Just Thinking About Science Triggers Moral Behavior

k-bigpicLooks like they’ll have something to talk about in the atheist church this Sunday.

Via Scientific American:

Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara set out to test this possibility. They hypothesized that there is a deep-seated perception of science as a moral pursuit — its emphasis on truth-seeking, impartiality and rationality privileges collective well-being above all else. Their new study, published in the journal PLOSOne, argues that the association between science and morality is so ingrained that merely thinking about it can trigger more moral behavior.

The researchers conducted four separate studies to test this. The first sought to establish a simple correlation between the degree to which individuals believed in science and their likelihood of enforcing moral norms when presented with a hypothetical violation. Participants read a vignette of a date-rape and were asked to rate the “wrongness” of the offense before answering a questionnaire measuring their belief in science. Indeed, those reporting greater belief in science condemned the act more harshly.

Keep reading.

12 Comments on "Just Thinking About Science Triggers Moral Behavior"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Aug 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm |

    The most frequent criticism of science is that many of its most ardent proponents have raised its holdings to the status of a god–an implacable omnipresence whose workings mandate our fates.

    Which is ridiculous, actually, because the fundamental notion underlying science is relative uncertainty. Nobody seriously claims to have the most interesting phenomena 100% nailed down to the last quark, and the discipline is only advanced by the continual challenge to existing models.

    And even if a theory is fundamentally correct, normal variations mean that statistical outliers will always exist. All science can support is that the outliers will always (absent change in context) be very rare and unreliable as descriptions or for planning purposes.

    Nonetheless, I’d bet there are a significant # of people in whose imaginations this notion of science functions as Ultimate Lie Detector and Punishing Deity.

    • btwforever | Aug 29, 2013 at 8:18 pm |

      Well. Huh? Who are these people? I mean the people criticizing the rise in scientific thinking are jealous because it usually comes at a cost to their once dominate world; the people thinking science is an “Ultimate Lie Detector and Punishing Deity” are…well..huh? I guess I don’t know those people. I know a lot of people engaged in scientific pursuits plus a lot of historians and (LOL) a lot of musicians but these people don’t show up on my radar.

      You seem a bit hostile but I can’t seem to pin down what you are mad at….

      • Liam_McGonagle | Aug 30, 2013 at 9:40 am |

        No, I think you’re reading me incorrectly. Not hostile at all.

        Just making the uncontestable observation that popular understanding of science is flawed.

        Science is about relative uncertainty–the continual re-testing and revision of accepted paradigms in recognition that our observational powers are limited. Over time our understanding will become more and more sophisticated as we perceive slight (but significant) differences inherent in our experimental design.

        Surely you yourself are not so naive as to believe that science is an immutable dogma that never changes?

        • btwforever | Aug 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm |

          I’m sure there are people with a flawed understanding of science. There are quite a few people that don’t know any members of the supreme court, where Syria is, or how to stay out of my way on the road (that last one may be a bit personal.) I mean, somebody has to be buying “Colon Flow” and “Enzyte”, right? Are you including these people? Because I’m not sure they care about finely crafted arguments over the metaphorical role of science in society. Anyway, I’m assuming these people are mostly anti-science.

          Plainly put, I don’t think those people you posit with that hostile science über alles opinion exist. It just sounds like a traditional straw-man argument hurled at those trying to explain the scientific method.

          But really, “Colon Flow” – people buy this?

  2. Part of the purpose of non Abramhic religions,like Hinduism and Buddhism is try to understand the universe. In fact, on reading some of the Holy Vedas, I was quite surprised to see the similarities between the Hindu creation story and the big bang theory.

  3. This is no joke. I’ve often stopped myself from doing shitty things to people just by thinking the Planck length: 1.616199(97)×10−35 metres. Try it the next you’re faced with a difficult moral dilemma.

  4. Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Aug 29, 2013 at 8:16 am |

    I wonder what vivisection technicians think about.

  5. BrianApocalypse | Aug 29, 2013 at 8:49 am |

    Here’s how I plan to end the conflict in Syria.


  6. All those Nazi scientists thought they were doing moral deeds to better humanity, which is understandable due to the fact that morality is culturally conditioned. I like how the researchers of this study set out to pat themselves on the back. That being said, I loves me some science.

  7. Jessica Johnson | Oct 22, 2013 at 7:41 am |

    According to Schooler and others, “telling people they lack free will not only impacts on their belief about free will, but also influences their ethical behavior and judgment.” Now we know that even broad exposure to science-y priming has a very similar effect. Encouraging for science fans? More like encouraging for future researchers 🙂 If anything, what we can extrapolate from this is that science still has no idea why people behave the way they do.

Comments are closed.