Trust Your Gut? Study Explores Religion, Morality and Trust in Authority

Most of us strive to do what’s right,  but we differ on how we get  to the definition of right, with some basing their beliefs on religious teaching and others on a secular moral code. Psychologists Daniel C. Wisneski, Brad L. Lytle, and Linda J. Skitka from the University of Illinois at Chicago explored this interplay of moral convictions and religious beliefs as it relates to our trust in authority.  Specifically, the researchers provided a nationally-represented sample of adults — 53 percent female, 72 percent White, 12 percent Black, and 11 percent Hispanic — with an online survey about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on physician-assisted suicide. Participants took a survey designed to measure their support of or opposition to physician-assisted suicide, the extremity of their attitude, their moral convictions, their religiosity, their issue-specific trust in the Supreme Court, and the time it took them to answer each question. As the findings published in a recent issue of Psychological Science suggest the more religious participants tended to trust the Supreme Court’s ability to make the right decision whereas the group with strong moral, but not religious, convictions felt distrust. And both groups, as it turned out, based their beliefs on a gut reaction rather than on thoughtful, careful deliberation. As the authors concluded, people with strong moral convictions seem to not only base their trust in judgment on a gut reaction, “they do not trust even legitimate authorities to make the right decision in the first place.”

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