Moral Values Gain Importance in the Presence of Others

Daniel A. Yudkin, Ana Gantman, Wilhelm Hofmann, & Jordi Quoidbach

Jul 18, 2019
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Date Received: 8th July 19

Is morality inherently social? A widely held assumption in philosophy and psychology is that the purpose of morality is to regulate social behavior. Yet this fundamental question has never been tested directly. We used a custom smartphone application to repeatedly record participants’ (N = 1,166) current social context and the importance they afforded different moral values. Results showed that moral values were rated as more important overall when people were in the presence of others versus alone. This effect was robust to a series of potential confounds (demographics, time of day, mood) and was moderated by social proximity, such that closer social relationships had a stronger impact on moral evaluation than more distant. Furthermore, the effect of social proximity on moral evaluation was stronger for “communal” versus “universal” values, suggesting the effect of social context differs according to value type. A randomized laboratory experiment confirmed that the mere physical presence (vs. absence) of another person in the immediate environment increased the importance of moral values. Overall, these results demonstrate the contextual sensitivity of moral values and corroborate the view that morality plays a social-regulatory role in human behavior.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

Nature Communications

Nature Research, Springer Nature