Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Criminal Justice

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, x, 224 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Justin T. Pickett

Committee Members

Robert E. Worden, Cynthia J. Najdowski, Greg Pogarsky


moral foundations, moral psychology, offending, police legitimacy, public opinion, punitiveness, Criminal justice, Administration of, Law enforcement, Ethics, Law and ethics

Subject Categories



Judgments about morality play an important role in several areas of crime and justice. This dissertation applies Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory (MFT)—which posits that judgments about morality are intuitive and pluralistic—to develop a theoretical framework for understanding the role of moral cognition in shaping attitudes and behaviors related to crime and justice. I also draw on research suggesting that people make moral judgments separately about moral agents (e.g., offenders) and moral patients (e.g., victims). Specifically, via an offender-centered theoretical framework, I argue that endorsement of moral foundations that promote moral concerns that are specific to one’s ingroup (a binding motive) should promote a greater desire to protect social boundaries from offenders, whereas endorsement of moral foundations that universally promote concerns for individuals (an individualizing motive) should be associated with greater concerns for the needs and rights of offenders. Alternately, a victim-centered theoretical framework suggests that, based on the moral foundations they endorse, people experience moral intuitions about crimes against different victim types (individual victims, collective victims, and “bodily purity” victims). I test the proposed theoretical framework in three contexts: predicting specific (vs. general) punitive attitudes for different offender and offense severity (Study 1), exploring the role of moral judgment in perceptions of police legitimacy and factors shaping legitimacy (Study 2), and willingness to engage in different types of crimes (Study 3). To do so, I use data from an online survey (N=1,149), conducted in August 2017, that includes both experimental vignettes and traditional survey items. The results for Study 1 are null, suggesting that moral motives do not shape specific punitive attitudes based on offender characteristics or offense severity. Study 2 shows that binding moral motives are associated with support for police, whereas individualizing moral motives are associated with reduced support for police, and the effects of officer procedural justice on legitimacy appear to be moderated by the individualizing moral motive. Finally, Study 3 shows that the victim-centered moral motives appear to influence offending via perceptions of moral wrongfulness for each crime type; additionally, the relevant moral motives appear to condition the effects of self-control on offending. Implications are discussed.

Included in

Criminology Commons