Are Moral Intuitions Heritable?

Kevin Smith, Peter K. Hatemi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Two prominent theoretical frameworks in moral psychology, Moral Foundations and Dual Process Theory, share a broad foundational assumption that individual differences in human morality are dispositional and in part due to genetic variation. The only published direct test of heritability, however, found little evidence of genetic influences on moral judgments using instrumentation approaches associated with Moral Foundations Theory. This raised questions about one of the core assumptions underpinning intuitionist theories of moral psychology. Here we examine the heritability of moral psychology using the moral dilemmas approach commonly used in Dual Process Theory research. Using such measures, we find consistent and significant evidence of heritability. These findings have important implications not only for understanding which measures do, or do not, tap into the genetically influenced aspects of moral decision-making, but in better establishing the utility and validity of different intuitionist theoretical frameworks and the source of why people differ in those frameworks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)406-420
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Are Moral Intuitions Heritable?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this