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Moral Foundations in Partisan News Sources

Moral Foundation Theory

Although almost everyone agrees that some things are morally good and some things are morally bad, the specific form of these beliefs can differ throughout the population. What is egregious to one person: harming marginalized communities, banning sugary soft drinks, refusing to go to church, etc.; can be considered completely trivial or even be endorsed by someone else.

The Moral Foundations Theory [1,2,3] was developed to model and explain these differences. Under this theory, there are a finite number of basic, moral values that people can intuitively support, but not necessarily to the same extent across the population. The five moral foundations are:

  1. Care/Harm:
    The valuation of compassion, kindness, and warmth, and the derogation of malice, deliberate injury, and inflicting suffering.
  2. Fairness/Cheating:
    The endorsement of equality, reciprocity, egalitarianism, and universal rights.
  3. Ingroup loyalty/Betrayal:
    Valuing patriotism and special treatment for ones own ingroup.
  4. Authority/Subversion:
    The valuation of extant or traditional hierarchies or social structures and leadership roles.
  5. Purity/Degradation:
    Disapproval of dirtiness, unholiness, and impurity.

Under this theory, a person who strongly endorses the value of ‘Care/Harm’ will be appalled at an action that causes suffering, while someone who endorses ‘Authority’ will support an action that supports the social hierarchy. These responses would be immediate, emotional, and intuitive.

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