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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An intuitive turn : understanding the roles of rational and intuitive processes in moral decision-making Newitt, Christopher Scott


The relative contribution of reason and intuition to everyday moral decision-making is an issue that predates psychology as a distinct academic discipline. In the past several years this debate has become one of the most contentious issues in the social sciences. Although most researchers now accept that intuition plays some role in everyday moral decision-making, there is little conceptual agreement on what processes shape moral intuition. To date there have been no attempts to demonstrate convergent validity between competing measures of moral intuition. The goals of this project are to examine the convergent validity demonstrated by measures of moral intuition and to examine whether the concept of moral autonomy is a useful framework for understanding individual differences in the propensity to rely on intuition or reason when making moral decisions. This project comprises a series of three studies. Study 1 examines the relation between moral autonomy, general cognitive styles, and performance on a causal deviance task which taps intuitive judgments. Study 2 represents the first step in the search for convergent validity among measures of moral intuition; responses from the causal deviance task and the moral dumbfounding task are compared. In Study 3, two new measures of moral intuition are introduced and compared with existing measures. The results of this project suggest that the conceptualization of moral intuition differs significantly across theoretical perspectives and, as such, there is little convergent validity between measures derived from the heuristics-and-biases tradition and those from the sentimentalist tradition. A richer conception of intuition, one that captures the distinction between affective appraisals and decisions arrived at without conscious deliberation, offers the potential to bridge theoretical differences. This project represents the first attempt to demonstrate convergent validity between opposing theoretical conceptualizations of moral intuition. The lack of agreement between these theoretical approaches highlights the need to take a more conceptually rich view of intuition. Intuition is not simply an error, as suggested by the heuristics-and-biases approach, nor is it simply an affective response, as suggested by sentimentalists; rather, intuition is a concept characterized by non-inferential, non-deliberative understanding.

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