A single counterexample leads to moral belief revision

Zachary Horne, Derek Powell, John Hummel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What kind of evidence will lead people to revise their moral beliefs? Moral beliefs are often strongly held convictions, and existing research has shown that morality is rooted in emotion and socialization rather than deliberative reasoning. In addition, more general issues—such as confirmation bias—further impede coherent belief revision. Here, we explored a unique means for inducing belief revision. In two experiments, participants considered a moral dilemma in which an overwhelming majority of people judged that it was inappropriate to take action to maximize utility. Their judgments contradicted a utilitarian principle they otherwise strongly endorsed. Exposure to this scenario led participants to revise their belief in the utilitarian principle, and this revision persisted over several hours. This method provides a new avenue for inducing belief revision
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1950-1964
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number8
Early online date23 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Belief revision
  • Morality
  • Moral conviction
  • Confirmation bias
  • Moral dilemmas


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