Tree-Huggers vs. Human-Lovers: Differences in Cognitive and Emotional Tendencies Influencing Attributions of Moral Worth
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Modern societies have begun to assign moral worth beyond kin and ingroup members (Crimston et al., 2016). Moral worth is generally thought to proceed along a single dimension stretching from humans to the natural world (Singer, 1981). We predicted that some people would instead assign more moral worth to the natural world than to outgroup members. Confirming this hypothesis, a substantial number of adult participants (N=79/168) attributed more moral value to nature (e.g., dolphins, rainforests) than outgroups (e.g., Arabs, homosexuals). This was predicted by higher disgust sensitivity (p=.008) and awe (p=.003), as well as greater tendencies to dehumanize marginalized ethnic groups (p=.019) and greater tendencies to value nature for its own sake (p<.001), but not by gender, religiosity, or conservatism (ps>.4). These results show that moral concern is not extended unidimensionally. Instead, particular cognitive and emotional tendencies lead some people to prioritize environmentalism over humanitarianism. This project was made possible by funding from F&M's Hackman Summer Scholars Program, the American Philosophical Society Franklin Research Grant.
Poster presented at the 2017 Autumn Research Fair at Franklin and Marshall College