Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Davis, Randy

Second Advisor

Peter-Hagene, Liana


Moral issues such as abortion, immigration, and gun rights are subject to constant debate. Yet such discussions are increasingly unproductive, perhaps because we enter such debates with closed, rather than open mindsets, which might rigidify our views, leading to perceptions of an objectively ‘correct’ answer to moral issues. This study tested whether different modes of interaction led to differences in levels of this ‘objectivist’ thought. The study also tested whether and whether threat, experienced in anticipation of a contentious interaction, mediated this effect. Participants were randomly assigned to conditions in which they received instructions on how they should approach an upcoming interaction on the topic of abortion. Instruction conditions included: competition, cooperation, persuasion, learning, neutral control, and no-opposition control (except for no-opposition control, all conditions specified that the other person disagreed with the participant on abortion). Although hypothesized group differences were not found, hypothesized mediation analyses were significant, such that competition, cooperation, and neutral control conditions produced increased threat for participants, while learning, persuasion, and no opposition control conditions produced reduced threat. Threat level positively predicted moral objectivity level for both abortion (the topic of discussion) and other moral issues. These results provide insight into why debating morally contentious issues can seem futile at best, and provides a glimpse of why this does not have to be the case.




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