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Foundations of Psychology | Crest Essays

As this passage makes clear, we expressed (in an uncharacteristically tentative and unconfident way) a normative view that is mostly in line with what the authors seem to profess (binding foundations are dangerous in modern society) but diverges in our allowing for the possibility that there might be some benefits, in theory, to making some use of the binding foundations. The authors could certainly disagree with this normative claim, and reply that modern society should make absolutely no use of these foundations. But the point here is that we were clearly distinguishing these normative wanderings from MFT’s descriptive account of human morality.


Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029-1046.

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Foundations of Psychology - Term Paper

The authors seem to be saying that since some moral foundations relate to authoritarianism, they can’t be a descriptive part of morality, because authoritarianism is so UNrelated to morality. And yet the RWA scales have plenty statements of moral concern. To use one item the authors give as an example: “Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fiber and traditional beliefs.” Just because this is an item that the authors and I may normatively disagree with does not mean that people who agree with it are not expressing a moral concern or belief. Part of the scientific benefit of MFT is understanding how there can be deep intuitive moral passions associated with authoritarianism, system justification, prejudice, violence, and even genocide. Human morality isn’t always normatively good.

3. Recommendation. Despite its title, this manuscript does not offer an empirical critique of Moral Foundations Theory, because the empirical findings do not contradict any of the scientific claims or predictions of the theory. Because [journal] is an empirical journal, I thus do not think this manuscript is appropriate for it. However, as detailed above, I do find merit in some of the authors’ normative claims, and while I find some of their quotes unfair, I do think they are justified in criticizing points at which Haidt and I strayed into normative territory based on our descriptive findings. If this exchange serves to clarify for all of us (and especially for others) the distinction between normative and descriptive accounts of morality and ideology (much as the Tetlock-Sears debate did several years ago) then there is a value in this being a part of the public record. I think this would be more appropriate for the Jost-Haidt exchange planned for Perspectives on Psychological Science. Regardless of the outlet, however, I think that the use of this manuscript’s data to claim an empirical critique of MFT will only add confusions, rather than clear them up.

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It’s great that psychologists are willing to consider exploratory approaches. However, I don’t think we necessarily need to pretend like we are starting from scratch. It seems like many psychologists want to simply let people fiddle with data in the haphazard ways they have been doing, label it exploratory, and then get on with “real” (confirmatory) research. This is an area where , with it’s emphasis on how to automatically, efficiently extract well-supported insights from large datasets, has a big head start. What can offer psychologists?

I recently attended the main conference for social psychologists, even as I’m slowly transitioning to think of myself less as an academic and more as a data scientist. Of course, the term is a pretty poor term as all science has to do with data, but I think it serves a purpose in that there are methods for answering questions with data that operate across the domain where the data was collected. There is no real reason why a person well trained in understanding and analyzing data can’t apply their techniques on medical data, sports data, psychological data, and online data. In fact, would suggest that any discipline would benefit from analyzing data in different ways as colleagues are likely to make correlated errors concerning understanding anything. This is certainly true in social psychology, where a common error that has been made is the under-valuing of exploratory research.

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PSYCHOLOGY WIZARD - Psychology Wizard home

There are some things that social psychologists are really good at. They understand experimental methods and can critique them really well. They understand measurement much better than most disciplines. But there are some things that other disciplines do much better with data, such as exploration. The banner of presents the opportunity to break down these barriers, so that the social psychologist can help the Google engineer design the perfect study to validate the results of their latest machine learning algorithm, while the political scientist helps the social psychologist with representative sampling and the Google engineer helps the political scientist explore the latest national survey in a far more efficient way and then mash up that data with more ecologically valid social media behavior. And so, the end result is that there really isn’t a huge need for disciplinarity in an age of big data (which was a theme of Jamie Pennebaker’s presidential address at SPSP). It actually gets in the way of us all being data scientists.

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- More efficient exploration. Running haphazard regressions til you find a good model is inefficient for a number of reasons. It takes a lot of human effort and then when you do find something, you have no real way to reproduce the algorithm that you used to find the result you did on a subsequent dataset. To put it in more practical terms, every psychologist who wants to run exploratory regressions should at least understand (details of which I’ll put in a future post).

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Recently, the topic came up of whether values profiles (and Scores more specifically) predict behavior. On the one hand, social and contextual factors often loom larger than individual factors in determining moral behavior. On the other hand, it seemed rather unlikely that something as central as a persons values would not predict their behavior. While the effects may be small and indirect in many cases, I would expect a person’s value profile to predict almost everything they do in life . As a test case, I decided to examine whether moral foundation scores, which measure how much a person cares about harming others, fairness, obeying authority, being loyal, and being pure, in the context of moral judgments, predict whether a visitor to visited using a Mac vs. a PC. Below is the graph.

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The patterns of correlations described in this paper are entirely consistent with MFT’s descriptive account of the domains, concerns, and intuitions involved in human morality. It would be shocking to me if the moral concerns about respect for authorities and traditions didn’t relate to RWA. In fact, the Graham et al. (in press) paper cited in this manuscript makes clear that both RWA and SDO were used as external validation criteria in the very development of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. Use of these scales as validity criteria is no more a normative defense of authoritarianism than our use of the Disgust Sensitivity Scale is a normative defense of disgust sensitivity. (Further, the findings by Schnall, Pizarro, and others that fart sprays can increase the severity of moral judgments – which I take to be descriptive evidence for including Purity concerns in accounts of human morality – do not necessitate any normative endorsements or condemnations of flatulence.) The MFQ and MFT are attempting to measure and describe the full range of moral concerns people have – the good, the bad, and the heinous – which I see as a scientific step beyond previous treatments of morality (e.g. Kohlberg, Turiel) that only considered moral concerns with which the scientists normatively agreed.

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