Hunger-bias or gut-instinct? Responses to judgments of harm depending on visceral state versus intuitive decision-making

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Empirical investigation into the emotional and physiological processes that shape moral decision-making is vast and growing. Yet, relatively less attention has been paid to measures of interoception in morality research despite its centrality in both emotional and physiological processes. Hunger and thirst represent two everyday interoceptive states, and hunger, in particular, has been shown to be influential for moral decision-making in numerous studies. It is possible that a tendency to focus on internal sensations (interoceptive sensibility), as well as the emotional and physiological states associated with visceral states, could be important in the relationships between hunger, thirst, and moral judgments. This cross-sectional online research (n=154) explored whether interoceptive sensibility, hunger, thirst and emotional state influenced appropriateness and acceptability judgments of harm. The moral dilemma stimuli used allowed the independent calculation of 1) people’s tendency to avoid harmful action at all costs and 2) people’s tendency to maximise outcomes that benefit the greater good. The Cognitive Reflection Task (CRT) was implemented to determine whether an ability to override intuitive responses to counterintuitive problems predicted harm-based moral judgments, as found previously. Hunger-bias, independent of interoceptive sensibility and emotional state was influential for non-profitable acceptability judgments of harmful actions. Contrary to dual-process perspectives, a novel finding was that more intuitive responses on the CRT predicted a reduced aversion to harmful actions which was indirectly associated with interoceptive sensibility. We suggest that interoceptive sensibility may indicate people’s vulnerability to cognitive miserliness on the CRT task and reduced deliberation of moral dilemma stimuli. The framing of moral dilemmatic questions to encourage allocentric (acceptability questions) versus egocentric perspectives (appropriateness questions), could explain the divergence between hunger-bias and intuitive decision-making for predicting these judgments respectively. The findings are discussed in relation to dual-process accounts of harm-based moral judgments and evidence linking visceral experiences to harm-aversion and moral decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2261
JournalFrontiers in Psychology: Perception Science
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2020


  • interoception, moral judgment, Hunger, Decision Making, moral dilemmas


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