Distrusting your moral compass: the impact of distrust mindsets on moral dilemma processing and judgments

Paul Conway, Alexa Weiss, Pascal Burgmer, Thomas Mussweiler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing literature suggests that generalized distrust mindsets encourage carefully considering alternatives—yet it remains unclear whether this pertains to moral decision making. We propose that distrust simultaneously increases opposing moral response inclinations when moral decisions pit two moral responses against one another, such as classic moral dilemmas where causing harm maximizes outcomes. Such a pattern may be invisible to conventional analytic techniques that treat dilemma response inclinations as diametric opposites. Therefore, we employed process dissociation to independently assess response inclinations underlying moral dilemma responses. Three studies demonstrated that activating generalized distrust (vs. trust and control) mindsets increased both harm avoidance and out-come-maximization response tendencies. These effects canceled out for conventional relative dilemma judgments. Moreover, perceptions of feeling torn between available response options mediated the impact of distrust on both response inclinations. These findings clarify how distrust impacts decision-making processes in the moral domain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-380
Number of pages36
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number3
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • trust
  • distrust
  • moral judgement
  • dilemmas
  • process dissociation


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