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Gender Differences in Moral Judgment and the Evaluation of Gender-Specified Moral Agents

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Abstract: Whether, and if so, how exactly gender differences are manifested in moral judgment has recently been at the center of much research on moral decision making. Previous research suggests that women are more deontological than men in personal, but not impersonal, moral dilemmas. However, typical personal and impersonal moral dilemmas differ along two dimensions: personal dilemmas are more emotionally salient than impersonal ones and involve a violation of Kant’s practical imperative that humans must never be used as a mere means, but only as ends. Thus, it remains unclear whether the reported gender difference is due to emotional salience or to the violation of the practical imperative. To answer this question, we explore gender differences in three moral dilemmas: a typical personal dilemma, a typical impersonal dilemma, and an intermediate dilemma, which is not as emotionally salient as typical personal moral dilemmas, but contains an equally strong violation of Kant’s practical imperative. While we replicate the result that women tend to embrace deontological ethics more than men in personal, but not impersonal, dilemmas, we find no gender differences in the intermediate situation. This suggests that gender differences in these type of dilemmas are driven by emotional salience, and not by the violation of the practical imperative. Additionally, we also explore whether people think that women should behave differently than men in these dilemmas. Across all three dilemmas, we find no statistically significant differences about how people think men and women should behave.

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