In order to use Moral Foundations Theory to identify and explain cultural differences, we need a way to measure individual variations in how moral judgements are made. The Moral Foundations Questionnaire aims to fulfill this need.
By the end of this section you should know what the Moral Foundations Questionnaire is and how attempts have been made to validate it. You should also be aware of some objections to its use as a tool for identifying cultural differences.
The first step towards finding evidence is to operationalise the theory. To this end, Haidt & Graham (2007) developed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (which can be found in Graham et al. (2011)). Each foundation is linked to a number of questions.
The questionnaire has been given to many subjects by various researchers. Patterns in subjects’ answers can be investigated to discover whether the questionnaire has:
internal validity (roughly, are the patterns in subjects’ answers consistent with the theory that they are answering on the basis of five foundations?1);
test-retest reliability (are individuals likely to give the same answers at different times); and
external validity (roughly, are subjects’ answers on other questionnaires correlated with the conceptually related foundations?).
The Moral Foundations Questionnaire exhibits all these features, and passes tests of internal validity in various countries (Graham et al., 2011; Yilmaz, Harma, Bahçekapili, & Cesur, 2016). However, Iurino & Saucier (2020) collected new samples across 27 countries but ‘we were not able to replicate Graham et al.’s (2011) results indicating that a five-factor model is a suitable approach to modeling the moral foundations’ (p.~6).
A further important feature is measurement invariance:
‘A finding of measurement invariance would provide more confidence that use of the MFQ across cultures can shed light on meaningful differences between cultures rather than merely reflecting the measurement properties of the MFQ’ (Iurino & Saucier, 2020, p. 2).
Overall, we should be cautious about drawing conclusions about cultural variation from results obtained with the Moral Foundations Questionnaire alone. But we have some evidence to suppose that, in some cases, within a single culture, the Moral Foundations Questionnaire can identify aspects of ethical abilities which may be subject to cultural variation:
‘Recognizing ingroup loyalty, authority, and purity as moral concerns—even if they are not your moral concerns—is crucial both for scientific accuracy and for the application of social justice research‘ (Haidt & Graham, 2007, p. 111).
Social Intuitionist Model of Moral Judgement : A model on which intuitive processes are directly responsible for moral judgements (Haidt & Bjorklund, 2008). One’s own reasoning does not typically affect one’s own moral judgements, but (outside philosophy, perhaps) is typically used only to provide post-hoc justification after moral judgements are made. Reasoning does affect others’ moral intuitions, and so provides a mechanism for cultural learning.
Davis, D., Dooley, M., Hook, J., Choe, E., & McElroy, S. (2017). The Purity/Sanctity Subscale of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire Does Not Work Similarly for Religious Versus Non-Religious Individuals. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 9(1), 124–130. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000057
Davis, D., Rice, K., Tongeren, D. V., Hook, J., DeBlaere, C., Worthington, E., & Choe, E. (2016). The Moral Foundations Hypothesis Does Not Replicate Well in Black Samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(4). https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000056
Doğruyol, B., Alper, S., & Yilmaz, O. (2019). The five-factor model of the moral foundations theory is stable across WEIRD and non-WEIRD cultures. Personality and Individual Differences, 151, 109547. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.109547
Graham, J., Haidt, J., Motyl, M., Meindl, P., Iskiwitch, C., & Mooijman, M. (2019). Moral Foundations Theory: On the advantages of moral pluralism over moral monism. In K. Gray & J. Graham (Eds.), Atlas of Moral Psychology. New York: Guilford Publications.
Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1029–1046. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015141
Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 366–385. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021847
Gregorich, S. E. (2006). Do Self-Report Instruments Allow Meaningful Comparisons Across Diverse Population Groups? Testing Measurement Invariance Using the Confirmatory Factor Analysis Framework. Medical Care, 44(11), S78–S94.
Haidt, J., & Bjorklund, F. (2008). Social intuitionists answer six questions about moral psychology. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.), Moral psychology, Vol 2: The cognitive science of morality: Intuition and diversity (pp. 181–217). Cambridge, Mass: MIT press.
Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize. Social Justice Research, 20(1), 98–116. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-007-0034-z
Kivikangas, J. M., Fernández-Castilla, B., Järvelä, S., Ravaja, N., & Lönnqvist, J.-E. (2021). Moral foundations and political orientation: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 147(1), 55–94. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000308
Lee, S. T. H. (2018). Testing for Measurement Invariance: Does your measure mean the same thing for different participants? APS Observer, 31(8).
Yilmaz, O., Harma, M., Bahçekapili, H. G., & Cesur, S. (2016). Validation of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire in Turkey and its relation to cultural schemas of individualism and collectivism. Personality and Individual Differences, 99, 149–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.090
For a clear, nontechnical intro to confirmatory factor analysis see Gregorich (2006). (Note that you are not expected to understand this.) ↩
See Lee (2018): ‘Ascertaining scalar invariance allows you to substantiate multi-group comparisons of factor means (e.g., t-tests or ANOVA), and you can be confident that any statistically significant differences in group means are not due to differences in scale properties.’ ↩