Experimental Investigation of the Role of Heuristics in Moral Judgment


  • Nermina Mehić Odsjek za psihologiju, Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Rijeci
  • Igor Kardum Odsjek za psihologiju, Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Rijeci


moral judgment, heuristics, ecological rationality, incest, omission, tit-for-tat


One of the most important questions in moral psychology is identifying the underlying process of moral judgment. Some of the recent theories suggest heuristics as a tool for providing a moral decision. The primary aim of the present study was to examine whether heuristics are also included in the process of moral judgment, and not just in moral action. An additional goal was to replicate these effects on a Croatian sample using new stimulus material. Five heuristics were examined: titfor-tat, punishing free-riders in collective actions, incest, luck and effort as cues triggering alternative decision rules and omission. Participants answered to five moral dilemmas, one for each of the aforementioned heuristics. Each dilemma had two versions which differed in the cues that the matching heuristic is assumed to use. The study was carried out on a sample of 84 participants, randomly divided into two experimental groups, which were presented with different versions of the dilemmas. Results only partially confirmed the hypothesis. Three heuristics had an effect on moral judgments – incest and omission heuristics, and tit-for-tat. The effect of incest heuristic was significant only in the male subsample and was opposite from the expected one. Specifically, sexual intercourse between brother and sister, who are not aware of their kinship, is more often found morally unacceptable for males than between two people who grew up believing they are kin. Results for the dilemmas related to omission and tit-for-tat were as hypothesised: not helping someone is approved when the person in need did the same in the last interaction; moral transgression is more often found wrong when it is a result of action rather than omission.