Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Suicide widely deemed immoral because it 'taints the soul,' study shows

Date:
December 19, 2013
Source:
Boston College
Summary:
People -- even non-religious people -- make the moral judgment that suicide is wrong not because of any specific harm related to the act, but because they believe it taints the purity of a person's soul, according to a report.

Suicide is a major public health issue; it takes the lives of more than a million people each year. It is also widely believed to be immoral. Why do people so commonly believe it is wrong for people to take their own lives? According to a study by researchers at Boston College and Boston University, people -- even non-religious people -- make this moral judgment because they believe suicide taints the purity of a person's soul. Their findings are reported in Issue 130 of the journal Cognition.

Philosophers have long debated whether suicide is considered immoral because it is harmful to others or because it is defiling and impure, said the study's lead author Joshua Rottman, a doctoral student working with Deborah Kelemen, associate professor of psychology at Boston University, and Liane Young, assistant professor of psychology at Boston College. But beyond the speculations of philosophers, what do people actually believe about this issue?

In order to find out, the researchers presented a sampling of American adults with obituaries describing suicide or homicide victims, and then asked them a series of questions regarding their reaction to what they had read.

The responses showed that, while harm was associated with people's judgments about the wrongness of homicide, it did not significantly explain why people thought suicide was wrong. Instead, regardless of their political and religious views, participants were more likely to morally condemn suicide if they believed it tainted the victims' souls and if they demonstrated greater concerns about moral purity in an independent questionnaire. People's tendencies to feel disgusted by the suicide obituaries, and to feel more disgust in general, also played a significant role.

The study findings also demonstrate that, while politically conservative and religious individuals find suicide more morally wrong than do secular liberals, even self-described non-religious liberals consider suicide to be morally wrong-and do so on account of concerns about moral purity and taint. "These results suggest that even if people explicitly deny the existence of religious phenomena, natural tendencies to at least implicitly believe in souls can underlie intuitive moral judgments," said Rottman.

These findings contribute to the scientific understanding of our moral judgments -- and they also shed light on the real-world issue of people's psychological reactions to suicide by explaining why suicide is stigmatized and often considered a taboo topic of conversation. "A greater understanding of the processes relevant to the condemnation of suicide victims may prove useful for people worldwide who are affected by this widespread tragedy," said Rottman.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Boston College. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joshua Rottman, Deborah Kelemen, Liane Young. Tainting the soul: Purity concerns predict moral judgments of suicide. Cognition, 2014; 130 (2): 217 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.11.007

Cite This Page:

Boston College. "Suicide widely deemed immoral because it 'taints the soul,' study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131219131045.htm>.
Boston College. (2013, December 19). Suicide widely deemed immoral because it 'taints the soul,' study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131219131045.htm
Boston College. "Suicide widely deemed immoral because it 'taints the soul,' study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131219131045.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Sierra Leone residents remained in lockdown on Saturday as part of a massive effort to confine millions of people to their homes in a bid to stem the biggest Ebola outbreak in history. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins