Law and moral order: The influence of legal outcomes on moral judgment

Avital Mentovich, Maor Zeev-Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current project explores a surprisingly overlooked question regarding the influence of legal outcomes on people's personal morality. In 4 studies utilizing different scenarios of ethically questionable behavior, we compared the influence of 4 potential legal outcomes: indictment, conviction, exoneration, and closing the case without charges (Studies 1-4); we also examined the influence of these outcomes against the benchmark of people's default moral positions in the absence of legal information (Studies 3-4), and looked at the role of legitimacy as a potential moderator (Studies 2-3). Results revealed that, as expected, legal outcomes affected people's personal moral judgments. More specifically, we found that: (a) exoneration and closing the case increased the moral permissibility of the conduct at stake relative to conviction and indictment (Studies 1-4); (b) there was largely no impact of judicial versus nonjudicial outcomes, such that no differences were found between closing the case without charges and exoneration, or between indictment and conviction (Studies 1-3); (c) the impact of the specific legal outcome compared with people's default moral judgments was dependent on the issue at stake (Studies 3-4); and (d) legitimacy did not moderate the results, such that legal outcomes influenced moral judgment whether or not people held the legal system as legitimate. Taken together, this research suggests that both judicial and nonjudicial legal outcomes play an important role in influencing people's moral judgments, which has not been previously recognized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-502
Number of pages14
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the University of Haifa. We thank Dr. Yoav Mehozay for providing thoughtful comments. The ideas and data presented in this article are original and have not been previously published. The data are publically available and can be found at: https://osf .io/xujm2/. The authors contributed equally to this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Psychological Association.


  • Law
  • Legitimacy
  • Morality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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