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 July 22, 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 July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Science & Society News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

What Self-Made Women Need to Know Financially Before Getting Hitched

What Self-Made Women Need to Know Financially Before Getting Hitched

TheStreet (July 21, 2014) Halle Berry was recently ordered to pay her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry $16,000 a month in child support by a California judge for their daughter Nahla. As women make strides in the workforce, they are increasingly left holding the bag when relationships end regardless of marital status. 'What Monied Women Need to Know Before Getting Married or Cohabitating' discusses information such as debt incurred during the marriage is both spouse's responsibility at divorce, whether after ten years of marriage spouses are entitled to half of everything and why property acquired within the marriage is fair game without a pre-nup. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clock Ticks Down on Internet Speed Debate

Clock Ticks Down on Internet Speed Debate

Reuters - US Online Video (July 18, 2014) The FCC received more than 800,000 comments on whether and how internet speeds should be regulated, even crashing its system. Lily Jamali reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfire Tears Through Washington

Raw: Wildfire Tears Through Washington

AP (July 18, 2014) A large wildfire continued to gain steam through north-central Washington Friday. The blaze is already responsible for the destruction of at least 100 homes. (July 18) Video provided by AP
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