Health & Wellness

Want to commit to an opinion? Make it moral, new study says

Here's a little trick for anyone wanting to completely commit to a belief — make it moral.

Framing an argument in terms of morality and then believing your position is the morally correct one helps to strengthen your belief, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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Human head and compass. The concept on the topic of philosophy, psychology, morality, etc.

"Whether or not someone actually has a moral reason for taking a particular stance, the mere perception of a moral basis makes opinions stronger, which means people are more likely to act on them and are less likely to change them when challenged," Andrew Luttrell, an Ohio State University doctoral candidate and the study's lead author, told TODAY.com.

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To perform the study's research, Luttrell's team set up a series of experiments with three groups of nearly 100 participants to test how strongly participants held certain beliefs.

In one experiment, the team asked college students to respond to information about a final exam policy. The group was then given feedback about their responses with some being told their positions were "moral" and others told their position was "traditional."

Those whose responses were deemed "moral," were much more likely to say they'd take action for their policy — sign a petition or vote — than those who were deemed "traditional."

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The team performed a similar experiment asking participants to share their thoughts about recycling. This time, participants were told their positions were either "moral" or "practical." When the researchers tried to sway their opinions, the "moral" group held more firmly to their beliefs.

Courtesy of Andy Luttrell
Andrew Luttrell

The team's findings intrigued them. "It was surprising that connecting people's opinions to morality didn't necessarily make them more confident in that opinion or say that the issue was any more important," said Luttrell. "Instead, just bringing morality into the picture made people stick to their opinions without affecting those other aspects of the opinion."

You can certainly see the phenomenon in action during this year's election season.

"In the current election, you can see people loading their political opinions (across the board) with a degree of morality," said Luttrell. "At this point, using moral rhetoric may not convince people who are on the fence, but perhaps more importantly, it will make a candidate's supporters take action on their opinions and actually turn up to vote."

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Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.

That's actually an important point about the study — the team's findings don't indicate that we can convince other people to come around to our opinion just by positioning our opinion as the moral one.

"In fact, in our studies, we found that people were actually less convinced when the issue was framed as moral," said Luttrell.

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Luttrell would like to further explore how the findings might impact those in advocacy work.

"In our studies we found that when people saw recycling in moral terms, it made them more committed to their pro-recycling opinion," Lutrtell said. "Future research might reveal whether this is a viable way to make conservation initiatives more successful."

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