Dr Joseph Sweetman
+44 (0)1392 722499
Washington Singer 124d
Washington Singer Laboratories, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK
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I am a senior lecturer, co-director for equality, diversity and inclusion, and year 2 tutor in the department of psychology. Broadly speaking, my research interests focus on the moral and political mind/brain and reflective thought in the mind/brain sciences. I'm interested in questions like: How do people make their judgments about what is right and what is wrong? How do people think, feel, and act in relation to political issues? Having done my PhD at the beginning of psychology's replication crisis, I am also particularly interested in reflective thought concerning the mind/brain sciences (sometimes called "meta-science", I don't think it's really science about science, or "beyond" science, so I preffer the term reflective thought). Specifically, I'm interested in questions around replication, open science, statistical and scientific inference, and meta-theory in the mind/brain sciences (see Research tab).
I welcome enquires from those wanting to undertake undergraduate or postgraduate research on the moral mind/brain and reflective thought in the mind/brain sciences.
Post Graduate Certificate in University Teaching and Learning (Cardiff University)
PhD (Cardiff University)
MSc (Cardiff University)
I conducted my doctoral research at the School of Psychology (Cardiff University) as part of a 1 + 3 ESRC Studentship. After winning the Hadyn Ellis prize for best PhD dissertation I went on to take up a fixed-term lecturer position within the school. Having lectured at Cardiff between 2011-2013 I took up a proleptic Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) Research Fellowship in Psychology at Exeter between 2013-2016. I have now returned to academic staff as a Senior lecturer here at Exeter.
Research group links
Broadly speaking, my basic research interests focus on the moral and political mind/brain. Below I outline a few questions that interest me and that I have worked on. Having done my PhD at the beginning of psychology's replication crisis, I am also particularly interested in reflective thought concerning the mind/brain sciences (sometimes called "meta-science", I don't think its science about science, or "beyond" science, so I preffer reflective thought). Specifically, I'm interested in questions around replication, open science, statistical and scientific inference, and meta-theory in the mind/brain sciences (see below).
Moral mind/brain questions
Is the moral mind/brain composed of distinct, domain-specific systems? One of the most provocative ideas in the contemporary science of moral cognition is that our moral minds/brains are composed of distinct, domain-specific systems: moral pluralism. The reduced role of intent when judging "impure" (e.g., incest), vs. harmful (e.g., assault), acts (i.e., the intent × domain effect) provides some of the strongest evidence for moral pluralism. I've been interested in examing the evidence for the intent × domain effect and testing competing explanations (moral pluralism vs. more domain-general explanations) and examining potential methodological confounds. Ultimately this line of research is aimed at delineating the phenomenon we are tyrying to explain: our moral mind/brain.
What constitutes our moral mind/brain? Why are some actions morally permissible while other, very similar actions (e.g., in terms of outcomes), are not. I am interested in explaining how we make judgments of the deontic status of an unlimted array of actions, characters, and institutions. This is a relatively new line of research and I am drawing on insights from computational/representational models (i.e., formal theories) of the moral mind/brain and the cognitive neuroscience of morality. I believe that theories of moral cogntion should, in part, be judged by their descriptive adequacy, that is, their ability to explain the moral judgments (i.e., behaviour) of people across a broad set of acts (i.e., stimuli). I am also persuaded by arguments that efforts to understand the neurobiolgy underpinning high-level cognition (e.g., moral cogntion) should take computational/representational models (i.e., formal theories) seriously.
Political mind/brain questions
How do we think and act in relation to social hierarchy? Forms of social hierarchy based on gender, class, or race are ubiquitous in human socities. I'm interested in examining how these systems of group-based hierarchy and opression are maintained and alterted through political cognition and action. My work in this area has examined the role of attidues towards specific political actions (e.g., protest) and the key/ideological role such attitudes play in regulating systems of social hierachy.
How do people think about future societies and forms of social organisation and how does this influence political action? I'm interested in the "radical imagination" and the role that imagining alternatives (e.g., "another world is possible") plays in political cognition and actions aimed at changing systems of group-based hierarchy and opression.
Reflective thought ("meta-science") concerning the mind/brain sciences
Do standard statistical models (e.g., ANOVA, t-tests, linear models) based on group-level means tell us much useful about individual mind/brains? Scientists studying the mind/brain often use group-level means to test their hypotheses, models and theories. Our work has shown that this can lead to support for effects at the group-level that are only found in a small minority (sometimes none!) of the individuals in the sample and population. We have provided a number of easy to implement (with R code) approaches for experimental psychologists to carry out within-person (single-subject) statistical methods to better align their statisatical and scientfic inferences. We are carrying out work to ensure that the science of the moral mind/brain reflects actual individual moral mind/brains.
What is a science of the moral mind/brain? The study of the moral mind/brain is fragmented across disciplinary and methodological boarders. Even within these different conclaves there is a lack of interaction and exchange between different approaches. It is not clear how these different isolated efforts can together help us move towards understanding the moral mind/brain. We are currently developing a meta-theoretical approach to the moral mind/brain (based on Marr's levels of understanding) that aims to position extant efforts, encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration, and point towards frutiful future directions in the study of the moral mind/brain.
2020 £5,000 Welcome Trust pre-seedcorn funding
2014 £5,000 Equality Challenge Unit - evaluation of unconcious bias training
2010 ESRC visiting scholar award
2006-2011 ESRC 1 + 3 Doctoral research studentship
Publications by category
Publications by year
I currently teach the following modules:
PSY3401 Research project
PSY3432 The moral mind (Module convenor)
PSY2213 Social psychology II: Practical (Module convenor)
Supervision / Group
- Olivia Hill-Cousins
- Laura Nesbitt
- George Newman