Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan David Haidt (/ht/; born October 19, 1963) is an American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business,[1] and author. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality and the moral emotions.

Jonathan Haidt
Haidt in 2012
Jonathan David Haidt

(1963-10-19) October 19, 1963
New York City, New York, U.S.
ResidenceNew York City
EducationYale University (B.A.),
University of Pennsylvania (PhD)
Scientific career
FieldsSocial psychology, moral psychology, positive psychology, cultural psychology
InstitutionsUniversity of Virginia (1995–2011)
Stern School of Business, New York University (current)
ThesisMoral Judgment, Affect, and Culture, or, Is it Wrong to Eat Your Dog? (1992)
Doctoral advisorJonathan Baron, Alan Fiske

His main scientific contributions come from the psychological field of moral foundations theory.[2] The theory attempts to explain the evolutionary origins of human moral reasoning on the basis of innate, gut feelings rather than logical reason.[3] The theory was later extended to explain the different moral reasoning and how they relate to political ideology, with different political orientations prioritizing different sets of morals.[4] The research served as a foundation for future books on various topics.

Haidt has written three books for general audiences. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006) explores the relationship between ancient philosophies and modern science.[5] The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) examines how morality is shaped by emotion and intuition more than by reasoning, and why differing political groups have different notions of right and wrong.[6] The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (2018), co-written with Greg Lukianoff, explores the rising political polarization and changing culture on college campuses, and its effects on mental health.

Haidt has attracted both support and criticism for his critique of the current state of universities and his interpretation of progressive values.[7] He has been named one of the "top global thinkers" by Foreign Policy magazine, and one of the "top world thinkers" by Prospect magazine.[8][9] He is among the most cited researchers in political and moral psychology, and is considered among the top 25 most influential living psychologists.[10][11]


Haidt was born in New York City and raised in Scarsdale, New York, in a liberal Jewish family.[12][13]

Education and career

Haidt received a BA in philosophy from Yale University in 1985, and a PhD in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. He then studied cultural psychology at the University of Chicago as a post-doctoral fellow, supervised by Jonathan Baron and Alan Fiske (at the University of Pennsylvania), and cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder (University of Chicago). At Shweder's suggestion, he visited Orissa, India, to continue his research.[14] In 1995, Haidt was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, where he worked until 2011, winning four awards for teaching, including a statewide award conferred by the Governor of Virginia.[15]

In 1999, Haidt became active in the new field of positive psychology, studying positive moral emotions. This work led to the publication of an edited volume, titled Flourishing, in 2003. In 2004, Haidt began to apply moral psychology to the study of politics, doing research on the psychological foundations of ideology. This work led to the publication in 2012 of The Righteous Mind. Haidt spent the 2007–2008 academic year at Princeton University as the Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching.[16]Laurance S. Rockefeller

In 2011, Haidt moved to New York University Stern School of Business as the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership.[17] Haidt's current research applies moral psychology to business ethics. In 2013, he co-founded Ethical Systems, a non-profit collaboration dedicated to making academic research on ethics widely available to businesses.[18] In 2015, Haidt co-founded Heterodox Academy, a non profit organization that works to increase viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding, and productive disagreement.[19] In 2018, Haidt co-edited an illustrated edition of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, titled All Minus One: John Stuart Mill’s Ideas on Free Speech Illustrated (2018, co-edited with Richard Reeves, illustrated by Dave Cicirelli).

Research contributions

Haidt's research on morality has led to publications and theoretical advances in four key areas[20]:

Moral disgust

Together with Paul Rozin and Clark McCauley, Haidt developed the Disgust Scale,[21] which has been widely used to measure individual differences in sensitivity to disgust. Haidt, Rozin, and McCauley have written on the psychology of disgust as an emotion that began as a guardian of the mouth (against pathogens), but then expanded during biological and cultural evolution to become a guardian of the body more generally, and of the social and moral order.[22]

Moral elevation

With Sara Algoe, Haidt argued that exposure to stories about moral beauty (the opposite of moral disgust) cause a common set of responses, including warm, loving feelings, calmness, and a desire to become a better person.[23] Haidt called the emotion "moral elevation",[24] as a tribute to Thomas Jefferson, who had described the emotion in detail in a letter discussing the benefits of reading great literature.[25] Feelings of moral elevation cause lactation in breast-feeding mothers,[26] suggesting the involvement of the hormone oxytocin. There is now a large body of research on elevation and related emotions.

Social intuitionism

Haidt's principal line of research has been on the nature and mechanisms of moral judgment. In the 1990s, he developed the social intuitionist model, which posits that moral judgment is mostly based on automatic processes—moral intuitions—rather than on conscious reasoning.[27] People engage in reasoning largely to find evidence to support their initial intuitions. Haidt's main paper on the social intuitionist model, "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail", has been cited over 7,800 times.[28]

Moral foundations theory

In 2004, Haidt began to extend the social intuitionist model to identify what he considered to be the most important categories of moral intuition.[29] The resulting moral foundations theory, co-developed with Craig Joseph and Jesse Graham, and based in part on the writings of Richard Shweder, was intended to explain cross-cultural differences in morality. The theory posited that there are at least five innate moral foundations, upon which cultures develop their various moralities, just as there are five innate taste receptors on the tongue, which cultures have used to create many different cuisines. The five values are: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. Haidt and his collaborators asserted that the theory also works well to explain political differences. According to Haidt, Liberals tend to endorse primarily the care and equality foundations, whereas conservatives tend to endorse all foundations more equally.[30] Later, in The Righteous Mind, a sixth foundation, Liberty/oppression, was presented.


Haidt has authored three non-academic books for general audiences, related to various subjects in psychology and politics. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006) draws on ancient philosophical ideas in light of contemporary scientific research to extract potential lessons and how they may apply to everyday life.[31] The book poses "ten Great Ideas" on happiness espoused by philosophers and thinkers of the past – Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Jesus and others – and considers what modern scientific research has to say regarding these ideas.[32] The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) draws on Haidt's previous research on moral foundations theory. It argues that moral judgments arise not from logical reason, but from gut feelings, asserting that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have different intuitions about right and wrong because they prioritize different values. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (2018), co-written with Greg Lukianoff, expands on an essay the authors wrote for The Atlantic in 2015.[33] The book explores the rising political polarization and changing culture on college campuses and its effects on mental health. It also explore changes in childhood, including the rise of "fearful parenting", the decline of unsupervised play, and the effects of social media in the last decade. [34]

The Elephant and the Rider

One widely cited metaphor throughout Haidt's books is that of the elephant and the rider. His observations of social intuitionism—the notion that intuitions come first and rationalization second—led to the metaphor described in the book.[35] The rider represents consciously controlled processes and the elephant represents automatic processes. The metaphor corresponds to Systems 1 and 2 described in Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.[36] This metaphor is used extensively in both The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind.

Political views

Haidt describes how he began to study political psychology in order to help the Democratic Party win more elections, and argues that each of the major political groups—conservatives, progressives, and libertarians—have valuable insights and that truth and good policy emerge from the contest of ideas[37]. Since 2012, Haidt has referred to himself as a political centrist.[38] Haidt is involved with several efforts to help bridge the political divide and reduce political polarization in the United States. In 2007, he founded the website, a clearinghouse for research on political civility.[39] He serves on the advisory boards of Represent.Us., a non-partisan anti-corruption organization, the Acumen Fund, which invests in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty; and, a bipartisan group working to reduce political polarization. Three of his four TED talks are on the topic of understanding political divisions.[40]

His 2012 TED talk, "How common threats can make common [political] ground", introduced a set of ideas on how to use moral psychology to foster collaboration among partisan opponents.[41][42] In it, Haidt asserts that according to previous research in Moral Foundations Theory and how it relates to politics, that liberals generally value the first 2 categories (Care/harm and Fairness/cheating) to a high degree and are more likely to put smaller emphasis on or reject the last 3 categories (Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity) while conservatives value all 5 categories (Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity) to nearly equal degrees [43]

This talk became the basis of a bipartisan working group of poverty researchers, which Haidt helped to convene under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.[44] In 2015, the working group published a report titled "Opportunity, responsibility, and security: A consensus plan for reducing poverty and restoring the American dream".[45]

In 2019, Haidt argued that there is a "very good chance American democracy will fail, that in the next 30 years we will have a catastrophic failure of our democracy."[46]


In chapter 9 of The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt extends a comprehensive inquiry on the role of religion in society concluding that the scientific community should recognize the evolutionary origins of religiosity and accept its potential benefits.[47] Some other scientists and philosophers disagree with Haidt's generally positive opinion about religiosity as evidenced in an online debate sponsored by the website Edge.[48]

In 2012, social psychologist John Jost wrote that Haidt "mocks the liberal vision of a tolerant, pluralistic, civil society, but, ironically, this is precisely where he wants to end up."[49] Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a review of The Righteous Mind in which he accused Haidt of supporting "social Darwinism".[50] In his response, Haidt disagreed with Hedges's reading of the book, claiming that Hedges took quotations from conservatives and inappropriately attributed them to Haidt.[51]

David Miciks of Tablet magazine profiled Haidt as "the high priest of heterodoxy" and praised his work to increase intellectual diversity at universities through Heterodox Academy.[52]



  • Keyes, Corey L.M.; Haidt, Jonathan, eds. (2002). Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well Lived. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. ISBN 978-1-55798-930-7.
  • Haidt, Jonathan (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02802-3.
  • Haidt, Jonathan (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Pantheon. ISBN 978-0-307-37790-6.
  • Reeves, Richard V.; Haidt, Jonathan, eds. (2018). All Minus One: John Stuart Mill’s Ideas on Free Speech Illustrated. New York: Heterodox Academy. ISBN 978-0-69206831-1. OCLC 1038535520
  • Haidt, Jonathan; Lukianoff, Greg (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. New York City: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-0-73522489-6. OCLC 1007552624.[53]

Selected articles

  • Haidt, J., Koller, S.; Dias, M. (1993). "Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog?", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 613–28.
  • Haidt, J. (2001). "The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment." Psychological Review. 108, 814–34.
  • Wheatley, T.; Haidt, J. (2005). "Hypnotic disgust makes moral judgments more severe." Psychological Science, 16, 780–84.
  • Haidt, J. (2007). "The new synthesis in moral psychology." Science, 316, 998–1002.
  • Rozin, P.; Haidt, J.; McCauley, C.R. (2008). "Disgust." In M. Lewis, J. Haviland, and L.F. Barrett (Eds.) Handbook of Emotions, 3rd edition. (pp. 757–76). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Graham, J.; Haidt, J.; Nosek, B. (2009). "Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029–46.
  • Haidt, J.; Kesebir, S. (2010). "Morality." In S. Fiske, D. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey (eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley. pp. 797–832.
  • Iyer, R., Koleva, S.P., Graham, J., Ditto, P.H.; Haidt, J. (2012). "Understanding Libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified libertarians." PLoS ONE 7(8): e42366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366
  • Duarte, J.L., Crawford, J.T., Stern, S., Haidt, J., Jussim, L.; Tetlock, P.E. (2015). "Ideological diversity will improve psychological science." 38, e130, Behavioral and Brain Sciences. doi:10.1017/S0140525X14000430
  • Haidt, J.; Trevino, L. (2017). "Make business ethics a cumulative science." Nature Human Behavior, 1. doi:10.1038/s41562-016-0027


  1. Leadership, -Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical. "NYU Stern - Jonathan Haidt - Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership".
  2. McNerney, Samuel. "Jonathan Haidt and the Moral Matrix: Breaking Out of Our Righteous Minds". Scientific American. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  3. "The moral matrix that influences the way people vote". The Guardian. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  4. Winerman, Lea. "Civil discourse in an uncivil world". American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  5. Ott, Jan (February 20, 2007). "Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis; Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science". Journal of Happiness Studies. 8 (2): 297. doi:10.1007/s10902-007-9049-2.
  6. Saletan, William (March 23, 2012). "'The Righteous Mind,' by Jonathan Haidt". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  7. Henriques, Gregg (January 1, 2012). "Jonathan Haidt's Moral-Political Psychology". Psychology Today. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  8. Foreign Policy Staff (November 26, 2012). "The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers". Foreign Policy.
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  12. Jenkins Jr, Holman W. (June 29, 2012). "Jonathan Haidt: He Knows Why We Fight" via
  13. "Transcript for Jonathan Haidt — The Psychology Behind Morality". On Being. June 12, 2014. Archived from the original on June 17, 2015.
  14. Wade, Nicholas (September 18, 2007). "Is 'Do Unto Others' Written Into Our Genes?". New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  15. "Governor Warner Announces TIAA-CREF Virginia Outstanding Faculty Awards Recipients for 2004". State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. January 21, 2004. Archived from the original on May 1, 2007. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  16. "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People, Particularly Intellectuals, Are Divided by Politics - An America's Founding and Future Lecture". Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  17. "NYU Stern - Jonathan Haidt - Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership". Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  18. Brockman, John. "Jonathan Haidt, Biography". Edge. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  19. "Colleges Committed to Ideological Diversity". Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  20. Caldow, Stephanie. "Jonathan Haidt: The Contributions of a Moral Psychologist". Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  21. Haidt, Jonathan; McCauley, Clark; Rozin, Paul (1994). "Individual Differences In Sensitivity To Disgust: A Scale Sampling Seven Domains Of Disgust Elicitors" (PDF). Personality and Individual Differences. 16 (5): 7111–713. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(94)90212-7. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  22. Haidt, Jonathan; Rozin, Paul; McCauley, Clark; Imada, Sumio (1997). "Body, Psyche, and Culture: The Relationship Between Disgust and Morality". Psychology & Developing Societies. 9 (1): 107–131. doi:10.1177/097133369700900105.
  23. Algoe, Sara B. and Haidt, Jonathan (2009). "Witnessing excellence in action: The 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration." Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 105–27.
  24. Haidt, Jonathan. (2003). "Elevation and the positive psychology of morality." In C.L.M. Keyes and J. Haidt (eds.), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-lived (pp. 275–89). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  25. Jefferson, Thomas. (1975). "Letter to Robert Skipwith." In M.D. Peterson (ed.), The Portable Thomas Jefferson (pp. 349–51). New York: Penguin.
  26. Silvers, J., and Haidt, J. (2008). "Moral elevation causes lactation." Emotion, 8, 291–95.
  27. Liao, Matthew (2011). Liao S.M. (2011) Bias and Reasoning: Haidt's Theory of Moral Judgment. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp. 108–127. doi:10.1057/9780230305885_7. ISBN 978-0-230-30588-5.
  28. Haidt, Jonathan (2001). "The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment". Psychological Review. 4 (108): 814–834. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.108.4.814. PMID 11699120. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  29. Haidt, Jonathan; Joseph, Craig (2004). "Intuitive ethics: How innately prepared intuitions generate culturally variable virtues". Daedalus. 133 (4): 55–66. doi:10.1162/0011526042365555. JSTOR 20027945.
  30. Graham, Jesse; Haidt, Jonathan; Nosek, Brian A. (2009). "Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. American Psychological Association. 96 (5): 1029–46. doi:10.1037/a0015141. ISSN 1939-1315. PMID 19379034.
  31. Flint, James. "Don't worry, be happy". The Guardian. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  32. Carter, Christine. "Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis". Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  33. Roth, Micheal. "Have parents made their kids too fragile for the rough-and-tumble of life?". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  34. Singal, Jesse. "How 'Coddled' Are American College Students, Anyway?". New York Magazine. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  35. McNerney, Samuel. "Jonathan Haidt and the Moral Matrix: Breaking Out of Our Righteous Minds". Scientific American (blogs). Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  36. Haidt, Jonathan (October 7, 2012). "Reasons Matter (When Intuitions Don't Object)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  37. Haidt, Jonathan (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0307455772.
  38. Weiss, Bari (April 1, 2017). "Jonathan Haidt on The Cultural Roots of Campus Rage". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  39. Saletan, William (March 23, 2012). "'The Righteous Mind,' by Jonathan Haidt". The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  40. "Jonathan Haidt". TED. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  41. Haidt, Jon (December 1, 2012). "How Common Threats Can Make Common (Political) Ground". TED. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  42. Wood, Roy (October 25, 2012). "The Psychology of Liberals and Conservatives". Wired. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  43. Jesse, Graham; Haidt, Jonathan (2013). "Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism". Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Volume. 47: 55–130. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-407236-7.00002-4.
  44. Haidt, Jon (December 12, 2015). "The Backstory of the AEI Brookings Poverty Report". Heterodox Academy. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  45. Various Authors (December 3, 2015). "Opportunity, responsibility, and security: A consensus plan for reducing poverty and restoring the American dream". AEI. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  47. Haidt, Jonathan (2005). The happiness hypothesis : finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465028016. OCLC 61211244.
  48. Haidt, Jonathan (September 21, 2007). "Moral Psychology and the Misudnerstanding of Religion". Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  49. Jost, John T. "Left and Right, Right and Wrong: The Politics of Morality" (PDF). Monkey Cage. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  50. Hedges, Chris (June 28, 2012). "The Righteous Road to Ruin". Truthdig. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  51. Haidt, Jonathan (July 1, 2012). "Chris Hedges Joins the Tea Party". The Righteous Mind. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  52. Miciks, David (July 21, 2019). "The High Priest of Heterodoxy". The Tablet. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  53. Aaronovitch, David (August 18, 2018). "Review: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt – how we raised Generation Snowflake". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
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