Intuitive Theories and the Cultural Evolution of Morality

M. J. Crockett, Judy S. Kim, Yeon Soon Shin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore the role of intuitive theories in the cultural evolution of moral cognition, integrating recent work across subfields of psychology and suggesting directions for future research. Focusing on intuitive theories in the moral domain concerning how people judge the moral value of actions and make inferences about moral character, we review evidence that the specific forms these theories take vary across individuals and can change via social learning. We propose that cultural selection can operate over the intuitive theories people apply in the moral domain, in which particular variants of intuitive moral theories can be more “successful” to the extent that they are cognitively efficient or provide reputational benefits. Finally, we explore some implications of considering moral cognition as a kind of cultural technology that can be innovated, considering whether intuitive moral theories help or hinder our ability to improve our collective moral norms or practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • cultural evolution
  • intuitive theories
  • moral cognition
  • social learning


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