The desire to be moral: Brain activity indicating the motivational implications of moral vs. immoral behavior in group contexts
09 / 2009 - 08 / 2013
Moral behaviour is an important factor in social evaluation, particularly in group contexts. People want to connect the self to groups (Leach, Ellemers, & Barreto, 2007) or organizations (Ellemers, et al., in press) that seem moral, and are motivated to display behaviour that is seen as moral as a way to secure inclusion in the group (Ellemers, Pagliaro, Barreto & Leach, 2008). Due to the desire to self-present as a moral person to important others, conventional (self-report) measures make it difficult to assess the underlying processes (e.g., experience of threat, motivation to suppress immoral behaviour) relevant to these responses. The proposed research aims to assess motivational and cognitive processes associated with the social implications of morality more directly and continuously, by examining brain activity associated with moral vs. immoral behaviour in group contexts. We triangulate the underlying cognitive processes by combining self-reported levels of moral behaviour, emotion and motivation to comply with moral group norms with ERP- and fMRI methodologies, as this allows us to assess both which brain areas are activated (fMRI), and how strongly people respond to specific feedback (FRN-component, relevant feedback from others) or events (ERN-component, relevant to errors made) with ERP-methodology. With this methodology we will examine three interrelated questions: (1) how the desire to be seen as moral affects people’s self-views and motivation to display behaviour attesting to their morality, (2) how they respond to feedback from ingroup vs. outgroup members regarding their own moral behaviour, and (3) how they respond to the moral vs. immoral behaviour displayed by other ingroup vs. outgroup members, depending on how they think this reflects upon the self.