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Moral Reframing and Process Dissociation

Given that the evidence for cultural variation in moral psychology is at best weak, and given that the theoretical argument for moral reframing is flawed (see The Argument and Some Objections), why does moral reframing seem to work? We have already seen that part of the answer may be that moral reframing provides cues to the source of a message (see The Puzzle of Moral Foundations Theory). But perhaps this is not the whole story. Luke & Gawronski (2021) use process dissociation to show that more socially conservative people tend to be less concerned with the consequences of actions. Could this also contribute to explaining why moral reframing works?

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Earlier (in The Argument and Some Objections) we encountered a puzzle about moral reframing:

Given that the evidence for cultural variation in moral psychology is at best weak, and given that the theoretical argument for moral reframing is flawed, why does moral reframing seem to work?

We have already seen some attempts to address it, most notably the suggestion that moral reframing works by providing cues to the source of the message (The Puzzle of Moral Foundations Theory).

A further, compatible possibility is suggested by Luke & Gawronski (2021)’s discovery that socially conservative people are less influenced by overall consequences for the greater good that socially liberal people. They report:

‘on average, conservatives are less inclined to accept harmful actions for the greater good than liberals. [And] liberals are more sensitive to the consequences of a given action for the greater good than conservatives’ (Luke & Gawronski, 2021, p. 10).

Could this alone explain the moral reframing effects? Does reframing to appeal to socially conservative people involve de-emphasizing individuals paying a cost for a greater collective benefit?

As a potential explanation of moral reframing, this research has the advantage that it does not rely on the Moral Foundations Theory, and so avoids some of the objections to that theory (see The Argument and Some Objections).

We should be cautious. Luke & Gawronski (2021) identify limits of their research. And, in any case, and generalising from the trolley problems they consider to environmental issues is risky.


Moral Foundations Theory : The theory that moral pluralism is true; moral foundations are innate but also subject to cultural learning, and the Social Intuitionist Model of Moral Judgement is correct (Graham et al., 2019). Proponents often claim, further, that cultural variation in how these innate foundations are woven into ethical abilities can be measured using the Moral Foundations Questionnare (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009; Graham et al., 2011). Some empirical objections have been offered (Davis et al., 2016; Davis, Dooley, Hook, Choe, & McElroy, 2017; Doğruyol, Alper, & Yilmaz, 2019). See Moral Foundations Theory: An Approach to Cultural Variation.
moral reframing : ’A technique in which a position an individual would not normally support is framed in a way that it is consistent with that individual's moral values. [...] In the political arena, moral reframing involves arguing in favor of a political position that members of a political group would not normally support in terms of moral concerns that the members strongly ascribe to‘ (Feinberg & Willer, 2019, pp. 2--3).
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.
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).
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.
Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2019). Moral reframing: A technique for effective and persuasive communication across political divides. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 13(12), e12501.
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.
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.
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.
Luke, D. M., & Gawronski, B. (2021). Political Ideology and Moral Dilemma Judgments: An Analysis Using the CNI Model: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.