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The moralization of social groups: Consequences for intergroup relations and social identity

Michael T Parker, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The current research integrates theories of morality and social identity in order to identify the ways in which moralization of social groups can produce hostile intergroup relations. Two studies investigated two distinct modes of moralization: the creation of entirely new morality-based social groups and the moralization of preexisting groups. Study 1 tested the effects of moralizing the behavior of texting while driving on attitudes, emotions, and beliefs about individuals who either frequently text while driving (the outgroup) or those who do not (the ingroup). Results indicated that moralization alone (perceiving harm from the outgroup) was sufficient to strengthen social identification with non-frequent texters, and framing the behavior in terms of two distinct groups had no additional impact. The lines between ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation were also blurred in the moralization condition. Identification was directly related to outgroup negativity for the moralized group, and both positive ingroup-directed emotions and negative outgroup-directed emotions uniquely predicted attitudes toward the moralized ingroup. In Study 2, moralization through an incidental manipulation (thinking of a friend's moral/immoral behavior) led to automatic outgroup derogation against Black Americans by White Americans who felt strong positive emotions toward their ingroup. Those in the two control conditions (sadness and neutral) showed no relationship between positive ingroup emotions and outgroup derogation. Moreover, the total amount of implicit bias observed was entirely a function of the association between concepts of "Black" and "Bad" for the moralization conditions. However, the association between "White" and "Good" predicted implicit bias in the sadness and control conditions. These results suggest moralization can be an automatic process that can happen without awareness, and that outgroup derogation can be the primary motivation for intergroup bias. Together, these studies provide evidence that morality has a strong influence on intergroup relations, and this influence extends beyond groups defined by moral conviction. Specifically, moralization leads to an increased motive for outgroup derogation, a reduced motive for ingroup favoritism, and this can happen regardless of whether moral judgments are made about an outgroup specifically (Study 1), or whether the moral judgment is incidental to the target outgroup (Study 2).^

Subject Area

Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Parker, Michael T, "The moralization of social groups: Consequences for intergroup relations and social identity" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3603132.