Fired Up by Morality: The Unique Physiological Response Tied to Moral Conviction in Politics



Abstract: Studies provide mounting evidence that morally convicted attitudes elicit passionate and unyielding political responses. Questions remain, however, whether these effects occur because moral conviction is another strong, versus a distinctly moral dimension of attitude strength. Building on work in moral psychology and neuroscience, I argue that moral conviction stems from a distinctive mode of mental processing that is tied to automatic affective reactions. Testing this idea using a lab experiment designed to capture self‐reported moral conviction and physiological arousal, I find that conviction about political objects positively predicts arousal evoked by the objects, while attitude extremity and importance do not. These findings suggest that moral conviction items do tap into moral processing, helping to validate the conviction measure. They also illustrate the value of using physiological indicators to study politics, help explain why morally convicted attitudes trigger such fervent responses, and raise normative questions about political conflict and compromise.