THE MORAL SENSE TEST

Marc D. Hauser [8.21.03]
Topic:

"Our new web site is up and running," writes Marc D. Hauser of Harvard's Primate Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. "We are interested in understanding people's moral intuitions. The web site, includes background information and importantly, The Moral Sense Test. I would very much appreciate it if you would not only take the test, but also spread the word to your friends and colleagues, of all ages. We are particularly interested in getting cross-cultural data as well as developmental information, so even young children who can read would be terrifically helpful. The more the word spreads, the better for us. Thanks a lot for your help." — Marc

[From the MST Website:] "The Moral Sense Test is a Web-based study into the nature of moral intuitions. How do humans, throughout the world, decide what is right and wrong? To answer this question, we have designed a series of moral dilemmas designed to probe the psychological mechanisms underlying our ethical judgments. By putting these questions on the Web, we hope to gain insight into the similarities and differences between the moral intuitions of people of different ages, from different cultures, with different educational backgrounds and religious beliefs, involved in different occupations and exposed to very different circumstances. Participation in the study is easy, quick and completely confidential. Click above to learn more about our research, and to take to the test.

"About the Moral Sense Test: Nothing captures human attention more than a moral dilemma. Whether we are soap opera fanatics or not, we can’t help sticking our noses in other people’s affairs, pronouncing our views on right and wrong, permissible and impermissible, justified or not. For hundreds of years, scholars have argued that our moral judgments arise from rational, conscious, voluntary, reflective deliberations about what ought to be. This perspective has generated the further belief that our moral psychology is a slowly developing capacity, founded entirely on experience and education, and subject to considerable variation across cultures. With the exception of a few trivial examples, one culture’s right is another’s wrong. We believe this hyper rational, culturally-specific view is no longer tenable. The MST has been designed to show why and offer an alternative. Most of our moral intuitions are unconscious, involuntary, and universal, developing in each child despite formal education. When humans, from the hunter-gathers of the Rift Valley to the billionaire dot-com-ers of the Silicon Valley generate moral intuitions they are like reflexes, something that happens to us without our being aware of how or even why. We call this capacity our moral faculty. Our aim is to use data from the MST, as well as other experiments, to explain what it is, how it evolved, and how it develops in our species, creating individuals with moral responsibilities and concerns about human welfare. The MST has been designed for all humans who are curious about that puzzling little word “ought” — about the principles that make one action right and another wrong, and why we feel elated about the former and guilty about the latter.

"As in every modernly held view, there are significant historical antecedents. The origins of our own perspective date back at least 300 years to the philosopher David Hume and more recently, to the political philosopher John Rawls. But unlike these prescient thinkers, we can now validate the intuitions with significant scientific evidence. Over the past twenty years, there has been growing evidence for a universally shared moral faculty based on findings in evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, anthropology, economics, linguistics, and neurobiology. This evidence has created a powerful movement directed at the core aspects of human nature. It is a movement that has the power to reshape our lives by uncovering the deep structure of our moral intuitions and showing how they can either support or conflict with our conscious, often legally supported decisions.

"You have the opportunity to participate in the Moral Sense Test right now. The test only takes about 10 minutes, and your responses are completely confidential. For more information, read our our privacy statement. 

"This research is sponsored by the Primate Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, which is part of the Psychology Department at Harvard University."