A SENSE OF CLEANLINESS

Simone Schnall in Edge:

Schnall200 I am a social psychologist, and study judgments and decisions from the perspective that emotions, and all kinds of feelings, including physical sensations, play a really important role. For example, such simple things as a sense of cleanliness can make a difference to how people decide whether something is right or wrong. We've been looking at, in general, how people make decisions, and how they arrive at judgments. In particular we've been studying moral judgments, that is, how do people tell right from wrong? It used to be thought for the longest time, going back for thousands of years of philosophical investigation, that people think of why a certain behavior might be wrong. They think of all the rational reasons, all the things they can come up with, they go through all the pros and cons, and then arrive at the judgment, and say, “Behavior X is either wrong, or very wrong, or not so wrong, it's fine”, and so on. So it used to be thought that people think long and hard, and then figure out the answer.

Now it turns out that actually this does not seem to be the case because first of all, people don't always think that much, and many thought processes are not really conscious, but rather, they happen outside of consciousness. Many thoughts just happen incidentally, and people aren't even aware of them. Therefore, instead of all these sophisticated thoughts and reasons, accidental factors enter the picture such as feelings and intuitions, for example, a sense of, “Well, I just have an intuition that this is the case”, and such factors can be much more powerful than rational thought. For morality this idea first became popular in 2001 when Jonathan Haidt published his paper on the social intuitionist model, which has been a really influential idea.

More here.

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