Colloquium talk by Jay van Bavel on Sept. 15 (16:00 – 17:00, room MF-A301)

Who: Jay J. Van Bavel, New York University
Title: The Case for Moral Perception

When: September 15, 16:00 – 17:00 hrs

Where: MF-A301
Abstract: Models of moral psychology have largely ignored the relationship between morality and perception, despite the fact that moral judgment and decision-making usually requires that people first perceive the presence of a morally-relevant stimulus. We argue that people are attuned to the presence of morally-relevant stimuli and that social motives play a critical role in determining when people detect such stimuli. I will present a series of experiments showing that people detect moral content with greater accuracy than non-moral content–especially when it is presented near the threshold for perceptual awareness. This heightened detection of moral words emerges relatively early in perceptual processing suggesting that enhanced attention to moral content lowers the threshold for stimulus detection. When justice needs are satiated, however, the detection of moral words is selectively diminished. Taken together, this research suggests that perceptually ambiguous moral content reaches conscious awareness more readily than non-moral content—especially when moral motives are active. This work has implications for models of morality as well as perception, suggesting that the social context and moral concerns dynamically tune perception. This approach also offers novel ways to study morality and may ultimately introduce new avenues for moral and ethical interventions.