Do Unto Others: How Cognitive Fusion Shapes the Transmission of Moral Behavior

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Abstract

Moral transmission is the concept that moral behaviors can be contagious, spreading from person to person like a pathogen of social influence. We investigated how cognitive fusion—a transdiagnostic vulnerability to diverse mental health problems—influences moral transmission across 3 studies (N = 891) using real behavioral outcomes, including economic game decisions and donations to charity. The findings suggest that cognitively fused individuals are more susceptible to moral transmission because (a) they are more likely to pay forward or pay back moral behavior, and (b) they are more likely to engage in compensatory moral behavior. In fact, (c) our analyses revealed a more direct association between these 2 psychological processes, supporting our argument that moral transmission can integrate a variety of seemingly discrete social phenomena. As predicted, participants with more depression and anxiety symptoms revealed patterns of behavior similar to those high in cognitive fusion. Implications for research in both social and clinical psychology are discussed.

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