Test Your Morality: A BBC Study



Very interesting. It was worth 20-30 mins it took to complete


7 thoughts on “Test Your Morality: A BBC Study

  1. Kathy

    So what did you think of that Goran? The name of the test seems to measure people against the “average” moral response. But there is a portion that suggests instead we are all part of a moral superorganism, where we play different roles.

    • My results indicated that I’m the “Immoral Party Guy” as far as my role in the “super-organism” is concerned. Something smells very wrong about the whole concept. I’m curious to see what the final results/conclusions of this study are.
      As I see it, this is just another attempt to define ethics away and make it into something other than the project of individuals possessed of free will.

  2. Hapless Tiki

    “Your low sense of wrongness is the most significant feature of your results”. I scored as quite drastically below the mean in each category, most strongly the “wrongness” aspect, and it said that my responses did not conform to the theory. The results, as far as I can tell, did accord with my own view of my “moral self”.

    I put pretty low numbers in the punishment category and higher ones in the “wrongness” category, yet I was further from the norm in wrongness than punishment; indicating that most other people who have taken the test put pretty high numbers on “Wrongness” but that most don’t want to punish people very drastically.

  3. Jack Flynn

    I have to strongly disagree with Goran, and the few who concurred with him, about the evil and or stupidity of the super-organism social theory.  This is a huge overreaction based on a fundamental category mistake. The author of this theory is not doing philosophy.  He is doing sociology, a social science that studies human behavior in groups.  Is the criticism that there is something wrong with this project itself,  that it is inappropriate for science to study how people in groups make decisions,ethical or otherwise?  This has been one of the goals of both sociology and anthropology since their inception.  It Is hard to believe that this could be the basis for the criticism which, if it were, would amount to a reactionary anti-science stance. It appears that the criticism is more methodological and based on the underlying hypothesis that the theory proposes, namely, that society, for the purposes of a study, be likened to a super-organism.  In fact I believe that this stance demonstrates one of the leading theses of behavioral science – a reaction of fear/disgust/anger at being considered as part of an all encompassing, controlling super organism with a concomitant loss of identity. (Like being eaten by the “Blob.”) Moreover, the comparison of society to an organism has a long history that can be traced back at least as far as Plato and Aristotle, and to Herbert Spencer in more recent times.   However, within the context of neuroscience this strong reaction to the analogy can be associated with the fear module, because there is nothing in the proposed theory that would rationally justify these fears.  A study of the biological basis of behavior can only have a Iiberating effect in that knowledge gives us the leverage to change if that is desired. There is a growing body of evidence that points to how evolution through natural selection has resulted in the development of neuro-circuits and modules (e.g., mirror neurons and mimicking i.e., “emotional contagion,” etc.) that form the basis for social organization, i.e., the “super-organism.” The social world is our main focus and an enormous amount of mental energy is directed to this achievement of the human species.  We have developed rapid responses to certain behaviors that are associated with strong feelings of right and wrong.  For example, the incest taboo is not based on rational arguments. These have not been arrived at by an elaborate process of conscious reasoning.  Another theorist, Mark Hauser, “suggests we are born with abstract rules and a preparedness to acquire others just as we are born with a preparedness to acquire language, and then the environment, our family, and culture constrain and guide us to a particular moral system, as they do to a particular language.”
    In fact, “Haidt and Craig Joseph have come up with a list of universal moral modules after comparing works about human universals, cultural differences in morality, and precursors of morality in chimpanzees.  Their five modules have to do with suffering…”
    (1). Helping others and not harming them is good.  (2) Being fair, encouraging reciprocity.  (3) Respecting hierarchy.  (4) Group loyalty. And, (5) observing purity – praise cleanliness and shun contamination and carnal actions.  These five modules are different from virtues which are “what a specific society or culture values as morally good behavior that can be learned.”.
    These results are based on science not philosophy.  To sum up:  (1) The “is/ought” dilemma is something for philosophy (ethics) to work out.  Social science test hypotheses and theories by empirical studies.  It is concerned with the realm of what is.  (2) The individual is not threatened by this study but the bias toward the group is built into the nature of SOCIAL science.  (3) The study is not promoting a version of the “good” or advocating an ethical system; it is testing a hypothesis based on certain assumptions about how moral judgments function in large groups and how they are functionally related to the different roles we play.
    This study may be flawed in any number of ways but not because it fails to provide an ethical theory.  This it never set out to do.  

    • Thanks, Jack, for prompting me to think about this again. You are fully justified in wondering about my rather strong critique of this project. I’d like to leave no doubts about my general stance towards the methods and findings of social (and other) sciences – they are not what I am rejecting. (Granted, I do have a particular objection to the core assumption of THIS study, which I believe to be based on a questionable analogy, but this is not the main thrust of my “angst”. )

      Your main point is that a categorical error has been committed in critiquing this study: the error of confusing social sciences with philosophy. When it comes to empirical study of moral behavior, I don’t think that the distinction between philosophy and science is so clear. I rather think that we are entering a very interesting terrain: the no-man’s land that bridges the “two realms” of inquiry.

      I thus disagree with the notion that empirical studies directed at moral behavior should be immune from critique from the philosophical point of view. Just as philosophy stands to benefit from the advances in the sciences as they pertain to philosophical questions, moral questions in this instance, so do the sciences stand to benefit from paying some heed to the philosophical landscapes they are beginning to thread.

      My reaction is directed at recent trends in POPULAR science (this study being one example) to explicitly or by omission imply that what scientific research has to say about moral behavior is exhaustive of what can be said about it.
      Taking the next step and asking questions about HOW these empirical findings will be helpful is not only very interesting, it is also responsible.

      Let us say that we found a set of behaviors (X) that are going to promote the flourishing of the “super-organism”. “Reason” seems to dictate that X ought to be: promoted? encouraged? legislated? taught? demanded? etc.
      The distinction between “is” and “ought” seems to come into focus rather quickly, perhaps not in the traditional, Humean, way, but in a way that is deeply relevant to what we value as individuals and societies.

      You are correct that this study does not AIM to establish a moral theory. I claim that by virtue of its subject matter it still does so, in a manner that I find objectionable.
      A neuroscientist or a behaviorist, by acquiring certain findings about moral behaviors, is bound to effortlessly slide into the realm of values. Once there, her voice is added to the voice of the philosopher, which is then routinely ignored and at times ridiculed.
      But why not aim for synthesis here? Why tell the casual reader only part of the story?
      Why not explore the interesting question of just HOW the newly acquired facts about moral behaviors will make us better?

      Could it be that this is out of fear that perhaps they won’t?

      • Dorothy

        I did not agree with this study. Partly because it seems to view people in a deterministic fashion. In other words, it seems to be saying that we react either instinctively or due to the way that we are socialized. It does not credit people with being able to think for themselves.

        Also, this does not really explain anything. It is simply a normative study, in that it shows how your responses compare to others. One may then find
        certain correlations between demographic data (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) and response patterns, but again I don’t know what that will explain, other than normative patterns.

        It does not take into account differences in motivation and temperament. Some people are naturally more prone to anger, disgust, or fear than others. There was an interesting study done recently which found that people who are more conservative politically are more prone to fear, while people who are more progressive politically tend to be more open. I would imagine that these tendencies would correlate, respectively, with scoring higher vs. lower on the scales in this study. (Yes, it was true in my case.) I would also expect that libertarians would score lower on some of the scales, though they might be more inclined to punish government officials.

        If my hypotheses are true, then what might that suggest? Do your instincts determine your morals? Can you rise above your instincts and your socialization to form your own beliefs?

        I certainly hope the latter is true.

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