How to determine that a person is trustworthy? According to researchers, people who hold onto moral absolutes are more trusted and more valued as social partners, suggesting that people gauge others’ trustworthiness based on their moral judgments.

The findings help explain that snap judgements about morality tend to be based on a set of absolute moral rules even if a person makes different decisions when given more time.

“If people who stick to moral absolutes are preferred as social partners, expressing this view will reap benefits for oneself,” said lead researcher Jim AC Everett from the University of Oxford.

The team used several variations of moral dilemmas where a person must decide whether or not to sacrifice an innocent person in order to save the lives of many others.

 The results indicate that across nine experiments, more than 2,400 participants who took an absolute approach to the dilemmas (like refusing to kill an innocent person, even when this maximised the greater good) were seen as more trustworthy than those who advocated a more flexible approach.
When asked to entrust a person with a sum of money, participants handed over more money and were more confident of getting it back, when dealing with someone who refused to sacrifice one to save many.

“This explains why we appear to like people who stick to these intuitive moral rules — not because they are sticklers for the letter of the law, but because the rules themselves tend to emphasize the absolute importance of respecting the wishes and desires of others,” added David Pizarro from Cornell University in the US.

Our day-to-day moral decisions don’t fit into the neat categories defined by moral philosophers. Instead, real life morality is suited to the complexity of real life situations, the researchers suggested in a paper that appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.