Should we?

How appeals to moral responsibility affect group-level behavioral change.

The aim of this research project is to explore the (counter)productive effects of appeals to people’s moral responsibility on people’s motivation for behavioral change. We aim to unravel how to turn a vicious cycle of avoiding moral responsibility and a lack of behavioral change into a virtuous one, including the intrinsic motivation and subsequent efforts to establish actual behavioral improvements. The focus of this project is on group-level behavioral change and how to reach society as a whole.

Literature suggest that confronting the moral values of another group may not prompt them to reconsider their moral behaviors. It typically works counterproductive, as groups may self-enforce the defensive mode. Consequently,  appeal(s) to one’s moral responsibility may raises different negative responses, such as experienced threat, distancing between the groups, and mutual displays of hostility. However, within groups, an emphasis on the moral implications of one’s behavior may have positive effects on behavioral change (i.e., may motivate people to adjust their behaviors to moral norms and values).

Therefore, this project aims to investigate the potential counterproductive behavioral effects of current appeals to retrospective responsibility. As well as to test alternative, presumably more effective, ways by (for instance) shifting to appeals on people’s prospective moral responsibility. In addition, the project will use emerging insights to develop and test real-life interventions in applied settings, to develop viable strategies to circumvent and overcome defensive responses among group members towards appeals to their responsibility, aiming to positively influence others.


This study is part of the Sustainable Cooperation - Roadmaps to Resilient Societies research programme (SCOOP). The SCOOP programme was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) in the context of its 2017 Gravity Programme.



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