Friday, September 28, 2018

Moral Foundations Theory

Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) was developed by  Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues. (See references at the end of this post). A good overview of the theory can be found in the book,
The Righteous Mind (2012).

 There are five core moral foundations in Moral Foundations Theory.

1 Care-Harm
2 Equality-Fairness; aka fairness/cheating*
3 Loyalty-Betrayal
4 Authority-Respect; aka Authority/subversion
5 Purity-Sanctity aka Sanctity/degradation

An additional foundation of liberty has been added to the theory so there are now six foundations.

Researchers usually find support for a two factor model. Conservatives view moral issues from 3-5 perspectives with an emphasis on the foundations of loyalty, authority, and purity. Sociopolitical liberals emphasize care and fairness foundations. In A House Divided, I consider examples of Christians using the same foundations in different ways. For example, in abortion arguments conservatives focus on care and harm of the unborn child and liberals emphasize care-harm concerns of the mother.

*I added the "aka" because you will find somewhat different words in some articles.

See this page for a description of the five core foundations

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Here are some applications of moral foundations theory:

For applications to Christian views of moral issues see A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality and Christian Cultures.

For a recent study of Moral Foundations Theory, Identity, and Politics, see Sutton, Kelly, and Huber (2019).

Link to learn more about the Moral Foundations Questionnaire


Graham, J., & Haidt, J. (2010). Beyond beliefs: Religions bind individuals into moral communities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 140–150. doi: 10.1177/1088868309353415
Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009).  Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029-1046. doi:10.1037/a0015141
Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., & Haidt, J. (2012). The moral stereotypes of liberals and conservatives: Exaggeration of differences across the political spectrum. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e50092.

Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 366-385. doi:10.1037/a0021847
Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108, 814–834. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.108.4.814
Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon.
Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007).  When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20, 98-116. doi:10.1007/s11211-007-0034-z
Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2004). Intuitive ethics: How innately prepared intuitions generate culturally variable virtues. Daedalus: Special Issue on Human Nature, 133(4), 55–66. doi:10.1162/0011526042365555
Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Graham, J., Ditto, P., & Haidt, J. (2012). Understanding Libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified Libertarians. Plos One, 7(8): e42366. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042366
Johnson, K. A., Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Van Tongeren, D. R., Sandage, S. J., & Crabtree, S. A. (2016). Moral foundation priorities reflect U.S. Christians’ individual differences in religiosity. Personality and Individual Differences. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.12.037.

Sutton, G. W., Kelly, H. L., & Huver, M. (2019). Political identities, religious identity, and the pattern of moral foundations among conservative Christians. Journal of Psychology and Theology, xx, pp. xx-xx. Accepted 6 September 2019. ResearchGate Link     Academia Link

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