Skip to main content

News and Media

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu
Psychology Building, OSU Stillwater campus.

OSU psychology professor advances novel theory about moral judgment

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Dr. Daniel Sznycer, an assistant professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Psychology, recently published research on moral judgment in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 

“This paper shows the first proof that dilemmas trigger a well-designed cognitive system for making tradeoffs between conflicting moral values,” Sznycer said.  

The study aimed to understand how people solve sacrificial dilemmas, such as whether it is okay to sacrifice the life of one person to save the life of five people. In these dilemmas, one cannot satisfy one moral value without violating another moral value, at least to some extent, Sznycer explained.

Daniel Sznycer
Dr. Daniel Sznycer

“Major theories in moral psychology claim that sacrificial dilemmas trigger a tug-of-war between emotions and reasoning,” Sznycer said. “These dual-process theories can only produce extreme judgment. Critically, these theories claim that the mind cannot produce compromise judgments: ones that strike a balance between competing moral values by partially satisfying each, but our new paper suggests this is not true. 

“We show evidence supporting the idea that the mind is equipped with a specialized system that we term a Moral Tradeoff System (MTS). The MTS has no trouble producing intuitive judgments that include compromises, and it does so rationally.”

Sznycer collaborated on this research with lead author Ricardo Guzmán from the Center for Research on Social Complexity at the Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile, María Teresa Barbato from the Universidad del Desarrollo and Leda Cosmides from UC Santa Barbara.

Sznycer said their research combines evolutionary psychology, rational choice theory and a revealed preference method from microeconomics to validate a new model of how people solve moral dilemmas. 

“In my lab we combine different theories and methods to understand how the mind works,” Sznycer said. “For example, in recent work, we’ve used criminal laws from ancient Mesopotamia and China — that is, archaeological artifacts — to understand how people think about wrongdoing and justice. I think this combination of theories and methods is a powerful tool to understand human nature.”

Along with being a researcher and OSU faculty member, Sznycer is also part of OSU’s Oklahoma Center for Evolutionary ANalysis. OCEAN integrates approaches from the natural and social sciences and the humanities to understand psychological human nature. 

“OCEAN is just a fantastic collaborative space and the Department of Psychology at OSU is a terrific place to conduct psychological research,” Sznycer said. “I am lucky and grateful because here we have the right infrastructure, lots of support from fellow faculty and staff members and input from bright students.”

Access Sznycer’s paper through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science website here.

Story By: Kelli Leech, CAS graduate assistant |

Back To Top
SVG directory not found.