Reanalysing the factor structure of the moral foundations questionnaire

Br J Soc Psychol. 2021 Oct;60(4):1303-1329. doi: 10.1111/bjso.12452. Epub 2021 Feb 17.


The moral foundations theory (MFT) is an influential multifactorial model that posits how decision-making in the moral context originates from a set of six intuitive moral foundations: care, fairness, authority, loyalty, purity, and liberty. The established measure of these foundations-the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ)-has been used extensively in a range of empirical projects. However, recent analyses of its factor structure and the internal consistency of each of the foundation clusters have called its validity into question. In this paper, data from a large sample of British voters were used to re-examine the factor structure of the MFQ. As opposed to a 6-factor structure, only three meaningful clusters emerged in an exploratory principal factors analysis (Study 1; N = 428): traditionalism, compassion, and liberty. This structure was broadly confirmed in an independent sample (Study 2; N = 322). Concurrent validity was established via correlations with measures of 'social change' and 'systemic inequality' insecurities (Study 1) and voting behaviour and preferences (Study 2). Significant differences on each of the three factors of the revised MFQ (MFQ-r) were observed between the voters of different political parties (Study 1) and sides of the Brexit issue (Study 2). Implications for moral foundations theory and its measurement are discussed.

Keywords: ideology; measurement; moral foundations questionnaire; moral foundations theory; politics.

MeSH terms

  • European Union
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Politics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom