People more concerned about catching Covid-19 were more disapproving of the wrong-doings of others, whatever they were doing wrong, according to a study on how we make moral judgments.
The findings are evidence that our morality is shaped by various emotions and intuitions, of which concerns about health and safety are prominent. This means that our judgments of wrongdoing are not completely rational, said researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, did not focus on behaviors relating to the pandemic itself – such as social distancing – but considered a wide range of moral transgressions.
Between March and May 2020, over 900 study participants in the US were presented with a series of scenarios – on harm, fairness, in-group loyalty, deference to authority, and purity – and asked to rate them on a scale from ‘not at all wrong’ to ‘extremely wrong’.
Example scenarios include one of loyalty: ‘You see a man leaving his family business to go work for their main competitor’; and one of fairness: ‘You see a tenant bribing a landlord to be the first to get their apartment repainted.’
People who were more worried about catching Covid-19 judged the behaviors in these scenarios to be more wrong than those who were less worried.
“There is no rational reason to be more judgemental of others because you are worrying about getting sick during the pandemic,” said Professor Simone Schnall in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, senior author of the report.
“These influences on judgments happen outside of our conscious awareness. If we feel that our wellbeing is threatened by the coronavirus, we are also likely to feel more threatened by other people’s wrong-doing – it’s an emotional link,” she added.
The findings contribute to a growing body of evidence of a link between physical disgust – an emotion designed to keep us from harm – and moral condemnation.
“The link between being concerned about Covid-19 and moral condemnation is about risks to wellbeing. If you’re more conscious of health risks, you’re also more conscious of social risks of people whose behavior could inflict harm upon you,” said Robert Henderson, a doctoral student in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.