Research Areas:

1) Moral Violence:

Many psychological approaches assume that when people hurt or even kill each other it must be because something has broken down in the moral psychology of the perpetrator.  In contrast, our research argues that much violence occurs because of the activation of our moral psychology. People hurt and kill because they feel they are justified, obligated, and virtuous in doing so. Our ongoing projects ask how the relationships between violence and psychological processes shift once we reconceptualize aggression as emerging from the presence of morality rather than its absence. So for example, we've found that moralistic aggressors may actually humanize their victims , exert more self-control, and respond irrationally to material incentives . Current projects focus on the role of moralistic aggression in cooperation, social bonding, and the search for a meaningful life.

A 30-minute talk on this line of research-

Relevant papers: 

Rai, T. S., Valdesolo, P., & Graham, J. (2017). Dehumanization increases instrumental violence, but not moral violence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(32), 8511- 8516. link

 Rai, T. S. (2022). Material benefits crowd out moralistic punishment. Psychological Science, 33, 789-797. link

Rai, T. S. (2019). Higher self-control predicts engagement in undesirable moralistic aggression. Personality and individual differences, 149, 152-156. link

2) Ethics and culture:

How is it that some people or social groups find a particular action to be righteous and worthy of praise, while others find the same action to be wrong and abhorrent? We believe that people have competing moral values that lead to disagreement even when everyone agrees on the facts at hand. These values are grounded in patterns of social relations that vary across cultures and socio-historical contexts. Current projects focus on the cultural evolution of competing patterns of social relations and moral diversity.  

Relevant papers:

Rai, T. S., & Fiske, A. P. (2011). Moral psychology is relationship regulation: moral motives for unity, hierarchy, equality, and proportionality. Psychological review, 118(1), 57-75. link

Nettle, D., Panchanathan, K., Rai, T. S., & Fiske, A. P. (2011). The evolution of giving, sharing, and lotteries. Current Anthropology, 52(5), 747-756. link

Rai, T. S. (2017). Exile of the accidental witch: Character and intention in an uncertain social world. In Moral inferences (pp. 199-213). Psychology Press. link

3) Conflict resolution and Social Movements: 

One approach to conflict resolution is to try to alleviate anger, improve civility, reduce polarization, and find common ground. However, these efforts may dampen motivation to alleviate social injustice. Our lab begins from the assumption that anger is not an impulse to be avoided, but rather a motivation to be harnessed. Drawing on the social movement literature, this new line of research focuses on developing ways to cultivate moralistic anger to promote social justice in conflicts.  Relatedly, we are interested in the moral perceptions people make of those who partake in social movements to bring about change. In particular, we are interested in how activists, opponents, and third-parties interpret non-violent and violent forms of collective action. Across all of this work, we are especially interested in how our moral psychology, which may be adapted for navigating interpersonal conflict, reacts to conditions in which people must organize against violence committed via social structures and institutions.