Want to be a better person? Spend more time thinking about science.
That’s the implication of newly published research, which finds people who study science — or who are even momentarily exposed to the idea of scientific research — are more likely to condemn unethical behavior and more inclined to help others, reports Salon.com.
“Thinking about science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms,” report psychologists Christine Ma-Kellams of Harvard University and Jim Blascovich of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their research is published in the online journal PLOS One. The researchers describe four experiments, all conducted at UCSB, that back up their surprising conclusion.
“The first featured 48 undergraduates who read a vignette describing a date rape. (In the story, John engages in “nonconsensual sex” with Sally.) They were then asked to judge John’s behavior on a scale from 1 (completely justified) to 100 (totally wrong). After revealing some personal information, including their major, each participant finished the experiment by responding to the question, “How much do you believe in science?” on a one-to-seven scale.
“The researchers found no relationship between the participants’ religiosity or ethnicity and their judgment of John’s actions. But science majors (including those studying biology, chemistry and psychology) judged him more harshly than non-science majors. In addition, “those who reported greater belief in science rated the date rape as more wrong,” the researchers write.
“Three additional experiments involved putting the idea of science into people’s minds via a priming device. Participants were given 10 sets featuring five words apiece; they were instructed to throw one word out and arrange the other four to form a proper sentence. Half of them were given unscrambled sets of words that included such science-oriented terms as “logical,” “hypothesis,” “laboratory,” “scientists” and “theory.”
“One such group, consisting of 33 undergraduates, read the aforementioned date-rape vignette and expressed their judgment of John. Those who had the science-related words on their mind “condemned the act as more wrong” than those who had unscrambled the neutral words, the researchers report. Another group, featuring 32 students and community members, were asked how likely they were to take part in a list of community-minded activities over the next month. Those who had been exposed to the science-related words expressed a greater likelihood to give blood, do volunteer work and donate to charity.”