Research on moral judgment has focused on interpersonal interactions and issues of harm, rights, and justice. But there is a large region of moral concern that has been under-explored: the morality of body-related actions, such as drug use and sexuality. Most Americans have strong moral feelings of condemnation about drugs and some forms of sexual activity, even when these actions are done in private, with no apparent victim. It is important that we understand the basis of this condemnation, and how it can be strengthened or weakened. My prior research indicates that this condemnation is not based on reasoning about harm, rights, or justice, but rather is caused by a quick """"""""gut feeling"""""""", or affect-laden intuition. These intuitions then motivate the construction of moral reasons, ex post facto, as a social product to justify one's judgment. This """"""""social intuitionist"""""""" model is described in the present proposal, and contrasted with alternative """"""""rationalist"""""""" models.
The specific aim of the present research is to test the social intuitionist model with two experiments that manipulate participants' ability to reason. In study one, participants are asked to judge victimless sex and drug-taking behaviors, while under a low or high cognitive load (i.e., holding a short or long number in memory). In study 2 participants are asked to judge the same stories while either under time pressure, or no time pressure. In both cases it is predicted that manipulations that interfere with reasoning will interfere with participants' ability to justify their judgments, but not with their ability to reach their judgments. People make choices about drug use and sexual activity. These choices occur within a social and cultural setting, in which moral concerns and moral condemnation may be powerful restraints. These choices also have important public health consequences, particularly since drug use and sexual activity are the principal routes of HIV transmission. An understanding of how moral intuitions interact with moral reasons in the production of moral judgment may aid in efforts to stem drug abuse and unsafe sexual practices.
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