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How Do You Make Moral Decisions?

make moral decisions

It’s an age old question asked by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.  Are moral choices and judgments based on emotion and our passions or on logic and rational thought?  Do we choose a course of action because if “feels” right or is it based on reason and sound judgment?

In DBT Linehan describes a state of mind she calls “wise mind.”  Wise mind is considered an integration of ‘emotion mind’ and ‘reasonable mind.’  It is an internal sense of knowing that comes from a combination of emotional experiencing and problem solving.  Wise mind is both thoughtful and intuitive.  It is both emotional and rational.

So is “wise mind” the source of moral decision making?  Is it a combination of emotion and rational thought?  Scientists are now able to use neuroimaging to bring greater clarity to the question of morality.  In the November 2010 issue of Monitor on Psychology Joshua Greene, Ph.D. describes how he has used fMRI to study moral reasoning and decision making.  Through the neural imaging Greene is able to see which parts of the brain are being activated as people make moral decisions.

In one study, he found that people used rational thought when making a moral judgment, but when the judgment involves personal force, emotions influence decision making.  In other studies, scientists have explored how our unconscious thoughts and feelings impact moral behavior.  In a series of experiments Jonathan Haidt, PhD showed that people become more judgmental when they are already disgusted.

Haidt found that people found a way to justify moral condemnation based on nothing more than an implanted feeling of disgust (in experiments he exposed people to foul smells before asking them to make moral judgments).

What impact do these experiments have on Linehan’s concept of Wise Mind?  The idea of intuitive knowing has not yet been studied with neuroimaging.  However, these studies don’t contradict the concept and Greene’s experiments seem to support the idea that some decision making is both rational and emotional.  Gaining a greater understanding of how and why we make important judgments and decisions and what distorts or bias’ our decisions is important in making long term moral judgments that fit with your own personal values.

How do you make moral decisions?  Is it logic?  Emotion?  A combination?  How do you make decisions that are congruent with your values?  Comment below.

make moral decisions

How Do You Make Moral Decisions?

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2010). How Do You Make Moral Decisions?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 3 Nov 2010
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