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Home > Events > Colloquium: Morality in Language

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Colloquium: Morality in Language

When things go wrong, people ask, “Who made it happen?” “Who was responsible?” and often, “Who will pay?” That is, moral judgment engages causal cognition. How much of this process is influenced by higher-level factors such as people’s moral values and political ideology, and how much is influenced by stimulus-bound factors, such as the language used to describe the event? This talk will cover research combining individual differences measures with vignette-based and psycholinguistics tasks. Collectively, the research demonstrates: (1) moral values aimed at protecting group cohesiveness predict a shift in attributions of blame to victims; (2) altering the focus of language can reduce victim blame; and (3) values and ideology influence extraction of causal relationships from the most basic event descriptions. That participants’ behavior across these tasks systematically maps onto beliefs about the nature of right and wrong indicates that studying language can bring precision to our understanding of the unruly domain of morality, and also that our understanding of language is incomplete without consideration of moral psychology.
by Rob Peeler Jan 31, 2017
When Feb 24, 2017
from 1:15 PM to 2:30 PM
Where 127 Moore Building, University Park, PA 16802
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About the Colloquium Talk

When things go wrong, people ask, “Who made it happen?” “Who was responsible?” and often, “Who will pay?” That is, moral judgment engages causal cognition. How much of this process is influenced by higher-level factors such as people’s moral values and political ideology, and how much is influenced by stimulus-bound factors, such as the language used to describe the event? This talk will cover research combining individual differences measures with vignette-based and psycholinguistics tasks. Collectively, the research demonstrates: (1) moral values aimed at protecting group cohesiveness predict a shift in attributions of blame to victims; (2) altering the focus of language can reduce victim blame; and (3) values and ideology influence extraction of causal relationships from the most basic event descriptions. That participants’ behavior across these tasks systematically maps onto beliefs about the nature of right and wrong indicates that studying language can bring precision to our understanding of the unruly domain of morality, and also that our understanding of language is incomplete without consideration of moral psychology.

About the Speaker

Laura Niemi headshotLaura Niemi is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University working on an interdisciplinary project called The Psycholinguistics of Morality with Dr. Steven Pinker and Dr. Jesse Snedeker. Laura's doctoral research was advised by Dr. Liane Young at the Morality Lab at Boston College, where she received a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience in 2015. Laura conducts research at the intersection of moral psychology, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics. She aims to increase understanding about when and why people disagree about events being right or wrong. She pursues this through research investigating how social forces — such as ideology and membership in social categories — are reflected in systems of language usage, thought, and action. Her papers have appeared in journals including Psychological Science, Psychological Inquiry, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Her popular science writing has appeared in The New York Times, and she writes the Psychology Today blog “Morality in Language.”