THE ROLE OF MORAL HEURISTICS IN PROCESSING FRAGILE AND CONFLICTING EVIDENCE CONCERNING SOCIETAL RISKS

Project: Research

Project participants

  • University of Bergen
Major societal transformations and technologies such as global warming, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, terrorism, and other risks often imply highly controversial public discussions concerning their causes and consequences. Moreover, societal risks often raise fundamental ethical and moral issues. When evaluating these risks, lay people have to not only comprehend the complex underlying scientific information, they also face the problem of dealing with conflicting scientific findings and interpretations. We examine the hypothesis that lay people resolve uncertainties and ambiguities in the evaluation of scientific evidence by applying so-called moral heuristics in order to form a judgment. A moral heuristic is an intuitive mechanism yielding a judgment about the moral quality of an activity. An epistemic judgment about the correctness or probability of a statement is thereby substituted by a moral judgment about the blameworthiness of a related activity; this process is called attribute substitution. Moral heuristics are based on moral emotions such as indignation or disgust which are immediate reactions triggered by events that are perceived to be morally relevant. We assume that moral heuristics are more likely to be activated if the available evidence about a societal risk is equivocal and conflicting. The close association between moral and epistemic judgments as well as the moralizing of evidence are characteristic features of public discourses about societal risks.
DFG-SPP 1409
StatusCompleted
Period01.11.1130.09.13
URLhttp://wissenschaftundoeffentlichkeit.de/DFG-SPP1409/
Name of research programmeFunded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)
Contract ID (EU) or Grant IDPF 330/6-1

Publications