More and more often today we hear that the moral state of society and individuals is in decline. But is this true? Psychologists at Columbia University and Harvard University conducted a study to get to the bottom of this question.
They analyzed the results of surveys on moral values conducted in the U.S. from 1949 to 2019, as well as in other countries around the world. Most survey participants said they believed there was a moral decline from the “good old days. This view is shared by people of all political views, races, genders, ages, and education levels.
However, when survey participants were asked how they felt about their own and their contemporaries’ morality, the answers did not change much over time. This means that the perception of moral decline is mistaken, or that “at least it is very difficult to find any evidence that this moral decline has taken place.
Psychologists explain this by saying that people are prone to memory bias: negative memories tend to fade faster than positive ones. So we all think that morality was incomparably higher in the past than it is today.
However, this does not mean that all is well with moral values in society. Some research suggests that certain aspects of morality, such as empathy and sympathy, may be compromised by the use of social media and other technologies. There is also a danger that some people may use moral values as a weapon against others, for example, to accuse people of “wrong” views or behavior.
Overall, the study shows that the notion of moral decline can be misleading. However, this does not mean that we should disregard moral values and their significance in our lives.