Moral Foundations, Political Orientation and Religiosity In Italy

Silvia Di Battista*, Monica Pivetti, Chiara Berti
Department of Psychological, Health and Territorial Sciences, University - Chieti-Pescara, Chieti Scalo, Italy

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© 2018 Di Battista et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Psychological, Health and Territorial Sciences, University - Chieti-Pescara, Silvia Di Battista, via dei Vestini 31, 66100, Chieti Scalo, Italy; Tel: +390871.3556595; E-mail:



This study investigates the role of political orientation and religiosity in Italy for moral foundations endorsement, in light of Haidt and Graham’s Moral Foundations Theory. This theory hypothesizes that moral systems are based on five dimensions (i.e., Harm/care, Fairness/reciprocity, Ingroup/loyalty, Authority/respect, and Purity/sanctity) that, in turn, can be grouped into two broader dimensions (Binding and Individualizing).


We aim to explore and extend the moral foundation assumptions to the Italian context predicting greater endorsement of binding values among Italian Right-wingers as compared with Left-wingers. Given that the relations between politics and Catholic Church have always been intertwined in modern Italy, we also extend this line of inquiry by examining the role of religiosity.


Two hundred and forty-eight Italian participants filled out a self-report measure including the Moral Foundations Questionnaires. Results: Individuals attach considerable relevance to individualizing moral foundations rather than to binding moral foundations; conservatives and regular religious attenders attach more relevance to binding moral foundations as compared with individuals with a Left-wing political orientation and less religious people.


Our results show that the Italians’ political orientation emerges as a significant element in the differential adoption of moral foundations. Furthermore, considering the historical and fundamental role of the Catholic religion in the Italian society and political life, our results confirm that binding values are particularly valued in groups such as practicing Catholic, where institutions, families, and authorities are valued.

Keywords: Moral Foundations Theory, Morality, Political orientation, Left and Right, Religiosity, Religious attendance.


Morality is a complex construct that appears in the literature in a variety of definitions from philosophy and the social psychological sciences [1-5]. Drawing inspiration from Shweder’s theory [4], Haidt and colleagues developed the Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) [1-6], which asserts that natural selection prepares the human mind to respond to five sets of moral foundations labeled Harm/care, Fairness/reciprocity, Ingroup/loyalty, Authority/respect, and Purity/sanctity. Harm comprises the concerns for the pain of others, emotions of compassion, and virtues of care. Fairness encompasses concerns for justice, rights, and reciprocity. Ingroup encompasses the concerns related to social solidarity, and to the obligations of group membership. Authority embraces concerns for social order, expectations of social role fulfillment, and respect for traditions and institutions. Finally, purity encompasses concerns for the control of desires, sacredness, elevation and spiritual purity involving feelings of moral disgust [7]. The authors refer to the first two foundations as individualizing because they are the source of the insights that construct the liberal philosophical tradition with its emphasis on individuals’ rights and welfare [8]. The last three foundations are termed binding because they are the source of the insights that forge many conservative and religious moralities, with their emphasis on group-binding loyalty. MFT was originally developed to describe cross-cultural moral differences [1]. It assumed that people in all cultures were born with the capacity to cultivate virtues based on all five foundations, although the development of morality could vary depending on the social, political, and religious traditions [9]. Mostly within the United States, Graham, Haidt, and Nosek [8] applied the theory to explore moral differences across the political spectrum, formulating the moral foundation's hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, liberals consistently show greater endorsement and use of individualizing foundations compared to binding, whereas conservatives endorse all the foundations more equally. In a study related to sacred values and taboo trade-off [8], the authors also found that conservatives were more concerned than liberals to act in ways that violate all moral foundations. The results challenged those previous studies claiming that liberals care more than conservatives about individualizing issues. Graham and colleagues [8] explain this finding by assuming that conservatives are drawn to deontological moral systems in which moral rules should not be broken even when the consequences are positive. This deontological hesitancy to make trade-offs increases the conservatives’ scores on all foundations. In a study conducted in the Netherlands, van Leeuwen and colleagues [10] confirmed that greater emphasis on the binding moral foundations was associated with explicit and implicit measures of conservatism, while the individualizing foundations were linked with explicit and implicit measures of liberalism. Graham, Nosek, Haidt, Iyer, Koleva, and Ditto [11] tested the moral foundation's assumptions on heterogeneous populations hailing from a web-based virtual laboratory providing new research opportunities. They argue that individualizing foundations are so widespread that they might be said to be universal, while groups and cultures could be differently concerned about the respect for social roles or about how people treat their own bodies.

Graham and colleagues [11] explain the different pattern of results between conservatives and liberals in terms of political philosophy. In the United States, the essential element of all forms of liberalism is individual liberty [12]. Liberals have historically taken an optimistic view of human nature and of human perfectibility; embracing what Sowell [13] calls an “unconstrained vision”, i.e., people should be left as free as possible to follow their own personal progress. Conservatism, in contrast, is viewed as a “positional ideology”, more pessimistic about human nature, believing that people are inherently selfish [14]. Thus, conservatism assumes people need the constraints of authority, institutions, and traditions to live civilly with one another. Also, in terms of their personalities, liberals and conservatives are found to differ considerably [10, 15-17]. In the same way, Haidt and Kesebir [18] assumed liberals would have more positive expectations about human nature as compared with conservatives. We believe that in Italy too, political orientation emerges as a significant element in the differential adoption of people’s moral reasoning and views. Furthermore, we aim to explore the role of Catholicism within such a realm. Considering that the interaction between politics and Catholicism has always been robust in Italy, neglecting religion means overlooking a hypothetically significant factor in explaining moral reasoning and politics.


2.1. The Political Situation in Italy from the First Republic to the Early Years of the 21st Century

Italy has a multi-party political system with considerable fragmentation among its political parties. Donald Sassoon [19] has argued that since 1945 the huge gap that existed in Italy in comparison with the United States – the model that Italians largely compare their own country with - has been significantly reduced, thanks to improvements in the socio-economic situation, life expectancy, and better rights and civil liberties akin to the other Western European countries. In politics alone, Italy was peculiar as compared with other Westernized countries with people committed to the same Catholic party (i.e., Democrazia Cristiana – DC) for a long period after the war, even though this party always needed coalition partners such as the Socialist and even the Communist parties to form a government. Italy was the European country with the largest Communist Party (Partito Comunista ItalianoPCI) and the largest Catholic Party (DC). Moreover, like West Germany, Italy was post-authoritarian, under considerable United States influence, with a highly unstable and dysfunctional form of parliamentary politics, and rapidly changing governments, as well as systemic corruption. The fall of the Berlin Wall neutralized the ideological foundations of the communist/anti-communist opposition. In the early 1990s, the Italian party system underwent a process of complete meltdown. The process was triggered by the legal proceedings of Tangentopoli (popularly known as the Mani Pulite or ‘clean hands’ trials), which led to the prosecution and sentencing for corruption of most of the leaders of the main governing parties. The result was the collapse of the so-called First Republic and the break-up of the DC. Between 1996 and 2008, Italian political parties were organized into two broad Left and Right-wing coalitions.

In line with this growing political party fragmentation and the unstable coalitions among parties, personal reasons gained importance in people’s political orientation and political identification with parties [20-23]. Not only in Italy, but in other countries as well, electors started to vote for their moral values or their vision of a “good society” [24, 25]. Italian studies [23, 26-29] show that in the Western World, electors’ personal inclinations (such as moral values, lifestyles, ambitions) seem more important for political decision-making than previous traditional indicators (such as geographical origin, status, education, and occupation). Notwithstanding the alleged ‘end of ideologies’ [30] in Italy, the relevance of the Left-liberal and Right-conservative distinction has become more entrenched over time [31]. In European Social Surveys, Mair [32] found that the Left-Right distinction still appears relevant in the electors’ identification and competition among political parties. Natale [33] argues that in Italy, although the party system is fragmented and fluid, Italians’ Left and Right-wing political identification does not oscillate much. Corbetta and colleagues [31] argue that the Left-Right dimension still represents a valuable organizing principle of the political space. However, the authors found that the line of demarcation between Left and Right is noticeable in the increasing reference to values, mostly concentrated in ‘equality’ – such as democratic participation, solidarity, the elimination of the social hierarchy and social discrimination. Fuchs and Klingemann [34] assert that the Left-Right distinction continues to fulfill its specific function of simplifying political reality and making sense of it, whereas, according to Bobbio [35], the attitude toward equality is the most powerful criterion to distinguish Left from Right. Schwartz and colleagues [36] reported that in Italian elections, voters from the center-Left side of political spectrum attribute higher priority to values of universalism and benevolence; voters from the Center-Right attach greater priority to power, achievement, security, and conformity values [36]. These results echo the emphasis of individualizing foundations in the Left/liberal orientation and the endorsement of binding foundations in the Right/conservative one.

2.2. Religiousness and Moral Reasoning in the Italian Political Context

Religion is the fundamental domain of moral values, beliefs, and action for most individuals and groups. Religion emphasizes certain aspects of morality that are generally less important for non-religious people, such as the ethics of divinity and purity [37]. Graham and Haidt [38] take a social-functionalist approach to the study of religion, focusing on the relationship between religion and morality, which many religious people believe to be inseparable. Starting from Durkheim's [39] conceptualizations of religion, they define the role of religion as a means of organizing and holding people together in moral communities. Religion is supposedly a complex system with many social functions, one of which is to bind people within cooperative communities organized around deities [38-40]. Glover [41] explores the relationships between moral reasoning and religiousness among participants categorized into conservative, moderate, and liberal religious groups. Correlational analyses produce evidence of relationships between moral reasoning and religiousness, although those relationships are not consistent when examined separately within the three groups.

Balzer [42] argues that the Moral Foundations framework offers a natural extension to the study of religion, even if it has been mostly applied to political attitudes and behavior. She argues that individuals could have a different interpretation of moral insights. For instance, political liberals, religious modernists and communitarians may see fairness and harm displayed as social justice limiting disparities and defending vulnerable people. Therefore, they support themes such as abortion, women’s and gay rights, and others. On the other hand, political conservatives, religious traditionalists and individualists may interpret the ingroup, authority, and purity as necessary for opposing challenges to traditional family structures manifested through abortion, gay rights and women’s roles in society. She found evidence that binding values help to explain an orientation toward a society that manifests itself in conservative political beliefs and conservative religious salience and beliefs. Shariff [43] argues that religion affects both moral decision-making and moral behavior, and religious people are more likely to endorse binding foundations as motives for moral concern.

Also, Graham and Haidt [40] argue that binding foundations reinforce each other in many cases of religious or nationalist dedication and tend to be supported by more conservative elements within a society. Individualizing foundations are specific for secular contractual societies prioritizing individual rights and where the binding foundations are less important, or even eliciting racism, prejudice or nationalism, authoritarianism, homophobia and disgust-based restrictions on some minority groups [18].

Jost and colleagues [44, 45] argue that religion mainly provides a collective and ideological justification for the existing social order so that prevailing institutions in a country are perceived as legitimate and fair, and therefore defended, obeyed and preserved by disloyalties. Jost, Hawkins, Nosek, Hennes, Stern, Gosling, and Graham [46] also found that Catholic and Protestant belief systems are associated with a wide variety of system-justifying attitudes and political conservatism. Akin to political conservatives, more religious people tend to be more dogmatic [47-49], intolerant of ambiguity and inconsistency [50, 51] in greater need of personal control [52], and less open to new experiences [53, 54], as compared with less religious (or non-religious) people. Saroglou [55] administers the Need for Cognitive Closure Scale [56] to Catholics, along with measures of classic religiousness and religious fundamentalism [57, 58]. He found that the need for cognitive closure is positively correlated with both types of Catholic religiousness. However, religious belief systems also serve the important relational function of establishing a shared sense of reality that helps to maintain and coordinate important social relationships based on cooperation [59]. Bloom [37] argues that religion has the function of solving the problem of free-riders, and the role of binding people together in a cooperative community.

Many important contemporary political debates are affected by conservative religious precepts and beliefs, for instance in regard to gay marriages, abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research, and others. However, many religious viewpoints, held by different Christian movements, might also be described as “left-wing” for their interest in social justice, pacifism, care for impoverished groups and disadvantaged people, or immigrants [37]. These endorsements of individualizing foundations of justice and care are not in contrast with the sustainment of binding foundations as in the binding approach.

In the Italian context, the link between morality, religion, and politics is strong. In 1929, with the signing of the concordat between the Italian state and the Holy See, named Patti Lateranensi (Lateran Treaties), Catholicism was recognized as the official religion of the Italian State, its sacred seat was established in the Vatican city in Rome, Catholic religion must be taught in schools, while the Italian state has modeled its marriage laws upon its assumptions. A system has also been established whereby taxpayers may donate a very small percentage of their taxes to the Catholic Church. The leading role of Catholicism within the realm of politics also continued after the fall of fascism, with the establishment of the DC in 1942. More recently, Catholicism has continued to play a basic role in defining Italian national identity and in the political equilibrium as we can see from many indicators: 75.2% of Italian declared they were Catholic believers, 33.1% declared they attended rituals such as Sunday Mass [60]; nowadays, Catholic religion is still the only religion taught in schools, starting from the elementary level to the high school system, 88.5% of children attend classes in Catholic religion in school even if it is no longer compulsory [61]. Even Italians who do not see themselves as true believers are generally reluctant to totally abandon religious rituals, such as baptism, signaling a cultural attachment to an inherited community, grounded in society and the family [62-64]. In 2014, 37% of taxpayers chose to donate a portion of their taxes to the Catholic Church - as opposed to 7% to the State, 3% to other religions – and only 0.04% to political parties. This suggests that among people in Italy the Catholic Church is far more important than the political parties [61].

Since the end of the First Republic, Catholicism has lost its political point of reference in the DC party and thus some influence in the public sphere. This change is carried by globalization and the process of individualization of religion, even though the Catholic religion is still fundamental to understand the country’s society, culture, and politics [61]. Garelli [64] confirms Italy is still characterized by widespread affiliation to Catholicism despite the secularization of customs, the scandal of pedophile priests or the distance many faithful take-ups from the guidelines the Vatican gives on sexual and family morals. The Vatican traditionally plays an important role in Italian policy-making. It is a powerful and active societal veto-player, having direct access to the decision-making process.

Diamanti [65] argues that the frequency of religious attendance and religious self–identification only discriminates minimally between electoral alignments and only occasionally between parties. However, Garelli [66] found that on a Left-Right self-identification continuum, those Italian voters most clearly categorized as ‘Catholics’ prefer the Right side of the political spectrum as compared to the Left. Donovan [67] debates one leading hypothesis concerning religious attitudes and behaviors being identified with the Right. He also asserts that despite the secularization of the country, one indication of the continuing relevance of the religious factor in electoral behavior is the persistence of parties with an electorate comprising significant proportions of regularly practicing Catholics. Martino [61] argues that whereas Catholic moral issues have led many Right-wing exponents to sympathize with the Church, recently the situation seems to have been inverted for some issues. For instance, the Right-wing has attacked the Church’s position in favor of welcoming immigrants on more than one occasion. Martino identifies three ways in which Catholicism interacts with Italian political and public life: 1) the existence of the Catholic Church, as a powerful institutional structure, makes the birth of any variant of “civil religion” [68] impossible, so that in Italy public-school classrooms have a crucifix – not the national flag, the Republican symbol or a portrait of the President; 2) most political members of the old DC have repositioned themselves in the main Centre-Right or Centre-Left parties; and 3) the Church intervenes directly in specific debates affecting the life of the country and trying to channel of all the Catholic components within “irrevocable values” – such as pro-life, family, solidarity, religious freedom.

We argue that this Catholic conversion to “irrevocable values” echoes the binding approach of sacred values [8], with emphasis on either individualizing foundations (e.g., social justice, care, religious freedom) or binding ones (e.g., ingroup, family, tradition, purity).


This study will explore the moral foundation's assumptions in the Italian context extending research linking moral insights and political orientation. We also aim to explore the extensive and historical role of the Catholic-Christian religion in Italian politics and moral reasoning.

Italy is recognized as a Westernized country like the United States, with a modern liberal tradition concerning the importance of protecting each and every individual and their rights across every level of the political spectrum. We expect individualizing foundations to be at the core and universal values, relevant on both the Left and Right side of the political spectrum. According to Balzer [42], individualizing foundations are associated with liberal political views and a communitarian religious orientation that emphasizes selflessness and altruism. We believe that devotion to absolute and inviolable values, such as justice and care, drive attitudes and behavior universally. Individualizing foundations are proposed as moral imperatives or core values that represent common answers transcending short-term individual interests.

H1: Among Italians, both Left-wingers and Right-wingers, will consider individualizing moral foundations to be more relevant than binding moral foundations.

The conservative/Right political wing is coherent with the prominence on binding foundations for its emphasizing obedience and social order, compared with the liberal/Left. In other words, politically progressive people more often put their faith in individualizing values than binding ones; whereas political conservatives rely on the in-group, authority and purity with greater emphasis [8].

H2: Among Italians, Right-wingers will consider binding moral foundations more relevant than Left-wingers.

When investigating these preferences according to religiosity, very religious individuals might show more interest in binding foundations. Catholicism plays a basic role in defining Italian identity and in the political equilibrium, even among Italians who do not see themselves as true believers [61-64]. Following Graham and Haidt [38], we acquire a social-functionalist approach to religious practices in the construction of a moral community. The authors argue that individualizing foundations are easily turned into numerous religious precepts: in each religion, a God invites everyone to be compassionate and fair with others. However, Graham and Haidt [40] argue that liberal/Left moral systems had found non-religious ways to create a peaceful social life, where individualizing foundations are important. Binding foundations could be particularly relevant for religious conservatives who are more likely to respect rules handed down by God [8]. Following Balzer [42], Shariff [43], Atran and Henrich [69], Bloom [37], and Graham and Haidt [38], we assume that collective religious participation (e.g. attending Sunday Mass) is crucial in influencing moral reasoning. Hence, we expect that religious attendance and binding moral foundations will be positively related. We expect binding foundations will be more relevant for Italians who regularly attend religious services and events, compared with non-believers or Italian Catholics who are only occasional and sporadic church attenders.

H3: Among Italians, Catholic regular church attenders will consider binding values more relevant than non-attenders and infrequent religious attenders.

According to the relationship between religion and political orientation, the Catholic Church undoubtedly has a role in politics and Italian moral reasoning; however, its role is complex and does not overlap with Italian political ideology. Although the Italian Church demonstrates a transversal, independent, authoritative point of reference in Italian society on complex ethical and moral themes, it still seems to follow a binding approach to morality with its emphasis on either individualizing or binding values.


4.1. Instruments and Procedures

The survey based on MFT [8] was administered in the Center-South of Italy in 2010 to students in a university context and in some youth sections of political parties during some party meetings, either to the Left-wing political groups (PD; Partito Democratico), or the Right-wing political groups (PdL – Popolo della Libertà). The research method complied with the norms of the Code of Ethics of the Italian Psychology Association [70].

On the basis of the Moral Foundations Questionnaires (MFQ) translated into Italian and back-translated into English, and according to Bobbio, Nencini, and Sarrica [71] the first Italian adaptation of the MFQ, we formulated 43 items on moral reasoning. Twenty-three assessments of moral relevance sought to collect participants’ evaluations about the abstract concepts of moral foundations. The other 20 items sought to collect participants’ evaluations about concrete actions with moral implications. Participants were asked to evaluate items on a 7-point Likert scale (from 1 = not at all; strongly disagree; to 7 = very much; strongly agree).

The socio-demographic section probed the participants’ ages, level of education, and gender.

The participants’ political orientation was assessed on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (= left) to 7 (= right). We assumed a simple one-dimensional spectrum of Left-Right or liberal–conservative well-arranged political orientations. Indeed, a single liberal–conservative (or Left–Right) continuum was considered a valid and suitable measure of voting behavior and opinions on a wide range of issues [31, 72, 73]. We measured self-report religious beliefs with a single item (1 = I am a believer; 2 = I am a non-believer); and self-reported religious attendance with a single item, from 1 (not at all religious attenders) to 7 (extremely religious attenders). One item indicated the participants’ religious denominations.

4.2. Participants

The participants were 248 (166 females – 66.9% - and 77 males – 31%; 5 are missing) Italians. Their mean age was 25.29 (range from 18 up to 69 years old; SD = 9.53). Political orientation revealed that 90 individuals position themselves to the left of the Left-Right axis (36.3%; from 1 to 3 on the continuum axis), whereas 98 participants position themselves to the Right side (39.5%; from 5 to 7). The central point of the scale is not included in the analyses (21.4% of participants). According to religion, the majority of the sample were believers (n = 201; 81%). The majority defined themselves as being Catholic-Christians (n = 178; 71.8%); 24 participants who declared they believed in “God” but did not identify with a religious confession (9.7%), and 20 participants (8%) from different and minor religions, were not included in the analyses. According to religion attendance, 56 participants declared they were completely non-attenders (22.6%; of whom n = 44 non-believers; n = 11 Catholics non-attenders); 81 declared they were sporadic religious attenders (32.7%); and 84 declared they were consistent religious attenders (33.99%).


According to the Graham and colleagues’ study [10], and Bobbio and colleagues’ Italian psychometric investigations of the MFQ [71], we computed two individualizing indexes (Cronbach’s Alpha = .74) and binding foundations (Cronbach’s Alpha = .86) on the basis of mean scores. In the Italian psychometric investigation, Bobbio and collaborators [71] suggested that the two-factor solution – with no distinction between moral relevance and moral judgment items – is more stable and reliable as compared with the other solutions. We computed r Pearson’s Correlations between the moral foundations, political orientation, and religious attendance (Table 1).

Table 1. Descriptive statistics and correlations.
I 5.70 0.65 1
B 4.71 0.79 .47* 1
PO 4.12 1.91 .005 .34** 1
RA 3.87 1.92 .17* .26** .16* 1
Note. *p < .01; **p < .001 (all two-tailed). I: Individualizing; B: Binding; PO: Political Orientation; RA: Religious Attendance.

Binding and individualizing dimensions are correlated with each other (p < .001). As expected, political orientation is positively correlated with binding foundations (p < .001), however, it is not correlated with individualizing foundations (p = .93). As expected, religious attendance is positively correlated with binding foundations (p < .001); however, it is also related to individualizing foundations (p = .01). Political orientation and religious attendance are also positively correlated (p = .012).

We computed an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) for Repeated Measure, with political orientation (Left and Right), and religious attendance (non-attenders, sporadic attenders, and regular attenders) as between factors, and moral foundations (level 1: individualizing; level 2: binding) as within factors.

First, we observed the main effect for moral foundations, F(1, 165) = 333.04, p < .001, ω2 = .33, and then the interaction between moral foundations and political orientation, F(1, 165) = 23.41, p < .001, ω2 = .03. Individualizing foundations result more relevant (M = 5.72; SD = 0.69), compared to the binding ones (M = 4.72; SD = 0.75). As for the interaction between moral foundations and political orientation, post hoc comparisons show that both Left and Right-wingers attribute higher scores to the individualizing moral foundations than to the binding ones (Left: F(1, 165) = 282.87; p < .001, Cohen's dav = 1.95; Right: F(1, 165) = 85.02; p < .001, Cohen's dav = 1.01), as in the hypothesis H1. Furthermore, as expected, between the two political orientations a significant effect emerges with regard to binding moral foundations, F(1, 165) = 8.94; p = .003, ω2 = .04, whereas a non-significant effect emerges with regard to individualizing ones, F(1, 165) = 3.07; p = .09, ω2 = .01. Thus, as in the H2 hypothesis, binding foundations are evaluated higher by Right-wingers as compared with Left-wingers (Fig. 1).

Fig. (1). Means of individualizing and binding moral foundations for Left and Right-wing political orientation measures.

Reliable effects for religious attendance emerge, F(2, 165) = 5.05, p = .007, ω2 = .01. Post-hoc comparisons have shown that religious non-attenders, sporadic attenders, and regular attenders attribute higher scores to the individualizing moral foundations, than to the binding ones (non-attenders: F(1, 165) = 103.23; p < .001, Cohen's dav = 1.71; sporadic attenders: F(1, 165) = 173.56; p < .001, Cohen's dav = 1.54; regular attenders: F(1, 165) = 76.03; p < .001, Cohen's dav = 1.14). As expected, a significant effect emerges with regard to binding moral foundations, F(2, 165) = 7.11; p < .001, ω2 = .06, whereas a non-significant effect emerges with regards to the individualizing one, F(2, 165) = 2.06; p = .13, ω2 = .01. Specifically, regular attenders evaluate more relevant binding foundations, compared with non-attenders (p < .001, Hedges’ gav = 0.94), and sporadic attenders (p = .03, Hedges’ gav = 0.35); whereas, non-attenders and sporadic attenders attribute equal relevance to binding moral foundations (p = .07, Hedges’ gav = 0.52). Thus, binding foundations are more relevant on the part of religious regular attenders, as compared with non-attenders, and sporadic ones (Fig. 2).

Fig. (2). Means of individualizing and binding moral foundations for religious attendance measure.

The analysis reveals a non-reliable interaction between religiousness and political orientation, F(2, 165) = 0.68, p = .51, ω2 = .00).


This study reveals that the Italian political orientation emerges as a significant element of the differential adoptions of moral foundation sets. In short, individuals in Italy from both the Left- and Right-wing political orientations attach considerable importance to the individualizing moral foundations more than to the binding moral foundations; whereas individuals from the Right-wing political orientation attach more relevance to the binding moral foundations as compared with individuals from the Left-wing political orientation. In the literature, conservatives appear to pay more attention to social order [73, 74], whereas liberals mainly support individual rights and the use of government programs to extend such rights as widely as possible [75, 76]. Generally speaking, Right-wing conservatives have binding moral concerns that Left-liberals do not recognize as moral concerns [9]. Graham and colleagues [8] argue that the individualizing foundations had been endorsed by liberals more consistently than binding ones. In a study related to sacred values and taboo trade-offs [8], the authors also found that liberals do not care more than conservatives for individualizing issues. Similarly, we assume individualizing foundations, such as justice and care, drive attitude and behavior universally and they are relevant from the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. The results confirm that individualizing moral foundations are more relevant than binding ones for both Left-wingers and Right-wingers.

To our knowledge, this is the first Italian study to test the moral foundation assumptions in relation to a religious measure. MFT offers a good extension into the study of religion [42], but it has been commonly applied to the study of the political realm. Considering the historical and fundamental role of the Catholic religion in Italian society and political life, this work presents some interesting results. Not only have we found that conservativism and binding foundations are related but we have also found that political orientation and religiosity are significantly related: the more a person is conservative, the more that person endorses religious practices and binding values; on the contrary, the more a person is religious, the more that person is conservative. Balzer [42] argues that higher levels of religiosity are always associated with conservative issue attitudes, however, a communitarian religious orientation could hold more liberal positions with the increasing importance of individualizing values. Religiosity is an important aspect for the endorsement of moral foundations in general. However, we found binding foundations are more relevant for religious attenders than non-attenders or sporadic attenders, while individualizing foundations are equally relevant for all religious groups. In Italy, the Catholic Church emphasizes binding foundations – such as respect for dogma, loyalty to the community and the sacredness of “body as the temple of the soul”. However, Christian movements might be also described as “liberal” for their interest in social justice, pacifism, care for impoverished groups and disadvantaged people, or immigrants [37]. These endorsements of individualizing foundations of justice and care are not in contrast with the support of the binding approach for conservative people and regular religious attenders. For instance, Balzer [42] argues that the binding foundation's approach explains an orientation that manifests itself in conservative political opinions and the salience of conservative religious beliefs, like believing in the Bible as being literally the word of God. However, the individualizing foundations are associated with liberal political visions, that is a communitarian religious orientation that underlines care for others.

According to the relationship between politics and religion, they have been treated as separate but related belief systems with shared elements that may point to individuals having an underlying predilection toward the organization of society [42]. These basic traits that influence both political and religious beliefs are found in the moral foundations of the MFT. In our results, a non-reliable interaction between political orientation and religion emerged.

Following Balzer [42], moral insights could indicate a common underlying disposition for both political and religious beliefs that may be innate as well as socialized. Whether this individual disposition is associated with political, religious or both beliefs could be dependent on exposure to a particular environment, culture and socialization. We found that, in the Italian context, the link between morality and politics, on the one hand, and morality and religion, on the other, is both strong and complex. The Catholic religion is fundamental for understanding Italian society, culture, and even politics [61]. However, the role of political orientation and religiosity in moral judgments is distinctive and separate even if similar in the endorsement of binding values. The Catholic Church definitely has a role in politics and in Italian moral reasoning, although its role is complex and does not completely overlap with Italian political ideology. It is found to be a transversal, independent, authoritative point of reference for Italian society and identity on moral themes, although it follows an approach to morality with its emphasis on either individualizing or binding values. The limits of this study are the correlational nature of the research, as Graham and colleagues [8] have already highlighted, and the low representativeness of the sample mainly made up of young participants from the Centre-South of Italy.

Furthermore, it is recently proposed a sixth moral foundation, termed Liberty/oppression [77] that is describing the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. This dimension of MFT could be explored in future studies in the Italian context. Future research should indeed explore the MFT in a more extensive Italian sample and contemplate new measures of political orientation, political ideology and affiliation to different Italian political parties, in view of the rapidly evolving Italian political environment. Graham and colleagues [11] found evidence that political orientation can be self-assessed on the unidimensional Left-Right construct. However, the liberal/conservative divide may not correspond to a Left-wing/Right-wing distinction for all groups, societies, and cultures; for instance the political Left may in some contexts and cultures privilege the welfare of the group over the liberties of the individual [8] or a conservative ideology – with its need for security, an authoritarian disposition and a propensity for rejection of the status quo– may not coincide with Right-wing economic attitudes [78]. In other words, ideology might reflect patterns of cultural and economic preferences that are not well framed by the Left-Right dimension [78], so that ideological preferences and beliefs might well be more heterogeneous than expected [79].


Our results partly confirm the MFH showing that both Italian Left-wingers and Right-wingers support liberty, justice and equality as fundamental political goals, more than binding foundations. Binding values are important in those groups, such as Italian Right-wingers or regular Catholic attenders from both the Left and Right-wing, where institutions, groups, families, and authorities are valued.


Not applicable.


No animals/humans were used for studies that are the basis of this research.


We confirm that the manuscript has been read and approved by all named authors and that there are no other persons who satisfied the criteria for authorship but are not listed. We further confirm that the order of authors listed in the manuscript has been approved by all of us. We confirm that we have given due consideration to the protection of intellectual property associated with this work and that there are no impediments to publication with respect to intellectual property.

We agree with: the plan to submit to The Open Psychology Journal; the contents of the manuscript; to being listed as an author; and to the conflicts of interest declaration. We have had access to all the data in the study and accept responsibility for its validity.

We understand that the Corresponding Author is the sole contact for the Editorial process. She is responsible for communicating with the other authors about progress, submissions of revisions and final approval of proofs.


The authors declare no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.


Declared none.


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