Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Morality is not declining

Nature news has a nice news piece on this recent study on the (mis)perceptions of the decline of morality.  A sample from the study:

People believe that morality is declining. Is it? Societies keep (or at least leave) reasonably good records of extremely immoral behaviour such as slaughter and conquest, slavery and subjugation or murder and rape, and careful analyses of those historical records strongly suggest that these objective indicators of immorality have decreased significantly over the last few centuries15,16. On average, modern humans treat each other far better than their forebears ever did—which is not what one would expect if honesty, kindness, niceness and goodness had been decreasing steadily, year after year, for millennia. Although there are no similarly objective historical records of everyday morality—of how often people offer their seats to an elderly person, give directions to a lost tourist or help their neighbour fix a fence—there are subjective measures of such things.

....Participants in the foregoing studies believed that morality has declined, and they believed this in every decade and in every nation we studied. They believed the decline began somewhere around the time they were born, regardless of when that was, and they believed it continues to this day. They believed the decline was a result both of individuals becoming less moral as they move through time and of the replacement of more moral people by less moral people. And they believed that the people they personally know and the people who lived before they did are exceptions to this rule. About all these things, they were almost certainly mistaken. One reason they may have held these mistaken beliefs is that they may typically have encountered more negative than positive information about the morality of contemporaries whom they did not personally know, and the negative information may have faded more quickly from memory or lost its emotional impact more quickly than the positive information did, leading them to believe that people today are not as kind, nice, honest or good as once upon a time they were.