To shoot or not to shoot: experiments on moral injury in the context of West Bank checkpoints and COVID-19 restrictions enforcement

Uri Hertz, Keren L.G. Snider, Adi Levy, Daphna Canetti, Michael L. Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Does exposure to events that transgress accepted norms, such as killing innocent civilians, prompt the psychological and emotional consequences of moral injury among soldiers? Moral injury is associated with negative emotions such as guilt, shame and anger, and a sense of betrayal and is identified among veterans following exposure to potentially morally injurious events (PMIE). Objective: We experimentally investigate how PMIE characteristics affect the intensity of MI and related negative moral emotions in participants with varied military experience. Method: We conducted three controlled, randomized experiments. Each exposed male respondents with active combat experience (Study 1) and varied military experience (Study 2) to four textual vignettes describing PMIE (child/adult and innocent/non-innocent suspect) that transpire at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank. In study 3, we exposed participants to two scenarios, where descriptions of police officers enforcing COVID 19 restrictions confronted lockdown violators. Results: Participants assigned to vignettes describing killing an innocent civilian exhibited more intense levels of shame and guilt than those assigned to vignettes describing killing a person carrying a bomb. Religiosity and political ideology were strong predictors of guilt and shame in response to descriptions of checkpoint shootings. These effects disappeared in Study 3, suggesting that political ideology drives MI in intergroup conflict. Conclusions: Background and PMIE-related characteristics affect the development of moral injury. Additionally, lab experiments demonstrate the potential and limitations of controlled studies of moral injury and facilitate an understanding of the aetiology of moral injury in a way unavailable to clinicians. Finally, experimental findings and methodologies offer further insights into the genesis of moral injury and avenues for therapy and prophylaxis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2013651
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
for this paper was provided by the Israel Science Foundation, grant 146/19.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • emotional distress
  • exposure to terrorism
  • lab-model
  • moral emotions
  • Moral injury
  • political ideology
  • Anger
  • Pandemics/legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Shame
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic/epidemiology
  • Veterans/psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Israel/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Military Personnel/psychology
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Guilt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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