“But He’s My Brother”: How Family Obligation Impacts Moral Judgments

AbstractWe created practical moral dilemmas for which participants role-played witnessing a transgression by a target person. The identity of the transgressor was manipulated to be either a stranger or the participant’s brother. Participants made factual and unethicality judgments regarding the incident, and reported their willingness to report the transgressor to the police. When the factual situation was ambiguous, participants interpreted the facts in favor of the target person when that target was their brother. This family favoritism in turn led to partial moral judgments and decisions, while creating overall coherence. When it was made clear that their brother actually committed the transgression, partiality in unethicality judgment was reduced but partiality in the decision to report persisted, even though overall coherence was thereby reduced. Using path analyses, we show how strong moral constraints such as family obligation can shift moral reasoning processes.

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