Study shows that people interested in science generally have a stronger moral compass
Say what you will about so-called godless scientists, there’s REASON TO BELIEVE that people who take great interest in science have a stronger sense of morality than those who don’t:
Want to be a better person? Spend more time thinking about science.
That’s the implication of newly published research, which finds people who study science — or who are even momentarily exposed to the idea of scientific research — are more likely to condemn unethical behavior and more inclined to help others.
“Thinking about science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms,” report psychologists Christine Ma-Kellams of Harvard University and Jim Blascovich of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their research is published in the online journal PLOS One.
The researchers describe four experiments, all conducted at UCSB, that back up their surprising conclusion.
The first featured 48 undergraduates who read a vignette describing a date rape. (In the story, John engages in “nonconsensual sex” with Sally.) They were then asked to judge John’s behavior on a scale from 1 (completely justified) to 100 (totally wrong).
After revealing some personal information, including their major, each participant finished the experiment by responding to the question, “How much do you believe in science?” on a one-to-seven scale.
The researchers found no relationship between the participants’ religiosity or ethnicity and their judgment of John’s actions. But science majors (including those studying biology, chemistry and psychology) judged him more harshly than non-science majors.
In addition, “those who reported greater belief in science rated the date rape as more wrong,” the researchers write.
On the surface, these results seems counterintuitive; science, after all, is — in the strictest sense — amoral. But Ma-Kellams and Blascovich argue that, in the popular imagination, it has a different connotation.
“We contend there is a lay image or notion of ‘science’ that is associated with concepts of rationality, impartiality, fairness, technological progress,” they write. “The notion of science contains in it the broader moral vision of a society in which rationality is used for the mutual benefit of all.”