Sensitivity to Ingroup and Outgroup Norms in the Association Between Commonality and Morality

Goldring, Megan; Heiphetz, Larisa A.

Emerging research suggests that people infer that common behaviors are moral and vice versa. The studies presented here investigated the role of group membership in inferences regarding commonality and morality. In Study 1, participants expected a target character to infer that behaviors that were common among their ingroup were particularly moral. However, the extent to which behaviors were common among the target character’s outgroup did not influence expectations regarding perceptions of morality. Study 2 reversed this test, finding that participants expected a target character to infer that behaviors considered moral among their ingroup were particularly common, regardless of how moral their outgroup perceived those behaviors to be. While Studies 1-2 relied on fictitious behaviors performed by novel groups, Studies 3-4 generalized these results to health behaviors performed by members of different racial groups. When answering from another person’s perspective (Study 3) and from their own perspective (Study 4), participants reported that the more common behaviors were among their ingroup, the more moral those behaviors were. This effect was significantly weaker for perceptions regarding outgroup norms, although outgroup norms did exert some effect in this real-world context. Taken together, these results highlight the complex integration of ingroup and outgroup norms in socio-moral cognition.


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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

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August 10, 2020


Keywords: health behaviors, moral cognition, norms, racial groups