For decades, psychologists believed that moral action was determined by conscious reasoning. Recently, theorists have argued that moral intuitions are automatically triggered and enacted prior to conscious reasoning. We offer a potential reconciliation of these two perspectives. We propose that: (1) conscious moral beliefs affect decision-making and action; (2) these beliefs are not necessarily automatically activated, but are influential when individuals operate in a moral mindset; and (3) these beliefs influence automatic perceptual processes, which can increase their influence on behavior. Our work takes a Person-by-Situation approach to moral psychology, and proposes that moral mindsets—which can be adopted intentionally— increase the strength with which conscious moral beliefs predict action. In alternative (e.g., pragmatic) mindsets, moral beliefs may go unexpressed. Thus, “moral mindlessness” can be overcome when moral mindsets give purpose to consciously endorsed beliefs. Six studies will test this model (see Project Description for details). Under the influence of our approach, a Big Question in moral psychology may shift from “Is moral judgment driven by conscious or unconscious processes?” to “How can people nourish a moral mindset and thereby create congruence between their moral beliefs and their actions?” In addition to conducting and publishing scientific research, we will produce a short documentary for dissemination to course instructors about our model, the findings that underlie it, as well as real world implications. The purpose is to empower people to think about moral implications of their actions and to elicit moral action among their associates. Our work will highlight one way in which intention can facilitate moral consciousness and thus create a more moral society. This work has relevance for scientists and practitioners in many fields, including Economics, Law, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, and Organizational Behavior.
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