Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 72–85 | Cite as

Rational and Emotional Sources of Moral Decision-Making: an Evolutionary-Developmental Account

  • Kaleda K. DentonEmail author
  • Dennis L. Krebs
Theoretical Article


Some scholars have contended that moral decision-making is primarily rational, mediated by controlled, deliberative, and reflective forms of moral reasoning. Others have contended that moral decision-making is primarily emotional, mediated by automatic, affective, and intuitive forms of decision-making. Evidence from several lines of research suggests that people make moral decisions in both of these ways. In this paper, we review psychological and neurological evidence supporting dual-process models of moral decision-making and discuss research that has attempted to identify triggers for rational-reflective and emotional-intuitive processes. We argue that attending to the ways in which brain mechanisms evolved and develop throughout the life span supplies a basis for explaining why people possess the capacity to engage in two forms of moral decision-making, as well as accounting for the attributes that define each type and predicting when the mental mechanisms that mediate each of them will be activated and when one will override the other. We close by acknowledging that neurological research on moral decision-making mechanisms is in its infancy and suggesting that future research should be directed at distinguishing among different types of emotional, intuitive, rational, and reflective processes; refining our knowledge of the brain mechanisms implicated in different forms of moral judgment; and investigating the ways in which these mechanisms interact to produce moral decisions.


Moral judgment Decision-making Rational Emotional Intuitive Dual-process 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

The authors declare that they have complied with all relevant ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Simon Fraser UniversityNorth VancouverCanada

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