A Cognitive-Representational Account of Intuitive Moral Judgment: Effects of Typicality and Accessibility

Niklas Fransson*, Karl Ask
Department of psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

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Creative Commons License
© 2009 Fransson and Ask.

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 psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Tel +46317861684: Fax; +46317864628; E-mail:


In this article, it is argued that intuitive judgments of immoral events result from an automatic process where perceived events are matched against mentally represented event prototypes. The proposed cognitive underpinnings of such a process are tested in two experiments. Experiment 1 demonstrated that typical immoral events require shorter judgment times than atypical events. This typicality effect implies that immediate moral responding depends on the similarity of an encountered event to a pre-existing mental prototype. Experiment 2 showed that priming representations of immoral events facilitates the responding only to other events violating the same moral value, and not to events related to other moral values. This finding provides further support for the notion that moral reactions rely on pre-existing schematic mental representations, and suggests that these representations are stored in associative networks with values as a basis for categorization. It is concluded that the results concord with and extend recent work that places moral cognition in a dual-process perspective.

Keywords: Moral judgment, Dual process, Cognitive structure, Response time.