The Effect of Social Interaction on Moral Judgment

  • Attila Peter Toth

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The promotion of pro-social behavior, such as water conservation, recycling, or other practices that promote environmental sustainability, depends on people's moral positions about these issues. But the nature of people's moral attitude being utilitarian or deontic influences the actions they are willing to take. Moreover, moral positions are not formed in isolation, but are influenced by people's social context. Thus, when designing social networks and collaborative information systems aimed at solving these large-scale problems, it is crucial to understand how social context inherently affects our moral reasoning. In this thesis we investigate if the extent to which people utilize their moral reasoning is affected by the salience of information about other's moral judgment as well as if people reason differently in public than in private. A set of networked social experiments were conducted in which participants were asked to morally evaluate different scenarios given different levels of salience of their peers' judgment. We found that people tend to follow more emotional/deontic principles when they know they can be observed. Further more people tend to follow the community's collective judgment, while this effect intensifies when the general view favors either the deontic or utilitarian extreme. We also hypothesize that once people are observed they exhibit these behaviors, regardless of their level of exposure. These results inform the design of social media systems and institutions that support collective moral judgment.
Date of AwardJul 2014
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorIyad Rahwan (Supervisor)


  • Pro-social Behavior
  • Social Context
  • Moral reasoning
  • Social Experiment
  • Community
  • Moral Judgment.

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