What is the strongest evidence in favour of our stripped-down dual-process theory of moral psychology (see A Dual Process Theory of Ethical Judgement)? Greene (2014) cites many studies. In this section we evaluate three of them, including one involving process dissociation (Conway & Gawronski, 2013). (As a bonus, process dissociation also enables us to revisit the issue of whether emotion influences moral judgement.)
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The first premise of our stripped-down dual process theory of moral psychology (see A Dual Process Theory of Ethical Judgement) is probably the most controversial:
What is the strongest evidence in favour of this premise? Greene (2014) cites many studies. As always we should not take for granted that Greene’s description of the studies is correct: we need to evaluate them for ourselves (see the step-by-step guide in Moral Intuitions and Emotions: Evaluating the Evidence).
We are looking for evidence in favour of the stripped-down dual process theory together with our selected auxiliary hypothesis:
Here we will consider three of the studies Greene cites. It is important to specify which prediction each study tests (which may not be obvious from the abstract).
Suter & Hertwig (2011) — prediction: limiting the time available to make a decision will reduce the influence of distal outcomes.
Conway & Gawronski (2013) — prediction: higher cognitive load will reduce the dominance of the more outcome-sensitive process.
Suter & Hertwig (2011) is an example of a relatively simply study which provides evidence in favour of the dual process theory plus auxiliary hypothesis.
One limit of this study is that it does not involve any variation in the distal outcomes of actions. This is relevant because the auxiliary hypothesis is about how different processes are differently influenced by distal outcomes.
Although not designed with exactly this in mind, Trémolière & Bonnefon (2014) does observe responses to otherwise similar actions with different distal outcomes. However, the findings are not predicted by the dual process theory and auxiliary hypothesis.2
One limit of both Suter & Hertwig (2011) and Trémolière & Bonnefon (2014) is that they treat responses as either consequentialist or not. These studies are sometimes presented as comparing consequentialist with deontological responses; but this cannot be accurate because failing to respond as a consequentialist would does not make you a deontologist (you may be neither).
Conway & Gawronski (2013) overcome this limit in addition to observing responses to otherwise similar actions with different distal outcomes. It is one of the strongest tests of the stripped-down dual process theory and its auxiliary hypothesis. These authors find, as predicted, that higher cognitive load reduces sensitivity to outcomes while not affecting sensitivity to moral prohibitions (such as on killing).
Conway & Gawronski (2013) are also important because they introduce process dissociation in moral psychology. Although difficult to understand (I attempt to explain the bare minimum you need in the recording), this is a powerful method for testing theories.
Having evaluated some of the evidence in favour of the dual process theory, our next task is to consider evidence against it.
Conway & Gawronski (2013, p. Experiment 3) may be relevant to evaluating to Huebner, Dwyer, & Hauser (2009, pp. 2–3)’s problem about how (according to them) many studies ‘fail to isolate the precise point at which emotion has a role in our moral psychology’ (see PS: Does emotion influence moral judgment or merely motivate morally relevant action?). For they show that a manipulation of participants’ feelings does not influence how sensitive people are to outcomes but does influence how sensitive they are to moral prohibitions (such as on killing). This is consistent with feelings influencing moral judgement but not what you should predict if you are working from the hypothesis that feelings merely motivate morally relevant action.
Since automaticity and cognitive efficiency are matters of degree, it is only strictly correct to identify some processes as faster than others.
The fast-slow distinction has been variously characterised in ways that do not entirely overlap (even individual author have offered differing characterisations at different times; e.g. Kahneman, 2013; Morewedge & Kahneman, 2010; Kahneman & Klein, 2009; Kahneman, 2002): as its advocates stress, it is a rough-and-ready tool, not the basis for a rigorous theory.
As explained in the lecture recording, this study is associated with a second prediction, which the results appear to disconfirm: limiting the time available to make a decision will reduce sensitivity to outcomes. ↩
Although the Trémolière & Bonnefon (2014)’s findings may be interpreted as disconfirming a prediction (as Gawronski & Beer, 2017, p. 669 propose), it would be incautious to rely on post hoc reinterpretations of findings. ↩