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Excavating the Foundations: Cognitive Adaptations for Multiple Moral Domains


Do humans have cognitive adaptations for detecting violations of rules in multiple moral domains? Previous research using the Wason Selection Task has provided evidence for domain-specific mechanisms for detecting violations of social exchange and hazard precaution rules. The present study investigates whether similar evidence can be found for mechanisms for detecting violations of rules relating to soliciting aid, maintaining coalitions, and navigating hierarchies. Participants (n = 887) completed one of seven Wason Selection Tasks—five sociomoral tasks (exchange, hazard, aid, coalition, and submission) and two controls (descriptive and general deontic). Participants also completed the short form Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) as a self- report measure of five corresponding sets of moral values. The study found that, as predicted, performance on all five sociomoral tasks was significantly better than performance on the two control tasks. However, there was no relationship between task perfor- mance and corresponding moral values. These results provide initial evidence for cognitive adaptations for detecting violations of rules relating to providing aid, maintaining coalitions, and submitting to authority. We outline how future research might provide additional tests of this theory, and thereby further extend our understanding of the foundations of human sociomoral reasoning.

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