F. Character & Social/Cognitive/Moral Psychology > J.B. Murphy on "Does Habit Interference Explain Moral Failure?"

Here is a very original and interesting response to situationism by James Bernard Murphy in Review of Philosophical Psychology. Cognitive science shows us how to reject a doubtful shared premise in the debate between personality psychology and situationist psychology. I have not seen Murphy's concern with learning studies and /transfer studies reflected in virtue theorists' responses to situationism.


Social psychologists have performed many well-known experiments demonstrating that experimental subjects will perform in ways that are normatively inconsistent even across very similar situations. Situationist social psychologists and philosophers have often interpreted these findings to imply that most people lack general moral dispositions. These situationists have argued that our moral dispositions are at best narrowly local traits; they often describe our moral characters as fragmented. In this paper, I offer an alternative hypothesis for the same experimental results. I argue that these normative inconsistencies in behavior might well be produced by habit interference: experimental subjects err by over-generalizing dispositions formed in prior situations. I ground this alternative hypothesis in the long tradition of transfer of learning studies, which demonstrated that cognitive inconsistency was often the result of habit interference and, hence, overly generalized dispositions. I shall thus explore the analogy between moral and cognitive inconsistency to show why social psychology might well benefit from adopting the experimental design of the classic transfer of learning studies.
June 15, 2015 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell