Jonathan Haidt

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Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt 2012 03.jpg
Haidt in 2012
Born Jonathan David Haidt
(1963-10-19) October 19, 1963 (age 52)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Residence New York City
Fields Social psychology, moral psychology, positive psychology, cultural psychology
Institutions University of Virginia (1995–2011),
New York University—Stern School of Business (current)
Alma mater Yale University (B.A.),
University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.)
Thesis Moral Judgment, Affect, and Culture, or, Is it Wrong to Eat Your Dog? (1992)
Doctoral advisor Jonathan Baron, Alan Fiske

Jonathan David Haidt (pronounced "height", born October 19, 1963) is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.[1] His academic specialization is the psychology of morality and the moral emotions. Haidt is the author of two books: The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006) and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), which became a New York Times bestseller.[2] He was named one of the “top global thinkers” by Foreign Policy Magazine,[3] and one of the “top world thinkers” by Prospect magazine.[4] His three TED talks have collectively been viewed more than 4 million times.[5]

Education and career[edit]

Haidt was born in New York City and raised in Scarsdale, New York, to a liberal Jewish family.[6][7] He earned a BA in philosophy from Yale University in 1985, and a PhD in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. He then studied cultural psychology at the University of Chicago as a post-doctoral fellow. His supervisors were Jonathan Baron and Alan Fiske (at the University of Pennsylvania,) and cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder (University of Chicago). During his post-doctoral appointment, Haidt won a Fulbright fellowship to fund three months of research on morality in Orissa, India. In 1995, Haidt was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, where he worked until 2011, winning four awards for teaching, including a statewide award conferred by the Governor of Virginia.[8]

In 1999 Haidt became active in the new field of positive psychology, studying positive moral emotions. This work led to the publication of an edited volume, titled Flourishing, in 2003, and then to The Happiness Hypothesis in 2006. The Happiness Hypothesis introduced the widely cited metaphor that the mind is divided into parts, like a small rider (conscious reasoning) on a very large elephant (automatic and intuitive processes).[9] In 2004, Haidt began to apply moral psychology to the study of politics, doing research on the psychological foundations of ideology. This work led to the publication in 2012 of The Righteous Mind. Haidt spent the 2007–2008 academic year at Princeton University as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching. In 2011, Haidt moved to the Leonard N. Stern School of Business. Haidt’s current research applies moral psychology to business ethics. In 2013, he co-founded Ethical Systems,[10] a non-profit collaboration dedicated to making academic research on ethics widely available to businesses. He is also engaged in efforts to foster greater political civility[11] and to increase the ideological diversity of social psychology and other social sciences.[12] He is currently working on a book on Capitalism[13]

Research contributions[edit]

Haidt’s research on morality has led to publications and theoretical advances in four primary areas:

The Social Intuitionist Model[edit]

Haidt’s principal line of research since graduate school has been on the nature and mechanisms of moral judgment. In the 1990s he developed the Social Intuitionist Model of moral judgment, which posits that moral judgment is mostly based on automatic processes – moral intuitions – rather than on conscious reasoning. People engage in reasoning largely to find evidence to support their initial intuitions. Haidt’s main paper on the Social Intuitionist Model, “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail,” has been cited over 2700 times.[14]

Moral Disgust[edit]

Together with Paul Rozin and Clark McCauley, Haidt developed the Disgust Scale,[15] which has been widely used to measure individual differences in sensitivity to disgust. Haidt, Rozin, and McCauley have written extensively on the psychology of disgust as an emotion that began as a guardian of the mouth (against pathogens), but then expanded during biological and cultural evolution to become a guardian of the body more generally, and of the social and moral order.[16]

Moral Elevation[edit]

With Sara Algoe, Haidt demonstrated that exposure to stories about moral beauty (the opposite of moral disgust) cause a common set of responses, including warm, loving feelings, calmness, and a desire to become a better person.[17] Haidt called the emotion "moral elevation,"[18] as a tribute to Thomas Jefferson, who had described the emotion in detail in a letter discussing the benefits of reading great literature.[19] Feelings of moral elevation cause lactation in breast-feeding mothers,[20] suggesting the involvement of the hormone oxytocin. There is now a large body of research on elevation and related emotions.[21]

Moral Foundations Theory[edit]

In 2004, Haidt began to extend the Social Intuitionist Model to specify the most important categories of moral intuition.[22] The result was Moral Foundations Theory, co-developed with Craig Joseph and Jesse Graham, and based in part on the writings of Richard Shweder. The theory posits that there are (at least) six innate moral foundations, upon which cultures develop their various moralities, just as there are five innate taste receptors on the tongue, which cultures have used to create many different cuisines. The six are Care/harm, Fairness (equality)/cheating, Liberty/oppression, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. The theory was developed to explain cross-cultural differences in morality, but Haidt and his collaborators at[23] have found that the theory works well to explain political differences as well. Liberals (leftists) tend to endorse primarily the Care and Equality foundations, whereas conservatives (rightists) tend to endorse all six foundations more equally.[24]

Elephant and Rider Metaphor[edit]

The observations of social intuitionism, that intuitions come first and rationalization second, led to the Elephant and Rider Metaphor.[25] The rider represents the conscious controlled processes and the elephant represents all of the automatic processes. The metaphor corresponds to Systems 1 and 2 described in Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.[26] This metaphor is used extensively in both The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind.


Haidt has been criticized by the “new atheists,” such as Sam Harris, who argued that Haidt’s defense of religion ends up justifying human sacrifice and superstition.[27] Haidt has also been criticized by some authors on the political left. Social psychologist John Jost wrote that Haidt “mocks the liberal vision of a tolerant, pluralistic, civil society, but, ironically, this is precisely where he wants to end up.”[28] The journalist Chris Hedges wrote a review of The Righteous Mind in which he accused Haidt of supporting “social Darwinism.”[29] In his response, Haidt noted many inaccuracies in Hedges' reading of the book, most notably that Hedges took quotations from conservatives and inappropriately attributed them to Haidt.[30]

Selected publications[edit]

A complete list of publications can be obtained at

  • Haidt, J., Koller, S., & Dias, M. (1993). Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 613-628.
  • Haidt, J . (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review. 108, 814-834.
  • Wheatley, T., & Haidt, J. (2005). Hypnotic disgust makes moral judgments more severe. Psychological Science, 16, 780-784.
  • Haidt, J. (2007). The new synthesis in moral psychology. Science, 316, 998-1002.
  • Rozin, P., Haidt, J., & McCauley, C. R. (2008). Disgust. In M. Lewis, J. Haviland, & L. F. Barrett (Eds.) Handbook of emotions, 3rd edition. (pp. 757–776). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029–1046.
  • Haidt, J., & Kesebir, S. (2010). Morality. In S. Fiske, D. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition. Hobeken, NJ: Wiley. pp. 797–832.
  • Iyer, R., Koleva, S. P., Graham, J., Ditto, P. H., & Haidt, J. (2012). Understanding Libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified libertarians. PLoS ONE 7:e42366 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Cowles, Gregory. "Print & E-Books". The New York Times. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ based on view counts at, and on Youtube.
  6. ^ Jonathan Haidt: He Knows Why We Fight, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. June 29, 2012, Wall Street Journal
  7. ^ The psychology behind morality A discussion with Heidt describing his own outlook as being part of the Jewish culture
  8. ^
  9. ^ The metaphor was popularized in Chip and Dan Heath’s 2010 bestseller, Switch.
  10. ^
  11. ^ See Haidt’s third TED talk, and
  12. ^ See resources on “postpartisan social psychology
  13. ^ Haidt, Jonathan. "Stories About Capitalism". Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Articles available at
  17. ^ Algoe, Sara B, & Haidt, Jonathan. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: The 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 105-127.
  18. ^ Haidt, Jonathan. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 275-289). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
  19. ^ Jefferson, Thomas. (1975). Letter to Robert Skipwith. In M. D. Peterson (Ed.), The portable Thomas Jefferson (pp. 349-351). New York: Penguin.
  20. ^ Silvers, J., & Haidt, J. (2008). Moral elevation causes lactation. Emotion, 8, 291-295.
  21. ^ This research is collected at
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ See Haidt’s first TED talk, and see
  25. ^ McNerney, Samuel. "Jonathan Haidt and the Moral Matrix: Breaking Out of Our Righteous Minds". Scientific American (blogs). Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  26. ^ Haidt, Jonathan (October 7, 2012). "Reasons Matter (When Intuitions Don’t Object)". New York Times (blogs). Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^


External links[edit]

TED Talks