Cognitive biases in moral judgments that affect political behavior

Synthese 172 (1):7 - 35 (2010)
Cognitive biases that affect decision making may affect the decisions of citizens that influence public policy. To the extent that decisions follow principles other than maximizing utility for all, it is less likely that utility will be maximized, and the citizens will ultimately suffer the results. Here I outline some basic arguments concerning decisions by citizens, using voting as an example. I describe two types of values that may lead to sub-optimal consequences when these values influence political behavior: moralistic values (which people are willing to impose on others regardless of the consequences) and protected values (PVs, values protected from trade-offs). I present evidence against the idea that voting is expressive, i.e., that voters aim to express their moral views rather than to have an effect on outcomes. I show experimentally that PVs are often moralistic. Finally, I present some data that citizens’ think of their duty in a parochial way, neglecting out-groups. I conclude that moral judgments are important determinants of citizen behavior, that these judgments are subject to biases and based on moralistic values, and that, therefore, outcomes are probably less good than they could be.
Keywords Cognitive biases  Moral judgment  Moralistic values  Protected values  Parochialism  Citizenship
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