Mentor: Dr. Matthew Feinberg
Although we typically think of our moral convictions in positive terms, it is important to note that moral convictions can also be problematic, as they often compel us to take unwavering stances and to stigmatize, even dehumanize, those who do not share our convictions. Indeed, some of the most horrific acts in human history have been perpetrated in the name of moral conviction. With this in mind, at times the most ethical course of action can be one not driven by moral conviction, but instead based on amoral decisions and judgments. But, if individuals already hold a moral stance on an issue, what might compel them to put their moral convictions aside, or unmoralize their stance? The goal of this project is to explore a potential unmoralization strategy I call moral usurpation. This strategy involves presenting persuasive arguments that highlight the morality of not moralizing something that is already moralized. For instance, an individual aiming to persuade someone not to moralize opposition to an opposing political party could emphasize the moral value of patriotism and national unity. Similarly an individual wanting to persuade someone not to moralize opposition to same-sex couples adopting children could highlight the moral value in children having loving parents, rather than being in an orphanage. The SROP student and I will draft persuasive arguments such as these and experimentally test the effectiveness of moral usurpation while also exploring underlying mechanisms.
Most important to me is that the student learns by doing. This means extensive hands-on experience. Although I provide a scaffold for learning, I typically provide only enough information for students to figure things out for themselves, rather than giving step-by-step instructions. I believe this is most effective for (a) developing a clear understanding of how to do something oneself, (b) discovering new and creative insights on how to do something that I was unaware of. Based on this, I work best with highly motivated students that enjoy puzzles and figuring things out independently. For SROP, I look forward to having weekly research conversations where the student and I go over what was done in the previous week while also devising a plan for the week ahead. I believe SROP is an excellent opportunity to work with a driven student, excited to transform their motivation into action.