Influence of Affect on Philosophical Intuitions

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Principal investigator:

Mirta Galesic

Santa Fe Institute



Sample size: 305

Field period: 10/10/2010-05/25/2016

Non-rational factors appear to shape our understanding of some fundamental moral and philosophical issues. Some of these robust factors may even bias verifiable experts who have spent years refining and improving their understanding. This grant will provide funding for a testing and measurement of sources and consequences of diverse understandings and moral disagreement in a probabilistically representative sample. The results of the study will provide a foundation for the ongoing analysis of issues that may shape informed decision making, with special emphasis on the “paternalism versus transparency” debate and related implications for the design of risk communications and risky choices.
Many philosophers have argued that fundamental philosophical beliefs in free will and moral objectivism profoundly shape our lives and behavior. Today, empirical evidence indicates that some of these arguments may have merit, while others do not. Unfortunately, progress on these issues has been hampered as measuring and interpreting such beliefs is difficult. For example, intuitions tend to vary depending on factors such as culture, personality, cognitive style, and expertise. Moreover, the vast majority of empirical research relies only on the most basic survey methods using potentially biased samples (e.g., college undergraduates). Do the relations between basic personality traits and philosophical biases observed in convenience samples generalize, and are the observed differences in key moral values and judgments independent of essential reasoning skills in the public more generally?
Experimental Manipulations
High v. Low Affect Moral Vignettes (e.g., judging moral responsibility and punishment for tax fraud v. murder)
Relations across reasoning skills (statistical numeracy, risk literacy), personality, moral values, judgments, and risk evaluations and choices.
Summary of Results
Provided new, converging evidence that personality (e.g., extraversion) tends to be uniquely and robustly related to fundamental moral judgments (e.g., intentional action, punishment, responsibility, compatibilist judgments), independent of skills, knowledge, and other factors. Results suggest that some moral disagreement is better explained by differences in fundamental values (rather than misunderstanding of material fact) and thus is unlikely to be explained/resolved by changing knowledge or skills (e.g., one size cannot fit all for many kinds of choices and so nudges that bias will often be less ethical as compared to communications that inform). Among other outcomes, these results have informed published meta-analysis and papers on motivated reasoning and decision making skills (e.g., risk literacy). Findings have also contributed to development of norms for risk literacy and fundamental moral values (e.g., philosophical character), which have implications for informed decision making and the ethical design of risk communications and choice architectures.

Cokely, E. T., Feltz, A., Ghazal, S., Allan, J. N., Petrova, D.,& Garcia-Retamero, R. (2018). Skilled decision theory: From intelligence to numeracy and expertise. In K. A. Ericsson, R. R. Hoffman, A. Kozbelt, & A. M. Williams (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (2nd ed.), pp. 476–505. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Feltz, A., & Cokely, E. T. (2019). Extraversion and compatibilist intuitions: a ten-year retrospective and meta-analyses. Philosophical Psychology, 32(3), 388-403.

Feltz, A., & Cokely, E. T. (2017). Informing ethical decision making. In The Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics (pp. 304-318). Routledge.

Feltz, A., & May, J. (2017). The means/side-effect distinction in moral cognition: A meta-analysis. Cognition, 166, 314-327.

Cho, J., Cokely, E., Ramasubramanian, M., Allan, J., Feltz, A., & Garcia-Retamero, R. (2021, working paper). Risk Literacy Promotes Representative Understanding: Numerate People are Less Biased, More Knowledgeable, and More Concerned about Climate Change.

Allan, J., Cokely, E.T., Feltz, A., Cho, J. Garcia-Retamero, R. (in prep). Decision Vulnerability and Risk Literacy: Using Statistical Numeracy Norms for Evaluation of Risk Communications and Prediction of Decision Biases.