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Study shows that people interested in science generally have a stronger moral compass

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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.

(Snip)

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.”

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3 Comments

  1. So then does that mean the opposite of science is religion, that’s premised on faith based myths and fables, that can’t be legitimized through fact based science? (Unless your with the Discovery Institute that’s trying make creationism equal to evolution, if not superior.)

    Then by default, if people who are generally more interested in science have a stronger moral compass, than those who are interested in things built on the denial of science, of which religion is the biggest culprit, then those who are religious are more likely less moral.

    How many politicians claim to be religious or guided by their belief in God and how many are compromised ethically? How many criminals claim to find God vs Science?

  2. Craig Knauss

    I would say that people who participate in science are actively trying to determine the truth about things, while the very “religious”, such as fundamentalists, are content to have “truth” spoon fed to them. And look at all the morality that is present among the televangelists. They’re nothing but a bunch of scam artists, perverts, and adulterers.

  3. When we drop bombs on people from drones and other various delivery systems, both current and past, and those leaders who make such decisions say “God bless America” or invoke God as their guiding force, shouldn’t they really be saying “Science bless America” and invoke their belief in Science since it was what made those technologies possible?

    Those weapons and delivery systems were developed through scientific research, not by God per se.

    I just can’t let this kind of topic go by without invoking all the places my mind goes when I see stories that talk about morality, science and religion.

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