Return to Haidt's homepage at NYU

Moral Psychology



All of my research is ultimately about morality. I study how people come to know what is right and wrong, how this knowledge is based in emotions and intuitions, and how morality varies across cultures. At the heart of my research and theory is the “Social Intuitionist Model,” which lays out an account of how moral reasoning and moral emotions work together to produce moral judgments. In brief, the model says that moral judgments are like aesthetic judgments -- we make them quickly and intuitively. We know what is right and wrong in much the same way we know what is beautiful. When called on to explain ourselves we make up reasons after the fact. Moral reasoning does affect judgment, but this happens primarily in between people, as they talk, gossip, and argue (hence the “social” part of the model).


The Social Intuitionist Model has been extended into "Moral Foundations Theory," an account of how five innate psychological systems form the foundation of “intuitive ethics,” but each culture constructs its own sets of virtues on top of these foundations. The current American culture war can be seen as arising from the fact that Liberals try to create a morality using only the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity modules; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five modules, including Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. (The theory owes a great deal to Richard Shweder's account of the "Big 3" moral ethics: Autonomy, Community, and Divinity). To see how I have applied moral psychology to the study of politics, click here. I strive for a complete explanation of morality, including its evolutionary origins, brain basis, development within cultural context, and cognitive mechanisms. I have been particularly interested in moral judgments about harmless yet offensive situations, often involving sexuality or food taboos, for these topics allow us to see moral judgments that cannot be said to be about protecting innocent victims.


For information about Moral Foundations Theory, including scales to measure people's endorsement of the five foundations, please visit

To participate in research on moral psychology and to see how you score on the "five foundations", please visit

If you are a scholar planning to critique my work, please read this blog post first, on the mistake that many critics make



Papers (selections from my main publications page):

** indicates most important




**Haidt, J., Koller, S., & Dias, M. (1993). Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 613-628. Request Article

--This is the published version of my dissertation. It examined a debate between Eliott Turiel and Richard Shweder, on whether morality really varied by culture. Using harmless yet offensive stories (such as a family that eats its pet dog, after the dog was killed by a car), I found evidence that strongly supported Shweder: morality did indeed vary by culture. Unexpectedly, cultural differences across social classes within each country were larger than differences across nations (U.S. vs. Brazil). This research showed me the importance of culture and of emotion for understanding moral judgment. If you would like to see my original dissertation, which gives more detail about methods and more tables of results, you can view it here.


Shweder, R., & Haidt, J. (1993). The future of moral psychology: Truth, intuition, and the pluralist way. Psychological Science, 4, 360-365. Request article

--This theoretical article is an early statement of moral intuitionism; It was written mostly by Shweder, while I was working with him as a post-doctoral researcher. It shows the profound influence of Shweder's ideas upon my later thinking.


Haidt, J. & Baron, J. (1996). Social roles and the moral judgement of acts and omissions. European Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 201-218. Request article

--These experiments show that people judge acts of commission to be morally worse than equivalent acts of omission, but the difference goes away when the person being judged was in a role-relationship to the victim (e.g., friend, or boss) that required him/her to look out for the interests of the other person.


Haidt, J., & Hersh, M. (2001). Sexual morality: The cultures and emotions of conservatives and liberals. Journal of Applied Social Psychology,31, 191-221. Request article

--This was the undergraduate honors thesis of Matthew Hersh. It was my first venture into political psychology. We found that conservatives moralized sexual issues more thatn liberals, and that they were more likely to become "morally dumbfounded" while trying to explain themselves. But the differences were largest on homosexuality -- an issue in the culture war -- and they were much smaller for issues of consensual incest.


** Haidt, J . (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review. 108, 814-834. Request article

--This is the most important article I've ever written. It was my effort to bring together the newest developments in many fields in the 1990s, and link them up to older ideas (from David Hume and Robert Zajonc) about the primacy of affect. I formulated the "Social Intuitionist Model" as an alternative to the rationalist models that had dominated moral psychology in the 1980s and 1990s. The model says that most of the action in moral psychology is in our intuitions -- our automatic evaluative responses. People do indeed reason, but that reasoning is done primarily to prepare for social interaction, not to search for truth. We are just not very good at thinking open-mindedly about moral issues, so rationalist models end up being poor descriptions of actual moral psychology.


Greene, J., & Haidt, J. (2002). How (and where) does moral judgment work? Trends in Cognitive Science, 6, 517-523. Request article

--This article, written mostly by Joshua Greene, was my introduction to social-cognitive neuroscience. We reviewed all extant studies in which people had been presented with moral violations or dilemmas while in an fMRI scanner. We identified the brain regions most frequently mentioned, but we cautioned that "there is no specifically moral part of the brain. Every brain region discussed in this article has also been implicated in non-moral processes."


Haidt, J. (2003). The moral emotions. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences. Oxford : Oxford University Press.(pp. 852-870). Request article

--From the abstract: "Four families of moral emotions are discussed: the other-condemning family (contempt, anger, and disgust), the self-conscious family (shame, embarrassment, and guilt), the other-suffering family (compassion), and the other-praising family (gratitude and elevation). For each emotion, the elicitors and action tendencies that make it a moral emotion are discussed."


Haidt, J., Rosenberg, E., & Hom, H . (2003). Differentiating diversities: Moral diversity is not like other kinds. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 1-36. Request article

--We question the widespread celbration of diversity, noting that from a social-psychological point of view, diversity ought to cause many problems, particularly divisiveness and internal conflict. We argue that moral diversity is the real problem, and that discussion of diversity should distinguish among kinds of diversity. Three studies of attitudes and desires for interaction among college students confirm that moral diversity reduces desires for interaction more than does demographic diversity, and that both kinds of diversity are valued more in a classroom than in other social settings.This research was the honors thesis of Evan Rosenberg


Haidt, J. (2003). The emotional dog does learn new tricks: A reply to Pizarro and Bloom (2003). Psychological Review, 110, 197-198. Request article


Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2004). Intuitive Ethics: How Innately Prepared Intuitions Generate Culturally Variable Virtues. Daedalus, pp. 55-66, Special issue on human nature. Request article

--This was my first statement of "moral foundations theory", an attempt to specify the best candidates for being the evolved and innate psychological systems upon which cultures construct an enormous variety of virtues and institutions. For a fuller statement, see pub #41 and pub #62. For more on moral foundations theory see


Wheatley, T., & Haidt, J. (2005). Hypnotically induced disgust makes moral judgments more severe. Psychological Science, 16, 780-784.

Request article


**Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20, 98-116. Request article
--This is an accessible introduction to moral foundations theory. It was given the Morton Deutsch Award, for the best article published in Social Justice Research in 2007


Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2007). The moral mind: How 5 sets of innate moral intuitions guide the development of many culture-specific virtues, and perhaps even modules. In P. Carruthers, S. Laurence, and S. Stich (Eds.) The Innate Mind, Vol. 3. New York: Oxford, pp. 367-391. View article
--This is our most complete statement of the cognitive science of morality. It examines various notions of "modularity," concluding that for moral and cultural psychology, the best one is the version proposed by Dan Sperber in which "learning modules" are innate, and they generate dozens or hundreds of culture-specific modules during childhood. It is also our most complete statement on virtue ethics, thanks to the expertise of Craig Joseph.


** Haidt, J. (2007). The new synthesis in moral psychology. Science, 316, 998-1002. Request article or view online
--I was invited to summarize the state of the art in moral psychology for Science. I had to say it all in less than 2 pages. This exercize helped me to identify the 4 principles of moral psychology that now guide my approach to so much of moral and political psychology: 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship), 2) Moral thinking is for social doing, 3) Morality binds and builds, 4) There is more to morality than harm and fairness.


**Haidt, J. (2007) Moral psychology and the misunderstanding of religion. Published on, 9/9/07. View article
--I was so frustrated by the moralism of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who claimed to be simply presenting the scientific facts on religion. I differ from them in believing that religion is an evolutionary adaptation, not a byproduct or cultural parasite. (I follow David Sloan Wilson on this point.) I show how their writings in fact illustrate the four basic principles of moral psychology; they do not illustrate disinterested scientific inquiry.
--This essay was given a "Sidney Award," by David Brooks (New York Times) as one of the 10 best essays of 2007
--This essay was reprinted in: J. Schloss & M. Murray (eds.), (2009). The believing primate: Scientific, philosophical, and theological reflections on the origin of religion. New York: Oxford. pp. 278-291.
This version is better for printing than the original Edge essay-- it is better formatted, and includes references.


**Haidt, J., & Bjorklund, F. (2008). Social intuitionists answer six questions about moral psychology. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.), Moral Psychology, Volume 2: The Cognitive Science of Morality: Intuition and Diversity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (pp. 181-217). Request article

--This is the most comprehensive summary of the social intuitionist model. It is the best work to read for those interested in moral philosophy.


**Haidt, J. (2008). Morality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 65-72. Request article
--This article gives a medium-length overview of moral psychology. (Longer than #44, but shorter than #77). It places the history of moral psychology within 2 competing narratives about modernity, a liberal one about liberation, and a conservative one about decline and loss. It argues that the field of moral psychology, which is composed almost entirely of liberals, needs to pay more attention to conservative ideas and concerns.


**Schnall, S., Haidt, J., Clore, G., & Jordan, A. (2008). Disgust as embodied moral judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1096-1109. Request article
--This article offers the clearest empirical evidence to date that extraneous feelings of disgust (induced via sitting at a dirty desk, watching a disgusting video, or smelling fart spray) makes moral judgment more severe.


Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Rimm-Kaufman, S. E. (2008). Ideology and intuition in moral education. European Journal of Developmental Science, 2, 269-286. Request article


**Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2009). Planet of the Durkheimians, Where Community, Authority, and Sacredness are Foundations of Morality. In J. Jost, A. C. Kay, & H. Thorisdottir (Eds.), Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification. Request article [Here is a link to the manuscript, which may be easier to read than the scanned version of the final article.]
--This is the most sociological article I've ever written, and its one I'm most proud of. When I first read Durkheim, in graduate school, I had an experience of enlightenment -- my first view of societies as emergent organisms. This article applies the ideas of Durkheim, Tonnies, and Weber to Moral Foundations Theory.

64 **Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. (2009). Liberals and conservatives use different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029-1046. Request article
--This is the first major empirical article testing Moral Foundations Theory. In four studies we found that liberals relied primarily on harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity, whereas conservatives relied on all five foundations. We found this difference even when we coded sermons given in liberal versus conservative churches.
75 Lobue, V., Nishida, T., Chiong, C., Deloache, J., & Haidt, J. (2010). When getting something good is bad: Even 3-year-olds react to inequality. Social Development. Request article
--This paper offers the first evidence that 3-year-olds have an intuitive and negative response to unfair divisions. Previous research has focused primarily on on children's conceptual understanding of fairness, which emerges only years after the intuitive response is in place.
77 **Haidt, J., & Kesebir, S. (2010). Morality. In S. Fiske, & D. Gilbert (Eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition. Request article
--This is my absolute most-complete statement on what morality is, where it comes from, how it works, and why people disagree about it. It is in essence a precis of my next book, The Righteous Mind. It's long, and it's written for an audience of social psychologists, but it should be accessible to non-specialists.
79 Haidt, J. (2010). Moral psychology must not be based on faith and hope. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 182-184. Request article
--This is a response to a critique of my work by Darcia Narvaez
80 Graham, J. & Haidt, J. (2010). Beyond Beliefs: Religion Binds Individuals into Moral Communities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 140-150.. Request article


  Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (submitted). Mapping the Moral Domain. (under review at JPSP). Request paper
  Iyer, R., Koleva, S. P., Graham, J., Ditto, P. H., & Haidt, J. (submitted). Understanding Libertarian morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology. (Under review at JPSP) Request Paper
  Haidt, J., Sabini, J., Gromet, D., & Darley, J. (submitted). What exactly makes revenge sweet? (under review at Emotion) Request Paper
  Haidt, J., Bjorklund, F., & Murphy, S. (n.d.). Moral dumbfounding: When intuition finds no reason. (Unpublished manuscript, University of Virginia). Request Paper
  Sherman, Haidt, Clore, Graham, & Iyer (submitted). The Moral Stroop Effect and the Shudder Factor: Associating Sin with Blackness Predicts Unwillingness to Violate Morality for Money (under review at Psychological Science).



Less academic, more popular stuff:


Interview in The Believer, August 2005, on moral psychology, conducted by Tamler Sommers.


Video: 30 minute lecture on morality and religion at the Beyond Belief conference, Nov. 2007

Honey I Shrunk the President. Los Angeles Times, Op-Ed article, December 16, 2007

***Most important lecture: at TED conference, Feb. 2008

Return to Haidt's homepage


Last Updated August 10, 2010 Sage Lectures at UCSB are here