Examining Moral Foundations Theory through Immigration Attitudes

Leda Nath, Nicholas Pedriana, Christopher Gifford, Jim McAuley, Marta Fulop

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Moral foundations theory (MFT) explains how political and cultural attitudes are shaped significantly by people’s moral intuitions; gut-level judgments about proper human behavior and social relationships. We examine the theory through the topic of immigration attitudes. Social scientists of various stripes have built a comprehensive research program studying public attitudes towards immigrants and immigration policy. Immigration is currently among the most contentious political issues in the United States and Europe—evidenced in part by the election of Donald Trump, the UK’s Brexit vote, and the recent rise of nationalist parties on the continent. Drawing on MFT and using one politically diverse sample and one liberal-leaning sample, we conducted two experiments respectively, to test whether effects of political orientation on US immigration attitudes may be moderated by alternative moral framing of pro-immigration appeals. Data support hypotheses, and is consistent with theoretical claims about moral diversity and political attitudes generally. Also, results shed new light on how shifts in immigration attitudes, that is whether one entrenches further into an original position or is persuaded into a new attitude, depend on one’s place on the political spectrum.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Specialist publicationAthens Journal of Social Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


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