Errors in Judgement: How Status, Values, and Moral Foundations Influence Moral Judgments of Guilt and Punishment

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Dawson, Jessica


Smith-Lovin, Lynn

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This study investigates how actor status, moral foundations theory and Schwartz values influence the moral judgments of guilt and punishment. I argue that to understand individual values consequences for actions, they must be considered within organizational values and larger institutional logics frameworks. Building off Zerubavel’s conception of a three level cognition (Zerubavel 1999), I argue for a tri level conception of values and morality in order to more fully understand how moral judgements work as well as the social context in which they are shaped. Using original research, I offer evidence of three levels of morality. First, I evaluate actor status on judgments of guilt and punishment. I then evaluate individual moral culture using Schwartz Values (Schwartz 2012; Vaisey and Miles 2014). I evaluate the impact of the organization on moral culture measure through the use of status hierarchies (Sauder, Lynn, and Podolny 2012). Finally, I evaluate broader cultural morality using Moral Foundations Theory (Graham et al. 2016; Kesebir and Haidt 2010). Taken together, these three levels of morality present a more ecologically valid understanding of the ways in which moral culture works from the individual, through the meso-social level and to the broader culture. I demonstrate the complex ways in which moral judgments are influenced by universal concerns, organizational influences and individual characteristics. I find that moral foundations theory conceptions of harm does not predict judgments of guilt and punishment but that Schwartz Values do influence these moral judgments. I also find that it is the actor status that most strongly predicts the outcomes of guilt and punishment. The research provides a foundation for future research of how actor status influences moral judgments of guilt and punishment beyond the limited moral community of the current study.






Dawson, Jessica (2016). Errors in Judgement: How Status, Values, and Moral Foundations Influence Moral Judgments of Guilt and Punishment. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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