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The beginning of the moral reasoning process: Automatic activation of either relational based or reason based moral decision making

Roger C Lott, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

A theoretical description for how people make moral decisions and create intentions to behave in a moral way is proposed. The theory includes automatic processing of stimuli that activate moral considerations and effortful consideration of self-interest as well as moral behavior. The study was centered on the automatic activation of attitudes and values. Automatic activation begins the processes that conclude with moral decision making and, perhaps, moral behavior. When people sense stimuli which implicate moral considerations they respond with unconscious, involuntary, and automatic activation of attitudes that can be characterized in either of two ways. It is hypothesized that people automatically process the stimuli to activate either rule based (Kohlberg, 1980) or relational based (Gilligan, 1982) moral reasoning. It was hypothesized that the way a person approaches moral reasoning will correspond to the person's self-report of how they solve moral dilemmas, and that women will be more likely to use relational based moral reasoning. It was hypothesized that the participant's preference for making moral decisions would be evidenced by the participant's ability to recognize and identify their more familiar attitude objects. Therefore, the assessment of the degree that automatic processing of stimuli is either rule based or relationship based was measured by the latency of the participant's ability to recognize and identify words characteristic of one of the two strategies for moral reasoning. Using a self-report format, participants indicated the way they made of moral decisions, including the types of considerations used in making those decisions. Participants were also asked to solve several moral dilemmas in which rules for the situation were in conflict with the needs of people with whom the participant was asked to assume an important relationship. Results failed to show a connection between latency and self-report, although whether the measures were merely not sensitive enough to show the connections between automatic processing and self-report, or whether the theory of automatic activation of one of the two moral decision making styles is wrong could not be determined from the data. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social

Recommended Citation

Lott, Roger C, "The beginning of the moral reasoning process: Automatic activation of either relational based or reason based moral decision making" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3116592.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3116592

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