Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

August 28, 2019

Opinions on moral issues often seem resistant to change, but you may just be using the wrong arguments, according to research from Ball State University.

In his report, “Challenging Moral Attitudes with Moral Messages,” Ball State’s Andy Luttrell, a psychological science professor, found that when the message was made with compelling moral arguments, it was more persuasive.

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science. Co-authors included two faculty members at Ohio State University.

In one part of the research for the study, respondents who were in favor of legalizing marijuana were given two versions of an essay arguing against legalization. One used practical arguments, such as legalizing marijuana would be difficult and costly to regulate, and the other used moral arguments, such as legalizing marijuana would lead to exploitation of vulnerable groups.

‘In our research, we had them read essays that challenged their positions to see if they would update their opinions at least a little bit,” said Luttrell, whose research interests include attitudes, social influence, and moral psychology. “The more people moralize their opinion, the less willing they are to change their mind in response to the arguments.”

The professor notes the research also examines what happens when people moralize their opinions.

“For example, two people might agree with each other that the United States needs to be tough on immigration, but they can differ in where that attitude comes from,” he said. “Specifically, they can differ in whether they see this as a moral issue. For example, cracking down on immigration comes from someone's moral values about fairness and what's ‘right,’ but can also come from someone's practical beliefs about what's better for the economy. The same can be said for pro-immigration and for any other opinion issue.”

“Basically, if people use compelling moral arguments, it might actually get through to some audiences because morality is what they care most about after all,” Luttrell said.