It’s not right but it’s permitted: Wording effects in moral judgement

S. Barbosa, William Jiménez-Leal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This study aims to provide evidence about two widely held assumptions in the experimental study of moral judgment. First, that different terms used to ask for moral judgment (e.g., blame, wrongness, permissibility…) can be treated as synonyms and hence used interchangeably. Second, that the moral and legal status of the judged action are independent of one another and thus moral judgment have no influence of legal or other conventional considerations. Previous research shows mixed results on these claims. We recruited 660 participants who provided moral judgment to three identical sacrificial dilemmas using seven different terms. We experimentally manipulated the explicit legal status of the judged action. Results suggest that terms that highlight the utilitarian nature of the judged action cause harsher moral judgments as a mechanism of reputation preservation. Also, the manipulation of the legal status of the judged action holds for all considered terms but is larger for impermissibility judgments. Taken as a whole, our results imply that, although subtle, different terms used to ask for moral judgment have theoretically and methodologically relevant differences which calls for further scrutiny.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308–313
Number of pages6
JournalJudgment and Decision Making
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology

Cite this