Research Topic

Appraisal Processes in Moral Judgment: Resolving Moral Issues Through Cognition and Emotion

About this Research Topic

Cognition and emotion are integral to the process of assessing how right and/or how wrong it would be to perform an action, or how morally deserving an actor would be of the consequences (the actor’s “just deserts”). According to some accounts of emotion, such as appraisal theory, emotion begins with cognition, an interpretation of the situation, and two individuals can differ markedly in their emotional reactions to the same situation depending upon their interpretations. Moral appraisals reflect one’s experiences but they are also deeply rooted in evolution. More research connecting moment-to-moment appraisals of moral situations with evolutionary explanations for moral cognition is sorely needed, for example, identification of the cognitive representations of fitness-relevant threats and opportunities that trigger moral emotions.

The central objective of this project is to elucidate the appraisal processes underlying moral emotions and moral judgments. To understand moral appraisal, it is necessary to examine the biases to which it is subject. Ideally, one would approach moral situations as conceptualized by Adam Smith, as an “impartial spectator”. However, moral appraisal is subject to a host of biases stemming from social evaluation hierarchies, including kinship, age, and the perception of in-groups and out-groups. Biased judgments and actions are a potential source of social conflict and pathology, and reducing such bias could foster greater social harmony, especially within highly diverse populations. We seek to include research on the identification, measurement, and control of the biases that undermine the impartiality of moral appraisals. In addition, recent research points to the importance of broader aspects of the context in which judgments are made, for example, whether it requires impartiality or is unrestricted, whether the judgment is made in the context of peace or war, whether a judgment is made as a third-party observer or as the actor, and whether the context involves the application of a specific moral rule.

Manuscripts submitted to this Research Topic should focus on how moral judgments are biased by the contexts (broadly construed) in which they are made, and the appraisal processes underlying these effects. We are especially interested in articles that connect research on the appraisal with evolutionary theory, though we welcome all research on context and appraisal effects in moral judgments. We are most interested in manuscripts that present rigorous new research in this area (Original Research, Brief Research Reports, Registered Reports), but we are also open to review articles, especially Systematic Reviews.


Keywords: Moral Judgment, Moral Emotion, Appraisal Theory, Evolution, Moral Dilemmas


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Cognition and emotion are integral to the process of assessing how right and/or how wrong it would be to perform an action, or how morally deserving an actor would be of the consequences (the actor’s “just deserts”). According to some accounts of emotion, such as appraisal theory, emotion begins with cognition, an interpretation of the situation, and two individuals can differ markedly in their emotional reactions to the same situation depending upon their interpretations. Moral appraisals reflect one’s experiences but they are also deeply rooted in evolution. More research connecting moment-to-moment appraisals of moral situations with evolutionary explanations for moral cognition is sorely needed, for example, identification of the cognitive representations of fitness-relevant threats and opportunities that trigger moral emotions.

The central objective of this project is to elucidate the appraisal processes underlying moral emotions and moral judgments. To understand moral appraisal, it is necessary to examine the biases to which it is subject. Ideally, one would approach moral situations as conceptualized by Adam Smith, as an “impartial spectator”. However, moral appraisal is subject to a host of biases stemming from social evaluation hierarchies, including kinship, age, and the perception of in-groups and out-groups. Biased judgments and actions are a potential source of social conflict and pathology, and reducing such bias could foster greater social harmony, especially within highly diverse populations. We seek to include research on the identification, measurement, and control of the biases that undermine the impartiality of moral appraisals. In addition, recent research points to the importance of broader aspects of the context in which judgments are made, for example, whether it requires impartiality or is unrestricted, whether the judgment is made in the context of peace or war, whether a judgment is made as a third-party observer or as the actor, and whether the context involves the application of a specific moral rule.

Manuscripts submitted to this Research Topic should focus on how moral judgments are biased by the contexts (broadly construed) in which they are made, and the appraisal processes underlying these effects. We are especially interested in articles that connect research on the appraisal with evolutionary theory, though we welcome all research on context and appraisal effects in moral judgments. We are most interested in manuscripts that present rigorous new research in this area (Original Research, Brief Research Reports, Registered Reports), but we are also open to review articles, especially Systematic Reviews.


Keywords: Moral Judgment, Moral Emotion, Appraisal Theory, Evolution, Moral Dilemmas


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

06 September 2021 Abstract
04 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

06 September 2021 Abstract
04 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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