Masters Thesis

Empathy, Gender, and Morality: Effects of Primed Oxytocin- and Testosterone-related States on Complex Moral Judgments

The present study addressed the roles that oxytocin and empathy play in moral judgment on actions involving the killing of one person to save the lives of a larger number of people. Additionally, the study sought to determine whether trait empathy and gender made independent contributions to moral judgment. the 385 participants were randomly assigned to conditions that used pictures to prime oxytocin- or testosterone-related states, or to a control condition that presented abstract art. Moral judgments were made on a total of 16 scenarios and participants rated feelings of both Right and Wrong on separate scales (bivariate measurement). Overall judgments were calculated as R–W. the Interpersonal Reactivity Index was used to measure four forms of empathy. Based on manipulation checks, the pictures failed to prime the intended states, although the oxytocin pictures increased ratings of emotional arousal. Pictures did not affect judgments. Females had lower overall R–W values than males, reflecting greater disapproval of harmful action. However, on the separate scales a different pattern emerged: both genders rated the actions as both wrong and right, but females rated the actions as more wrong than males whereas males rated the actions as more right than females. Hierarchical regression analysis showed that empathic concern (higher in females) and gender independently predicted R–W ratings. the gender effect was interpreted in terms of tend-and-befriend behavioral dispositions that are aroused more strongly in females than males in response to stress independently of feelings of empathy.


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