Judgment Before Emotion: People Access Moral Evaluations Faster than Affective States


Theories about the role of emotions in moral cognition make different predictions about the relative speed of moral and affective judgments: those that argue that felt emotions are causal inputs to moral judgments predict that recognition of affective states should precede moral judgments; theories that posit emotional states as the output of moral judgment predict the opposite. Across four studies, using a speeded reaction time task, we found that self-reports of felt emotion were delayed relative to reports of event-directed moral judgments (e.g. badness) and were no faster than person-directed moral judgments (e.g. blame). These results pose a challenge to prominent theories arguing that moral judgments are made on the basis of reflecting on affective states.

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