Morality and Media @ MSU Sept 15-16

This weekend MSU ComArts will host the 2nd annual workshop on morality and media. This year we are focusing on “Problems and Possibilities.” Agenda and talk abstracts below. If you are interested in joining, please RSVP to edenalli@msu(dot)edu before September 15, 2017.

Date: September 16, 2017
Location: CAS 182

Time Title of Session Speaker
10:00 – 11:00 Introduction to some Problems & Possibilities in Studying Media and Morality Allison Eden (MSU)
11:00 – 11:30 A Moral Crossroads at the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex? Mark Reimers (MSU)
11:30 – 12:00 Morality as an Emotional Demand Nick Bowman (WVU)
12:00-1:00 Lunch
1:00-1:30 Retribution Level and Narrative Liking Matthew Grizzard (UB)
1:30-2:00 Refining the Moral Disengagement Construct Nic Matthews (OSU)
2:00-2:30 Challenging ADT? Ron Tamborini (MSU)
3:00-3:30 The Problem of Purity Brian Klebig (MSU)
3:30-4:00 The Morality of Political Talk Lindsay Hahn (MSU)
4:00-4:30 Perceived Moral Agency and Trust in Social Machines Jaime Banks (WVU)
4:30-5:00 Sequential Moral Decision-Making in Video Games Kevin Kryston (MSU)
Mark Reimers: A Moral Crossroads at the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex?

The two brain regions that appear most differentially activated over a variety of moral situations are the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The two regions are nearby and strongly connected. The amygdala is one of the oldest and best-studied regions in the mammal brain, while the vmPFC is relatively new, poorly understood, and is one of the few brain regions that differentially expanded relative to others in our human lineage. I will discuss the evolutionary evidence, and some functional and connectivity studies to shed light on this enigmatic region.

 Nick Bowman: Morality as an Emotional Demand

Moral foundations theory has been applied to understand the decisions that gamers make when playing video games—work has shown that players do tend to make initial decisions more or less in-line with intuitive moral sensitivities (avoiding the violation of and withholding the same). However, such work has been more outcome- rather than process-oriented, focusing on resultant choices rather than the mechanisms of those choices. My aim is to specify the associative (and potentially, causal) relationship between increased moral sensitivity and increased emotional demand, which should provide greater explanatory and predictive power to player psychology models. 

Matthew Grizzard: Retribution Level and Narrative Liking

The current data examine how individuals appraise different types of retribution within short narratives.  Retribution occurs when a character wronged by another inflicts punishment upon the character who wronged him/her. Specifically, the data discussed are derived from a study which modifies the narrative enjoyment and appreciation rationale (Tamborini et al., 2011) and specifically the experimental paradigm used to test the NEAR in Lewis et al. (2014).  Various forms of retribution were manipulated within subject. Liking/disliking was measured through a binary response variable and latency of response was recorded. Preliminary findings suggest that just retribution (i.e., retribution for an offense which is roughly equivalent to the offense itself) is evaluated more quickly and more positively than either under retribution (i.e., retribution which is less severe than the offense) and over retribution (i.e., retribution which is more severe than the offense). This talk will present the experimental stimuli and discuss key aspects of the data analysis strategies, along with preliminary findings.

Nic Matthews: Refining the Moral Disengagement Construct

 Current conceptualizations of moral disengagement rely on Bandura’s articulation that is nested within social cognitive theory (SCT). Because SCT construes human behavior as rational and intentional, it applies well to moral thinking leading up to a moral behavior. However, many current conceptualizations of morality construe moral thinking as intuitive. Moreover, contemporary theories of moral psychology argue that altruism is part of morality and that morals serve a functional role in society. This talk discusses the possibility that intuition, altruism, and functionality can expand and refine current conceptualizations of moral disengagement.

Ron Tamborini:  Challenging ADT?

Since its introduction in the 1970s, affective disposition theory (ADT) has been one of the most widely used frameworks for explaining narrative appeal. It has been applied successfully to the study of humor (Zillmann & Cantor, 1972), drama (Zillmann & Cantor, 1977) and sports (Zillmann, Bryant, & Sapolsky, 1989) as well as other entertainment genres. Recently, however, scholars have started to question ADT, claiming that while it is effective for explaining the appeal of simple “Hollywood blockbuster” narratives, it is inadequate for explaining many other narrative forms (Raney & Janicke, 2013). This is particularly true for the appeal of narratives that do not follow the traditional hero trope, such as The Sopranos, Dexter, or Breaking Bad. Such challenges to ADT have intuitive appeal, and any successful effort to extend ADT would certainly be a valuable addition to entertainment theory. At the same time, there may be good reason to question the veracity of claims that ADT is inadequate for explaining certain forms of narrative appeal, particularly if critiques of ADT turn out to be misleading. This talk attempts to reconcile recent challenges to ADT.

Brian Klebig: The Problem of Purity

The purity construct of moral foundations theory (MFT) has always been its problem intuition. Conceptually it is very broad, encompassing concepts like transcendence, disgust, nobility, cleanliness, religiosity, and even general morality. This has resulted in a number of problems, including very weak effect sizes in experiments (or non-significance even when every other intuition attains it) and low inter-coder reliability in content analyses (.6 being fairly normal when the other intuitions have alphas around .8). A better definition of purity as a construct in MFT is crucial to improving research involving the theory. This talk will explore some potential avenues and attempt to stimulate some thought and discussion over how purity may be isolated and more rigidly conceptualized.

Lindsay Hahn: The Morality of Political Speech

We used moral foundations theory (MFT) to test whether ‘non-elite’ Democrats and Republicans used different moral language (i.e., intuitions) to talk about divisive political issues. We analyzed their language in three ways: 1) by applying the moral foundations dictionary in a Linguistic Word Count (LIWC) program, 2) by training human coders to rate the extent to which language reflected MFT’s intuitions, and 3) by applying Wordfish (Neiman, Gonzalez, Wilkinson, Smith, Hibbing, 2016), a procedure that estimates the most distinguishing words between Republicans and Democrats. Consistent with Graham et al., (2011), our results showed that Republicans and Democrats differed in the extent to which they valued moral concerns on the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. However, contrary to expectations, political orientation did not influence the extent to which partisans used moral intuitions in their language. Instead, our LIWC and human coding showed that moral language was best predicted by political topic (although results differed slightly according to which coding procedure was applied). Additionally, our third analysis (with Wordfish) indicated that moral words made up only a small percentage of the most divisive words used separately in Republicans’ (5%) and Democrats’ (15%) speech. Taken together, these findings highlight two problems in morality research; first, previous contentions that Republicans and Democrats’ speech is easily distinguished by the moral words they use may not apply equally to layperson versus elite speech, and second, that extracting moral intuitions from text produces different results depending on the method of extraction.

Jaime Banks: Perceived Moral Agency and Trust in Social Machines

As social machines – from chatbots and agents to social toys and co-working robots –find increasing acceptance in homes, schools, and workplaces, humans’ trust in these machines emerges as a key factor in functional and social adoption. Most perspectives on human-machine trust (largely in philosophy and HCI domains) emphasize perceptions of machines’ functional agency, but either assume or dismiss perceptions of moral agency. I’ve focused, in a series of studies, on the question of whether and how people ascribe moral agency to different types of social machines, attending to both the ‘moral’ quality (intuited and/or reasoned) and the ‘agency’ component (autonomy and non/dependency). A perceived moral agency (PMA) scale development project supports a model in which social machines are ascribed hybrid intuited/rational morality, and distinct ascriptions of autonomy and programming-dependence, and these ascriptions are linked to trust; other studies suggest that machine features (size, nonverbals, aesthetics, haptics), human features (openness to technology) and interaction features (robot compliance, sustained interaction, task/social/play contexts) may play a role on the PMA/trust association.

Kevin Kryston: Sequential Moral Decision-Making in Video Games

Rarely are moral decisions made in a vacuum. Rather, they are nested within larger frameworks of narrative arcs or, in the case of video games, chapters in which decisions and moral choices have consequences which persist throughout the game. In these sequential cases, two different theoretical perspectives suggest different outcomes; one, moral consistency, suggests that players will act consistently across multiple moral choices. The other, moral balancing, suggests that players will balance immoral and moral behaviors. This study was an initial test of sequential moral decision-making both in and outside of games, in which we test moral consistency and moral balancing against each other in a video game context. In this study participants (n = 253) made multiple sequential decisions within a choose-your-own adventure style narrative based on a popular video game, and subsequently performed two behavioral outcome tasks designed to measure pro- and anti-social behaviors. The results suggest more support for moral consistency perspective over moral balancing, and are discussed in regards to both the morality and media literature and ongoing work in this area.


Published by allisoneden

Assistant professor, Department of Communication, Michigan State University

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