In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Moral Conviction

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Moral Conviction and Attitude Strength
  • Intolerance
  • Political Engagement
  • Authority and Peer Independence
  • Psychological Standing, Transgressions, and Opposition to Compromise
  • Political Orientation and Moral Conviction
  • Are Moral Convictions Persuadable?
  • Moral Conviction in a Broader Context
  • The Moderating Role of Moral Conviction
  • Moralization

Psychology Moral Conviction
Lindsay Keeran, Linda J. Skitka
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0274


Moral conviction refers to the perception that one’s feelings about a given attitude object are based on one’s beliefs about right and wrong. Holding an attitude with moral conviction means that a person has attached moral significance to it. Some people hold an attitude based on their likes and dislikes, or their preferences. Other attitudes may be based more on norms and conventions in a society, such as what the law dictates or what close others believe. Still other attitudes are based on people’s beliefs about right and wrong, and thus are attitudes held with moral conviction. Unlike some of the other dominant ways of conceptualizing morality in moral psychology, research on moral conviction takes a bottom-up approach. Instead of assuming certain issues are moral, individuals are asked to evaluate different attitude objects and issues based on their beliefs about right and wrong with questions like, “To what extent is your position on X connected to your beliefs about fundamental right and wrong?” Attitudes held with strong moral conviction, also called “moral mandates,” have a number of important characteristics and consequences that set them apart from other strong, but nonmoral, attitudes. When an attitude is based on one’s sense of right and wrong, it is perceived to be more of an objective fact (e.g., it is the correct and factual position to have) that should be universally held. Morally convicted attitudes have a stronger emotional intensity than equally strong but nonmoral attitudes. These attitudes are more likely to have a motivational component to them, so people act in favor of their moral attitudes because they provide justification for the action and are seen as obligations. Moral convictions can also provide an internal guide for behavior, independent of authority or group influence (i.e., authority independence). Moral mandates have a variety of consequences, which can be seen in either a normatively positive or negative light. Moral conviction is, for example, associated with increased political engagement and volunteerism (generally seen as normative goods), but also predicts increased intolerance and unwillingness to compromise with those who do not share one’s moral point of view (generally seen as normative bads).

General Overviews

Skitka, et al. 2005 is a key paper addressing how moral conviction can be quantified, how it is an important and unique dimension of attitude strength, and some initial evidence of the consequences of evaluating attitudes with moral conviction. Skitka 2010; Skitka and Morgan 2014; and Skitka, et al. 2015 are a few important review papers that address the implications of moral conviction for one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  • Skitka, L. J. 2010. The psychology of moral conviction. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 4.4: 267–281.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00254.x

    Reviews research that compares the consequences of attitudes held with strong moral convictions versus otherwise strong but nonmoral attitudes. The article ends by bringing up future research directions for this line of research.

  • Skitka, L. J, C. W. Bauman, and E. G. Sargis. 2005. Moral conviction: Another contributor to attitude strength or something more? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88.6: 895–917.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.6.895

    The authors hypothesized that attitudes held with moral conviction have different characteristics and consequences than strong, nonmoral attitudes. Among other findings, stronger moral convictions were associated with preferring greater social and physical distance from attitudinally dissimilar others, and a greater inability to agree to procedural solutions to conflicting points of view, results that were observed even when controlling for various indices of attitude strength (e.g., extremity and importance).

  • Skitka, L. J., and G. S. Morgan. 2014. The social and political implications of moral conviction. Advances in Political Psychology 35.1: 95–110.

    DOI: 10.1111/pops.12166

    A review of the characteristics and implications of evaluating attitudes with moral conviction. It reviews the definition and measurement of moral conviction, as well as important consequences of moral conviction such as intolerance, voter engagement, and resistance to conformity, paying particular attention to the consequences of moral conviction in politicized contexts.

  • Skitka, L. J., A. N. Washburn, and T. S. Carsel. 2015. The psychological foundations and consequences of moral conviction. Current Opinion in Psychology 6:41–44.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.025

    Provides a concise review of the characteristics of moral conviction and its outcomes and compares and contrasts how the concept of moral conviction fits within the rest of moral psychology. The sections are written to give brief descriptions of important aspects of moral conviction and to provide citations for further reading.

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