The relevance of moral norms in distinct relational contexts: Purity versus harm norms regulate self-directed actions

Recent efforts to partition the space of morality have focused on the descriptive content of distinct moral domains (e.g., harm versus purity), or alternatively, the relationship between the perpetrator and victim of moral violations. Across three studies, we demonstrate that harm and purity norms are relevant in distinct relational contexts. Moral judgments of purity violations, compared to harm violations, are relatively more sensitive to the negative impact perpetrators have on themselves versus other victims (Study 1). This pattern replicates across a wide array of harm and purity violations varying in severity (Studies 2 and 3). Moreover, while perceptions of harm predict moral judgment consistently across relational contexts, perceptions of purity predict moral judgment more for self-directed actions, where perpetrators violate themselves, compared to dyadic actions, where perpetrators violate other victims (Study 3). Together, these studies reveal how an action’s content and its relational context interact to influence moral judgment, providing novel insights into the adaptive functions of harm and purity norms.