Immorality in China: Lay concepts and moral cognition

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Confucianism emphasizes cultured behavior as a fundamental to moral excellence, while Western theories of moral cognition often assume that serious and harmful behaviors are immoral, not uncivilized ones. But “moral cognition” should occur when a person perceives a behavior as morally relevant. What kinds of behaviors do Chinese and Westerners morally condemn? In a series of studies, Chinese and Western laypeople generated examples of immoral behaviors, and we examined whether these behaviors were called immoral because they are especially harmful, versus especially uncultured. Large cultural differences suggest that Chinese moral condemnation is precipitated by the perception of incivility, and does not well-describe extremely serious behaviors such as murder; while for Westerners, immorality is more tightly linked to harm. The findings suggest that "moral cognition" may take multiple forms and may ultimately be an incoherent concept.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


Buchtel, E. E. (2014, March). Immorality in China: Lay concepts and moral cognition. Paper presented at the Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Moral Psychology conference, Seoul, South Korea.

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