You See, the Ends Don't Justify the Means: Visual Imagery and Moral Judgment

Elinor Amit, Joshua D. Greene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We conducted three experiments indicating that characteristically deontological judgments-here, disapproving of sacrificing one person for the greater good of others-are preferentially supported by visual imagery. Experiment 1 used two matched working memory tasks-one visual, one verbal-to identify individuals with relatively visual cognitive styles and individuals with relatively verbal cognitive styles. Individuals with more visual cognitive styles made more deontological judgments. Experiment 2 showed that visual interference, relative to verbal interference and no interference, decreases deontological judgment. Experiment 3 indicated that these effects are due to people's tendency to visualize the harmful means (sacrificing one person) more than the beneficial end (saving others). These results suggest a specific role for visual imagery in moral judgment: When people consider sacrificing someone as a means to an end, visual imagery preferentially supports the judgment that the ends do not justify the means. These results suggest an integration of the dual-process theory of moral judgment with construal-level theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-868
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • cognitive style
  • morality
  • vision

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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