Why moral people tolerate immoral behavior | Liane Young | Big Think

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Published at : 08 Jan 2021
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Why moral people tolerate immoral behavior
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This video was produced in partnership with John Templeton Foundation.

The problem with having a compass as the symbolic representation of morality is that due north is not a fixed point. Liane Young, Boston College associate professor and director of the Morality Lab, explains how context, bias, and tribal affiliation influence us enormously when we pass moral judgments.

Moral instinct is tainted by cognitive bias. Humans evolved to be more lenient to their in-groups—for example excusing a beloved politician who lines their pockets while lambasting a colleague for the exact same transgression—and to care more about harm done close to them than harm done farther away, for example, to people in another country.

The challenge for humans in a globalized and polarized world is to become aware of our moral biases and learn to apply morality more objectively. How can we be more rational and less hypocritical about our morals? "I think that clarifying the value that you are consulting for a particular problem is really critical," says Young.
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LIANE YOUNG:

Liane Young is an associate professor of psychology at Boston College, where she is the director of the Morality Lab, which specializes in moral psychology. Dr. Young’s current research focuses on the role of theory of mind and emotions in moral judgment and moral behavior. To explore these topics, she uses the methods of social psychology and cognitive neuroscience, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and examination of patient populations with specific cognitive deficits. Dr. Young’s insight and findings have appeared in The New York Times, National Public Radio, MSNBC, U.S. News & World Report, CNN, ABC News, and CBS.
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TRANSCRIPT:

LIANE YOUNG: What makes morality unique is that a lot of times people experience a moral judgment as a flash of intuition or feeling, good or bad. But underneath that feeling is complex moral psychological structure.

NARRATOR: We think that our morals are steadfast, as if they were set in stone or inscribed in ink, but it turns out our morals are far more fluid than we'd like to believe.

YOUNG: Studying moral psychology allows us access to other's perspectives, that others could have different values. And so just knowing that there is this complex space of moral psychology could help us to understand where other people are coming from.

I'm Liane Young. I'm a psychology professor at Boston College. And in my lab, we study human moral decision-making. A key question in our lab right now is what the role of reasoning is for moral psychology. So, when do people and how do people think about different principles for making moral decisions?

NARRATOR: Morality might seem like a compass needle, always guiding us north. But as we start to add information and context that trigger biases, the needle begins to spin.

YOUNG: Moral cognition depends hugely on context. So, if I tell you about somebody who helped a stranger, you would say, they're much better than the person who helped their brother. But if I told you about a person who helped the stranger instead of the brother, you wouldn't think they're very good at all. And it turned out through the research that we did, it was really people's intuitions about familial obligation that structured people's moral intuitions across all of these different cases.

NARRATOR: We may say adultery is wrong, but if it's a friend who we know well, who had a troubled marriage, maybe we're more forgiving. We say stealing is wrong, but we might be more understanding of our favorite politician when they're caught lining their pockets. We do this all the time.

YOUNG: The point is that there are lots of different contextual influences that contribute to people's moral judgments.

NARRATOR: Morality has evolved with our species because of human's practical and psychological need for social bonds, but even early human societies began codifying morality into laws and norms that were meant to be applied universally.

YOUNG: Back in evolutionary time, people didn't interact with others across the world. We interacted with the people in our family, the people that we could see. It's because of that, moral psychology has developed these sorts of biases that have to do with social distance. So, we think that the harm that is being done up close and personal, right in front of us matters more than the harm that is being done to so...

Read the full transcript at https://bigthink.com/john-templeton-foundation/moral-psychology
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