Scientists from the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education (MSUPE) have investigated the psychophysiological characteristics in the formation of moral attitudes towards members of different groups and found that in adults the behaviour associated with supporting members of an alien group in an unfair infringement of their rights is accompanied by a less systemic mismatch than support of their own group members, while in children the same behaviour has the opposite pattern.
A person consciously or unconsciously correlates their actions with moral norms, since morality is one of the most ancient ways of regulating interactions between individuals. A number of studies have shown that the same actions towards a member of one’s own and an alien group can be evaluated differently.
MSUPE's specialists carried out a study showing that in conflict situations between members of one’s own and an alien group, where a member of one’s own group needs a resource for an optional good, while an alien group member needs that resource to survive, the moral assessment of actions changes in the course of ontogenesis (the individual development of an organism) from the unconditional support of one’s own group members to the fair treatment of members of an alien group.
Scientists conducted five-minute conversations about their studies, work, and hobbies. Then the participants were asked to solve a number of moral dilemmas. The task of the dilemma was to give an indivisible resource either to one’s own group member, who needed the resource for an optional good, or to a member of an alien group, who needed the resource to survive. The dilemmas had been used earlier in the study involving children. Systems formed at different stages of development may conflict with each other, which can lead to a systemic mismatch.
“We have found that in more than half of the tasks described above, there’s a greater systemic mismatch indicated by heart rate variability in children supporting members of alien groups than in children who often favour a member of their own group”, Irina Sozinova, a researcher at the Institute of Experimental Psychology, Laboratory of Neurocognitive Studies of Individual Experience at the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, stated.
According to the experts, the increase in the number of interactions with members of alien groups and the complication of subjective experience affect the change in the moral assessment of actions in conflict situations of this type. From the perspective of a system-evolutionary approach, behaviour is implemented by updating the systems formed at different stages of ontogenesis, with the later formed systems not replacing the previously formed ones but overlapping them instead.
It was revealed that the heart rate indicator (LF/HF) is lower when solving moral dilemmas than when talking to an experimenter and while at rest. A relationship was also found between the LF/HF score and someone else’s share of support. The more often the study participants, in response to dilemmas, supported a member of a alien group, the lower their indicator values.
According to the researchers, based on the results obtained, it can be assumed that in adults, behaviour associated with the support of alien group members is accompanied by a less systemic mismatch than the support of their own group members. In addition, the process of solving moral dilemmas is accompanied by a less systemic mismatch than a conversation with the experimenter and while at rest.
“It’s likely that in conflict situations, the formation of a moral assessment of actions is gradual, with adults accumulating a sufficient number of episodes of interaction with others based on a fair attitude to each other”, Irina Sozinova said.
The results were presented as part of a report at the International Scientific and Technical Conference “Neuroinformatics-2019”.