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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2014 May;106(5):713-27. doi: 10.1037/a0035809.

Contemplating the ultimate sacrifice: identity fusion channels pro-group affect, cognition, and moral decision making.

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Department of Psychology.
Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia.
Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford.
Department of Psychology, Universidad de Almería.


Although most people acknowledge the moral virtue in sacrificing oneself to save others, few actually endorse self-sacrifice. Seven experiments explored the cognitive and emotional mechanisms that underlie such endorsements. Participants responded to 1 of 2 moral dilemmas in which they could save 5 members of their country only by sacrificing themselves. Over 90% of participants acknowledged that the moral course of action was to sacrifice oneself to save others (Experiment 1), yet only those who were strongly fused with the group preferentially endorsed self-sacrifice (Experiments 2-7). The presence of a concern with saving group members rather than the absence of a concern with self-preservation motivated strongly fused participants to endorse sacrificing themselves for the group (Experiment 3). Analyses of think aloud protocols suggested that saving others was motivated by emotional engagement with the group among strongly fused participants but by utilitarian concerns among weakly fused participants (Experiment 4). Hurrying participants' responses increased self-sacrifice among strongly fused participants but decreased self-sacrifice among weakly fused participants (Experiment 5). Priming the personal self increased endorsement of self-sacrifice among strongly fused participants but further reduced endorsement of self-sacrifice among weakly fused participants (Experiment 6). Strongly fused participants ignored utilitarian considerations, but weakly fused persons endorsed self-sacrifice more when it would save more people (Experiment 7). Apparently, the emotional engagement with the group experienced by strongly fused persons overrides the desire for self-preservation and compels them to translate their moral beliefs into self-sacrificial behavior.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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