Positive Emotions and Moral Values

June 23rd, 2012 by frederieke

Positive emotions are nice, we like pursuing them, having them, and sharing them. However, are all positive emotions just as great for other people and the world around us as they are to us? For example, I’ve frequently regretted playing cupid when one of the lovers decided to apply an ‘all fair in love and war’ strategy. Now, I wouldn’t want to argue that positive emotions—especially love—are bad, but I do think it’s interesting and important to consider how the experience of positive emotions influences the people and world around us. Specifically, do some positive emotions have different effects on moral outcomes than other positive emotions?

Research has shown already that positive emotions can influence morality in different ways, even if the emotion is unrelated to the morality situation (e.g., Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Algoe & Haidt, 2009). We (Frederieke van Dongen and Dr. Eric R. Igou) specifically looked at how feelings of love, optimism, relaxation, amusement, compassion, and inspiration influence people’s endorsement of moral values. Based on various studies in which we examined the effects of these emotions on psychological mindsets (i.e., perceived goal fulfillment and globality of perspective), we predicted that love, amusement, and relaxation would lead to less moral outcomes compared to optimism, inspiration, and compassion.

As predicted, we found that when people were experiencing love they indorsed the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity values less than when the experienced optimism, t(55)= 2.12, p = .04.

Also, we found that the feeling of being amused or relaxed led to less endorsement of the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity values than the feeling of inspiration or compassion, t(47) = 2.21, p = .03).

Interestingly, other studies of ours have shown that these different effects of positive emotions on moral values also result in different moral decisions and behaviors in social dilemma situations (Van Dongen & Igou, under review).

Although we focus on the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity moral values, by no means do we mean to deny the existence or importance of the ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity moral values. However, so far, we have only found different effects of various positive emotions on the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity moral values.

A possible explanation could be that as the ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity moral values are only endorsed by people with a conservative political ideology, and often not understood by people with a liberal political ideology (Haidt & Graham, 2007), a differentiation in people’s political ideology may be necessary to understand the effects of positive emotions. Or, potentially, there may be a different relationship between positive emotions and the conservative values. It would be interesting for future research to further explore this.

– Frederieke van Dongen

Posted in Uncategorized4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Positive Emotions and Moral Values”

  1. Is it possible that another factor is coping reserves? Each of us has only so much emotional energy to draw on to cope with the stresses we face in our daily lives. How might your results have been different, if at all, if surveys were conducted among people whose reserves were low at the moment the survey responses were given, and among those whose reserves were high?

  2. Ravi says:

    Interesting work! Why did you hypothesize that love would lead to less moral outcomes? I would have thought that it would lead to more moral feelings as you seek to spread your feeling to others.

  3. Frederieke says:

    Thanks Ravi. Initially we didn’t hypothesize that love would reduce moral outcomes, but rather that it would lead to less moral outcomes compared to other positive emotions (e.g., optimism, compassion, inspiration). We made these predictions based on the mindsets that these emotions appear to induce. Specifically, as we found that optimism—compared to love—induces a relative unfulfilled, global perspective mindset, we predicted that love would lead to less moral outcomes.

    About the coping reserves: For now the two mindset components we have focussed on are fulfillment and perspective, however, we wouldn’t want to argue that these are the only mindset components that could have an influence. Are you suggesting considering ‘coping reserves’ as induced by positive emotions?

  4. padma says:

    A nice study. can u let me know the tools used for collecting data?

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