Some real science on CPD. And you can help.

Moral Foundations Theory is a framework, developed by Jonathan Haidt and colleagues, that posits certain innate psychological systems as the foundations of “intuitive ethics.”  That is, all of us have hardwired into our psychological architecture systems by which we intuitively judge right and wrong.  The five primary foundations are:  1) Harm/care, 2) Fairness/reciprocity, 3) Ingroup/loyalty, 4) Authority/respect, and 5) Purity/sanctity.  An individual’s morality is a function of their personal degree of emphasis on each of these foundations, as well as the culture and institutions to which the individual is exposed.

The data these social psychologists have gathered so far indicate that the moral frameworks of liberals rely mainly on the Harm/care foundation, with support from the Fairness/reciprocity foundation.  Religious conservatives, on the other hand, rely on all of the foundations, but place significantly less emphasis on Harm/care than liberals do.  Haidt and his colleagues host a website where you can learn more about Moral Foundations Theory, your own morality and ethics, and you can also contribute to the group’s research projects by taking online surveys.  Their goal, they say, is:

to understand the way our “moral minds” work. Why do people disagree so passionately about what is right? Why, in particular, is there such hostility and incomprehension between members of different political parties? By filling out a few of our surveys, you’ll help us answer those questions.

Well, as loyal readers well know, my goal is to find an effective treatment, vaccine, or cure for Conservative Personality Disorder.  Not only is Haidt’s research interesting in its own right, it clearly has the potential to provide some critical insights into the CPD epidemic.  If you have a little time, and the noble inclination to contribute to research that could someday turn Teabaggers into Occupiers, head over to YourMorals.org and take a survey or two.  (Registration with an email address is required, but the data provided to the researchers is anonymous.)

I took a survey called “What would you do for a million dollars?” based on the Moral Foundations Sacredness Scale.  The scale is described this way:

The scale is a measure of how much you value each of the five psychological foundations of morality that seem to be found across cultures: 1) Harm/care, 2) Fairness/reciprocity, 3) Ingroup/loyalty, 4) Authority/respect, and 5) Purity/sanctity. We assess your values indirectly here, by asking you how much money it would take for you to commit actions that violate each of these foundations. We are particularly interested in whether you say there is ANY amount of money that would persuade you to do each action.

The idea behind the scale is that different moral foundations may be sacred for some people and not for others. By “sacred” we mean that you would not for any amount of money violate the principles of that foundation. For instance, if ingroup loyalty were a sacred value to you then you would not betray (or perhaps even criticize publicly) your family, social groups or nation, even for a million dollars… In particular, we want to test our prediction that issues related to harm and fairness are more sacred to liberals, whereas issues related to ingroup, authority, and purity are more sacred to conservatives.

Before taking the survey, you are told to presume that nothing bad will happen to you if you take any of the actions for any amount of money — you will not be caught, found out, embarrassed, arrested, etc.  The survey questions are all in the same form, and this one is typical:

Stick a pin into the palm of a child you don’t know.

  • $0 (I’d do it for free)
  • $10
  • $100
  • $1,000
  • $10,000
  • $100,000
  • A million dollars
  • Never for any amount of money

I had to think about this a little bit before I ultimately decided I would never stick a pin into the palm of an unfamiliar child for any amount of money.  YMMV of course, which is the point of doing the study.  With respect to this question in particular, I shudder to think that there are probably more than a few people who would be not only willing but eager to stick a pin into the palm of a child — for free.  And with respect to this survey generally, I have to wonder whether my answers would be significantly different if I were homeless and starving — as opposed to lounging around my glamorous Palace enjoying a delicious organic breakfast.

Here is another question, and this one I did not hesitate to answer, not even for a nanosecond:

Throw a rotten tomato at a political leader you dislike. (remember, you will not get caught)

  • $0 (I’d do it for free)
  • $10
  • $100
  • $1,000
  • $10,000
  • $100,000
  • A million dollars
  • Never for any amount of money

Not only would I do this for free, I would actually pay serious cash for the privilege.  This opens up all sorts of entertaining ideas, does it not?  For instance, what if the politician is specified?  Of course the range of answers would need to be scaled back — just for starters, I do not have a million dollars in the Palace Treasury, or $100,000, or even $10,000.  But how about a survey that looks something like this:

How much would you pay to throw a rotten tomato at Dick Cheney? (remember, you will not get caught)

  • $0 (I’d do it for free, but wouldn’t pay a cent for it)
  • $10
  • $100
  • $1,000
  • $10,000
  • I’d throw my own grandmother under a bus and collect the insurance money if that’s what it took to throw this tomato

For Cheney, I’d pay $1,000.

What about Sarah Palin, or Michelle Bachmann?  Meh, for some reason I’m not quite as eager:  $100 apiece.

The Republican presidential candidates:  Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich?  $100, $1,000, $1,000 and $10,000, respectively.

You could also alter the hypothetical projectile.  Why not a dog turd?  Or a whole lot of dog turds?  Tar and feathers?

And now that I’m thinking about it, why not religious leaders in addition to the politicos?  Tony Perkins from the Family Patriarchy Research Council.  The Pope.  You could consider political pundits, too:  Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh…

Seriously, how much would you pay to fling a pile of shit at Rush Limbaugh?  ‘Cause you know what?  I’m thinking bye-bye grandma.  And I highly doubt I am alone in this conviction.

I will be sure to let readers know as soon as the Palace Research Institute for Politically Motivated Tomato, Tar and Poo Flinging goes live.  But until that happy day, please consider a visit to YourMorals.org.

One thought on “Some real science on CPD. And you can help.

  1. Ha! I ran over to register at YourMorals.org, and was greeted with the message, “The username already exists in our database. Would you like to log in?” And so I did–and found that I completed a half-dozen or so of the tests back in October of 2009.

    Whoops. :-)

    Anyway, I took a few more this evening, and found out a few surprising things about myself, one of them being that I’m either a genius or I’m completely full of shit. My money is on the latter…

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