What is it about?

We measure variation in whether people see morality as varying along many different dimensions ("localized") or varying along a single dimension from bad to good ("generalized"). We find that people living in large social networks show more generalized morality, both in a hunter-gatherer field site and in an international survey. An agent-based model and lab experiments suggest that generalized morality might be effective for finding cooperative partners in large social networks. A historical analysis using natural language processing suggests that perceptions of morality have become increasingly generalized over the last 200 years.

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Why is it important?

From a basic standpoint, this research shows how people's moral intuitions are influenced by the characteristics of their social network. From an applied perspective, our research suggests that people may judge others more based on first impressions within large social networks.


One strength of this research was our interdisciplinary perspective.

Joshua Jackson
University of Chicago

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Generalized morality culturally evolves as an adaptive heuristic in large social networks., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, September 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000358.
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