People experience some attitude objects and policy preferences as reflections of their core beliefs about right and wrong, morality and immorality. There are a number of theoretical distinctions between attitudes held with strong moral conviction (“moral mandates”) and otherwise strong and non-moral attitudes, including that moral mandates are more likely to be experienced as universally applicable rather than culturally variable, are relatively independent of authority dictates (e.g., whether a given practice, such as abortion is legal or illegal) and other forms of convention, carry a strong prescriptive and proscriptive force, and have deep ties to emotion. Variation in whether people see an issue, choice, or situation as moral has a number of important implications. Stronger moral convictions are associated with: (a) higher levels of political engagement (e.g., voting, and voting intentions), (b) greater preferred social and physical distance from attitudinally dissimilar others, (c) lower levels of good will and cooperativeness in attitudinally heterogeneous groups, (d) greater inability to generate procedural solutions to resolve disagreements, (e) greater distrust of otherwise legitimate authorities to “get it right,” (e) rejection of non-preferred decisions and policy outcomes, regardless of whether they are associated with exemplary fair or legitimate procedures and authorities (a reversal of the usual “fair process effect”), and (f) greater acceptance of vigilantism and violence to achieve morally convicted ends. The normative implications of these findings are both reassuring (moral conviction acts as protection against obedience to potentially malevolent authorities) and terrifying (moral convictions are associated with rejection of the rule of law, and provide a motivational foundation for violent protest and acts of terrorism). For a reliable measure moral conviction click here.
Among other questions, our current and future research aims to discover more about where moral convictions “come from,” that is, the psychological antecedents of moral conviction; understanding more about the similarities and differences between moral judgments (judgments of specific acts, that are relatively one-shot and non-enduring) and moral convictions (attitudes that are treated more like possessions or aspects of the self); the cross cultural generalizability of known moral conviction effects; what kinds of persuasive messages lead people to moralize attitude objects, and whether moralized messages are more persuasive than non-moralized messages. We have also begun a new line of inquiry to study the psychology of political moralizers, that is, those who tend to have moral convictions about most political objects.