoral. The 'practicaility' argument they tested in the article. shows that many hold views of many others 'morality' higher than their own understadning of an issue 'practicality'.

While this may be OK for issues where one has no knowledge and some others do - it's not a good modus operandi when one actually understands an issue (though when that is the case is a bit of a poser)

May 31, 2016
So it's safe to say morality is simply equivalent to or an enforcing behavior of societal norms? And who are the people who decide societal norms to begin with? In the past, it's been the church which is quickly losing its hold on Western civilization and while I'm not religious, I do fear the amorality of science as many seem content to believe that anything that one does in the name of science is acceptable. There has to be something else, a belief bigger than ourselves that we can subscribe to to preserve integrity of the human condition, that respects all life and limits the suffering inflicted on other beings.

May 31, 2016
Many people have firm and unchanging ideas and that doesn't make many automatically accept what they say.
I am sure you have a lot of experience with that, eh?

Many if not most who use this method use it to promote ideas that don't have any basis other than emotions and it is too much work to get some facts to go along with the opinions. That's why you will notice us who do it a lot here on the physorg.


Okay, that one I agree with. That might be the very first time I have ever agreed with you.

May 31, 2016
Why is this so surprising, since it's been repeatedly used for centuries to successfully build and sustain religion and cultism, led by the most immoral.

May 31, 2016
And who are the people who decide societal norms to begin with?

Usually the strongest individual/group. (E.g. when Constantine converted the roman empire to christianity in short order...and in consequence saddled the entire western world with this stuff for the next couple thousand years)

I do fear the amorality of science as many seem content to believe that anything that one does in the name of science is acceptable.

The mere knowing of something isn't moral or amoral. Just because I know how to kill someone doesn't make me amoral. The application of that knowledge would. Same with science.

Though there is an issue with knowing that there are people out there who WILL abuse any knowledge...so scientists aren't entirely absolved of bad applications of their research. If the research is intentionally geared towards, say, making a better nuclear warhead or anti-personell mine one can't really use the cop-out "I was just doing science".

May 31, 2016
... There has to be something else, a belief bigger than ourselves that we can subscribe to to preserve integrity of the human condition, that respects all life and limits the suffering inflicted on other beings.

How bout subscribing to the understanding that - it's the right thing to do...
(with the added benefit of your own survival)

May 31, 2016
Though there is an issue with knowing that there are people out there who WILL abuse any knowledge...so scientists aren't entirely absolved of bad applications of their research. If the research is intentionally geared towards, say, making a better nuclear warhead or anti-personell mine one can't really use the cop-out "I was just doing science".


I would agree but some things (like genetic manipulation) go into a far more gray area. Would we use it to reduce the needless suffering of disease, would it be exploited by the wealthy to further subjugate the poor, would it lead to a stronger species or one more susceptible to the unpredictability of Nature and could it lead to creations so horrible that they become the stuff of nightmares? By taking gene expression into our own hands, are we not saying that Nature (which created us) isn't good enough? Is that arrogance or immorality?

May 31, 2016
To strengthen opinion, say it is backed up by imaginary skyfairy that will violate your with it's enormous penis unless you obey. Always works on the dung-flinging primates

As a fallback, hammer a big black rubber dildo on the desk as featured in Guy RIchie film

May 31, 2016
Many in the professional community would refer to this type of adamant rejection of reality, met by a firmer stance to fight any opposing perspective or criticism as cognitive dissonance/incongruity.

May 31, 2016
The whole reason politics and religion exist is because there are issues that are too big and/or too complex to deal with rationally, or there simply isn't time to think about the subject before action is required.

Thus, people assume a political point of view; or a morality. One can argue about the intelligence of people from the comfort of your armchair, but when faced with an actual incident, everyone needs guidelines and shortcuts. Intelligent, rational, thoughtful behavior is a luxury that few have. Those short on time, or under stress, regardless of intelligence or education, will fall back on these alignment arguments.

We all have those What-Was-I-Thinking moments. Politics and Morality are the coping mechanisms we use to reduce those mistakes in judgment. An appeal to morality is an appeal to that shortcut of thinking.

May 31, 2016
I would agree but some things (like genetic manipulation) go into a far more gray area. Would we use it to reduce the needless suffering of disease, would it be exploited by the wealthy to further subjugate the poor, would it lead to a stronger species or one more susceptible to the unpredictability of Nature and could it lead to creations so horrible that they become the stuff of nightmares? By taking gene expression into our own hands, are we not saying that Nature (which created us) isn't good enough? Is that arrogance or immorality?

It's evolution...

May 31, 2016
Some people think morality is the most lofty expression of human thought. In reality, it is just a rationalized version of the basic tribalistic instinct to do whatever will NOT get you rejected, ostracized, cast out, stoned, or crucified.

Jun 01, 2016
Morality is something you get given by an outside group. A lone person growing up on an island can't be moral or immoral.


So if two lone people come together, how do they get morality? If morality is thrust on a person from outside, and that outside is other people who also need morality thrust upon them, then you haven't really explained morality at all.

Everyone has some intrinsic ability to form moral opinions, and the overall morality of the society forms from the combination and interplay of individual moralities.

Jun 01, 2016
In reality, it is just a rationalized version of the basic tribalistic instinct to do whatever will NOT get you rejected, ostracized, cast out, stoned, or crucified.


It's also a combination of the collective survival traits of the species. It's not all arbitrary social mores.

It could be said that ants have a rudimentary form of morality in that they're not all just going around solo, but they respond to each other and have a built-in set of rules about right and wrong sort of behaviour to keep the whole nest going. If they were sentient and intelligent like we are, they could observe some of these rules as being necessary to keep up their form of organization, but others they could not fully comprehend and these they would call "morality".


Jun 01, 2016
It's evolution...


Nature has the last say in that, thankfully. I picture in the end, it will be the most primitive people that save the human race.

Jun 03, 2016
...ants have a rudimentary form of morality..."


Well said. I think sociobiologist E. O. Wilson would agree with you as well.

Jun 03, 2016
It could be said that ants have a rudimentary form of morality

How could that be said? And how would that be different from saying "plants could be said to have a rudimenatry form of morality.". Or bacteria. Or rocks.

Morality isn't the same as in-built stimulus-response. It is something that can go AGAINST the stimulus-response reaction. That is where it shows whether something can act based on a cognitive* principle.

*Note that any such principle can be labled a 'moral' if enough individuals adopt it.

Jun 03, 2016
Some people think morality is the most lofty expression of human thought. In reality, it is just a rationalized version of the basic tribalistic instinct to do whatever will NOT get you rejected, ostracized, cast out, stoned, or crucified.
In other words, religion

Jun 03, 2016
The mere knowing of something isn't moral or amoral. Just because I know how to kill someone doesn't make me amoral. The application of that knowledge would
@AA_P
depending on it's cultural assessment, that is

morality is dependent upon the cultural or social definition (more so than even personal) and is subjective to interpretations
- take your "kill" example: it is wrong to kill one of your own tribe (as otto has put it) whereas it is not wrong to kill another from a different tribe when seeking to defend or protect resources needed for survival (often called war) or your own family

in fact, it can be promoted as heroic at that point

it's a subjective term that has, and will, continually changed over time

.

I would agree but some things (like genetic manipulation) go into a far more gray area
@Jeffe
but we've been doing it for millennia ... just not as direct or fast
like Corn... etc

Jun 03, 2016
@jeffe cont'd
would it be exploited by the wealthy to further subjugate the poor
probably. that's human nature. see corn, tobacco, cotton, etc
would it lead to a stronger species or one more susceptible to the unpredictability of Nature and could it lead to creations so horrible that they become the stuff of nightmares?
this is the inherent fear of change more than the fear of controlled scientific experimentation

that isn't to say there might be mistakes (like bio-terrorism, etc) but as AA_P noted: "The mere knowing of something isn't moral or amoral... The application of that knowledge would"

morality is subjective to the culture, social interpretations and time, place and context, regardless of the situation, there will always be outlier humans that push the envelope regardless of cultural norms (this is how the definition evolves and change happens - from TV and it's typical prime time content to morality definitions)

Jun 03, 2016
@jeffe
By taking gene expression into our own hands, are we not saying that Nature (which created us) isn't good enough? Is that arrogance or immorality?
or is it necessity?
what was wrong with corn? why do we really need popcorn? what was wrong with rice? was nature wrong for evolving it like it did, or are we wrong for tampering with it to create a crop worth feeding ourselves with?

are there really any definitive answers that aren't subjective? even AA_P's point about killing or making nuke warheads is subjective to the individual (as in: a better warhead, though destructive, is reason for detente and thus defensive and a deterrent to war, and some people actually believe in it strongly enough to consider it's creation a good thing)

i know AA_P will not agree with that POV...
but some people will believe it's a good thing and morally righteous simply because it saved millions by stopping a war with Japan, etc

subjective

GREAT questions though!
5stars

Jun 03, 2016
*Note that any such principle can be labled a 'moral' if enough individuals adopt it
@AA_P
oops
i should have read faster and further

my sincerest apologies... this was a point i was making but thought you wouldn't agree.
(although i know you don't agree with killing or making warheads... )

sorry


Jun 03, 2016
i know AA_P will not agree with that POV...
but some people will believe it's a good thing and morally righteous simply because it saved millions by stopping a war with Japan, etc
Japan had already agreed to surrender prior to Nagasaki. USA simply enjoys murder. Moreover USA began the war by cutting off Japanese access to natural resources. As island nation that was their basis for survival. Moreover war was planned decades prior as Doheney build large oil tanks in Hawaii with no possible function except Midway battle

Jun 03, 2016
i know AA_P will not agree with that POV...
but some people will believe it's a good thing and morally righteous simply because it saved millions by stopping a war with Japan, etc
Japan had already agreed to surrender prior to Nagasaki. USA simply enjoys murder. Moreover USA began the war by cutting off Japanese access to natural resources. As island nation that was their basis for survival. Moreover war was planned decades prior as Doheney build large oil tanks in Hawaii with no possible function except Midway battle

That's why Cap'n Stoopid joined the military (besides his ultimate stupidity), it's his lack of morality and undying bloodlust. For that matter, anyone who joins the military these days is devoid of morality, intelligence, and any respect of common decency of the human condition.

Jun 03, 2016
Morality is something you get given by an outside group. A lone person growing up on an island can't be moral or immoral.
So if two lone people come together, how do they get morality?
They discuss it and agree. The larger the group becomes, the less likely existing members are to accept new morality from new members that conflicts with their preexisting definitions.

It is a tautology that the original members will substantially agree or they would not have formed a group.

If morality is thrust on a person from outside, and that outside is other people who also need morality thrust upon them, then you haven't really explained morality at all.
No, you're assuming that people who form groups that promulgate morality are completely random in their beliefs; this is not so. In fact they already substantially agree or they would reject joining the group.
[contd]

Jun 03, 2016
[contd]
Everyone has some intrinsic ability to form moral opinions, and the overall morality of the society forms from the combination and interplay of individual moralities.
No, everyone has some intrinsic ability to form ethics; they're not morals unless you accepted them a priori rather than forming them at random. And you're unlikely to accept them if they conflict with your preexisting ethics. One is unlikely to join a group that has morals that one cannot accept.

It's also a combination of the collective survival traits of the species. It's not all arbitrary social mores.
Morality is indeed all arbitrary social mores. You are confusing morals with ethics; ethics come directly from the survival traits. Morals are a social construct, and humans are social animals, instinctively driven to accept the morals of a preexisting group in order to survive. This instinctive drive is what causes the phenomena documented in the article we're commenting on.
[contd]

Jun 03, 2016
[contd]
It could be said that ants have a rudimentary form of morality in that they're not all just going around solo, but they respond to each other and have a built-in set of rules about right and wrong sort of behaviour to keep the whole nest going. If they were sentient and intelligent like we are, they could observe some of these rules as being necessary to keep up their form of organization, but others they could not fully comprehend and these they would call "morality".
No. That is not the difference between ethics and morality. The difference is the source, and an ant is far more tuned to its social context than a human. You are only giving them half our ability; we also have the ability to *choose* not to follow part of the morals; even the "intelligent ants" you postulate cannot do that, or they would not be ants.

Jun 03, 2016
i know AA_P will not agree with that POV...
but some people will believe it's a good thing and morally righteous simply because it saved millions by stopping a war with Japan, etc

Actually I think it wasn't moral or amoral as there can be a 'moral' argument either way, and since - as you point out - morals are dependent on culture and circumstance the act could be labeled moral from the american POV and amoral from the japanese one. Since there aren't any absolute morals its not possible to decide which set of morals was better.

(I think it set a very bad precedent re breaking the taboo of using weapons of mass destruction...but that has nothing to do with morals)

Morally right/wrong only really works if both sides agree on the set of morals to use (alternatively if you can show one set of morals to be self consistent while the other is not then that can be used as a proxy way of judging)

Jun 03, 2016
The argument of morals originating from givens is fallacious. The only givens in nature are maths. Almost no morality is based upon game theory. In principle all morality originates from social constructs, and the blind rules are deemed to be law by an invisible skyfairy with an enormous phallus. Ethics are those rules set by man to facilitate social and commercial behavior, and not posited to originate from the Vatican. In fact, the Vatican controls maritime law and so makes commercial law. But I digress

Jun 03, 2016
morality is dependent upon the cultural or social definition (more so than even personal) and is subjective to interpretations
- take your "kill" example: it is wrong to kill one of your own tribe (as otto has put it)
Yah. But it's not a definition. It's not an arbitrary decision. The tribal dynamic - internal altruism in conjunction with external animosity - is a form of group selection at work for 100s of millenia. It is biological.

Religions and political systems have developed in order to exploit it, and have evolved in similar fashion. Nationalism is perhaps its most profound expression.

And tribalism in all these iterations explains any and all forms of morality. Even the universal morality of western culture depends on the perception and acceptance of a universal tribe. But it seems to require the existence of enemies to sustain it, which is why democracy and capitalism are the preferred systemS.

Even socialists need oppression in order to exist.

Jun 03, 2016
And no, this is not Otto's invention.

"It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality and an increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection (Darwin, 1871, i, p. 166; 1891, i, p. 203; italics added)."

Jun 03, 2016
"According to Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1970 et seq.), destructive intergroup aggression in humans depends, to a large extent, on "cultural pseudospeciation". Owing to this process, first analyzed by Erikson (1966), the (ethnic) groups tend to perceive one another as different species and to behave in conformity. Therefore, war appears to be the result of our innate repulsion for outsiders, not a simple effect of aggressive drive. By instigating intergroup aggression, pseudospeciation favors intragroup solidarity, friendship, and altruism.
The group, according to Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1982), is an important level of selection in humans, and many traits that are disadvantageous to the individuals are stabilized by selection at this level."
http://rint.recht...rid2.htm

Jun 03, 2016
You are only giving them half our ability; we also have the ability to *choose* not to follow part of the morals; even the "intelligent ants" you postulate cannot do that, or they would not be ants
You mean choose, as when the psychopath decides to victimize someone, or when the stag decides to run back into the fire?

Unlimited choice is another illusion foisted on us by the same people who gave us tabula rasa. Evolutionary psychologists have found that we have far less freedom to choose than we would like to believe.

The fact that we may not always know why we make the decisions we do has more to do with the unnatural complexity and fragility of the human brain, than the will to do what we want.

Most of our compulsions can be traced back to simple animal behavior, and/or to various defects and levels of damage and decay to be found in our outsized and resource-hungry brains.

Jun 03, 2016
Does not matter is the choice is binary. Mind has free will which is why music and emotion rule humanity. Indeed the recombinations of DNA are the basis of emotion so even an amoeba has a modicum of free will, albeit almost binary in the degrees of freedom

Jun 04, 2016
That's why Cap'n... joined the military (besides his ultimate stupidity), it's his lack of morality and undying bloodlust. For that matter, anyone who joins the military these days is devoid of morality, intelligence, and any respect of common decency of the human condition.
@cd
ROTFLMFAO
now that was funny!
... i didn't think you could be any stupider, but i was just proven wrong...

PS - most of the doctors, nurses (or paramedics) in the military are there because of a debt being paid to the gov't for their education... they did just like i did. the military and i had a mutual agreement for services rendered in order to acquire payment and education... just like any other college grad seeking a grant or scholarship for higher education... except you also get experience with it

the fact that you are too ignorant to even google that much is demonstrative of your own conspiracist ideation, which i've proven already more than once

LOL

Jun 04, 2016
Does not matter is the choice is binary. Mind has free will which is why music and emotion rule humanity
Your mindset is the residue from the time when Marxists told you that stealing from those who had actually earned what they owned was a morally superior thing to do.

As they were actually appealing to your tribal nature, you had no choice but to do what they told you. And then you obediently threw yourself into the guns of national socialists who were told that you needed to be exterminated because, as members of another tribe, you were somewhat less human than they.

They killed you at a rate of 3 to 1 but you outnumbered them 4 to 1 and so your tribe won yay.

But then Marxists convinced you that the middle class in your midst was actually another tribe and so you had no choice but to ship them off to gulag, and so your country entered a 40 year dark age.

Marxists, Nazis, religions etc etc all depend on the illusion of free will.

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