Implicit moral evaluations—i.e., immediate, unintentional assessments of the wrongness of actions or persons—play a central role in supporting moral behavior in everyday life. Yet little research has employed methods that rigorously measure individual differences in implicit moral evaluations. In five experiments, we develop a new sequential priming measure—the Moral Categorization Task—and a multinomial model that decomposes judgment on this task into multiple component processes. These include implicit moral evaluations of moral transgression primes (Unintentional Judgment), accurate moral judgments about target actions (Intentional Judgment), and a directional tendency to judge actions as morally wrong (Response Bias). Speeded response deadlines reduced Intentional Judgment but not Unintentional Judgment (Experiment 1). Unintentional Judgment was stronger toward moral transgression primes than non-moral negative primes (Experiments 2–4). Intentional Judgment was associated with increased error-related negativity, a neurophysiological indicator of behavioral control (Experiment 4). Finally, people who voted for an anti-gay marriage amendment had stronger Unintentional Judgment toward gay marriage primes (Experiment 5). Across Experiments 1–4, implicit moral evaluations converged with moral personality: Unintentional Judgment about wrong primes, but not negative primes, was negatively associated with psychopathic tendencies and positively associated with moral identity and guilt proneness. Theoretical and practical applications of formal modeling for moral psychology are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Language and Linguistics
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Linguistics and Language
- Cognitive Neuroscience