Gears_labWith social structures constantly changing and people holding diverse views about exactly what’s right and wrong, what helps people collectively and individually thrive?

The Applied Moral Psychology Lab examines conflict and peace through the lens of psychological science — examining imperceptible and overlooked features of language and cognition, to make sense of some of the perplexing patterns in human behavior.


Broadly, the aim of our research program is to (a) build a mechanistic description of moral judgment (e.g., condemnation, blame and praise, morally-relevant attributions of causation and responsibility) in cognitive-linguistic-neuroscientific terms; and (b) support people in caring for themselves and others, while helping to reduce harm — which, we acknowledge, can be driven by moral values. For (a) and (b) to be accurate and useful, these endeavors require tests of our models of moral cognition with different methodologies, and extensions to people with different kinds of exposure to morally relevant events (e.g., victims, harm-doers, helpers).  

Ongoing projects involve basic and applied, policy-relevant topics such as: first responders’ stress injury; perpetrators and victims of crimes’ causal attributions; voters’ partisan attributions during election season; the liberal and conservative newsmedia’s focus on accusers vs. accused people in sexual misconduct cases; trauma survivors’ changes in the sense of self and suicidality; recovery after non-consensual sexual experiences and its patterning with causal language in expressive writing; impartial fairness and identity. 

People navigate a range of public and personal morally-relevant roles, across and within individuals. Ultimately, being able to synthesize, across these roles, which devices in language and thought lead to conflict or peace will (a) enrich the science of morality and increase its accuracy, and (b) point to features of moral psychology that contribute to human flourishing.   

Some papers and commentaries below; see CV for more.

  • Marginalia Science. [*Dietz, P., *Gantman, A., *Nam, H. H., *Niemi, L.] (2019). Marginalised ideas are key to scientific progress. Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 1024. Online
  • Niemi, L., & Young, L. (forthcoming). The moral psychology of victimization. In (Eds.) M. Vargas & J. Doris. Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology. Oxford University Press: New York, NY. 
  • Niemi, L., Roussos, G., Young, L. (2019). Political partisanship alters the causality implicit in verb meaning. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. PDF.  
  • Henne, P., Niemi, L., Pinillos, A, De Brigard, F., Knobe, J. (2019). A counterfactual explanation of the action effect. Cognition. Preprint
  • Niemi, L., Leone, C., Boychuk, N., Hadjis, Z., Roussos, G., Warchol, M., You, L. (2019).  Extraordinary duties, extraordinary stressors: Assessing the need and potential for innovative approaches to first responders’ stress injuries. White paper: PDF.
  • Niemi, L., Woodring, M., Young, L., Cordes, S. (2019). Partisan mathematical processing of political polling statistics: It’s the expectations that count. Cognition,186, 95-107. PDF.
  •  Niemi, L. & Graham, J. (2018). Acknowledging and managing deep constraints on moral agency and the self. [Commentary on Doris]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, DOI 10.1017/S0140525X17001182. Online.
  • Niemi, L. (2018). The morally relevant consequences of disgust in the context of sexual assault. In N. Strohminger & V. Kumar (Eds.) The Moral Psychology of Disgust. 
  •  Niemi, L., Wasserman, E., Young, L. (2017). The behavioral and neural signatures of distinct conceptions of fairness. Social Neuroscience, DOI:10.1080/17470919.2017.1333452. PDF.
  • *Hamamouche, K, *Niemi, L., & Cordes, S. (2017). Quantifying a threat: Evidence of a numeric processing bias. *contributed equally. Acta Psychologica, 177, 1-9.
  •  Niemi, L. & Young, L. (2017). Who sees what as fair? Mapping individual differences in valuation of reciprocity, charity, and impartiality. Social Justice Research, DOI 10.1007/s11211-017-0291-4. PDF.
  •  Niemi, L. (2017). Victim-blaming. In K. Nadal (Ed.) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender, pp. 1756-1757. London: UK. 
  •  Niemi, L. & Young, L. (2016). When and why we see victims as responsible: The impact of ideology on attitudes toward victims. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(9), 1227-1242. PDF
  • Niemi, L. & Young, L. (2016). Justice and the moral lexicon. Psychological Inquiry, 27(1), 50-54. PDF.
  • Niemi, L., Hartshorne, J., Gerstenberg, T. & Young, L. (2016). Implicit measurement of motivated causal attribution. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
  • Niemi, L. & Young, L. (2014). Blaming the victim in the case of rape. Psychological Inquiry, 25(2), 230-233. PDF
  • Niemi, L. & Young, L. (2013). Caring across boundaries versus keeping boundaries intact: Links between moral values and interpersonal orientations. PLOS ONE, 8(12). PDF
Under review
  •  Niemi, L., Hartshorne, J., Gerstenberg, T., Stanley, M., Young, L. (under review). Moral values reveal the causality implicit in verb meaning.
  • Niemi, L., Leone, C. & Young, L. (under review). Delineating impurity and harm through language: Conceptual semantics analysis and vignette studies.
  • Stanley, M., Henne, P., Niemi, L., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., De Brigard, F. (under review). Making moral principles suit yourself.
  • Niemi, L., Stanley, M., Kljajic, M., You, L. & Doris, J. M. (submitted). Biasing blame: The role of political orientation and the news media.  
  • *Nizzi, M-Ch., *Niemi, L., & Nock, M. (in preparation). Impaired sense of self predicts suicidal thoughts and behaviors in survivors of sexual assault.
  • Niemi, L. (in preparation). Effects of being an agent and a patient of sexual assault on judging causation for generic sexual assault among third parties.

*Contributed equally

Name changed from Laura Niemi Young (Young, L. N.) to Laura Niemi (Niemi, L.) in 2013.

My dissertation research was advised by Dr. Liane Young and conducted at the Morality Lab at Boston College and the Harvard Center for Brain Science. In this work “Interrogating Moral Values: The meta-ethical implications of associations among moral values, interpersonal orientations, and neural substrates”, I investigated the cognitive & neural mechanisms associated with people’s diverse views on morality. Access some previews of my papers.