How science can tell whether you're a good person

My collaborators and I find that people make a systematic pattern of mistakes. When they see morally wrong actions such as “murder” come first, they make mistaken moral judgments about the actions that come second: They are more likely to mistakenly judge neutral actions such as “baking” as morally wrong. The idea here is that people are having a gut moral reaction to the words that come first, which is shaping how they make moral judgments about the words that come second.

This effect described above happens even when people are intending for it not to. So even if you are trying to stop that first word from influencing you, it still does.

You might think, does this connect to real-world morality? After all, responding quickly to words on a screen may not track the moral values we care about.

We find that people who show a stronger response on our task have features of a “moral personality.” We correlated the effect on our morality task with people’s self-reported measures of morally relevant traits.