Gut or Game? The Influence of Moral Intuitions on Decisions in Video Games

Sven Joeckel, Nicholas David Bowman, Leyla Dogruel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Recent theorizing on the role of morality in media entertainment suggests morality serves as a guiding force in audience reactions to content. Using moral foundations theory as a base, research has found significant associations between moral salience and audience preferences for and responses to film and television varying in their presentations of morality. Our study extends this work by testing the same relationship in video games. Because a distinguishing factor between video games and traditional media is interactivity, our study focuses on how moral salience predicts decisions made in a video game. We find that increased moral salience led to a decreased probability of moral violations, while decreased moral salience led to an observed random (50%) distribution of violations. This finding was largely stable across different morality subcultures (German, United States) and age groups (adolescents and elderly), with deviations from this pattern explained by theory. We interpret this as evidence for a gut or game explanation of decision making in video games. When users encounter virtual scenarios that prime their moral sensitivities, they rely on their moral intuitions; otherwise, they make satisficing decisions not as an indication of moral corruption but merely as a continuation of the virtual experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-485
Number of pages26
JournalMedia Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology


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