Thinking the unthinkable: sacred values and taboo cognitions

  title={Thinking the unthinkable: sacred values and taboo cognitions},
  author={Philip E. Tetlock},
  journal={Trends in Cognitive Sciences},
  • P. Tetlock
  • Published 1 July 2003
  • Medicine, Psychology
  • Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Many people insist that their commitments to certain values (e.g. love, honor, justice) are absolute and inviolable - in effect, sacred. They treat the mere thought of trading off sacred values against secular ones (such as money) as transparently outrageous - in effect, taboo. Economists insist, however, that in a world of scarce resources, taboo trade-offs are unavoidable. Research shows that, although people do respond with moral outrage to taboo trade-offs, they often acquiesce when secular… 

Figures and Topics from this paper

Sacred versus Pseudo-sacred Values: How People Cope with Taboo Trade-Offs
Psychologists have documented widespread public deference to "sacred values" that communities, formally or informally, exempt from tradeoffs with secular limits, like money. This work has, however,
Reframing Sacred Values
Sacred values differ from material or instrumental values in that they incorporate moral beliefs that drive action in ways dissociated from prospects for success. Across the world, people believe
Liberals Condemn Sacrilege Too
Are social conservatives the only ones who use concerns about sacred objects or practices when making moral judgments, such as when they defend the “sanctity of marriage”? Or do liberals condemn
Making Sense of the Sacred
In this note I examine the concept of sacred values. Some commentators have recommended avoiding the question or postponing negotiations until other issues have been settled, whereas others have
Religious and Sacred Imperatives in Human Conflict
In conflict situations, otherwise mundane sociopolitical preferences may become sacred values, acquiring immunity to material incentives and sustain intractable conflicts that defy “business-like” negotiation, but also provide surprising opportunities for resolution.
Taboo Trade-offs, Moral Outrage and the Moral Limits of Markets
Tetlock’s sacred value protection model (SVPM) proposed that taboo trade-offs evoke a strong moral reaction in people who resist secular encroachments on their sacred values. This strong moral
From My Cold, Dead Hands: Democratic Consequences of Sacred Rhetoric
Political rhetoric often appeals to sacred values, or nonnegotiable convictions grounded in transcendent authority rather than reasoned consequences. Sacred convictions are treated as absolutes that
Psychology out of the laboratory: the challenge of violent extremism.
The challenge to psychology is to adopt an interdisciplinary focus drawing on a range of research methods and to become bolder in its choices of study populations if it is to be relevant to real-world problems.
Sacred values and evil adversaries: A moral foundations approach.
At the age of 87, several years after he had stopped writing, Isaiah Berlin responded to an invitation from a Chinese professor to summarize his ideas for publication in China. He produced an
Sacred Values and Cultural Conflict
Th is chapter reviews a body of research on sacred values and cultural confl ict. Research conducted in the West Bank, Iran, Indonesia, and India reveals that when people transform a resource, idea,


The psychology of the unthinkable: taboo trade-offs, forbidden base rates, and heretical counterfactuals.
Although the results fit the sacred-value-protection model (SVPM) better than rival formulations, the SVPM must draw on cross-cultural taxonomies of relational schemata to specify normative boundaries on thought.
Taboo Trade‐offs: Reactions to Transactions That Transgress the Spheres of Justice
Taboo trade-offs violate deeply held normative intuitions about the integrity, even sanctity, of certain relationships and the moral-political values underlying those relationships. For instance, if
The morality of freedom
... elevating though man's privilege is, of being capable of such an idea as freedom of choice [those who are accustomed only to physiological explanations] are stirred up by the proud claims of
Elements of Reason: Coping with Trade-Offs: Psychological Constraints and Political Implications
A thoughtful reader of the psychological literature on judgment and choice might easily walk away with the impression that people are flat-out incapable of reasoning their way through value
The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey
Two processes at work in contemporary society are the secularization of religion and the sacralization of the secular. Consumer behavior shapes and reflects these processes. For many, consumption has
How serious are expressions of protected values?
Despite earlier concerns, apparent PVs may not always preclude the use of valuation measures in cost-effectiveness analysis or negotiated agreement on controversial issues, and appear to be labile and amenable to challenge.
Choices, Values, and Frames
We discuss the cognitive and the psy- chophysical determinants of choice in risky and risk- less contexts. The psychophysics of value induce risk aversion in the domain of gains and risk seeking in
The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
"Karen Fields has given us a splendid new translation of the greatest work of sociology ever written, one we will not be embarrassed to assign to our students. In addition she has written a brilliant
The Limits of Fungibility: Relational Schemata and the Value of Things
Four experiments test predictions on endowment and mental accounting effects of a theoretical perspective that stresses the symbolic-relational significance for consumer transactions and that posits
The Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalism
* Foreword: 1978 * Introduction/The Disjunction of Realms: A Statement of Themes The Double Bind Of Modernity * The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism * The Disjunctions of Cultural Discourse *