International Society of Political Psychology

ISPP Ethics and Morality

At its mid-winter meeting on January 14, 2005, the Governing Council of the International Society of Political Psychology authorized the establishment of the Caucus of Concerned Scholars, Committee on Ethics and Morality. Kristen Monroe will head this caucus, which is authorized for three years, with the option of renewal, pending approval by the Governing Council.

The Caucus is authorized to hold two sessions at the annual ISPP meetings and will issue an annual report to the Governing Council on its activities. Its mission is to:

  • encourage and conduct research on the foundations of ethical action, ranging from altruism and cooperation at one end of a moral continuum to tolerance, bystander behavior and prejudice, discrimination, ethnic violence, and genocide at the other end, with special emphasis to the psychological mechanisms and origins of all forms of behavior having to do with ethics and morality,

  • convene workshops and seminars on this general topic, develop curricula and collect syllabi for the teaching of related courses, to students ranging from elementary and secondary students to college and graduate students,

  • establish a website to publicize substantive findings and work in this area, collect names of respected scholars doing research in this field and to provide these names to legitimate media outlets and community groups interested in scholarly speakers,

  • collaborate with other relevant agencies interested in the subject, such as Holocaust Museums, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Southern Poverty Center, and academic institutes such as UCI’s Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, and

  • facilitate the generation and coordination of grant proposals to advance scholarly work in the field, including both educational grants dedicated to teaching students and research grants for original research.

UPDATE, March 2013

Since its initial authorization by the ISPP in January 2005, the Caucus has been active, having sponsored sessions at annual ISPP meetings and publishing two books under the auspices of the Caucus and in conjunction with the UCI Ethics Center. Further books are in press or in earlier stages of development. Books and ongoing projects are described below. Contact Kristen Monroe at this e-mail for further details and information on the Caucus.


On Behalf of Others: The Psychology of Benevolence in a Global World (Editors: Catarina Kinnvall, Kristen Monroe and Sarah Scuzzarello, Oxford U Press) contains chapters by many Caucus members and grew out of Caucus meetings at the ISPP annual meetings.

Science, Ethics, and Politics: Conversations and Investigations (Editor Kristen Monroe, published by Paradigm Press in 2011) contains chapters by Templeton winner Francisco Ayala, Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, Jennifer Hochschild, former ISPP President Cheryl Koopman, current President Rose McDermott, and Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, inter alia.

Ongoing Research:

Narrative. The Caucus-sponsored meetings on narrative held at the ISPP meeting in Dublin attracted such a large group of participants that a special issue on narrative is now planned for Political Psychology, under the guest editorship of Molly Andrews, Catarina Kinnvall and Kristen Monroe. Papers are under review, with the issue expected sometime in 2014.

Altruism, culture and religion. Caucus panels on altruism held at the San Francisco meeting also attracted a lively discussion and the initial pilot project on altruism and its socio-cultural correlates was expanded. A chapter on the results of this survey on altruism, religion and moral choice will appear in a forthcoming volume edited by Caucus member, Anne Birgitta Pessi (Institute for Advanced Study in Helsinki).

Current Focus: The Caucus’s current focus is on Ethical Games.

Ethical Games: Detecting Empathy’s Ethical Impact.

Introduction and Overview. What drives ethical treatment of others? Do we learn ethical values/behavior only as children, or can ethics be taught effectively later? If so, how can ethics best be taught in a high-tech age? Can video, phone applications, and computer games be used successfully to create games that pose moral dilemmas of a variety of types, from personal moral choices to professional ones specific to certain professions, such as medicine, law, computer science and engineering? Can we develop games that are culturally and contextually-rich yet universal enough to have broad appeal while not privileging one set of values or ethical system?

NSF funding was received to address these questions and lay the groundwork for a larger project involving the UCI Ethics Center, the UCI Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds and the ISPP’s Caucus. The end goal is to develop a game for computers, tablets, and phone applications, thus utilizing 21st century technology to test one of the oldest ideas in ethics: Empathic involvement with another fosters and encourages more compassionate and ethical treatment of that person or group.

The Ethical Games Project proceeds in four stages. Stage 1 explores the project’s foundational conceptualizations and will devise tests and measurements of ethics and empathy. It will assess the psychological tests most frequently utilized to measure ethics and empathy to determine what relationships exist among diverse measures of empathy, ethical sensitivity and ethical action as measured by these tests and whether certain measures privilege particular values (justice versus compassion, deliberative versus non-reasoning) or groups. Stage 2 considers the critical sociocultural variations in the expression of these critical moral psychological concepts by examining differences associated with ethics and empathy among members of different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, age, and gender. Building on work in Stage 1, Stage 2 will address the value-structures latent in psychometric and ethnographic tests, to determine how different tests/measurements appeal to diverse groups and situational contexts. Stage 3 will determine whether simply working on the development of such a game increases ethical awareness among students and game developers. Stage 4 attempts to develop a game that can be used as a computer game, as an application on smart phones, and in cost-effective ethics training for players of all ages, throughout the world and in all fields, from computer science and engineering to medicine, business, and law.

Work on Stage 1 is in progress, with a summer program scheduled at UC Irvine July 20, 2013-August 20, 2013. This program will be discussed at the ISPP meetings in Israel. Anyone interested in participating in this project or in learning more about the Caucus activities in general should contact Kristen Monroe at this e-mail.

UPDATE, 25 August 2008

The Caucus held two productive sessions at the 2007 meeting: one organized by Sam McFarland focused on diverse measurements of the altruistic perspective. The second, organized by Catarina Kinnvall focused on gender issues.

At the 2008 meeting in Paris, the Caucus held a special roundtable to launch a new program designed to combat genocide, in cooperation with important NGOs such as the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris.

The Caucus has completed its first book, edited by Catarina Kinnvall, Sarah Scuzzarello, and Kristen Monroe, and has just recently signed a contract with Oxford University Press for publication. Stay tuned!

The Caucus is in the process of creating a list of members willing to be contacted by the press about the psychological foundation of ethics and morality and willing to give public talks on their work. People who wish to be included should contact Kristen Monroe at this e-mail. (Some Caucus members may not wish to have their information made public so we will not list anyone’s information or name without explicit approval.)

ISPP Members interested in the Caucus or its activities should contact Kristen Monroe at this e-mail or at the UCI Inter-disciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, Social Science Plaza A, Irvine, University of California at Irvine, California 92697 USA.