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Use Hypnosis to Study Moral Judgment: The Role of Reason and Emotion

Sunday, January 17, 2010 by: Steve G. Jones, Ed.S.
Tags: hypnosis, emotion, health news

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(NewsTarget) Many scientists and researchers often ponder the idea of moral philosophy. Where does moral judgment come from and how are the rules defined? Are moral judgments a result of reasoning through a particular situation or are they a result of an emotion and based on feelings? People can argue either position. However, recent studies have pointed towards moral judgment stemming from emotion and intuition rather than reasoning. One such study used hypnosis to show that moral judgment can be influenced with emotions.

Nado, Kelly, and Stich (2006) pondered both sides of the debate on whether moral judgment stems from rationality or emotions. There are research-backed responses to both. One argues that all judgments are based on some form of reasoning. Another argues that reason is the slave of passions. Researchers concluded that there is still a lot to be learned about moral judgment. The analysis of how people make their moral judgments is still a young debate and more research needs to be conducted.

Many researchers have focused on moral judgment coming from reasoning. However, a meta-analysis was conducted (Green & Haidt, 2002) involving both psychology and cognitive neuroscience research that focused on moral judgment. They discovered that although reasoning can play a significant role in moral judgment, there is more evidence that intuition and emotion determine moral judgment. They also found through brain imaging that many areas of the brain contribute to making moral judgments.

Wheatley and Haidt (2005) researched how hypnosis has an effect on moral judgment. In the study, 64 highly hypnotizable participants received a series of group-hypnosis sessions. During these sessions, participants were given a posthypnotic suggestion to feel disgusted when reading a particular word either `take` or `often.` Posthypnotic suggestions are designed so that the participant does not remember the instructions until prompted to remember.

Results of the research showed that when participants were asked to judge specific situations, they showed more disgust when the specific word was used in the description. When the word was present they rated moral transgressions as more morally wrong. The researchers concluded that intuition and feelings can influence moral judgments.

Although the topic of moral judgment is still up for debate, recent research shows advancement in determining what leads humans to make certain moral judgments. Hypnosis enables researchers to access the subconscious mind to help them understand the non-reasoning ability of the human mind. Hypnosis is a great tool to use in determining whether moral judgment is based on reason or emotions.


Greene, J. and Haidt, J. (2002). How (and where) does moral judgment work? Trends Cognitive Science, 6(12), 517-523.

Nado, J., Kelly, D., & Stich, S. (2006). Moral judgment. Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Psychology.

Wheatley, T. and Haidt, J. (2005). Hypnotic disgust makes moral judgments more sever. PSCI, 16(10), 780-784.

About the author

Steve G. Jones, Ed.S. has been practicing hypnotherapy since the 1980s. He is the author of 22 books on Hypnotherapy. Steve is a member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, American Board of Hypnotherapy, president of the American Alliance of Hypnotists, on the board of directors of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Lung Association, and director of the Steve G. Jones School of Clinical Hypnotherapy.
Steve G. Jones, Ed.S. is a board certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Florida (1994), a master's degree in education from Armstrong Atlantic State University (2007), and is currently working on a doctorate in education, Ed.D., at Georgia Southern University. Learn more at:

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