Monica Bucciarelli Philip Johnson-Laird

Why we are so sure we are right? The role of emotions in maintainance and revision of beliefs

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Deontic beliefs related to what is right and what is wrong are among the most divisive in daily life, both between individuals and between cultures. Moral beliefs, which can evoke strong emotions, are a case in point. Previous studies we have conducted have shown that the strength of belief in a deontic assertion about the moral domain or the domain of social conventions is related to the strength of the emotion it evokes and, in particular, to how pleasant or unpleasant the assertion is. However, this effect occurs only with deontic assertions, not with factual assertions of the same content. Mental model theory assumes that emotions play a key role in deontic beliefs because they are not as testable as facts. From the assumptions of the theory derives the prediction that the critical correlation between the strength of belief and the strength of emotion should also occur in deontic beliefs regarding precautionary rules and personal recommendations. The results confirm the existence of a critical correlation between strength of belief and strength of emotion for these types of deontic assertions as well. The relevance of these studies lies in the possibilit of deepening the mechanisms underlying the modifiability of beliefs, given that beliefs associated with strong emotions are not readily changed even in the presence of evidence to the contrary.


  • deontic beliefs
  • emotions
  • prudential assertions
  • recommendation assertions


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