On the “Exporting” of Morality: Its Relation to Political Conservatism and Epistemic Motivation

Abstract

A new phenomenon, moral exporting (ME), is introduced to capture active attempts to promote certain views of morality to others. It was hypothesized that political conservatives would be more likely to exhibit ME, due in part to strong epistemic concerns for certainty that may become attached to the moral domain. Related items from the 1988 and 2006 General Social Surveys were analyzed, and new scales were developed to better assess ME and specific moral-related epistemic concerns (moral absolutism). In a second study, these scales were administered to a large college student sample along with measures of political ideology and need for closure (NFC). Results generally showed that political conservatism was strongly related to the new ME factor. Further analysis determined that both moral absolutism (MA) and NFC accounted for significant portions of this relationship, but that the specific epistemic construct (MA) was a more proximal mediator. Discussion centers on further distinguishing ME and MA from related constructs, as well as on future research and applications.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    It is important to note that this is only one of several strategies an individual may employ to deal with the threat of uncertainty that moral diversity inherently stimulates. Some may choose to avoid, or even actively derogate, those with different views. This will be discussed further in the General Discussion.

  2. 2.

    Once again, some moral absolutists may choose to deal with such threats by avoiding and/or derogating those individuals and groups who elicit such uncertainty. However, others may choose the more benevolent “exporting” strategy.

  3. 3.

    In order to examine if the basic pattern of results differed across the 1988 and 2006 data sets, we also examined if survey year interacted with political orientation and MA in predicting ME. It did not (both Wald χ2s < .15, ns).

  4. 4.

    These open-ended responses were not analyzed for this article, as the focus here is on the construct of ME independent of content. It may be important to consider differences in content as related to political ideology in future research, and this is considered further in the General Discussion.

  5. 5.

    In addition to ME and MA, Mormons also scored the highest on the other constructs in our model: conservatism (Mormons: M = 4.32, SD = 1.18; other religious: M = 3.26, SD = 1.31; t(393) = 8.28, p < .01) and NFC (Mormons: M = 3.79, SD = .39; other religious: M = 3.69, SD = .46; t(393) = 2.16, p < .05). Overall, religious participants were more conservative than non-religious participants, though there were no differences in NFC.

  6. 6.

    As a covariate, NFC was a significant predictor of ME (b = .37, SE = .09, PRE = .03) and MA (b = .63, SE = .10, PRE = .06), controlling for age, sex, and monthly religious attendance. When testing a mediation model similar to that reported in the main results, NFC was a weak but significant mediator of the conservatism–ME relationship. In this model, conservatism significantly predicted NFC (b = .09, SE = .01, p < .01, PRE = .08), and NFC predicted greater ME over and above the effects of conservatism (b = .20, SE = .09, p < .05, PRE = .01). Although 18.5% of the direct effect of conservatism on ME was mediated in this model (Sobel z = 2.06, p < .05), more conservative identification continued to strongly predict ME, b = .19, SE = .03, p < .01, PRE = .08. The fact that MA strongly predicted ME even when controlling for NFC (with NFC becoming a nonsignificant predictor, b = .07, SE = .08, p > .05) suggests that MA is the more proximal construct here. It appears that while general epistemic concerns are associated with adopting an ME strategy in relation to others, this is fully accounted for by the more specific epistemic concerns within the moral domain (MA).

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to express their gratitude to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology for organizing our 2007 Summer Institute in Social Psychology in Austin, TX (with funding from the National Science Foundation), and to both John Jost and Arie Kruglanski, who were the facilitators of our workshop on Political Ideology. The ideas for this research were formulated within this workshop during the two-week institute. We also thank Fred Rhodewalt, Art Brief, and the CU Stereotyping and Prejudice lab for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, as well as Chick Judd for statistical consultation. Finally, we thank all anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments. It should be noted that the first two authors of this manuscript are listed in alphabetical order, reflecting their shared contributions.

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Peterson, B., Smith, J.A., Tannenbaum, D. et al. On the “Exporting” of Morality: Its Relation to Political Conservatism and Epistemic Motivation. Soc Just Res 22, 206–230 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-009-0101-8

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Keywords

  • Conservatism
  • Defense
  • Epistemic motivation
  • Morality
  • Need for closure
  • Uncertainty