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Political Psychology



I began my research by studying how morality varies across cultures. I quickly discovered that the differences within any nation are usually larger than the differences across nations. This became particularly clear in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as the American culture war heated up. It seemed to feature a clash of two different moral matrices, even though people on all sides shared many moral commitments.


Working with Craig Joseph, I had already begun formulating "moral foundations theory," an account of the five psychological systems that form the foundation of “intuitive ethics.” Then, after John Kerry's loss to George Bush in 2004, I was asked to give a talk to the Charlottesville Democrats, to try to explain to Democrats why a majority of Americans actually preferred Bush to Kerry. I found that moral foundations theory worked very well -- Democrats tend to base all of their moral arguments on just two foundations -- Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity. But Bush, and social conservatives more generally, made appeals based on all five foundations, including Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity.


The next year, Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I teamed up to develop the "moral foundations questionnaire," a scale to measure the degree to which people rely upon each of the five foundations. Two years later, Ravi Iyer, then a graduate student at USC, offered to put the MFQ online. Around the same time, I met Sena Koleva and Pete Ditto (from UC-Irvine), who were also interested in working with the MFQ. The whole group of us teamed up to create (for which Ravi Iyer did nearly all the work). My extraordinary luck in finding these superb collaborators has led to most of the work below.


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

For an overview of our approach and findings, watch this video:



Papers (selections from my main publications page):

** indicates most important




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., 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., & 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


**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.

55 ** Haidt, J. (2008) What makes people vote Republican? Published on, 9/9/08. View article
61 Haidt, J. (2009). Obama’s moral majority. Prospect, 155 (Feb 2009). View article
--Some advice for Obama and the Democrats, from the perspective of Moral Foundations Theory, on the eve of Obama's inauguration. He didn't take it.

**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.

Haidt, J., Graham, J., & Joseph, C. (2009). Above and below left-right: Ideological narratives and moral foundations. Psychological Inquiry, 20, 110-119. Request article

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.
87 Koleva, S. P., Graham, J., Ditto, P., Iyer, R., & Haidt, J. (2012). Tracing the threads: how five moral concerns (especially Purity) help explain culture war attitudes. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(2), 184-194. Request article
  Iyer, R., Graham, J., Koleva, S., Ditto, P., & Haidt, J (in press). Beyond Identity Politics: Moral Psychology and the 2008 Democratic Primary. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Request article




Less academic, more popular stuff:


The Spirit of Dharmacracy. Los Angeles Times, Op-Ed article, January 14, 2007

Video: 15 minute lecture on morality and politics at the New Yorker 2012 conference, May 8, 2007

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

What the tea partiers really want. Wall St. Journal, 10/16/10

For information about Moral Foundations Theory, including scales to measure people's endorsement of the five foundations, click here.

For my most recent non-academic writing, related to The Righteous Mind, click here.

Return to Haidt's homepage at NYU


Last Updated Sept 2, 2012