Effect of Gesture on Deontological or Utilitarian Moral Judgments
Van Til, Kaela
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Moral judgment is influenced by mental imagery, and the use of gesture promotes the visualization of mental images. The present study investigated the influence of gesture on making moral judgments, particularly deontological and utilitarian judgments. Deontological moral judgments occur when the ends of a situation do not justify the means, and utilitarian moral judgments occur when the ends of a situation justify the means. Participants were 17 undergraduate students at Kalamazoo College. Participants read 4 stories and made moral judgments following each one determining how morally acceptable it was for a bystander agent to kill 1 person in order to save 5 people. They then retold the stories with or without gestures, and again made moral judgments as well as answered questions about the specific images they visualized. The hypothesis that gesturing would lead participants to make deontological moral judgments rather than utilitarian moral judgments was not found; however, stories in which harm was caused from a distance rather than through personal contact led participants to make utilitarian moral judgments. Additionally, participants in the gesture condition visualized the agent of the story more than the victim or five other men, which showed an effect of gesture on mental imagery. Limitations and future directions are discussed. This study adds to the literature on understanding how moral judgments are made, which is important because they are made in many everyday and life or death situations, as well as shows that gesture does strengthen certain mental images.