Religion and the Morality of Positive Mentality

Adam B. Cohen, Amy Rankin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Previous research by Cohen and Rozin showed that Jews are much less moralizing of negative mental states than Protestants. Two alternative, theologically derived interpretations of this finding are that Jews, relative to Protestants: (a) are less attentive to both negative and positive mental states, or (b) are less attentive to negative mental states, but equally attentive to positive ones. In Studies 1 and 2, we presented Jewish and Protestant participants with vignettes about a person considering virtuous actions, and both groups gave a high degree of moral credit for such thoughts. In Study 3, we presented Jewish and Christian participants with 2 vignettes, 1 about a person considering a virtuous action and another about a different person considering an immoral action. Jews and Christians differed strongly in their moral evaluations of the person considering the immoral action, but were very similar in their moral evaluations of the person considering a virtuous action. Study 4 described an actor who helped another person partly for selfish reasons. For Protestants, this selfish motivation invalidated the moral quality of the action, but not for Jews. These studies point to complexity in the differential attention that Jews and Christians pay to positive and negative mental events, and motivations for actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-57
Number of pages13
JournalBasic and Applied Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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