Moralization of COVID-19 Clouds Human Judgment

A distorted view of COVID control measures has become an obstacle for quality science, researchers reveal
February 25, 2021 Updated: February 25, 2021

Researchers have found that preventing COVID-19 deaths has been elevated to a “sacred value” in society, such that those who question pandemic restrictions are morally condemned. Meanwhile deaths, abuses of power, and public shaming that occur in the name of “preventing COVID” are deemed acceptable.

The unprecedented restrictions placed upon Western civilizations in 2020 would likely have been met with protest a year earlier. But, when issued in the name of COVID-19 mitigation, people are more likely to accept what otherwise might be regarded as abuses of power, even when it leads to death, according to a team of researchers from the United States and New Zealand.[i]

COVID-19 has become a highly visible, politicized, and publicized event, such that efforts to combat it have become moralized. Once something is elevated to the level of a sacred value, even questioning anything that goes against it can “elicit moral outrage, disapproval, and a desire to reaffirm one’s moral commitments,” write the researchers in their paper, “Moralization of Covid-19 health response: Asymmetry in tolerance for human costs,” in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

This is certainly what’s been seen with COVID-19 policy, in which people have been shamed, threatened, and physically assaulted over their choices to not wear a mask[ii] or refuse to shutter their business.[iii]

Others have faced outrage over questioning whether the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus cause more harm than good.

The researchers predicted that when COVID-19 efforts become moralized, it would generate asymmetries in judgment that make people more accepting of harms generated as a result. After conducting two experimental studies, their prediction was confirmed.

People More Tolerant of Public Shaming and ‘Deaths of Despair’

Lockdowns, business closures and social distancing enforced to combat COVID-19 involve trade-offs that researchers described as collateral damage:[i]

“Those costs include unemployment or underemployment, extreme stress and substance abuse, and delayed cancer diagnoses, among others. Left unaddressed, these forces may generate ‘deaths of despair,’ whereby individuals perish from behaviors or worsened illnesses as a result of perceived bleak prospects.

Other costs include the public shaming of those who violate or question health-based policies, abuse of law-enforcement and government power, and deterioration of human rights.”

Yet, because “fighting COVID-19” has been turned into a moral issue, people tend to be more accepting of the very real harms induced as a result—including deaths, abuses of power, and mental illness—than they are of harms they attribute to COVID-19, the illness, researchers found.

In the first study example, Americans were asked to evaluate human costs, including public shaming, deaths, illnesses, and police abuse of power, that resulted either from efforts to minimize COVID-19’s health impact or from non-COVID efforts, such as for economic purposes. In another example, participants were asked to evaluate the harms caused by a police officer abusing authority to enforce either COVID-19 restrictions or speed limits.

“In both cases, the degree of human suffering or cost was held constant, such that the officer cited and detained the same number of people to reduce the same number of deaths,” study author Fan Xuan Chen said in a news release.[iv] Yet, the participants’ tolerance of human suffering was not constant; deaths, public shaming, and abuse of power were deemed more acceptable when they occurred as a result of minimizing COVID-19.

The second study presented New Zealanders with the chance to evaluate two research proposals. Both proposals had the same amount of methodology information and were equally valid. One proposal looked at abandoning a COVID-19 elimination strategy, the other looked at continuing it. New Zealanders were less favorable toward the strategy that questioned the value of continuing an elimination strategy.

According to Chen, “New Zealanders were more favorably disposed to a research proposal that supported COVID-19-elimination efforts than to one that challenged those efforts, even when the methodological information and evidence supporting both proposals were equivalent.”[iv]

Questioning COVID-19 Restrictions Is ‘Morally Condemned’

The study’s findings suggest that questioning efforts to eliminate COVID-19 is a “morally condemned” behavior[i] in today’s society and highlights a double-standard that has emerged, such that deaths from COVID-19 restrictions are acceptable while those said to be from COVID-19 are not.

Not only were the study participants more likely to accept social shaming, illnesses, deaths, and human rights violations when they resulted from measures to control COVID-19, but they expressed stronger negativity when human costs were associated with measures not related to COVID-19 control.

Researchers found respondents expressed significantly greater moral outrage; stronger punitive intentions toward those responsible; and diminished evaluations of the competence of those involved when deaths were unrelated to COVID-19. In other words, if a person died because of a COVID control measure, it was more tolerable.

Those who were most concerned about COVID-19 risks personally were especially likely to overlook the harms caused by COVID-19 restrictions and express greater moral outrage. Media depictions of COVID-19 may also amplify moralization, the researchers noted, “such as by activating disgust.”[i]

Harms of COVID-19 Restrictions ‘Under-Acknowledged’

The ideology of “fighting COVID-19” (C19) has been elevated to the level of sacred value while many are turning a blind eye to the suffering that’s resulted from lockdowns, unemployment, economic crisis, and isolation, among other resulting human costs of COVID restrictions.

As a result, the researchers suggested that “potential human costs beyond C19’s direct health effects may be relatively under-acknowledged, deprioritized, or granted less moral weight.”

The loss of human lives is now being given different moral weight depending on their cause, and even scientific research that could delve into the true human costs of COVID-19 restrictions is likely to be “discouraged, unfunded, or dismissed.” The researchers revealed that when it came to researching the consequences of COVID control measures, moral outrage had become “a prominent obstacle in evaluating those costs dispassionately or through empirical scrutiny.”[i]

There’s still time to take a step back from this altered reality and view the COVID-19 pandemic objectively, without allowing an ambiguously imposed, and media-driven, measure of morality to cloud your judgment. If you want to learn more, is a great place to find open-minded discussion. And if you’re looking to get involved and take action, Stand for Health Freedom is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human, constitutional, and parental rights.

The GMI Research Group is dedicated to investigating the most important health and environmental issues of the day. Special emphasis will be placed on environmental health. Our focused and deep research will explore the many ways in which the present condition of the human body directly reflects the true state of the ambient environment. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of GreenMedInfo LLC. Sign up for the newsletter at


[i] J Exp Soc Psychol. 2021 Mar; 93: 104084.

[ii] Daily Star July 21, 2020

[iii] The Jerusalem Post January 9, 2021

[iv] Science Daily December 14, 2020