• Professor Rottman's research showed a cognitive distinction between purity-based and harm-based morals that challenges current wisdom regarding the role of outcomes in forming moral judgments.
Assistant Professor of Psychology & Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind



Office: LSP 132D


Joshua Rottman is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Scientific & Philosophical Studies of Mind at Franklin & Marshall College, where he directs the Developing Moral Values Lab.  He received a B.A.with honors  in Cognitive Science from Vassar College in 2008 and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Boston University in 2015.  Dr. Rottman's research lies at the intersection of cognitive development and moral psychology.  His work primarily focuses on children's acquisition of moral norms, the role of disgust in moral judgment, and cognitive precursors of environmentalist ethics.  He has published in a range of peer-reviewed journals, including Psychological Science, Cognition, and Emotion.  His work has also been featured in The Atlantic and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.  At Franklin & Marshall, Dr. Rottman teaches courses such as Origins of Moral Thought; Collaborative Research in Moral Psychology; Minds, Machines, & Morals; and Nature/Nurture. 

Education / C. V.

Ph.D., Boston University, 2015 (Psychology)

B.A., Vassar College, 2008 (Cognitive Science)


Josh Rottman is the director of the Developing Moral Values Lab at Franklin & Marshall College.  In collaboration with F&M students, Prof. Rottman conducts research to determine the extent to which moral judgments are fixed or flexible in childhood and adulthood.  Current research questions include the following:

  • How do children learn that certain kinds of actions are morally wrong?
  • Does disgust lead children to adopt harsher moral judgments?
  • How does religion influence moral beliefs?
  • What is the scope of the moral realm, and how can moral concerns be expanded?
  • How can knowledge about moral psychology be leveraged to promote environmentalism? 

For more information, visit www.dax.fandm.edu or www.joshuarottman.com.

Student Collaborators

Liz Abraham '20, Sam Bellerson '21, Josie Benitez '18, Sydney Bierhoff '18, Leslie Botey '18, Rebecca Branovan '17, Ashley Christopherson '16, Tenny-Ann Dandy '23, Chandrakant Dhanraj '20, ​Ipeknaz Erel '18, Rachel Gerb '19, Lulu Gomez '20, Heather Greenebaum '18, Anastasiia Grigoreva '20, Nicole Kolmstetter '21, Caroline Lawrence '18,  Mira Lerner '20, Sophi Mitchell '19, Alex Moog '16, Kelsey Nason '21, Julianna Lynch '19, Zhuoying Lyu '19,  Kelly Minard '21, Prsni Patel '20, Taisha Pelletier '18, Caroline Stolfi '19, Stylianos Syropolous '18, Zachary Walden '16, Maya Workowski '21. Xinjie Zhao '19, Val Zizik '19

If you are interested in conducting research in the Developing Moral Values Lab, please contact Prof. Rottman to inquire about opportunities .



Lynch, J. M.*, Lane, J. D., Berryessa, C. M., & Rottman, J. (in press). How information about perpetrators’ nature and nurture influences assessments of their character, mental states, and deserved punishment. PLOS One.

Rottman, J., & Young, L. (in press). Specks of dirt and tons of pain: Dosage distinguishes impurity from harm. Psychological Science. {PDF}

Lane, J. D., Conder, E. B., & Rottman, J. (in press). The influence of direct and overheard messages on children’s attitudes toward novel social groups. Child Development. {PDF}

Piazza, J., Sousa, P., Rottman, J., & Syropoulos, S.* (in press). Which appraisals are foundational to moral judgment? Harm, injustice, and beyond. Social Psychological and Personality Science. {PDF}

Rottman, J., Young, L., & Kelemen, D. (2017). The impact of testimony on children’s moralization of novel actions. Emotion, 17(5), 811–827. {PDF}

Rottman, J., Zhu, L., Wang, W., Schillaci, R. S., Clark, K. J., & Kelemen, D. (2017). Cultural influences on the teleological stance. Evidence from China. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 7(1), 17–26 . {PDF}

Rottman, J., Kelemen, D., & Young, L. (2015). Hindering harm and preserving purity: How can moral psychology save the planet? Philosophy Compass, 10(2), 134–144{PDF

Rottman, J. (2014). Evolution, development, and the emergence of disgust. Evolutionary Psychology, 12(2), 417–433. {PDF} 

Rottman, J., Kelemen, D., & Young, L. (2014). Tainting the soul: Purity concerns predict moral judgments of suicide. Cognition, 130(2), 217–226. {PDF

Rosset, E., & Rottman, J. (2014). The big "whoops" in the study of intentional behavior: An appeal for a new framework in understanding human actions. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 14(1–2), 27–39. {PDF

Rottman, J. (2014). Breaking down biocentrism: Two distinct forms of moral concern for nature. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 905{PDF} 

Kelemen, D., Rottman, J., & Seston, R. (2013). Professional physical scientists display tenacious teleological tendencies: Purpose-based reasoning as a cognitive default. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142(4), 1074–1083{PDF

Rottman, J., & Kelemen, D. (2012). Aliens behaving badly: Children's acquisition of novel purity-based morals. Cognition, 124(3), 356–360. {PDF


Rottman, J. (in press). The space between rationalism and sentimentalism: A perspective from moral development. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 

Rottman, J., DeJesus, J. M., & Greenebaum, H.* (2019). Developing disgust: Theory, measurement, and application. In V. LoBue, K. Pérez-Edgar, & K. Buss (Eds.), Handbook of emotional development. New York: Springer. {PDF}

Rottman, J., Young, L., Blake, P. R., & Kelemen, D. (2018). Changing children's minds about distributive justice. In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, & R. P. Cooper (Eds.), Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Madison, WI: Cognitive Science Society. 

Rottman, J., DeJesus, J. M., & Gerdin, E. (2018). The social origins of disgust. In N. Strohminger & V. Kumar (Eds.), The moral psychology of disgust (pp. 27–52). London: Rowman & Littlefield. {PDF}

Rottman, J., & Young, L. (2015). Mechanisms of moral development. In J. Decety & T. Wheatley (Eds.), The moral brain: A multidisciplinary perspective (pp. 123–142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. {PDF} 

Rottman, J., & Kelemen, D. (2014). The morality of martyrdom and the stigma of suicide. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(4), 375–376. {PDF

Rottman, J., Kelemen, D., & Young, L. (2014). Purity matters more than harm in moral judgments of suicide: Response to Gray (2014). Cognition, 133(1), 332–334. {PDF}

Rottman, J., & Young, L. (2014). Comment: Scholarly disgust and related mysteries. Emotion Review, 6(3), 222–223.  {PDF}

Rottman, J. (2013). Book review of "Born believers: The science of children's religious belief". Religion, Brain & Behavior, 3(3), 254–256{PDF} 

Rottman, J., & Kelemen, D. (2012). Is there such a thing as a Christian child? Evidence of religious beliefs in early childhood. In P. McNamara & W. J. Wildman (Eds.), Science and the world’s religions, Volume 2: Persons and groups (pp. 205–238). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press. {PDF} 

Course Information

PSY 101 (Psychological Science): A topics-based, non-lab, non-survey, question-and procedure-oriented discussion of important perspectives in contemporary psychological science. The course will examine origins, support for, and applications of a series of theoretical positions. In the process, students will learn to appreciate the empirical procedures through which psychologists formulate and evaluate hypotheses about behavior, using texts as well as primary literature that illustrates how these procedures occur in actual practice.    

PSY 311 (Origins of Moral Thought): How have humans acquired the capacity to make judgments about right and wrong?  We will address this question on three different timescales – millennia (human evolution), centuries (modern history), and years (individual development) – to explore how morality has resulted from natural selection, how cultural and ecological shifts bring about new moral convictions, and how moral beliefs emerge during childhood.  Readings will combine insights from psychology, anthropology, philosophy, economics, history, and biology in order to provide manifold perspectives on the genesis of morality.

PSY 452 (History and Philosophy of Psychology): The historical origins of contemporary psychology in European philosophy, physiology, and biology and subsequent development of the schools of structuralism, functionalism, Gestalt, behaviorism, and psychoanalysis.  Emphasis on identifying the goals, implicit assumptions and potential contributions of scientific psychology.

PSY 471 (Nature/Nurture): Since its advent, psychology has been embroiled in arguments about the degree to which psychological traits are learned or innate.  Are genes or socialization responsible for heightened rates of aggression in men?  How do biological and environmental factors interact to produce language?  Is culture an evolved adaptation?  Does it make any sense at all to partition the causes of psychology into “nature” and “nurture”?  Throughout this course, we will draw upon cutting-edge research to evaluate a range of theoretical perspectives on the interplay of nature and nurture.  We will also discuss the sociopolitical ramifications of this fundamental debate.

PSY 489 (Collaborative Research in Moral Psychology): Students will conduct experimental research on relevant theoretical issues within the field of moral psychology.  Topics may include investigations of the scope of moral concern, perceptions of moral virtue, children’s acquisition of moral beliefs, contributions of emotions to moral judgment, and other related areas that reflect student interest.  Techniques for designing, conducting, analyzing, and presenting empirical research will be discussed, practiced, and implemented. 

SPM 100 (Minds, Machines, and Morals): This course provides an introduction to the central problems, concepts, and methods of cognitive science and moral psychology.  We will analyze questions addressing the nature of intelligence, the relationship between minds and bodies, and the basis of moral beliefs and behaviors.  These explorations will bridge the sciences and humanities by taking a fundamentally interdisciplinary perspective. 

SPM 499 (Senior Research Seminar): Intensive research and writing on a topic of the student's choice carried on in a seminar setting. Includes several oral presentations by each student.