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Abstract

Moral evaluations occur quickly following heuristic-like intuitive processes without effortful deliberation. There are several competing explanations for this. The ADC-model predicts that moral judgment consists in concurrent evaluations of three different intuitive components: the character of a person (Agent-component, A); their actions (Deed-component, D); and the consequences brought about in the situation (Consequences-component, C). Thereby, it explains the intuitive appeal of precepts from three dominant moral theories (virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism), and flexible yet stable nature of moral judgment. Insistence on single-component explanations has led to many centuries of debate as to which moral precepts and theories best describe (or should guide) moral evaluation. This study consists of two large-scale experiments and provides a first empirical investigation of predictions yielded by the ADC model. We use vignettes describing different moral situations in which all components of the model are varied simultaneously. Experiment 1 (within-subject design) shows that positive descriptions of the A-, D-, and C-components of moral intuition lead to more positive moral judgments in a situation with low-stakes. Also, interaction effects between the components were discovered. Experiment 2 further investigates these results in a between-subject design. We found that the effects of the A-, D-, and C-components vary in strength in a high-stakes situation. Moreover, sex, age, education, and social status had no effects. However, preferences for precepts in certain moral theories (PPIMT) partially moderated the effects of the A- and C-component. Future research on moral intuitions should consider the simultaneous three-component constitution of moral judgment.