Friday, March 8, 2013

Political Moral Persuasion and Social Selection

As a human species we develop our political views with those around us who help shape our experiences, motives and attitudes through approval, information, and advice (Levitan  & Visser, 2009). Openness to persuasion depends on those who are immediately around us. The majority of people use others to evaluate and define their own beliefs and opinions.

When issues of morality come to the forefront of conscious people become more convinced of the rightness of their assumptions. Such people are less tolerant of those who disagree with them (Skitka et al, 2005) and become further beyond the influence of others outside their social networks. They double down on their convictions and begin to avoid those who disagree.

This avoidance further puts them on a particular stream of consciousness that seeks out confirming information while ignoring dis confirming information. The more alienated a person becomes from those who disagree the more they lack critical thinking skills to counter their perspectives. There is a natural push to confirm one’s morality through creating identifiable networks with similar beliefs.

Morality is open to general debate about its origin and make up. Some believe that morality arises from pure emotion that is independent of reason (Hume, 1739). Morality can also be seen as pure reason without including emotion (Kant, 1785). Evidence has supported the concept that morality is a dual process conceptualization where both emotion and cognitive assessments create moral judgments (Ben-Nun Bloom, 2009).

In all cases morality is a conclusion. It is a conclusion about how things should be and for what reason they exist. Using critical thinking and seeing multiple perspectives in any moral question brings out the ability to use both emotion and cognition to determine the “rightness” or “wrongness” of one’s conclusions. Those that are able to evaluate themselves and those within their networks can avoid the perils of group think and limited perspective.

A study conducted by Bloom and Levitan (2011) used 145 undergraduates from Stony Brook University which exposed students to two politically divisive issues. The study explored moral versus non-moral decision making as well as the heterogeneity of a person’s social network. In the study the students were first asked about their moral presumptions and their social networks. Once cued with messages they were asked to re-evaluate to see if there were any differences. 


-Association of social network heterogeneity and morality condition.

-Three-way interaction between religiosity, network heterogeneity, and morality condition.

-Network composition and morality is valid across ideologies and different levels of moral conviction.

-When primed to think about morality issues disagreeing members were viewed less warmly when compared to when morality questions were not invoked. 

-Moral issues create a belief system that one is closer to their network. 


Morality is a social affair. When issues are not morally divisive people are willing to accept alternative explanations. However, when issues become more morally associated levels of alternative explanations are selected out. Those who hold varying points of view are seen as more different while those who hold the same beliefs are seen as more alike. People use their social networks to validate their beliefs and gravitate to those social networks that support their beliefs. Encampment is created as people separate themselves out into their particular social networks to validate their experiences and beliefs. 

Author: Dr. Murad Abel

Ben-Nun Bloom, P. (2009b). The moral public: Disgust, harm, and moral judgment. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Dublin, Ireland.

Bloom, P. & Levitan, L. (2011). We’re closer than I thought: social network heterogeneity, morality, and political persuasion. Political Psychology, 32 (4). 

Hume, D. (1978). A treatise of human nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Original work published in 1739).

Kant, I. (2002). The groundwork of the metaphysics of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Original work published in 1785).

Levitan, L. C., & Visser, P. S. (2008). The impact of the social context on resistance to persuasion: Effortful versus effortless responses to counter-attitudinal information. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 640–649.

Skitka, L. Bauman, C., & Sargis, E. (2005). Moral conviction: Another contributor to attitude strength or something more? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 895–917.
Political Moral Persuasion and Social Selection

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