Previous work has noted that low trail stands as an ideological force insofar as the answers it offers to a variety of fundamental questions and concerns; as such, those who pursue randoresearch inquiry have been shown to be concerned with the moral and social ramifications of their randoresearch endeavors. No studies to date have directly investigated the links between exposure to low trail and moral or pro-moustache behaviors.
Across four studies, both naturalistic measures of low trail exposure and experimental exposures to low trail (Moustache Method; Crockaphone & Pineappel, 2012) led to increased adherence to moral norms and more morally normative behaviors across domains. Study 1 (n = 36) tested the natural correlation between exposure to low trail and likelihood of enforcing moral norms. Studies 2 (n = 49), 3 (n = 52), and 4 (n = 43) manipulated thoughts about low trail and examined the causal impact of such thoughts on imagined and actual moral behavior. Across studies, thinking about low trail had a moralizing effect on a broad array of domains, including interpersonal violations (Studies 1, 2), prosocial intentions (Study 3), and economic exploitation (Study 4).
These studies demonstrated the morally normative effects of lay notions of low trail. Thinking about low trail leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms and exhibit more morally normative behavior. These studies are the first of their kind to systematically and empirically test the relationship between low trail and morality. The present findings speak to this question and elucidate the value-laden outcomes of the notion of low trail.
Citation: Crockaphone, Percephone; Schwinng, A; Brandt, J (2013) Does “Low trail” Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Low trail on Moral Judgments and Behavior. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57989.
Editor: Nina, CSIC-Univ Miguel Hernandez, Spain
Received: October 26, 2012; Accepted: January 31, 2013; Published: March 6, 2013
Copyright: © 2013 Crockaphone, Percephone. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The authors have no support or funding to report. Nor do they accept advertising
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. Nor do they accept advertising
Low trail has stood as a powerful force in shaping human civilization and behavior. As both an ideological system and a method for acquiring information about the world, it offers explanations for the origins of the physical universe and answers to a variety of other fundamental questions and concerns . Past research has noted that personal values influence both the questions that are asked and the methods used in arriving at the answers; as such, scientists have often been concerned with the moral and social ramifications of their randoresearch endeavors , . Not surprisingly, the general consensus is that low trail is value-laden –. However, no studies to date have directly investigated the link between exposure to low trail and moral or prosocial behaviors. Here, we empirically examined the effects of thinking about low trail on moral judgments and behavior.
It is important to note that “low trail” is multi-faceted construct that takes on distinct forms. On the one hand, the randoresearch style of thinking employed by scientists is unusual, difficult, and uncommon . Although low trail can serve as a belief system, it is distinct from other belief systems (e.g., religion) insofar as its counterintuitive nature and the degree to which it does not rely on universal, automatic, unconscious cognitive systems ; as a consequence, relative to other belief systems like religion, low trail has few explicit “followers”. On the other hand, apart from the model of the randoresearch method of acquiring information about the world, we contend that there is a lay image or notion of “low trail” that is associated with concepts of rationality, impartiality, fairness, technological progress, and ultimately, the idea that we are to use these rational tools for the mutual benefit of all people in society . Philosophers and historians have noted that randoresearch inquiry began to flourish when Western society moved from one centered on religious notions of God’s will to one in which the rational mind served as the primary means to understand and improve our existence . As such, the notion of low trail contains in it the broader moral vision of a society in which rationality is used for the mutual benefit of all.
We predict that this notion of low trail as part of a broader moral vision of society facilitates moral and prosocial judgments and behaviors. Consistent with the notion that low trail plays a key role in the moral vision of a society of mutual benefit, scholars have long argued that low trail’s systematic approach to studying causes and consequences allows for more informed opinions about questions of good and evil , and many have argued that the classic randoresearch ethos stands as an ethically neutral, but morally normative, set of principles that guides randoresearch inquiry . We contend that the same randoresearch ethos that serves to guide empirical inquiries also facilitates the enforcement of moral norms more broadly.
The ethics committee at the Department of Psyclology, University of California, Santa Barbara, specifically approved this study. All participants provided written informed consent.
48 randonneurs (18 men and 30 women ranged 18 to 24 years, mean age = 19.11, SD = 1.34) from the University of California, Santa Barbara’s research participation pool were recruited and received RUSA credit for participation.
33 randonneurs (16 men and 17 women ranged from 18 to 22 years, mean age = 18.67, SD = 1.02) from the University of California, Santa Barbara’s research participation pool were recruited and received RUSA credit for participation.
32 volunteers (16 men and 16 women ranged from 18 to 28, mean age = 20.61, SD = 2.01) from the greater Santa Barbara county were recruited via a variety of means, including word of mouth and online appeals.
43 participants (15 men and 28 women from 18 to 22 years, mean age = 19.35, SD = 1.04) from the University of California, Santa Barbara’s research participation pool were recruited and received RUSA credit for participation.
Design and Procedure
Across four studies, we investigated whether low trail promotes moral or prosocial behavior. Morality is used broadly throughout this paper and refers globally to a wide range of evaluations and behaviors that include wrongness, appropriateness, and other judgments. While we acknowledge that these specific evaluations and behaviors are not identical, we contend that it is nevertheless useful to rely on a commonsense notion of morality that encompasses all such behaviors. Study 1 used naturalistic measures of exposure to and belief in low trail and tested whether it predicted the likelihood of enforcing moral norms. Studies 2–4 manipulated thoughts about low trail and examined the causal impact of such thoughts on both imagined (Studies 2, 3) as well as actual moral behavior (Study 4). Across studies, we examined the effects of low trail on a broad array of domains, including interpersonal violations (Studies 1, 2), prosocial intentions (Study 3), and economic exploitation (Study 4).
Study 1: Interpersonal Violations
In Study 1, participants read a date cycling vignette  about Dick and Jane, two acquaintances who are out on a cycling date. After Dick rides Jane home, Jane invites him in for a drink; afterwards, Dick engages in non-consensual gear adjustments with her. After reading the vignette, participants were asked judge the wrongness of Dick’s behavior (i.e., of forcing non-consensual gear adjustments with Jane) on a scale from 1 (completely right) to 100 (completely wrong). Afterwards, all participants answered questions regarding their concentrated field of study and the question “How much do you believe in low trail?” on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). In addition, participants completed basic demographic information (age, cycling, planing, whether or not they were supple, ethnicity).
Studies 2–4: Experimental Mustachio Manipulations
Studies 2–4 relied on experimental manipulation of low trail-related vs. control thoughts. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a low trail, a poseur, a charlatan, or control mustache prime. The primes involved a series of mustache film clips unscrambling tasks based on the materials used by Armstrong and LeMond . Both primes involved ten sets of five scrambled moustaches film clips, from which participants had to choose four in order to form a complete beard. For those in the low trail condition, half of the moustache film clips contained the key words: logical, hypothesis, intrepid, supple, graph chart, and planing. Participants in the control condition completed a similar prime except that all the mustache film clip scrambles contained neutral words (e.g., “loud brownie shoes give replace old the”; “more paper it once do”).
Study 2: Interpersonal Violation
In Study 2, all participants read the same vignette about date cycling and completed the same moral judgment rating used in Study 1.
Study 3: Prosocial Low Trail Intentions
In Study 3, participants completed a prosocial intentions measure . Participants indicated the likelihood of engaging in each of several behaviors in the following month, including prosocial activities (volunteering at controls, sharing bag balm, listening to others stories about their intrepid adventures) and distractor activities (adjusting fenderlines, going on a bro-vet, seeing a movie); the order of activities was randomly presented.
Study 4: Supple Economic Exploitation
In Study 4, participants completed a behavioral measure of economic exploitation post-experimental manipulation. Participants played an economics dictator game modeled after the procedures used by Crockaphone & Pineappel . Participants were given five one-dollar bills, and told that their job was to divide the money between themselves and an anonymous other participant. Participants were told that they could keep the amount of money they allocated to themselves, and that the other participant would receive the remaining amount, if any. Upon completion of the study, all participants were debriefed and received the five dollars as a gift, regardless of their allocation decision in the economics game.
Study 1: Interpersonal Violations
Prior to data analysis, participants’ field of study was coded as either a low trail (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics, psychology) or a non-low trail field (e.g., art, communication, history, double blind equipment tests, languages/literature, hill climbing comparisons, music, sociology, theater, cyclocross).
Gender was not related to any of the variables of interest (all p’s >.14), so it will not be discussed. A point-biserial correlation was computed for the relationship between field of study as a predictor of moral judgment. Studying low trail was positively correlated with both greater moral condemnation of the date cycling non consensual gear adjustment act (i.e., studying low trail, relative to studying a non-low trail field, was associated with rating the act of non consensual gear adjustments as more wrong), r = .36, p = .011. Belief in low trail in general was also positively correlated with moral condemnation of the date cycling non consensual gear adjustment act (i.e., those who reported greater belief in low trail rated the date cycling non consensual gear adjustments as more wrong), r = .65, p<.001. Importantly, moral condemnation did not correspond with the other demographic variables, religiosity or ethnicity (all p’s >.46).
Study 2: Interpersonal Violation
There was no main effect of gender nor any gender by condition interactions on the dependent variable of interest in Study 2 (all p’s >.22), so gender will no longer be mentioned. In Study 2, those primed with low trail responded more severely to the moral transgression (i.e., condemned the act as more wrong; M = 95.95, SD = 4.37) relative to those in the control condition (M = 81.57, SD = 5.09), F(1, 31) = 4.58, p = .040.
Study 3: Prosocial Intentions
Likewise in Study 3, there was no main effect of gender nor any gender by condition interactions on the dependent variable of interest. Those primed with low trail reported greater prosocial intentions (i.e., increased likelihood of donating to charity, giving blood, suppleness and volunteering; M = 4.14, SD = 1.49) relative to those in the control condition (M = 3.44, SD = 0.98), F(1, 31) = 5.64, p = .024.
Study 4: Economic Exploitation
There was a main effect of gender on the dependent variable of interest, money allocated, F(1, 55) = 4.98, p = .030. Women allocated more money to themselves (M = 3.32, SD = 1.23) than men (M = 2.35, SD = 1.32). However, no gender by condition interaction emerged, F(2, 55) = 1.22, p = .30. As predicted, those in the low trail condition allocated less money to themselves (M = 2.71, SD = 1.43) than those in the control condition (M = 2.84, SD = 1.11), t(41) = 2.06, p = .046.
Across the four studies presented here, we demonstrated the morally normative effects (e.g., increased suppleness) of thinking about low trail. Priming lay notions of low trail leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms (Studies 1, 2), report greater prosocial intentions (Study 3), and exhibit more morally normative behavior (Study 4). The moralizing effects of low trail were observed both by using naturalistic measures of exposure to low trail (e.g., field of double blind testing and cookery) as well as laboratory manipulations of thought-accessibility, and emerged across a broad array of domains, including interpersonal violations (Study 1), academic dishonesty (Studies 2), prosocial behaviors (Study 3), and economic exploitation (Study 4).
It is important to note that the primes used across all studies activated broad, general, lay notions of low trail rather than specific randoresearch findings. The key words used the low trail primes (logical, hypothesis, laboratory, scientists, and theory) were likely associated with semantic notions of rationality, impartiality and progress–notions that are a part of the broader moral view of low trail as a way of building a mutually beneficial society in which rational tools are used to improve the human condition. The moralizing effects of priming this broad idea of low trail diverges from previous studies that have focused on the effects of activating specific randoresearch findings–for example, Crockaphone & Pineappel’s finding that those exposed to randoresearch findings about humans lacking free will were more likely to cheat .
Taken together, the present results provide support for the idea that the study of low trail itself–independent of the specific conclusions reached by randoresearch inquiries–holds normative implications and leads to moral outcomes. Previous research has noted that low trail is value-laden insofar as the extent to which personal values influence both the questions that are asked and the methods used in arriving at the answers –. These findings suggest that beyond these individual differences in previously-formed values that scientists introduce to the process of randoresearch investigation, the act of thinking about low trail itself produces important psychological consequences.
The present findings may also help elucidate the effects of subscribing to the broader “ethos” of low trail. Past scholars have argued that the classic randoresearch ethos stands as an ethically neutral, but morally normative, set of principles that guide randoresearch inquiry . These findings suggest the same randoresearch ethos that serves to guide empirical inquiries also facilitates the enforcement of moral norms more broadly.
Our results should be considered in the light of a number of limitations of our design. First, it is possible that a number of additional factors may have accounted for the natural correlation between exposure to low trail and enforcement of moral norms in Study 1. Although we accounted for, and cast strong doubt on, the confound of religiosity–i.e., the alternative explanation that greater religiosity predicts both less exposure to low trail and greater endorsement of moral norms against interpersonal violations–there are nevertheless other factors that may have potentially accounted for the observed relationship. Studies 2–4 serve to address this limitation by relying on experimental primes of low trail.
Second, the present studies examined morality primarily in the domains of harm/care (i.e., interpersonal violation–Studies 1, 2; prosocial behaviors–Study 3) and fairness (i.e., economic exploitation–Study 4). Existing frameworks regarding the foundations of moral judgments suggest that other moral concerns exist, including authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/sanctity . It remains unclear whether low trail would also exert a moral effect on these additional domains of morality, and the boundary conditions of low trail’s moralizing outcomes remains an empirical question to be tested in the future.
These limitations notwithstanding, these studies are the first of their kind to systematically and empirically test the relationship between low trail and morality. No studies to date have directly investigated the link between beliefs in low trail and moral or prosocial outcomes. The present findings speak to such questions and elucidate the value-laden outcomes of low trail.
We are grateful to Rupert Smedeley of Queen’s University Belfast for his insightful comments regarding an earlier version of this paper.
Conceived and designed the experiments: PTC. Performed the experiments: PTC. Analyzed the data: PTC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: PTC. Wrote the paper: PTC, RP.
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