[Proposal] The stability of morality during the pandemic age

The stability of morality during the pandemic age:

A Longitudinal and multi-measure investigation of moral judgment

Theoretical and Practical Importance of the Research

In this project, we investigate whether human moral views are something similar to emotional reactions (a passing state) or something like height or eye colour (a persistent trait). Indeed, there has been limited research investigating the extent to which individuals are consistent in their moral judgments across several time points. As such, we do not know the basic features of moral views; are they truly an important part of the individual’s personality and identity or something more transient? Answering this question will contribute to our understanding of human morality, and subsequently, human nature.

Previous research has highlighted the influence of contextual variation in moral decision-making (Bartels, 2008; Bartels & Pizarro, 2011). For example, there is strong evidence showing that even small changes in situations, such as harm being inflicted through physical contact rather than through more indirect means, affect individual moral judgments (Greene et al., 2009). Are we driven by our moral compass or by features of the situation? The limited research investigating this suggests that individuals are consistent in their moral judgments across contexts and time (Helzer et al., 2017) although this has been investigated at just two timepoints and/or with limited measures.

The current COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to advance this research allowing the investigation of consistency in moral judgment over time but also during the context of a global emergency. It is important to study these issues, since substantial situational changes, triggered by the pandemic, may affect moral beliefs about what is now right and wrong (Francis & McNabb, 2020).

Building on previous research, our project investigates moral judgments and preferences using:
1] multiple measures of moral judgment
2] in a large and diverse sample and
3] at multiple timepoints.

As far as we are aware, this is the largest longitudinal study of its kind and one of the first extensive empirical investigations of the stability of moral views over time, comparing moral preferences motivated by individual differences versus features of the context.

The results from this research project will provide important insights. We will have:
1] a clearer understanding of the stability of moral preferences over time and during a global pandemic
2] a record of behaviours that individuals are engaging in at several timepoints during the pandemic, and
3] a picture of how people think morally about pandemic-related behaviours over time.


Prolific has been pivotal in allowing us to run our longitudinal study online. To date, we have collected data at three timepoints: 1) before the pandemic, 2) before mass vaccinations, and 3) during vaccination rollout. We are now seeking funding to support data collection for a fourth and final point, after a majority of individuals in target countries have been vaccinated, to ensure that we capture a complete picture of moral decision-making across key milestones during the pandemic. Whilst we initially pre-registered three waves of data collection, we have chosen to continue the study (see Transparent changes document) for this reason.

Participants are completing a survey (online experiment) at multiple timepoints during the pandemic (repeated-measures). The instruments in the survey include several moral measures (such as the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale; Moral Foundations Questionnaire; Morality as Cooperation Questionnaire) and measures related to the pandemic (such as Fear of Coronavirus-19 Scale; Moralisation of Behaviour during COVID-19). The full list of included measures is on the OSF.

Sample Size

Given that this study has been designed to collect data from previous participants using Prolific IDs, our target population and thus theoretical maximum sample size is limited to the number originally recruited after the exclusions specified in the preregistration (and accounting for access to Prolific IDs): N = 992 (out of a total of 1043 respondents who finished the study).

Study Costs

Our target sample size is N = 992 (as this is the original sample size taken at time-point 1). Note that of these eligible participants, 820 were active on Prolific at time-point 2. However, we will retain a target recruitment of N = 992 to account for any participants who are active on Prolific again. Paying our participants at an hourly rate of £8 (and including 33% service fee and 20% VAT) would total £5,555.20 for this fourth and final time-point. We have applied for and successfully been awarded funds worth £1500.00 to support a percentage of data collection at this time-point. We are seeking the remaining amount of £4,055.00 for the project’s final data collection phase

Preregistration & Open Science

This project forms part of a larger longitudinal research programme that has been pre-registered on the OSF and all materials and data will be available via our OSF project page. Multiple papers are planned, and as such subsets of data will be shared when papers are prepared for submission. When publishing data from this project, we will publish via open access routes (Green or Gold Open Access) and we will prioritise open-access journals.


Bartels, D. M. (2008). Principled moral sentiment and the flexibility of moral judgment and decision making. Cognition, 108(2), 381-417.

Bartels, D. M., & Pizarro, D. A. (2011). The mismeasure of morals: Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas. Cognition, 121(1), 154-161.

Francis, K., & McNabb, C. B. (2020, May). Moral Decision-Making during COVID-19: Moral judgments, moralisation, and everyday behaviour. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/jvfds

Greene, J. D., Cushman, F. A., Stewart, L. E., Lowenberg, K., Nystrom, L. E., & Cohen, J. D. (2009). Pushing moral buttons: The interaction between personal force and intention in moral judgment. Cognition , 111 (3), 364-371.

Helzer, E. G., Fleeson, W., Furr, R. M., Meindl, P., & Barranti, M. (2017). Once a utilitarian, consistently a utilitarian? Examining principledness in moral judgment via the robustness of individual differences. Journal of Personality , 85 (4), 505-517.