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Emotion. 2011 Oct;11(5):1255-61. doi: 10.1037/a0025616.

Specificity of meta-emotion effects on moral decision-making.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Bates College, 4 Andrews Road, Lewiston, ME 04240, USA.


A recently proposed dual process theory of moral decision-making posits that utilitarian reasoning (approving of harmful actions that maximize good consequences) is the result of cognitive control of emotion. This suggests that deficits in emotional awareness will contribute to increased utilitarianism. The present study explored the relative contributions of the different facets of alexithymia and the closely related constructs of emotional intelligence and mood awareness to utilitarian decision making. Participants (N = 86) completed the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, Trait Meta Mood Scale, the Mood Awareness Scale, and a series of high-conflict, personal moral dilemmas validated by Greene et al. (2008). A brief neuropsychological battery was also administered to assess the possible confounds of verbal reasoning and abstract thinking ability. Principal components analysis revealed two latent factors-clarity of emotion and attention to emotion-which cut across all three meta-emotion instruments. Of these, low clarity of emotion-reflecting difficulty in reasoning thoughtfully about one's emotions-predicted utilitarian outcomes and provided unique variance beyond that of verbal and abstract reasoning abilities. Results are discussed in the context of individual differences in emotion regulation.

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