The findings showed that people were more likely to act on an opinion — what psychologists call an attitude. If it is labelled as moral they were more resistant to attempts to change their mind on that subject.
“The perception that an attitude we hold is based on morality is enough to strengthen it,” said lead author Andrew Luttrell, doctoral student at The Ohio State University, in the US.
“For many people, morality implies a universality, an ultimate truth. It is a conviction that is not easily changed.” Luttrell said.
Also, it was easy to lead people into thinking their views were based on moral principles, by using the ‘moral’ label.
“Morality can act as a trigger - you can attach the label to nearly any belief and instantly make that belief stronger,” said one of the researchers Richard Petty, professor at Ohio State. Further, appeals to morality can be very effective to groups and political candidates trying to appeal to their supporters.
“People may be more willing to vote for a candidate or give money to an advocacy group if they believe it is a matter of morality,” Luttrell noted adding, “they’re also less likely to be swayed by the opposition.”
For the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the team included 183 college students who read an essay favouring the adoption of a senior comprehensive exam policy at their university.
They were asked to provide their thoughts in response to the essay, expressing views based on morality, tradition or equality.
Participants were then asked to rate how willing they would be to sign a petition in favour of the exam policy and to put their names on a list of students who favour the exam policy and which way they would vote on the issue.
The results showed that the attitudes of students who were told that their views on the exam policy were based on morality were more likely to predict their behaviour than the attitudes of students who were told their views were based on equality or tradition.