Kyle Hull, Clarisse Warren, Kevin Smith

Politics makes bastards of us all: Why moral judgment is politically situational

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology

AbstractMoral judgment is politically situational—people are more forgiving of transgressive copartisans and more likely to behave punitively and unethically toward political opponents. Such differences are widely observed, but not fully explained. If moral values are nonnegotiable first‐principle beliefs about right and wrong, why do similar transgressions elicit different moral judgment in the personal and political realm? We argue this pattern arises from the same forces intuitionist frameworks of moral psychology use to explain the origins of morality: the adaptive need to suppress individual behavior to ensure ingroup success. We hypothesize ingroups serve as moral boundaries, that the relative tight constraints morality exerts over ingroup relations loosen in competitive group environments because doing so also serves ingroup interests. We find support for this hypothesis in four independent samples and also find that group antipathy—internalized dislike of the outgroup—pushes personal and political moral boundaries farther apart.

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