Access the publisher's website Psychological Science 25, 3 (2014) 702-710
This research tested the idea that lack of material resources (e.g., low income) causes people to make harsher moral judgments because lack of material resources is associated with a lower ability to cope with the effects of others’ harmful behavior. Consistent with this idea, a large cross-cultural survey (Study 1) found that both chronic (low income) and situational (inflation) lack of material resources were associated with harsher moral judgments. The effect of inflation was stronger for low-income individuals, whom inflation renders relatively more vulnerable. A follow-up experiment (Study 2) caused participants to perceive they lacked material resources by employing different anchors on the scale they used to report their income. The manipulation led to harsher judgments of harmful, but not of non-harmful, transgressions and this effect was explained by a sense of vulnerability. Alternative explanations were excluded. These results demonstrate a functional and contextually situated nature of moral psychology.