Stanford Research Shows How Moral Judgments Encourage Good Behavior In Society


A Stanford study has found that moral judgments, while seen as negative by the majority, actually play a significant role in encouraging good behavior in society. Apparently, people are pushed to behave well and cooperate with each other because they value their moral reputation very much.

The risk of being judged negatively for their actions makes them more cooperative. The study, entitled "The Enforcement of Moral Boundaries Promotes Cooperation and Prosocial Behavior in Groups," was recently published in the journal "Scientific Reports."

Stanford sociologist Robb Willer, along with researchers at the University of South Carolina, discovered in their study that people were more likely to cooperate and trust each other in a group when they were given the chance to judge each other's morality.

In a post on Stanford's official website, Willer said that people generally think of moral judgments negatively. However, they found that these judgments are a critical means for encouraging good behavior in society.

The researchers also discovered that the groups who were given the chance to make positive or negative judgments of each other not only trusted each other more but were more generous. The cooperation levels of the said groups were comparable with groups where monetary punishments were used to encourage collaboration.

Willer and his colleagues recruited 54 four-person groups who were randomly placed under four conditions: control, interpersonal moral judgments and two variations of material sanctions. Each study participant was given with 20 monetary units and used a private computer terminal to interact with other in his or her assigned group anonymously.

The interaction lasted for about an hour and the participants were asked to take part in a set of exercises in which group members were encouraged to donate their money to a fund that would benefit the group. The participants know when someone in their group donated the money or not and they were given the chance to praise their moral actions or enact a monetary sanction, depending on which condition they were assigned in.

It was found that moral judgments encouraged participants more than monetary sanctions in achieving cooperation in groups. The groups that used money as punishment led to instances of recrimination, meaning the participants retaliated against those who sanctioned them.

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