chapter  5
The Moral Myopia Model: Why and how reasoning matters in moral judgment
ByJustin F. Landy, Edward B. Royzman
Pages 23

Building on recent research, this chapter delineates a new theoretical perspective on moral reasoning, which we call the Moral Myopia Model (MMM). In short, the MMM states that deliberate thinking is associated with more complex representations of moral problem spaces and attention to multiple normative considerations, whereas a lack of deliberate thinking is associated with attending to only a single, salient concern. In the context of moral conflict, this means dogmatically adhering to a singular normative factor (such as respect for individual rights or maximization of utilitarian gains) rather than weighing multiple considerations. In the context of delineating the moral domain, it means treating violations of social convention as truly immoral, due to attending only to the salient conventional rule that they transgress. The MMM synthesizes the most up-to-date research in the area of moral reasoning and underscores the importance of deliberate thinking as a contributor to our moral judgments. The study of moral reasoning is as old as the study of morality itself (Plato,

1987). Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, widely viewed as the founding fathers of moral psychology, famously argued that moral development is constrained by cognitive development (Piaget, 1965) and that “the moral force in personality is cognitive” (Kohlberg, 1971, p. 230). Like Piaget, Kohlberg was a developmental psychologist. He proposed that as children’s cognitive abilities mature, they progress from “pre-conventional” conceptions of morality (an egocentric focus on rewards and punishments for the self) to “conventional” moral reasoning (acceptance and application of moral rules and laws). He further argued that some adults advance to “post-conventional” moral reasoning – a willingness to disregard socio-conventional rules in the service of universal moral principles; that is, a mature understanding of the difference between what is normatively disallowed (“conventional”) and what

is “truly” immoral. Elliot Turiel (1983), and his collaborators, further explicated the difference between conventional and moral thinking, demonstrating that even children of 2 to 3 years of age can distinguish between conventional prohibitions and immorality proper, at least when target transgressions are plainly and accessibly specified. Turiel and others also argued that reasoning plays a crucial role in determining people’s moral reactions to multifaceted considerations that arise in complex or morally dilemmatic situations (see Damon, 1975; Turiel, Hildebrandt, & Wainryb, 1991). The MMM is consistent with the general thrust of these perspectives; we argue that reasoning can be applied to resolve situations in which moral concerns clash and that it can promote differentiating between moral and conventional transgressions. We unite recent research supporting these contentions under a novel, straightforward theoretical model. Outside of the moral domain, the MMM is in line with research showing that

deliberate thinking is associated with consideration of multiple concerns in making judgments and enacting behaviors, whereas a lack of deliberate thinking is associated with myopic attention to immediately salient considerations. It thus builds on studies of the Alcohol Myopia Model (Steel & Josephs, 1990) and the Attentional Myopia Model (Mann & Ward, 2004, 2007), which have shown that intoxication and cognitive load produce a narrowing of attention such that people whose thinking is impaired attend to the most salient cues in their environment. For instance, dieters under cognitive load consumed more food than dieters not under load in a room where the food was the only salient stimulus in the environment, but consumed less food in a room with salient reminders of diet goals (a scale and diet books). Thus, when not under load, the dieters apparently attended to both their diet goals and their desire to consume, resulting in moderate consumption levels (which did not differ depending on the environment), but when under load, they focused more singularly on what was immediately salient (Mann & Ward, 2004). Furthermore, individual differences in deliberate reasoning predict the complexity

with which people represent problem spaces. Specifically, when presented with a choice between a certain gain or a risky gamble with a higher expected value, better thinkers were more likely to make the normatively correct choice and accept the gamble, and this effect was fully mediated by the sheer number of considerations that they thought about while making the decision (Cokely & Kelley, 2009). In other words, better thinkers considered more than just immediately salient aspects of the problem. Lastly, a new model of analytic thinking posits a key role for detecting conflict between multiple salient, intuitive responses (Pennycook, Fugelsang, & Koehler, 2015). Based on this research, we propose that “moral myopia” consists of singularly

attending to one salient aspect of a moral problem rather than thinking about multiple moral considerations (or “normative factors”; see Kagan, 1998) in a more complex, integrative way. Moral myopia should be more likely in the absence of deliberate thinking, whereas it should be less likely when the ability and inclination toward deliberate thinking are present, and the situation allows for it. We will examine this thesis in the context of the two most widely studied types of “moral

encounters” (Monin, Pizarro, & Beer, 2007; Royzman, Goodwin, & Leeman, 2011): dilemmas pitting multiple moral considerations against one another; and responses to transgressions committed by others. Specifically, we show that good reasoning is associated with more complex, less dogmatic resolutions to moral dilemmas, and greater nuance and clarity in differentiating immorality from counternormativity. But what do we mean by reasoning and, in particular, “good” reasoning? For

our purposes here, we conceive of reasoning as an effortful, deliberate cognitive process that requires mental resources to execute (e.g., Evans & Stanovich, 2013).2

In particular, we will focus specifically on internal reasoning (i.e., thinking something through for oneself) rather than external reasoning (i.e., argumentation, discussion, and other sorts of collaborative thinking; Harman, Mason, & Sinnott-Armstrong, 2010). External reasoning is surely important in moral judgment; the role of internal reasoning has been more controversial of late, and so, in keeping with the general theme of this volume, that is where we will focus our attention. We consider more reflective, more complex, and more careful thinking to be,

prima facie, preferable to more intuitive, simple, and inattentive thinking, particularly in domains that are as important and valued as morality. We will examine various individual difference measures of reasoning, some of which are generally thought of as performance measures of the cognitive ability to reason in different domains (e.g., standardized IQ tests), some of which are self-report measures of cognitive style (i.e., one’s willingness or propensity to engage in reasoning – e.g., the RationalExperiential Inventory; Pacini & Epstein, 1999), and some of which are performance measures that likely depend on both cognitive ability and cognitive style (e.g., the Cognitive Reflection Test, also known as the CRT; Frederick, 2005; see Pennycook & Ross, 2016). When discussing this latter class of measure, we will refer to them as measures of “reasoning performance.” In addition, we will examine the effects of experimental manipulations that should inhibit deliberate reasoning (e.g., cognitive load, sleep deprivation). Therefore, throughout this chapter, the reader can consider “good reasoning” to

be shorthand for “the cognitive abilities and styles, and situational factors, that allow one internally to think carefully about problems under consideration.” We will show that individual differences in cognitive ability and cognitive style (as well as domain-general reasoning performance, which likely depends on both) and experimental manipulations that should interfere with deliberate reasoning all systematically predict moral judgment, and do so in ways that can be understood via the MMM.