Disfluent fonts lead to more utilitarian decisions in moral dilemmas

Open access


Previous research suggests that utilitarian decisions to moral dilemmas often stem from analytic, controlled cognitive processes. Furthermore, processing disfluency can trigger analytic thinking and improve performance on tasks that require logic and cognitive reflection. In the present study we investigated how processing fluency affects the readiness with which people give utilitarian responses to both personal and impersonal dilemmas. Participants were presented in two different experimental blocks with dilemmas written in both easy- (fluent) and hard-to-read (disfluent) fonts. We expected that dilemmas written in a disfluent font would be associated with more utilitarian responses. Results supported this prediction, albeit only when the disfluent dilemmas appeared first, showing that participants endorsed more utilitarian actions in the disfluent condition than in the fluent condition across dilemma types. These data suggest that increasing processing disfluency by manipulating the font affects decisions in the moral domain.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Aguilar P. Brussino S. & Fernández-Dols J. M. (2013). Psychological distance increases uncompromising consequentialism. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49 449-452. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.01.002

  • Alter A. L. & Oppenheimer D. M. (2008). Effects of fluency on psychological distance and mental construal (or why New York is a large city but New York is a civilized jungle). Psychological Science 19 161-167. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02062.x

  • Alter A. L. & Oppenheimer D. M. (2009). Uniting the tribes of fluency to form a metacognitive nation. Personality and Social Psychology Review 13 219-235. doi: 10.1177/1088868309341564

  • Alter A. L. Oppenheimer D. M. Epley N. & Eyre R. N. (2007). Overcoming intuition: metacognitive difficulty activates analytics reasoning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 136 569-576. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.136.4.569

  • Baron J. Scott S. Fincher K. & Metz S. E. (2015). Why does the Cognitive Reflection Test (sometimes) predict utilitarian moral judgment (and other things)? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 4 265-284. doi: 10.1016/j.jarmac.2014.09.003

  • Bartels D. M. (2008). Principled moral sentiment and the flexibility of moral judgment and decision making. Cognition 108 381-417. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.03.001

  • Bonnefon J. C. Shariff A. & Rahwan I. (2016). The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles. Science 35 1573-1576. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf2654

  • Bornstein R. F. & D’Agostino P. R. (1992). Stimulus recognition and the mere exposure effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63 545-552. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.63.4.545

  • Costa A. Foucart A. Hayakawa S. Aparici M. Apesteguia J. Heafner J. & Keysar B. (2014). Your morals depend on language. PLOS ONE 9 1-7. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094842

  • Costa A. Vives M-L. & Corey J. D. (2017). On language processing shaping decision making Current Directions in Psychological Science26 146-151. doi: 10.1177/0963721416680263

  • Diemand-Yauman C. Oppenheimer D. M. & Vaughan E. B. (2010). Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition 118 111-115. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.012

  • Duke A. A. & Bègue L. (2015). The drunk utilitarian: Blood alcohol concentration predicts utilitarian responses in moral dilemmas. Cognition134 121-127. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.09.006

  • Frederick S. (2005). Cognitive reflection and decision making. Journal of Economic Perspectives 19 25-42. doi: 10.1257/089533005775196732

  • Gold N. Pulford B. D. & Colman A. M. (2013). Your money or your life: comparing judgments in trolley problems involving economic and emotional harms injury and death. Economics and Philosophy 29 213-233. doi: 10.1017/S0266267113000205

  • Greene J. D. Nystrom L. E. Engell A. D. Darley J. M. & Cohen J. D. (2004). The Neural Bases of Cognitive Conflict and Control in Moral Judgment. Neuron 44 389-400. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2004.09.027

  • Greene J. D. Sommerville R. B. Nystrom L. E. Darley J. M. & Cohen J. D. (2001). An fMRI Investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science 293 2105-2108. doi: 10.1126/science.1062872

  • Gürçay B. & Baron J. (2017). Challenges for the sequential two-system model of moral judgment. Thinking & Reasoning 23 49-80. doi: 10.1080/13546783.2016.1216011

  • Kahneman D. & Frederick S. (2002). Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment. In T. Gilovich D. Griffin D. Kahneman (Eds.) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment (pp. 49-81). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511808098.004

  • Koenigs M. Young L. Adolphs R. Tranel D. Cushman F. Hauser M. & Damasio D. (2007). Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgments. Nature 446 908-911. doi: 10.1038/nature05631

  • Laham S. M. Alter A. L. & Goodwin G. P. (2009). Easy on mind easy on the wrongdoer: Discrepantly fluent violations are deemed less morally wrong. Cognition112 462-466. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.06.001

  • Lick D. J. & Johnson K. L. (2015). The interpersonal consequences of processing ease: Fluency as a metacognitive foundation for prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science24 143-148. doi: 10.1177/0963721414558116

  • Meyer A. Frederick S. Burnham T. C. Guevara Pinto J. D. Boyer Ty W. Ball L. J. Pennycook G. Ackerman R. Thompson V. A. & Schuldt J. P. (2015). Disfluent fonts don’t help people solve math problems. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 144: e16. doi: 10.1037/xge0000049

  • Monin B. Pizarro D. A. & Berr J. S. (2007). Deciding versus reacting: Conceptions of moral judgments and the reason-affect debate. Review of General Psychology11 99-11. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.11.2.99

  • Moore A. B. Clark B. A. & Kane M. J. (2008). Who shalt not kill? Individual differences in working memory capacity executive control and moral judgment. Psychological Science 19 549–557. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02122.x

  • Paxton J. M. Ungar L. & Greene J. D. (2012). Reflection and reasoning in moral judgment. Cognitive Science 36 163-177. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01210.x

  • Reber R. & Schwarz N. (1999). Effects of perceptual fluency on judgments of truth. Consciousness and Cognition 8 338-342. doi: 10.1006/ccog.1999.0386

  • Schwarz N. Bless H. & Bohner G. (1991). Mood and persuasion: Affective states influence the processing of persuasive communications. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology24 161-197. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60329-9

  • Sloman S. A. (1996). The empirical case of two systems of reasoning. Psychological Bulletin119 3-22. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.119.1.3

  • Song H. & Schwarz N. (2008). Fluency and the detection of misleading questions: Low processing fluency attenuates the Moses illusion. Social Cognition 26 791-799. doi: 10.1521/soco.2008.26.6.791

  • Suter R. S. & Hertwig R. (2011). Time and moral judgment. Cognition 119 454-458. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.01.018

  • Swami V. Voracek M. Stieger S. Tran U. S. & Furnham A. (2014). Analytic thinking reduces belief in conspiracy theories. Cognition 133 572-585. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.08.006

  • Thompson V. A. Prowse Turner J. A. Pennycook G. Ball L. J. Brack H. Ophir Y. & Ackerman R. (2013). The role of answer fluency and perceptual fluency as metacognitive cues for initiating analytic thinking. Cognition 128 237-251. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.09.012

  • Trémolière B. De Neys W. & Bonnefon J. (2012). Mortality salience and morality: Thinking about death makes people less utilitarian. Cognition 124 379-384. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.05.011

  • Valdesolo P. & Desteno D. (2006). Manipulations of emotional context shape moral judgment. Psychological Science 17 476–477. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01731.x

  • Youssef F. F. Dookeeram K. Basdeo V. Francis E. Doman M. Mamed D. Maloo S. Degannes J. Dobo L. Ditshotlo P. & Legall G. (2012). Stress alters personal moral decision making. Psychoneuroendocrinology 37 491-498. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.07.017

Journal information
Impact Factor

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.571
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.533

Cited By
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 901 520 30
PDF Downloads 359 256 22