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Does 'Science' Make You Moral? the Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057989

Ma-Kellams C, Blascovich J (2013) Does "Science" Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57989. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057989

p.1: Conclusions/Significance: These studies demonstrated the morally normative effects of lay notions of science. Thinking about science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms and exhibit more morally normative behavior. These studies are the first of their kind to systematically and empirically test the relationship between science and morality. The present findings speak to this question and elucidate the value-laden outcomes of the notion of science. -- Highlighted jun 5, 2014

p.1: It is important to note that "science" is multi-faceted construct that takes on distinct forms. On the one hand, the scientific style of thinking employed by scientists is unusual, difficult, and uncommon [9]. Although science can serve as a belief system, it is distinct from other belief systems (e.g., religion) insofar as its counterintuitive nature and the degree to which it does not rely on universal, automatic, unconscious cognitive systems [9]; as a consequence, relative to other belief systems like religion, science has few explicit "followers". On the other hand, apart from the model of the scientific method of acquiring information about the world, we contend that there is a lay image or notion of "science" that is associated with concepts of rationality, impartiality, fairness, technological progress, and ultimately, the idea that we are to use these rational tools for the mutual benefit of all people in society [10]. Philosophers and historians have noted that scientific inquiry began to flourish when Western society moved from one centered on religious notions of God’s will to one in which the rational mind served as the primary means to understand and improve our existence [10]. As such, the notion of science contains in it the broader moral vision of a society in which rationality is used for the mutual benefit of all. -- Highlighted jun 5, 2014

p.1: Consistent with the notion that science plays a key role in the moral vision of a society of mutual benefit, scholars have long argued that science’s systematic approach to studying causes and consequences allows for more informed opinions about questions of good and evil [11], and many have argued that the classic scientific ethos stands as an ethically neutral, but morally normative, set of principles that guides scientific inquiry [12]. -- Highlighted jun 5, 2014

p.3: Priming lay notions of science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms (Studies 1, 2), report greater prosocial intentions (Study 3), and exhibit more morally normative behavior (Study 4). The moralizing effects of science were observed both by using naturalistic measures of exposure to science (e.g., field of study) as well as laboratory manipulations of thought-accessibility, and emerged across a broad array of domains, including interpersonal violations (Study 1), academic dishonesty (Studies 2), prosocial behaviors (Study 3), and economic exploitation (Study 4). -- Highlighted jun 5, 2014

p.3: These findings suggest that beyond these individual differences in previously formed values that scientists introduce to the process of scientific investigation, the act of thinking about science itself produces important psychological consequences. -- Highlighted jun 5, 2014