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An Exploration of Moralization’s Antecedents: The Head, The Heart, and The Hands
In the name of moral convictions, people have committed great acts of heroism and terrible atrocities. Whether for good or the prevention of evil, it is crucial that we understand how moral convictions come to be, change in nature, and persist over time. What, for instance, is more effective at sparking and continuing the process of moralization: catalysts aimed at the “head” (i.e., more rational-cognitive persuasive content) or the “heart” (i.e., more emotionally persuasive content)? Further, how is the answer to this question impacted by whether individuals are asked to use the “hands” (i.e., engagement in morally relevant behaviors)? Within the context of animal rights as a potentially moral issue, we preregistered and conducted two longitudinal experiments (N = 1,319) to test competing hypotheses based on rationalist and affective theories of morality. We find that a catalyst aimed at the “heart” (vs. “head”)—both with and without the “hands”—is more likely to trigger moral recognition (i.e., initial imbuement of moral properties to animal rights; Studies 1 and 2). Interestingly, though, our longitudinal data suggest that only when participants were randomly assigned to the “hands” intervention after the “heart” (but not “head”) catalyst did the newly developed moral conviction persist after six months’ time (Study 2). These findings produce novel insights into how the psychological process of moralization unfolds and persists over time. Further, these findings have implications for non-profits, activists, and social movements seeking to develop more persuasive messaging.