The road to heaven is paved with effort: Perceived effort amplifies moral judgment

Yochanan E. Bigman*, Maya Tamir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


If good intentions pave the road to hell, what paves the road to heaven? We propose that moral judgments are based, in part, on the degree of effort exerted in performing the immoral or moral act. Because effort can serve as an index of goal importance, greater effort in performing immoral acts would lead to more negative judgments, whereas greater effort in performing moral acts would lead to more positive judgments. In support of these ideas, we found that perceived effort intensified judgments of both immoral (Studies 1-2) and moral (Studies 2-7) agents. The effect of effort on judgment was independent of the outcome (Study 3) and of perceptions of the outcome extremity (Study 6). Furthermore, the effect of effort on judgment was mediated by perceived goal importance (Studies 4-6), even when controlling for perceived intentions (Studies 5-6). Finally, we demonstrate that perceived effort can influence actual behavior, such as the assignment of monetary rewards (Study 7). We discuss the possible implications of effort as a causal motivational factor in moral judgment and social retribution.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1654-1669
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Psychological Association.


  • Effort
  • Goals
  • Moral judgments
  • Morality
  • Motivation


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