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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2013 May;142(2):307-12. doi: 10.1037/a0029549. Epub 2012 Aug 13.

Listen to your heart: when false somatic feedback shapes moral behavior.

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School of Business, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


A pounding heart is a common symptom people experience when confronting moral dilemmas. The authors conducted 4 experiments using a false feedback paradigm to explore whether and when listening to a fast (vs. normal) heartbeat sound shaped ethical behavior. Study 1 found that perceived fast heartbeat increased volunteering for a just cause. Study 2 extended this effect to moral transgressions and showed that perceived fast heartbeat reduced lying for self-gain. Studies 3 and 4 explored the boundary conditions of this effect and found that perceived heartbeat had less influence on deception when people are mindful or approach the decision deliberatively. These findings suggest that the perceived physiological experience of fast heartbeats may signal greater distress in moral situations and hence motivate people to take the moral high road.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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