Exposure to justice diminishes moral perception

Ana P. Gantman, Jay J. Van Bavel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence suggests that people have a lower threshold for the conscious awareness of moral words. Given the potential motivational relevance of moral concerns, the authors hypothesized and found that motivational relevance of moral stimuli enhanced the detection of moral words. People who saw a CrimeStoppers advertisement in which a majority (vs. minority) of wanted murderers had been brought to justice exhibited reduced detection of moral words (Experiment 1). Similarly, people who read that an assailant was arrested (vs. escaped punishment) exhibited reduced detection of moral words (Experiment 2). In both experiments, the effect of justice motives on moral word detection was specific to words presented near (vs. distant) to the threshold for perceptual awareness. These findings suggest that satiating (vs. activating) justice motives can reduce the frequency with which moral (vs. non-moral) words reach perceptual awareness. Implications for models of moral psychology, particularly the role of perception in morality, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1728-1739
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Detection
  • Justice
  • Morality
  • Motivation
  • Perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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