A response to Skitkat’s talk.

Stitka’s research deals with the psychology of moral convictions: how morally convicted attitudes are formed, how are moral convictions theoretically and empirically distinct from strong but non-moral attitudes, which outcomes can morally convicted attitudes predict, … Among other relevant phenomena, her findings help explicate the mixed evidence in communication studies whereby sometimes exposure to disagreement is shown to predict greater participation and other democratically desirable outcomes, while other times it acts as a deterrent of political engagement.

Our project aims to understand moral disagreements in the digital sphere, where a great portion of our moral perspective builds on the perception of disagreements. While moral convictions are studied at an attitudinal level, we understand moral disagreements as controversies or disputes entailing opposing values. That is, we speak about communicative instances where disagreement takes place de facto.

In reading about the process of attitude moralization, we see that some issues are more likely or susceptible of moralization than others. Or rather, that issues may go through different stages where they are more or less likely to be cases of moral amplification. Perhaps some issues were non-issues not so long ago, and thus, and I quote from Skitka et al. (2021), they “require an initial stage of moral recognition, the creation of a new awareness of the possible moral implications of the issue” (p. 359).

Our online footprint attaches a sense of obligation to what we are supposed to think or say once we have first expressed an opinion.

Then in the online realm, particularly in social media, we see disagreements emerge and become polarized so quickly, anchored in well-defined and seemingly irreconcilable positions. Perhaps, the implications of our digital presence, the footprint that our online activity leaves behind – traceable, imposing of accountability –, our commitment to a coherent self-presentation – both individual and in relation to different relevant social categorizations –, are that these aspects attach a sense of obligation to what we are supposed to think or say once we have first expressed an opinion. In that way, our digital presence becomes an amplifier of the meta-perceptions we associate with our attitudes, much more than of the attitudes. Admittedly, I find myself astonished at the revelation that the problem with the internet is that it is “too moralizing”. Jokes aside, to the degree that attitude-moralization mechanisms inform perceptions of the irreconcilability and non-negotiability of issue positions, they could help us explain the phenomenon of polarization in the digital sphere. Has the group convention become moral imperative, or are we just confounding them?

Teresa Gil López

26 de octubre, 2022

Articles cited:
Skitka, L. J., Hanson, B. E., Morgan, G. S., & Wisneski, D. C. (2021). The psychology of moral conviction. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 347-366.