Random Xpat Rantings

Contemplative dominance for the modern man

The 5 basic genetically encoded moral traits

Posted by xsplat on December 21, 2011

This post is a work in progress. I’ll start by adding related ideas.

Morality has it’s basis in evolution, and various genes have been found to correlate with the different moral predispositions. Morality guides the individual to make decisions, and it is often used as a tool of social manipulation. However the genetic distribution of moral predispositions is not universal. It seems that humans have castes of sexual and power strategies. In our minds we don’t see it that way, and are predisposed to not see it that way. We prefer to view our power struggles as struggles about what is “right”. But another way to view our moral stances is as evolutionary algorithms to power. Humans don’t have one monolithic life strategy, because evolutionarily speaking that would be impossible. Wherever there are dominant strategies alternate niche strategies are automatically created.

From http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php

Foundations Theory was created to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that five innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations are:

1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulate the theory in 2010 based on new data, we are likely to include several forms of fairness, and to emphasize proportionality, which is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Much of our present research involves applying the theory to political “cultures” such as those of liberals and conservatives. The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. [Note: We are currently investigating other candidate foundations. The main contender for being a 6th foundation is Liberty constraint, which includes both lifestyle liberty, and also negative liberty — the freedom to be left alone by government. Liberals score higher on lifestyle liberty; conservatives on negative liberty]

You can find out your own moral foundations profile at www.yourmorals.org The theory was first developed from a simultaneous review of current evolutionary thinking about morality and cross-cultural research on virtues. To read more about the theory, please start with this article: Haidt & Graham (2007), or see this New York Times article by Nicholas Wade. The theory is an extension of Richard Shweder’s theory of the “three ethics” commonly used around the world when people talk about morality. (See this article: Shweder, R. A., Much, N. C., Mahapatra, M., & Park, L. [1997]. The “big three” of morality (autonomy, community, and divinity), and the “big three” explanations of suffering.) The theory was also strongly influenced by Alan Fiske‘s relational models theory.

From the morality of libertarians:

When it comes to morality, libertarians are often typecast as immoral calculating rationalists who also have a somewhat unseemly hedonistic bent. Now new social science research shows that libertarians are quite moral, just not in the same way that conservatives and liberals are.
The study found that libertarians show (1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle and correspondingly weaker endorsement of other moral principles, (2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional intellectual style, and (3) lower interdependence and social relatedness.

In his earlier work, Haidt surveyed the attitudes of conservatives and liberals using what he calls the Moral Foundations Questionnaire which measures how much a person relies on each of five different moral foundations: Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. Typically, conservatives scored lower than liberals on the Harm and Fairness scales and much higher on Ingroup, Authority, and Purity scales. In this case, libertarians scored low on all five surveyed moral dimensions. “Libertarians share with liberals a distaste for the morality of Ingroup, Authority, and Purity characteristic of social conservatives, particularly those on the religious right,” notes the study. Libertarians scored slightly below conservatives on Harm and slightly above on Fairness. This suggests that libertarians “are therefore likely to be less responsive than liberals to moral appeals from groups who claim to be victimized, oppressed, or treated unfairly.”

The Schwartz Value scale measures the degree to which participants regard 10 values as guiding principles for their lives. Libertarians put higher value on Hedonism, Self-Direction, and Stimulation than either liberals or conservatives and they put less value than either on Benevolence, Conformity, Security, and Tradition. Like liberals, libertarians put less value on Power, but like conservatives they value Universalism less. Universalism is defined as “understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection of the welfare of all people and nature.” All three put high value on Achievement. Taking these results into account, Haidt concludes that “libertarians appear to live in a world where traditional moral concerns (e.g., respect for authority, personal sanctity) are not assigned much importance.”
“Libertarians may fear that the moral concerns typically endorsed by liberals or conservatives are claims that can be used to trample upon individual rights—libertarians’ sacred value.
“Libertarians are high in Openness to Experience and seem to enjoy effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks. In combination with low levels of emotional reactivity, the highly rational nature of libertarians may lead them to a logical, rather than emotional, system of morality.”
The scale measures the tendency to empathize, defined as “the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion,” and to systemize, or “the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system.” Libertarians are the only group that scored higher on systemizing than on empathizing—and they scored a lot higher. The authors go on to suggest that systemizing is “characteristic of the male brain, with very extreme scores indicating autism.” They then add, “We might say that liberals have the most ‘feminine’ cognitive style, and libertarians the most ‘masculine.’”

8 Responses to “The 5 basic genetically encoded moral traits”

  1. smugdealer said

    This is something that intuitively makes a world of sense, yet my whole life I never imagined politics as so genetic.

  2. xsplat said

    I’ll be adding more information to this post over the next few days and perhaps weeks.

    It seems that humans have castes of sexual and power strategies. In our minds we don’t see it that way. Many of us view our power struggles as struggles about what is “right”. Another way to view it is as an evolutionary algorithm to power. Humans don’t have one monolithic life strategy, because evolutionarily speaking that would be impossible. Wherever there are dominant strategies alternate niche strategies are automatically created.

  3. Obstinance Works said

    I lean more libertarian with lighter stripes of conservative and liberal at times. Very informative.

  4. Kelly said

    All very true, and yet … the more liberal, the more concerned with ideological purity, with demonstrating your in-group bona fides and your submission to the authority of the group. So the values are there but attached to different objects. A puzzlement.

  5. Lele said

    OT: Hi Xsplat,

    I’ve stumbled upon this comment of yours:


    Have you already discussed this principle on your blog? If so, where? If not so, would you please write some practical examples?

    Thank you.

    • xsplat said

      I touched on the idea here https://xsplat.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/the-architectural-tone-of-your-relationship/ .

      The idea is a basic principle, and if you grok it you can improvise with it. You’ve probably heard that if you smile, you’ll be more cheerful, and if you frown, you’ll be more down. How we hold ourselves and what we do is actually interpreted by our brain as meaning that we had the inner state and inner intention to do those actions.

      So the trick is to get the girl to behave as if she is head over heels in love. That will get her to interpret her actions such that she is.

      The prime and most important example of this is to get her accustomed to taking commands. Get her to act doting. Depending on the girl, it can take her time to get acclimated to this attitude, but start where you can and build on it. With proper reinforcement for good behaviors, ignoring most bad behaviors, and punishing the worst, she’ll find herself happy in her new attitude, and wondering why she was ever different.

  6. Something I’ve been mulling over for some time. I guess that puts us with three archetypes of people, but there are most likely shades.

    Also people who profess one thing and act another. I would say I’m mildly libertarian in disposition but my higher mind leans toward conservatism. Talk of minority group grievances winds me up much more the wrong way than it used to, so I’m certainly not a liberal in that respect – not susceptible to those appeals to emotion, much.

    Most galling is that the female mind is inclined toward liberalism on it’s ‘feely’, empathetic grounds. Granting women sufferage and liberalisation of politics seem to more or less coincide.

  7. […] morality itself is evolved, and the five basic morals have a genetic basis. Two of the five are not universal, therefore we have the genetic castes of liberals (who do not […]

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