Thursday, January 26, 2017

Social Intuitionism

In moral psychology, social intuitionism is a model that proposes that moral positions and judgments are generally first the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions) and that reasoning is a post hoc attempt to justify our intuitions.

Psychologist Jonathon Haidt first introduced the social intuitionist model (SIM) in his paper "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail" where he contrasts it against the common rationalist belief that humans make moral judgements as rational decision makers. In other words, rationalist believe that moral judgement is the result of deliberative moral reasoning, much like a judge in a court room listening to and weighing the evidence before reaching a decision.

Essentially, the SIM flips the rationalist view around believing that moral judgements typically come first through our intuitions and moral reasoning follows as a post hoc justification. Haidt believes that this after the fact rationalization is mainly to influence other people.

The model lays out six basic links: 1) intuitive judgment, 2) post hoc reasoning, 3) reasoned persuasion, 4) social persuasion, 5) reasoned judgment and 6) private reflection.

The Social Intuitionist Model 
The SIM proposes that when faced with a moral dilemma a person has an immediate intuitive sense of the rightness or wrongness of the action which is the basis of their judgement. This intuitive judgment (Link 1) appears in consciousness automatically and effortlessly as the result of moral intuitions.

Next, conscious post-hoc reasoning (Link 2) is employed to find justifications for their decision. This reasoning is heavily biased as it searches for explanations and evidence which support the person's judgement and disregards or undervalue evidence which contradicts it. This is generally referred to as 'confirmation bias'.

Reasoned Persuasion (Link 3) is employed to communicate justification for their judgements and as an attempt to persuade others. Though rational reasons may be part of their attempt to convince others, Haidt believes that this link is more about triggering new affectations in the listener. In other words, arguments are really attempts "to frame the issue so as to push an emotional button."

People can also influence and be influenced through social persuasion (Link 4) even when reasons are not given to justify moral positions. The idea is simply that we are influenced by our social groups. "Because people are highly attuned to the emergence of group norms, the model proposes that the mere fact that friends, allies, and acquaintances have made a moral judgment exerts a direct influence on others, even if no reasoned persuasion is used. Such social forces may elicit only outward conformity, but in many cases people’s privately held judgments are directly shaped by the judgments of others "

Although Haidt believes that people rarely change their initial intuitive judgement on moral matters without the influence of other people, he does concede that at times some people can change their minds just from mulling a matter over by themselves.

Reasoned judgment (Link 5) are for those times when people may "reason their way to a judgment by sheer force of logic, overriding their initial intuition. However such reasoning is hypothesized to be rare, occurring primarily in cases in which the initial intuition is weak and processing capacity is high. In cases where the reasoned judgment conflicts with a strong intuitive judgment a person will have a 'dual attitude' in which the reasoned judgment may be expressed verbally, yet the intuitive judgment continues to exist under the surface."

Private reflection (Link 6) accounts for times when, in the course of thinking about a situation, a person spontaneously arrives at a new intuition which overrides the initial intuitive judgement.

Moral Intuitions
The SIM proposes that morality, like language, is a major evolutionary adaptation for an intensely social species, built into multiple regions of the brain and body, which is better described as emergent than as learned, yet which requires input and shaping from a particular culture. Moral intuitions are therefore both innate and enculturated.

Dual Processing
The SIM is similar to other "dual process" theories in that it posits the intuitive process to be an automatic, effortless, default process (system 1) and moral reasoning to be controlled, effortful and slow (system 2).

Moral Dumbfounding
Haidt's evidence in support of the idea that 'intuitions come first, moral reasoning second' comes from studies of "moral dumbfounding" where people have strong moral reactions but fail to provide rational explanations to support their belief. For example, a researcher would ask a question such as:
Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but they decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. What do you think about that? Was it OK for them to make love?
Most people immediately said it was wrong for the siblings to have sex, yet could not explain why. They searched for reasons such as the harm of inbreeding, or that they will be hurt emotionally but were reminded that they used birth control and that no emotional harm befell them. Eventually, many people would give up looking for reasons and say something like “I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I just know it’s wrong.”

The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail
Wikipedia: Social Intuitionism
Reason, Society, and the Social Intuitionist Model
Social Intuitionists Answer Six Questions about Moral Psychology

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