Deciding between moral priorities and COVID-19 avoiding behaviors: A moral foundations vignette study

Ekici H., Yucel E., Cesur S.

CURRENT PSYCHOLOGY, 2021 (Journal Indexed in SSCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume:
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.1007/s12144-021-01941-y
  • Title of Journal : CURRENT PSYCHOLOGY


Novel moral norms peculiar to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in tension between maintaining one's preexisting moral priorities (e.g., loyalty to one's family and human freedoms) and avoiding contraction of the COVID-19 disease and SARS COVID-2 virus. By drawing on moral foundations theory, the current study questioned how the COVID-19 pandemic (or health threat salience in general) affects moral decision making. With two consecutive pilot tests on three different samples (ns approximate to 40), we prepared our own sets of moral foundation vignettes which were contextualized on three levels of health threats: the COVID-19 threat, the non-COVID-19 health threat, and no threat. We compared the wrongness ratings of those transgressions in the main study (N = 396, M-age = 22.47). The results showed that the acceptability of violations increased as the disease threat contextually increased, and the fairness, care, and purity foundations emerged as the most relevant moral concerns in the face of the disease threat. Additionally, participants' general binding moral foundation scores consistently predicted their evaluations of binding morality vignettes independent of the degree of the health threat. However, as the disease threat increased in the scenarios, pre-existing individuating morality scores lost their predictive power for care violations but not for fairness violations. The current findings imply the importance of contextual factors in moral decision making. Accordingly, we conclude that people make implicit cost-benefit analysis in arriving at a moral decision in health threatening contexts.