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How Our Emotional State Colors Moral Judgements

Updated: 18 hours ago

To understand, explain, and predict external behavior, we must look at the underlying motivations, cognitions, and affective states of the individual. As part of these underlying aspects, mood and cognitive biases are key components.


A scientific article by Dr. Ian Jones considers these two aspects in relation with how people make moral judgments. While this article may not directly assess nicotine and tobacco use behaviors, the theoretical concept applies. One of our values at ARAC is on bringing our diverse scientific backgrounds and expertise to drive client success.


Why Your Mood May Be Coloring Your View of Right and Wrong 

In our day-to-day lives, the judgments we make can be swayed by numerous factors, some of which we may not even be consciously aware of. 

A study by Ian T. Jones and colleagues from Oklahoma State University delves into the topic—how our mood influences our moral judgments. Their research, titled "The Effects and Implications of Mood on Moral Judgements," reveals how internal emotional states can significantly impact the way we evaluate ambiguous situations. 


The Influence of Mood on Judgment 

Before diving into the findings of the study, it's essential to understand some key concepts discussed therein. The primary tool used in this research is based on an algebraic model of self-reflection developed by Vladimir A. Lefebvre. 

This model suggests that people inherently lean towards judging ambiguous stimuli—like a pair of pinto beans—as 'good' approximately 61.8% of the time. This phenomenon aligns with what's known as the golden ratio, a principle that appears frequently in nature and art. 

The study also introduces the States of Mind (SOM) model, which posits that the balance of positive (P) and negative (N) emotions influences our cognitive assessments. This balance can be numerically expressed as a ratio, P/(P+N), ideally nearing the golden proportion of .618 for optimal psychological functioning. 


Unpacking the Findings 

In their experiment, the researchers engaged 111 undergraduate students, using pinto beans as a vehicle to measure moral judgment in an ambiguous setting. Participants were tasked with categorizing pairs of beans as 'good' or 'bad' based on their own discretion. Concurrently, their emotional states were assessed using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), which measures current feelings and emotions. 

Surprisingly, the study found that while Lefebvre's predicted proportion of positive judgments was replicated (meaning people did judge the beans as 'good' 61.8% of the time), there was no significant correlation between individuals' mood states and their judgments of the beans. This indicates that while overall, people tend to see things more positively, this isn't necessarily influenced by whether they are in a good or bad mood at the time of making a judgment. 


Digging Deeper into the Numbers 

In their investigation into how mood impacts moral judgments using ambiguous stimuli, Jones and his team revealed intriguing statistical findings. The mean proportion of 'good' judgments made by participants was 61.8%, aligning precisely with Lefebvre's theoretical prediction. 

This robust result emerged despite individual variability in judgments, with some participants labeling as few as 30% of stimuli as 'good' and others as many as 100%. This suggests a deep-seated cognitive bias towards positivity in judgment, at least in ambiguous situations. 

Further statistical analysis using the PANAS scores for emotional assessment showed that while the average positive-to-negative ratio (P/(P+N)) was 0.87, indicating a generally positive emotional state among participants, these mood measures surprisingly did not correlate strongly with the judgment of stimuli. 

The Pearson and rank-order correlations between mood ratios and judgment of stimuli were .18 and .25, respectively, indicating a very weak relationship. These stats push us to rethink the assumed impact of mood on moral and ambiguous decision-making. 


Theoretical Implications for Future Research 

The findings from this study have significant theoretical implications, especially concerning the predictive power of Lefebvre's model in understanding how we make judgments under conditions of ambiguity. While the model accurately predicted the overall proportion of 'good' judgments, the lack of correlation between mood states and judgment outcomes suggests that other factors may also play crucial roles. 

This opens up new avenues for future research, particularly in exploring what these factors might be. Could cognitive biases, past experiences, or social influences be more potent than transient mood states in guiding our judgments? Further studies could also explore different types of stimuli or real-world applications, such as how these findings might translate to social or ethical judgments beyond the lab. 


Implications for Understanding Moral Judgments 

The implications of these findings are profound, suggesting that our moral compasses may be less influenced by transient emotional states than previously thought, at least when it comes to interpreting ambiguous stimuli. This challenges some common perceptions about mood and moral reasoning, such as the belief that a bad mood might lead someone to view the world more negatively. 


Reflecting on What This Means for Us 

The study prompts us to consider how our internal states, whether emotional or cognitive, shape our perceptions of neutrality and morality in everyday life. It also encourages further investigation into the intricate dance between our emotional well-being and our judgment processes. 


What Do You Think? 

Now that we've unpacked some of the complex interactions between mood, moral judgment, and cognitive biases, it's your turn to weigh in. How do you interpret these findings? Can you think of instances in your own life where your mood seemed to color your judgment of a situation? Perhaps you've noticed times when despite your mood, your decisions remained consistent? 

Let's take this discussion further. Are there other factors you believe strongly influence our judgments of what's good or bad? How might this research impact how we think about decision-making in professional settings, like law or medicine, where neutrality is prized? 


Engage with Us 

We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences. Engaging with different perspectives not only enriches our understanding but also helps us to grasp the practical applications of such research. Read the full article for yourself here



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