I admit that I have a difficult time understanding some people. Its not that I cannot comprehend of them behaving as they do, but it is difficult for me to understand why they make the choices that they do. I have been fascinated by this idea for a quite a few years, but I have uncovered a breakthrough (for me at least) that helps me. This is particularly helpful since I have been dealing with a group of people lately that have come across as having a totally different basis of morality than myself. This type of thing bothers me, so now this series.
This series of posts is going to be about the research conducted by Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia. He, as well as his collaborators, has been conducting research into Moral Foundations. This effort has been most illuminating to me as it has given a concrete indication for the basis of the behaviors I have observed in groups that seem to be immoral to me. I have not contacted Professor Haidt directly yet, but I will shortly.
In a nutshell, Professor Haidt has been spearheading a study aimed at determining the drivers for moral behavior. He has developed striking results that correlate and help explain liberal, conservative, and recently libertarian behaviors. These variables are significant and fit well with some of the behaviors that I have seen.
Here they are:
1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulate the theory in 2010 based on new data, we are likely to include several forms of fairness, and to emphasize proportionality, which is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).
I hope to get into some of the specific results as well as commentary in the coming posts.
Have a great day.