On the validity of the CNI model of moral decision-making: reply to Baron and Goodwin (2020)

Bertram Gawronski, Paul Conway, Mandy Hütter, Dillon M. Luke, Joel Armstrong, Rebecca Friesdorf

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The CNI model of moral decision-making is a formal model that quantifies (1) sensitivity to consequences, (2) sensitivity to moral norms, and (3) general preference for inaction versus action in responses to moral dilemmas. Based on a critique of the CNI model’s conceptual assumptions, properties of the moral dilemmas for research using the CNI model, and the robustness of findings obtained with the CNI model against changes in model specifications, Baron and Goodwin (2020) dismissed the CNI model as a valid approach to study moral dilemma judgments. Here, we respond to their critique, showing that Baron and Goodwin’s dismissal of the CNI model is based on: (1) misunderstandings of key aspects of the model; (2) a conceptually problematic conflation of behavioral effects and explanatory mental constructs; (3) arguments that are inconsistent with empirical evidence; and (4) reanalyses that supposedly show inconsistent findings resulting from changes in model specifications, although the reported reanalyses did not actually use the CNI model and proper analyses with the CNI model yield consistent findings across model specifications. Although Baron and Goodwin’s critique reveals a need for greater precision in the description of the three model parameters and for greater attention to properties of individual dilemmas, the available evidence indicates that the CNI model is a valid, robust, and empirically sound approach to gaining deeper insights into the determinants of moral dilemma judgments, overcoming major limitations of the traditional approach that pits moral norms against consequences for the greater good (e.g., trolley dilemma).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1054-1072
Number of pages19
JournalJudgment and Decision Making
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • CNI model
  • deontology
  • moral dilemmas
  • moral judgement
  • multinational modeling
  • omission bias
  • utilitarianism


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