Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 125–132 | Cite as

The Adaptive Utility of Deontology: Deontological Moral Decision-Making Fosters Perceptions of Trust and Likeability

  • Donald F. Sacco
  • Mitch Brown
  • Christopher J. N. Lustgraaf
  • Kurt Hugenberg
Research Article


Although various motives underlie moral decision-making, recent research suggests that deontological moral decision-making may have evolved, in part, to communicate trustworthiness to conspecifics, thereby facilitating cooperative relations. Specifically, social actors whose decisions are guided by deontological (relative to utilitarian) moral reasoning are judged as more trustworthy, are preferred more as social partners, and are trusted more in economic games. The current study extends this research by using an alternative manipulation of moral decision-making as well as the inclusion of target facial identities to explore the potential role of participant and target sex in reactions to moral decisions. Participants viewed a series of male and female targets, half of whom were manipulated to either have responded to five moral dilemmas consistent with an underlying deontological motive or utilitarian motive; participants indicated their liking and trust toward each target. Consistent with previous research, participants liked and trusted targets whose decisions were consistent with deontological motives more than targets whose decisions were more consistent with utilitarian motives; this effect was stronger for perceptions of trust. Additionally, women reported greater dislike for targets whose decisions were consistent with utilitarianism than men. Results suggest that deontological moral reasoning evolved, in part, to facilitate positive relations among conspecifics and aid group living and that women may be particularly sensitive to the implications of the various motives underlying moral decision-making.


Moral reasoning Deontology Utilitarianism Trust Interpersonal attraction 



We thank Aaron Bermond, Seth Bridges, and Savannah Merold for their contributions to the data collection for this study.


  1. Baron, J., Scott, S., Fincher, K., & Metz, S. E. (2015). Why does the cognitive reflection test (sometimes) predict utilitarian moral judgment (and other things)? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 4, 265–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartels, D. M., & Pizarro, D. A. (2011). The mismeasure of morals: antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas. Cognition, 121, 154–161.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bleske-Rechek, A., Remiker, M. W., Swanson, M. R., & Zeug, N. M. (2006). Women more than men attend to indicators of good character: two experimental demonstrations. Evolutionary Psychology, 4, 248–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Conway, P., & Gawronski, B. (2013). Deontological and utilitarian inclinations in moral decision making: a process decision approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 216–235.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2006). Evolutionary psychology, moral heuristics, and the law. In G. Gigerenzer & C. Engel (Eds.), Heuristics and the law (pp. 175–205). Berlin: Dahlem University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cottrell, C. A., Neuberg, S. L., & Li, N. P. (2007). What do people desire in others? A sociofunctional perspective on the importance of different valued characteristics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 208–231.Google Scholar
  7. Darwin, C. (1874). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. New York: Rand, McNally & Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Djeriouat, H., & Trémolière, B. (2014). The dark triad of personality and utilitarian moral judgment: the mediating role of honesty/humility and harm/care. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 11–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Everett, J. A., Pizarro, D. A., & Crockett, M. J. (2016). Inference of trustworthiness from intuitive moral judgments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 772–787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A. G., & Buchner, A. (2007). G*Power 3: a flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 175–191.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Friesdorf, R., Conway, P., & Gawronski, B. (2015). Gender differences in response to moral dilemmas: a process dissociation analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 696–713.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 366–385.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Greene, J. D. (2009). The cognitive neuroscience of moral judgment. The Cognitive Neurosciences, 4, 1–48.Google Scholar
  14. Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science, 293, 2105–2108.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Greene, J. D., Nystrom, L. E., Engell, A. D., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2004). The neural bases of cognitive conflict and control in moral judgment. Neuron, 44, 389–400.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108, 814–834.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Haselton, M. G., & Buss, D. M. (2000). Error management theory: a new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 81–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., Webster, G. D., & Schmitt, D. P. (2009). The dark triad: facilitating a short‐term mating strategy in men. European Journal of Personality, 23, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jordan, J. J., Hoffman, M., Nowak, M. A., & Rand, D. G. (2016). Uncalculating cooperation is used to signal trustworthiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 8658–8663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kant, I. (1785/1959). Foundation of the metaphysics of morals. [Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten]. (L. W. Beck, Trans.) Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.Google Scholar
  21. Kawakami, K., Phills, C. E., Steele, J. R., & Dovidio, J. F. (2007). (Close) distance makes the heart grow fonder: improving implicit racial attitudes and interracial interactions through approach behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 957–971.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Koop, G. J. (2013). An assessment of the temporal dynamics of moral decisions. Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 527–539.Google Scholar
  23. Krebs, D. L. (2008). Morality: an evolutionary account. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 149–172.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kreps, T. A., & Monin, B. (2014). Core Values Versus Common Sense Consequentialist Views Appear Less Rooted in Morality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 1529–1542.Google Scholar
  25. Lilienfeld, S. O., Waldman, I. D., Landfield, K., Watts, A. L., Rubenzer, S., & Faschingbauer, T. R. (2012). Fearless dominance and the US presidency: implications of psychopathic personality traits for successful and unsuccessful political leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 489–505.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Lucas, B. J., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015). Is utilitarianism risky? How the same antecedents and mechanism produce both utilitarian and risky choices. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 541–548.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Mill, J. S. (1861/1998). Utilitarianism. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Minear, M., & Park, D. C. (2004). A lifespan database of adult facial stimuli. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36, 630–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Montoya, R. M., & Horton, R. S. (2004). On the importance of cognitive evaluation as a determinant of interpersonal attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 696–712.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Montoya, R. M., & Horton, R. S. (2014). A two-dimensional model for the study of interpersonal attraction. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 59–86.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Montoya, R. M., & Insko, C. A. (2008). Toward a more complete understanding of the reciprocity of liking effect. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 477–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Neuberg, S. L., Kenrick, D. T., & Schaller, M. (2011). Human threat management systems: self-protection and disease avoidance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35, 1042–1051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. O’Neill, P., & Petrinovich, L. (1998). A preliminary cross-cultural study of moral intuitions. Evolution and Human Behavior, 19, 349–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Patil, I. (2015). Trait psychopathy and utilitarian moral judgement: the mediating role of action aversion. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 27, 349–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rempel, J. K., Ross, M., & Holmes, J. G. (2001). Trust and communicated attributions in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 57–64.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Rezlescu, C., Duchaine, B., Olivola, C. Y., & Chater, N. (2012). Unfakeable facial configurations affect strategic choices in trust games with or without information about past behavior. PloS One, e34293.Google Scholar
  37. Rom, S. C., Weiss, A., & Conway, P. (2016). Judging those who judge: perceivers infer the roles of affect and cognition underpinning others’ moral dilemma responses. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.Google Scholar
  38. Sacco, D. F., Young, S. G., & Hugenberg, K. (2014). Balancing competing motives: adaptive trade-offs are necessary to satisfy disease avoidance and interpersonal avoidance goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 1611–1623.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Sacco, D. F., Lustgraaf, C. J. N., Brown, M., & Young, S. G. (2015). Activation of self-protection threat increases women’s preferences for dominance in male faces. Human Ethology Bulletin, 30, 24–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sell, A., Hone, L. S., & Pound, N. (2012). The importance of physical strength to human males. Human Nature, 23, 30–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Snyder, J. K., Fessler, D. M., Tiokhin, L., Frederick, D. A., Lee, S. W., & Navarrete, C. D. (2011). Trade-offs in a dangerous world: women’s fear of crime predicts preferences for aggressive and formidable mates. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32, 127–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Trémolière, B., Kaminski, G., & Bonnefon, J. F. (2014). Intrasexual competition shapes men’s anti-utilitarian moral decisions. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 1, 18–22.Google Scholar
  43. Trivers, R. L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology, 46, 35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Williams, K. D., Forgas, J. P., & Von Hippel, W. (Eds.). (2005). The social outcast: ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying. Psychology Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald F. Sacco
    • 1
  • Mitch Brown
    • 1
  • Christopher J. N. Lustgraaf
    • 1
  • Kurt Hugenberg
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyMiami UniversityOxfordUSA

Personalised recommendations