Research suggests that appraisals regarding moral violations play an important role in linking trauma exposure with complex psychological responses. There, however, is a need for experimental research to elucidate the causal impact of moral appraisals on psychological outcomes.
This study experimentally investigated the impact on psychological responses (i.e., emotions, intrusions, rumination) of (1) specific blame appraisals in the context of a moral stressor, (2) broad, pre-existing moral beliefs that others (Moral Injury [MI]-Other) or the self (MI-Self) has acted in a way that violates one’s morals, and (3) the interaction between these variables. This study used mental imagery of a motor vehicle accident to simulate a moral stressor. Participants were 108 university students.
Results indicated that blaming oneself resulted in greater guilt, anger and sadness, compared to blaming others. Additionally, participants intrusions were dependent upon interactions between MI-Self beliefs and blame appraisals, with participants who blamed others reporting more intrusive memories if they had High MI-Self beliefs. Furthermore, greater rumination was reported when participants who blamed others but only if both MI-Other and MI-Self beliefs were present.
These results demonstrate the importance of both specific blame appraisals and broad moral beliefs, as potential mechanisms linking exposure to moral violations and psychological outcomes.