Cognitive load selectively interferes with utilitarian moral judgment

Joshua D. Greene, Sylvia A. Morelli, Kelly Lowenberg, Leigh E. Nystrom, Jonathan D. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

509 Scopus citations

Abstract

Traditional theories of moral development emphasize the role of controlled cognition in mature moral judgment, while a more recent trend emphasizes intuitive and emotional processes. Here we test a dual-process theory synthesizing these perspectives. More specifically, our theory associates utilitarian moral judgment (approving of harmful actions that maximize good consequences) with controlled cognitive processes and associates non-utilitarian moral judgment with automatic emotional responses. Consistent with this theory, we find that a cognitive load manipulation selectively interferes with utilitarian judgment. This interference effect provides direct evidence for the influence of controlled cognitive processes in moral judgment, and utilitarian moral judgment more specifically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1144-1154
Number of pages11
JournalCognition
Volume107
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Keywords

  • Cognitive control
  • Cognitive load
  • Moral judgment
  • Morality
  • Utilitarian

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