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Dr Joseph Sweetman

Dr Joseph Sweetman

Senior Lecturer


 +44 (0)1392 722499

 Washington Singer 124d


Washington Singer Laboratories, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK


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/or reflective thought in the mind/brain sciences.

Current PhD funding opportunities 

Aspects of the moral mind/brain: Toward a science of morality 

This project offers the successful candidate an opportunity to become a leading researcher in one of the most exciting, interdisciplinary areas of the mind/brain sciences. The proposed doctoral research will pursue a programme of psychological and cognitive neuroscience research to better understand: What is our moral sense? How is our moral sense represented in the brain? How is our moral sense learnt? The project will involve developing technical skills in the planning, collection, analysis, and write-up of experimental cognitive neuroscience (i.e., EEG/fMRI) and behavioural research.

This doctoral research can be applied for via the University of Exeter PhD Scholarships for Black British Researchers in the Faculty of Health and Life 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

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Research interests

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.

Research projects


2024 £2,000 Exeter brain network seedcorn funding

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

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Journal articles

Livingstone AG, Spears R, Manstead ASR, Makanju D, Sweetman J (2023). Dilemmas of resistance: How concerns for cultural aspects of identity shape and constrain resistance among minority groups. European Review of Social Psychology, 35(1), 45-87.
Makanju D, Livingstone AG, Sweetman J (2023). How Group Members Appraise Collective History: Appraisal Dimensions of Collective History and Their Role in In-Group Engagement. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 11(1), 229-246.
McManus RM, Young L, Sweetman J (2023). Psychology is a Property of Persons, Not Averages or Distributions: Confronting the Group-to-Person Generalizability Problem in Experimental Psychology. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, 6(3). Abstract.
Prati F, Pratto F, Zeineddine F, Sweetman J, Aiello A, Petrovic N, Rubini M (2022). From Social Dominance Orientation to Political Engagement: the Role of Group Status and Shared Beliefs in Politics Across Multiple Contexts. POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY, 43(1), 153-175.  Author URL.
Livingstone AG, Sweetman J, Haslam SA (2021). Conflict, what conflict? Evidence that playing down “conflict” can be a weapon of choice for high‐status groups. European Journal of Social Psychology, 51(4-5), 659-674. Abstract.
Sweetman J, Newman GA (2020). Attentional efficiency does not explain the mental state × domain effect. PLOS ONE, 15(6), e0234500-e0234500.
Sweetman J, Newman GA (2020). Replicating different roles of intent across moral domains. ROYAL SOCIETY OPEN SCIENCE, 7(5).  Author URL.
Brandt MJ, Kuppens T, Spears R, Andrighetto L, Autin F, Babincak P, Badea C, Bae J, Batruch A, Becker JC, et al (2020). Subjective status and perceived legitimacy across countries. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 50(5), 921-942.  Author URL.
Makanju D, Livingstone AG, Sweetman J (2020). Testing the effect of historical representations on collective identity and action. PLOS ONE, 15(4), e0231051-e0231051.
Sweetman J, Maio GR, Spears R, Manstead ASR, Livingstone AG (2019). Attitude toward protest uniquely predicts (normative and nonnormative) political action by (advantaged and disadvantaged) group members. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 82, 115-128. Abstract.
Stewart AL, Sweetman J (2018). Scholarship and Activism Diverge: Responding to MLK's Call with Theory and Research on Diversity, Political Action, and Resistance to Oppression. Journal of Social Issues, 74, 204-213.
Sweetman J (2018). When Similarities are more Important than Differences: “Politically Black”Union Members’ Experiences of Racism and Participation in Union Leadership. Journal of Social Issues, 74, 244-264.
Sweetman J, Whitmarsh LE (2016). Climate Justice: High-Status Ingroup Social Models Increase Pro-Environmental Action Through Making Actions Seem More Moral. Top Cogn Sci, 8(1), 196-221. Abstract.  Author URL.
Stewart AL, Pratto F, Bou Zeineddine F, Sweetman J, Eicher V, Licata L, Morselli D, Saab R, Aiello A, Chryssochoou X, et al (2016). International support for the Arab uprisings: Understanding sympathetic collective action using theories of social dominance and social identity. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 19(1), 6-26. Abstract.
Livingstone AG, Sweetman J, Bracht EM, Haslam SA (2015). “We have no quarrel with you”: Effects of group status on characterizations of “conflict” with an outgroup. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 16-26.
Sweetman J, Leach CW, Spears R, Pratto F, Saab R (2014). "I have a dream": a typology of social change goals. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 1, 293-320.
Pratto F, Saguy T, Stewart AL, Morselli D, Foels R, Aiello A, Aranda M, Cidam A, Chryssochoou X, Durrheim K, et al (2014). Attitudes Toward Arab Ascendance: Israeli and Global Perspectives. Psychological Science, 25(1), 85-94. Abstract.
Sweetman J, Spears R, Livingstone AG, Manstead ASR (2013). Admiration regulates social hierarchy: Antecedents, dispositions, and effects on intergroup behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(3), 534-542. Abstract.
Pratto F, Çidam A, Stewart AL, Zeineddine FB, Aranda M, Aiello A, Chryssochoou X, Cichocka A, Cohrs JC, Durrheim K, et al (2013). Social Dominance in Context and in Individuals: Contextual Moderation of Robust Effects of Social Dominance Orientation in 15 Languages and 20 Countries. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(5), 587-599. Abstract.


Holroyd J, Sweetman J (2016). The Heterogeneity of Implicit Bias. In Brownstein M, Saul J (Eds.) Philosophy and implicit bias: Metaphysics and epistemology, New York: Oxford University Press. Abstract.
Spears R, Leach C, Zomeran M, Ispas A, Sweetman JP, Tausch N (2011). Intergroup Emotions: More than the Sum of the Parts. In Nyklâiécek I, Vingerhoets AJJM, Zeelenberg M (Eds.) Emotion Regulation and Well-Being, Springer, 121-145. Abstract.
Spears R, Greenwood R, de Lemus S, Sweetman J (2010). Legitimacy, social identity, and power. In Guinote A, Vescio TK (Eds.) The Social Psychology of Power, Guilford Publications, 251-283.


Sweetman JP (2017). Evaluation of train the trainers unconscious bias training (Phase II)., Equality Challenge Unit. Abstract.

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I currently teach the following modules:

PSY3401 Research project

PSY3432 The moral mind (Module convenor)

PSY2213 Social psychology II: Practical (Module convenor)



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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Summer Lea Bedford
  • Olivia Hill-Cousins
  • George Newman

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