Narrating the “what” and “why” of our moral actions

Judy Sein Kim, M. J. Crockett

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

3 Scopus citations


To defend or burnish our moral reputation, we often tell moral narratives. Moral narratives describe morally relevant actions and explanations of those actions, detailing how people acted and why they did so. When and why does communication about moral events include descriptions of peoples' actions and explanations? We hypothesize that informational, reputational, and presentational goals of narrators shape whether their communication contains clear actions and explanations. We asked a group of “narrators” to communicate with other people following a moral decision. Another group of “audience” members judged them based on their chosen statement. We find that the informational and reputational goals of narrators can explain what information they decide to reveal. Narrators choose what to say based on inferring the audience's likely perceptions but underestimate how much audiences in fact expect answers to “what” and “why”. Audiences, however, do not always perceive the lack of expected information as indicative of deceit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes
Event44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Cognitive Diversity, CogSci 2022 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: Jul 27 2022Jul 30 2022


Conference44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Cognitive Diversity, CogSci 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • decision-making
  • language
  • morality
  • narratives
  • pragmatics


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