Please Note: The list below is not exhaustive, and contains mostly recent journal articles.
Confessions are people’s way of coming clean, sharing unethical acts with others. Although confessions are traditionally viewed as categorical—one either comes clean or not—people often confess to only part of their transgression. Such partial confessions may seem attractive, because they offer an opportunity to relieve one’s guilt without having to own up to the full consequences of the transgression. In this article, we explored the occurrence, antecedents, consequences, and everyday prevalence of partial confessions. Using a novel experimental design, we found a high frequency of partial confessions, especially among people cheating to the full extent possible. People found partial confessions attractive because they (correctly) expected partial confessions to be more believable than not confessing. People failed, however, to anticipate the emotional costs associated with partially confessing. In fact, partial confessions made people feel worse than not confessing or fully confessing, a finding corroborated in a laboratory setting as well as in a study assessing people’s everyday confessions. It seems that although partial confessions seem attractive, they come at an emotional cost.
Both normative theories of ethics in philosophy and contemporary models of moral judgment in psychology have focused almost exclusively on the permissibility of acts, in particular whether acts should be judged on the basis of their material outcomes (consequentialist ethics) or on the basis of rules, duties, and obligations (deontological ethics). However, a longstanding third perspective on morality, virtue ethics, may offer a richer descriptive account of a wide range of lay moral judgments. Building on this ethical tradition, we offer a person-centered account of moral judgment, which focuses on individuals as the unit of analysis for moral evaluations rather than on acts. Because social perceivers are fundamentally motivated to acquire information about the moral character of others, features of an act that seem most informative of character often hold more weight than either the consequences of the act or whether a moral rule has been broken. This approach, we argue, can account for numerous empirical findings that are either not predicted by current theories of moral psychology or are simply categorized as biases or irrational quirks in the way individuals make moral judgments.
Dual-system approaches to psychology explain the fundamental properties of human judgment, decision making, and behavior across diverse domains. Yet, the appropriate characterization of each system is a source of debate. For instance, a large body of research on moral psychology makes use of the contrast between “emotional” and “rational/cognitive” processes, yet even the chief proponents of this division recognize its shortcomings. Largely independently, research in the computational neurosciences has identified a broad division between two algorithms for learning and choice derived from formal models of reinforcement learning. One assigns value to actions intrinsically based on past experience, while another derives representations of value from an internally represented causal model of the world. This division between action- and outcome-based value representation provides an ideal framework for a dual-system theory in the moral domain.
Compassion is an affective response to another’s suffering and a catalyst of prosocial behavior. In the present studies, we explore the peripheral physiological changes associated with the experience of compassion. Guided by long-standing theoretical claims, we propose that compassion is associated with activation in the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system through the vagus nerve. Across 4 studies, participants witnessed others suffer while we recorded physiological measures, including heart rate, respiration, skin conductance, and a measure of vagal activity called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Participants exhibited greater RSA during the compassion induction compared with a neutral control (Study 1), another positive emotion (Study 2), and a prosocial emotion lacking appraisals of another person’s suffering (Study 3). Greater RSA during the experience of compassion compared with the neutral or control emotion was often accompanied by lower heart rate and respiration but no difference in skin conductance. In Study 4, increases in RSA during compassion positively predicted an established composite of compassion-related words, continuous self-reports of compassion, and nonverbal displays of compassion. Compassion, a core affective component of empathy and prosociality, is associated with heightened parasympathetic activity.
The present study examined age differences in the disposition to forgive others and the role of interpersonal transgression frequency and intensity. Data from a representative cross-sectional sample of Swiss adults (N = 451, age: 20–83 years) were used. Participants completed a self-report measure of forgivingness and indicated whether and how intense they have experienced different types of interpersonal transgressions during the past 12 months. Results indicate that older adults were, on average, more willing to forgive others than younger adults. Frequency and intensity of transgressions were negatively related with age. Moreover, the results show that transgression frequency and intensity explained, in part, age differences in forgivingness. Future directions concerning the meaning of age differences in forgivingness are discussed.
We surveyed well-acquainted dyads about two key moral character traits (Honesty–Humility, Guilt Proneness), as well as several other individual differences. We examined self-other agreement, similarity, assumed similarity, and similarity-free agreement (i.e., self-other agreement controlling for similarity and assumed similarity). Participants projected their own level of moral character onto their peers (i.e., moderately high assumed similarity), but were nonetheless able to judge moral character with reasonable accuracy (moderately high self-other agreement and similarity-free agreement), suggesting that moral character traits can be detected by well-acquainted others. Regardless of reporting method, Honesty–Humility and Guilt Proneness were correlated with delinquency, unethical decision making, and counterproductive work behavior, suggesting that unethical behavior is committed disproportionately by people with low levels of these character traits.
This study tested for inter-judge agreement on moral character. A sample of students and community members rated their own moral character using a measure that tapped six moral character traits. Friends, family members, and/or acquaintances rated these targets on the same traits. Self/other and inter-informant agreement was found at the trait level for both a general character factor and for residual variance explained by individual moral character traits, as well as at the individual level (judges agreed on targets’ “moral character profiles”). Observed inter-judge agreement constitutes evidence for the existence of moral character, and raises questions about the nature of moral character traits.
Ethical dilemmas pose a self-control conflict between pursuing immediate benefits through behaving dishonestly and pursuing long-term benefits through acts of honesty. Therefore, factors that facilitate self-control for other types of goals (e.g., health and financial) should also promote ethical behavior. Across four studies, we find support for this possibility. Specifically, we find that only under conditions that facilitate conflict identification—including the consideration of several decisions simultaneously (i.e., a broad decision frame) and perceived high connectedness to the future self—does anticipating a temptation to behave dishonestly in advance promote honesty. We demonstrate these interaction patterns between conflict identification and temptation anticipation in negotiation situations (Study 1), lab tasks (Study 2), and ethical dilemmas in the workplace (Studies 3-4). We conclude that identifying a self-control conflict and anticipating a temptation are two necessary preconditions for ethical decision making.
Appealing to common humanity is often suggested as a method of uniting victims and perpetrators of historical atrocities. In the present experiment (N = 109), we reveal that this strategy may actually work against victim groups’ best interests. Appealing to common humanity (versus intergroup identity) increased forgiveness of perpetrators but independently also served to lower intentions to engage in collective action. Both effects were mediated but not moderated by reduced identification with the victim group. We, thus reveal an important feature of appeals to common humanity: That this strategy may reduce social change at the same time as helping to promote more positive intergroup attitudes. These novel findings extend research on the human identity to a new theoretically interesting and socially important domain.
Psychological research postulates a positive relationship between virtue and happiness. This article investigates whether this relationship holds in cultures where virtue is not socially appreciated. We specifically focus on civic virtue, which is conceptualized as citizens’ honesty in interactions with state institutions (e.g., tax compliance). Two indicators served as measures of the degree to which civic virtue is a part of a country’s normative climate: These were each country’s mean level of punishment directed at above-average cooperative players in public good experiments and the extent to which citizens justify fraud and free-riding. The results of two studies with data from 13 and 73 countries demonstrate that a positive relationship between civic virtue and happiness/life satisfaction is not universal: In countries where antisocial punishment is common and the level of justification of dishonest behaviors is high, virtuous individuals are no longer happier and more satisfied with life than selfish individuals.
Attachment security is hypothesized to promote authenticity and sincerity, or honesty, whereas insecurity is hypothesized to increase various forms of inauthenticity and dishonesty. The authors tested these ideas in 8 studies of dispositional and situational attachment insecurities and their influence on inauthenticity and dishonesty. The first 4 studies showed that authenticity is related to scoring low on the 2 dimensions of dispositional attachment insecurity—anxiety and avoidance—and that these 2 dimensions are associated with different aspects of inauthenticity. The first set of studies also showed that conscious and unconscious security priming increased state authenticity (compared with neutral or insecurity priming). The last 4 studies showed that attachment insecurity is related to dishonesty (lying and cheating) and that security priming reduces the tendency to lie or cheat and does so more effectively than positive mood priming. Implications for understanding the role of authenticity and inauthenticity in various relationship contexts are discussed.
Researchers have proposed different accounts of the development of prosocial behavior in children. Some have argued that behaviors like helping and sharing must be learned and reinforced; others propose that children have an initially indiscriminate prosocial drive that declines and becomes more selective with age; and yet others contend that even children’s earliest prosocial behaviors share some strategic motivations with the prosociality of adults (e.g., reputation enhancement, social affiliation). We review empirical and observational research on children’s helping and sharing behaviors in the first 5 years of life, focusing on factors that have been found to influence these behaviors and on what these findings suggest about children’s prosocial motivations. We use the adult prosociality literature to highlight parallels and gaps in the literature on the development of prosocial behavior. We address how the evidence reviewed bears on central questions in the developmental psychology literature and propose that children’s prosocial behaviors may be driven by multiple motivations not easily captured by the idea of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation and may be selective quite early in life.
The present research tested the novel hypothesis that bitter taste increases hostility. Theoretical background formed the intimate link of the taste-sensory system to the visceral system, with bitter intake typically eliciting a strong aversion response. Three experiments using differential bitter and control stimuli showed that hostile affect and behavior is increased by bitter taste experiences. Specifically, participants who consumed a bitter (vs. control) drink showed an increase in self-reported current hostility (Experiment 1), in hypothetical aggressive affect and hypothetical aggressive behavior (Experiment 2) and in actual hostile behavior assessed using a well-established method for non-physical laboratory aggression (Experiment 3). Furthermore, the effect occurred not only when participants were previously provoked (Experiments 2 and 3) but also when no provocation preceded (Experiment 1 and 3). Importantly, stimulus aversiveness and intensity did not influence the effects observed, ruling them out as explanations. Alternative interpretative frameworks and limitations are discussed.
What strategies can people use to control unwanted habits? Past work has focused on controlling other kinds of automatic impulses, especially temptations. The nature of habit cuing calls for certain self-control strategies. Because the slow-to-change memory trace of habits is not amenable to change or reinterpretation, successful habit control involves inhibiting the unwanted response when activated in memory. In support, two episode-sampling diary studies demonstrated that bad habits, unlike responses to temptations, were controlled most effectively through spontaneous use of vigilant monitoring (thinking “don’t do it,” watching carefully for slipups). No other strategy was useful in controlling strong habits, despite that stimulus control was effective at inhibiting responses to temptations. A subsequent experiment showed that vigilant monitoring aids habit control, not by changing the strength of the habit memory trace but by heightening inhibitory, cognitive control processes. The implications of these findings for behavior change interventions are discussed.
In six studies (N = 1045) conducted in three European countries, we demonstrate distinctions between causal responsibility, group-based guilt, and moral responsibility. We propose that causal responsibility is an antecedent of group-based guilt linking the ingroup to previous transgressions against the victim group. In contrast, moral responsibility is a consequence of group-based guilt and is conceptualized as a sociomoral norm to respond to the consequences of the ingroup’s transgressions and the current needs of the victim group. As such, moral responsibility can be stimulated by group-based guilt and directly predicts individual action intentions. Studies 1 and 2 focus on the conceptual distinctions among the three constructs. Study 3 tests the indirect effect of causal responsibility on moral responsibility via group-based guilt. The remaining studies explore the mediating role of moral responsibility in associations between group-based guilt and compensatory action tendencies, that is, financial compensation (study 4), approach and avoidance tendencies (study 5) and public apology (study 6). Together these studies show that causal and moral responsibility are psychologically distinct concepts from group-based guilt and that moral responsibility plays an important role in shaping the effects of group-based guilt on behavioral intentions.
We investigated relations among strengths of character in 881 students from Croatian universities. We also examined links between strengths and various well-being indices. Our conceptualization was based on the Values in Action classification system with 24 strengths organized within six superordinate virtues (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). A factor analysis led to a four-factor solution; factors were defined as Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness. Of these factors, Vitality (with zest, hope, curiosity, and humor as indicators) emerged as the most relevant to well-being. When examining individual strengths, zest, curiosity, gratitude, and optimism/hope emerged with the strongest associations with elevated life satisfaction, subjective vitality, satisfaction of autonomy, relatedness, and competence needs, and a pleasurable, engaging, and meaningful existence. Results have implications for understanding the structure and variability of benefits linked with particular strengths.
Compassion and pride serve contrasting social functions: Compassion motivates care-taking behavior, whereas pride enables the signaling and negotiation of rank within social hierarchies. Across 3 studies, compassion was associated with increased perceived self-other similarity, particularly to weak or vulnerable others. In contrast, pride was associated with an enhanced sense of similarity to strong others, and a decreased sense of similarity to weak others. These findings were obtained using trait measures (Study 1) and experimental inductions (Studies 2 and 3) of compassion and pride, examining the sense of similarity to strong or weak groups (Studies 1 and 2) and unfamiliar individuals (Study 3). The influences of compassion and pride on perceived self-other similarity could not be accounted for by positive mood, nor was this effect constrained by the in-group status of the target group or individual. Discussion focuses on the contributions these findings make to an understanding of compassion and pride.
What is compassion? And how did it evolve? In this review, we integrate 3 evolutionary arguments that converge on the hypothesis that compassion evolved as a distinct affective experience whose primary function is to facilitate cooperation and protection of the weak and those who suffer. Our empirical review reveals compassion to have distinct appraisal processes attuned to undeserved suffering; distinct signaling behavior related to caregiving patterns of touch, posture, and vocalization; and a phenomenological experience and physiological response that orients the individual to social approach. This response profile of compassion differs from those of distress, sadness, and love, suggesting that compassion is indeed a distinct emotion. We conclude by considering how compassion shapes moral judgment and action, how it varies across different cultures, and how it may engage specific patterns of neural activation, as well as emerging directions of research.
Moral failure is thought to damage self-image when people appraise it as indicating a global self-defect. This appraisal is thought to be associated with the feeling of shame and thus self-defensive motivation. However, a damaged social image better explains self-defensive motivation to hide from and avoid others. Based on an integrative review of theory and research, we offer a conceptual model of how concern for self-image and social image guides the experience of moral failure. The model distinguishes the appraisals (of self-defect and other-condemnation) and feelings (of rejection, inferiority, and shame) embedded in the shame concept. Concern for a damaged social image is represented in an other-condemnation → rejection combination, whereas concern for a damaged self-image is represented in a (global) self-defect → inferiority combination. As these appraisal–feeling combinations are concerned with damage done to one’s image, they should be linked to self-defensive motivation. As the (specific) self-defect → shame combination is concerned with a repairable defect in self-image, it should be linked with self-improvement motivation. Thus, our model explains why “shame” is sometimes tied to self-defensive motivation and sometimes tied to self-improvement motivation after moral failure.
Numerous studies have been conducted to demonstrate that behaviours are frequently activated unconsciously. The present studies investigate the downstream psychological consequences of such unconscious behaviour activation, building on work on the explanatory vacuum and post-priming misattribution. It was hypothesized that unconsciously activated behaviours trigger a negative affective response if the behaviour violates a personal standard and that this negative affect subsequently motivates people to confabulate a reason for the behaviour. Results provided evidence for this mediated moderation model. Study 1 showed that participants who were primed to act less prosocially indeed reported increased levels of negative affect and, as a result, were inclined to confabulate a reason for their behaviour. Study 2 replicated these findings in the domain of eating and provided evidence for the moderating role of personal standards as well as the entire mediated moderation model. These findings have relevant theoretical implications as they add to the modest number of studies that demonstrate that the effect of unconscious priming may extend well beyond performing the primed behaviour itself to influence subsequent affect and attribution processes.
Though the decision to behave immorally is situated within the context of prior immoral behavior, research has provided contradictory insights into this process. In a series of experiments, we demonstrate that the effects of prior immoral behavior depend on how individuals think about, or reflect on, their immoral behavior. In Experiment 1, participants who reflected counterfactually on their prior moral lapses morally disengaged (i.e., rationalized) less than participants who reflected factually. In Experiment 2, participants who reflected counterfactually on their prior moral lapses experienced more guilt than those who reflected factually. Finally, in Experiments 3 and 4, participants who reflected counterfactually lied less on unrelated tasks with real monetary stakes than those who reflected factually. Our studies provide important insights into moral rationalization and moral compensation processes and demonstrate the profound influence of reflection in everyday moral life.
This study examined whether cultural values predict individuals’ moral attitudes. The main objective was to shed light on the moral universalism and relativism debate by showing that the answer depends on the moral issues studied. Using items from the Morally Debatable Behaviours Scale (MDBS) fielded in the World Value Survey (WVS), we found that moral issues can be differentiated cross-culturally into attitudes towards (1) dishonest–illegal and (2) personal–sexual issues. Drawing upon evolutionary and cultural theories, we expected that the former moral domain is not related to cultural values, whereas the latter is influenced by cultural conceptions of the self (i.e. independent versus interdependent selves). We used multilevel modelling with Schwartz’ cultural values as the independent variables and the two moral domains as assessed through the MDBS as dependent variables to test our hypothesis. After controlling for individual-level differences in moral attitudes as well as the socio-economic development of countries, our findings confirmed that attitudes towards dishonest–illegal issues were not related to cultural values whereas attitudes towards personal–sexual issues were predicted by the Autonomy–Embeddedness value dimension. We conclude that our study sheds not only light on the universalism and relativism debate, but also on the discriminant validity of cultural values.
Research in moral decision making has shown that there may not be a one-to-one relationship between peoples’ moral forecasts and behaviors. Although past work suggests that physiological arousal may account for part of the behavior-forecasting discrepancy, whether or not perceptions of affect play an important determinant remains unclear. Here, we investigate whether this discrepancy may arise because people fail to anticipate how they will feel in morally significant situations. In Study 1, forecasters predicted cheating significantly more on a test than participants in a behavior condition actually cheated. Importantly, forecasters who received false somatic feedback, indicative of high arousal, produced forecasts that aligned more closely with behaviors. In Study 2, forecasters who misattributed their arousal to an extraneous source forecasted cheating significantly more. In Study 3, higher dispositional emotional awareness was related to less forecasted cheating. These findings suggest that perceptions of affect play a key role in the behavior-forecasting dissociation.
How often and how strongly do people experience desires, to what extent do their desires conflict with other goals, and how often and successfully do people exercise self-control to resist their desires? To investigate desire and attempts to control desire in everyday life, we conducted a large-scale experience sampling study based on a conceptual framework integrating desire strength, conflict, resistance (use of self-control), and behavior enactment. A sample of 205 adults wore beepers for a week. They furnished 7,827 reports of desire episodes and completed personality measures of behavioral inhibition system/behavior activation system (BIS/BAS) sensitivity, trait self-control, perfectionism, and narcissistic entitlement. Results suggest that desires are frequent, variable in intensity, and largely unproblematic. Those urges that do conflict with other goals tend to elicit resistance, with uneven success. Desire strength, conflict, resistance, and self-regulatory success were moderated in multiple ways by personality variables as well as by situational and interpersonal factors such as alcohol consumption, the mere presence of others, and the presence of others who already had enacted the desire in question. Whereas personality generally had a stronger impact on the dimensions of desire that emerged early in its course (desire strength and conflict), situational factors showed relatively more influence on components later in the process (resistance and behavior enactment). In total, these findings offer a novel and detailed perspective on the nature of everyday desires and associated self-regulatory successes and failures.
The present research tested the hypothesis that exercising self-control causes an increase in approach motivation. Study 1 found that exercising (vs. not exercising) self-control increases self-reported approach motivation. Study 2a identified a behavior—betting on low-stakes gambles—that is correlated with approach motivation but is relatively uncorrelated with self-control, and Study 2b observed that exercising self-control temporarily increases this behavior. Last, Study 3 found that exercising self-control facilitates the perception of a reward-relevant symbol (i.e., a dollar sign) but not a reward-irrelevant symbol (i.e., a percent sign). Altogether, these results support the hypothesis that exercising self-control temporarily increases approach motivation. Failures of self-control that follow from prior efforts at self-control (i.e., ego depletion) may be explained in part by increased approach motivation.
The current studies tested possible explanations for the link between conscientiousness and forgivingness. Using two Swiss adult samples, we examined three reasons why conscientious people tend to be more dispositionally forgiving. Findings suggest that self-regulation ability served as the best explanation for this relationship. Conscientious individuals tend to be better at self-regulation, which in turn enables them to be more forgiving of others. Moreover, this explanation only holds when discussing the link between forgivingness and conscientiousness, and not with respect to why agreeable and emotionally stable participants are more forgiving. Findings are discussed with respect to the role of regulatory processes in explaining the linkages between broad personality dimensions and forgivingness.
Previous research demonstrated that perceived relationship value is a strong predictor of forgiveness. Here we suggest that relationship value may not be sufficient. Given that executive control is an important facilitator of forgiveness, we predicted that relationship value and executive control should interact toward promoting forgiveness. Using different indicators of executive control, including adults and children samples, measured or experimentally varied relationship value, and both self-report and behavioral forgiveness measures, across four studies we found support for our main prediction: Relationship value was positively associated with forgiveness; however, this association was mostly pronounced among individuals high (vs. low) in executive control. In addition, executive control was positively associated with forgiveness, but particularly in relationships of high (vs. low) relationship value. These findings suggest that relationship value and executive control in combination are associated with higher interpersonal forgiveness. Implications for the extant literature on forgiveness, and interpersonal relationships more broadly, are discussed.
Three studies examined when and why an actor’s prior good deeds make observers more willing to excuse—or license—his or her subsequent, morally dubious behavior. In a pilot study, actors’ good deeds made participants more forgiving of the actors’ subsequent transgressions. In Study 1, participants only licensed blatant transgressions that were in a different domain than actors’ good deeds; blatant transgressions in the same domain appeared hypocritical and suppressed licensing (e.g., fighting adolescent drug use excused sexual harassment, but fighting sexual harassment did not). Study 2 replicated these effects and showed that good deeds made observers license ambiguous transgressions (e.g., behavior that might or might not represent sexual harassment) regardless of whether the good deeds and the transgression were in the same or in a different domain—but only same-domain good deeds did so by changing participants’ construal of the transgressions. Discussion integrates two models of why licensing occurs.
Seven studies demonstrate that threats to moral identity can increase how definitively people think they have previously proven their morality. When White participants were made to worry that their future behavior could seem racist, they overestimated how much a prior decision of theirs would convince an observer of their non-prejudiced character (Studies 1a-3). Ironically, such overestimation made participants appear more prejudiced to observers (Study 4). Studies 5 to 6 demonstrated a similar effect of threat in the domain of charitable giving—an effect driven by individuals for whom maintaining a moral identity is particularly important. Threatened participants only enhanced their beliefs that they had proven their morality when there was at least some supporting evidence, but these beliefs were insensitive to whether the evidence was weak or strong (Study 2). Discussion considers the role of motivated reasoning, and implications for ethical decision making and moral licensing.
The moral domain is broader than the empathy and justice concerns assessed by existing measures of moral competence, and it is not just a subset of the values assessed by value inventories. To fill the need for reliable and theoretically grounded measurement of the full range of moral concerns, we developed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire on the basis of a theoretical model of 5 universally available (but variably developed) sets of moral intuitions: Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. We present evidence for the internal and external validity of the scale and the model, and in doing so we present new findings about morality: (a) Comparative model fitting of confirmatory factor analyses provides empirical justification for a 5-factor structure of moral concerns; (b) convergent/discriminant validity evidence suggests that moral concerns predict personality features and social group attitudes not previously considered morally relevant; and (c) we establish pragmatic validity of the measure in providing new knowledge and research opportunities concerning demographic and cultural differences in moral intuitions. These analyses provide evidence for the usefulness of Moral Foundations Theory in simultaneously increasing the scope and sharpening the resolution of psychological views of morality.
The Model of Moral Motives will be of great value to moral psychology, both for its conceptualization of the provide/protect distinction at different levels of analysis (intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, intergroup) and for its usefulness in integrating multiple theoretical perspectives on morality. To the latter end, this commentary makes three suggestions for improvements to the model and its integration with Moral Foundations Theory: (a) clarify what the columns of the model represent, (b) modify the one-to-one mapping of moral foundations onto the cells of the model, and (c) specify testable predictions uniquely generated by the model. Possibilities for future empirical tests of competing predictions are discussed, with the long-term aim of adjudicating between different theoretical accounts of ideological differences and the moral domain.
This paper examines memory for collective apologies. Our interest was in determining whether people are aware of intergroup apologies and whether this contributes to forgiveness for offending groups. Surveys conducted in three nations affected by Japanese World War II aggression found that participants were more likely to believe (incorrectly) that Japan had not apologized for WWII than to believe (correctly) that they had (Study 1). In contrast, participants were eight times more likely to believe that a corporation had apologized for misconduct than to (correctly) recall that they had not (Study 1). Forgiveness levels were higher among those who believed the group had apologized than among apology deniers, although the effect was weak and inconsistent. However, in a follow-up study that measured identification with the victim group it was found that high identifiers were significantly less likely to “remember” an apology (Study 2). Results suggest that memories for collective apologies are fluid and may not be causally related to intergroup forgiveness.
Although research has established that autobiographical memory affects one's self-concept, little is known about how it affects moral behavior. We focus on a specific type of autobiographical memory: childhood memories. Drawing on research on memory and moral psychology, we propose that childhood memories elicit moral purity, which we define as a psychological state of feeling morally clean and innocent. In turn, heightened moral purity leads to greater prosocial behavior. In Experiment 1, participants instructed to recall childhood memories were more likely to help the experimenter with a supplementary task than were participants in a control condition, and this effect was mediated by moral purity. In Experiment 2, the same manipulation increased the amount of money participants donated to a good cause, and both implicit and explicit measures of moral purity mediated the effect. Experiment 3 provides further support for the process linking childhood memories and prosocial behavior through moderation. In Experiment 4, we found that childhood memories led to punishment of others' ethically questionable actions. Finally, in Experiment 5, both positively valenced and negatively valenced childhood memories increased helping compared to a control condition.
People are motivated to behave selfishly while appearing moral. This tension gives rise to 2 divergently motivated selves. The actor—the watched self—tends to be moral; the agent—the self as executor—tends to be selfish. Three studies present direct evidence of the actor’s and agent’s distinct motives. To recruit the self-as-actor, we asked people to rate the importance of various goals. To recruit the self-as-agent, we asked people to describe their goals verbally. In Study 1, actors claimed their goals were equally about helping the self and others (viz., moral); agents claimed their goals were primarily about helping the self (viz., selfish). This disparity was evident in both individualist and collectivist cultures, attesting to the universality of the selfish agent. Study 2 compared actors’ and agents’ motives to those of people role-playing highly prosocial or selfish exemplars. In content (Study 2a) and in the impressions they made on an outside observer (Study 2b), actors’ motives were similar to those of the prosocial role-players, whereas agents’ motives were similar to those of the selfish role-players. Study 3 accounted for the difference between the actor and agent: Participants claimed that their agent’s motives were the more realistic and that their actor’s motives were the more idealistic. The selfish agent/moral actor duality may account for why implicit and explicit measures of the same construct diverge, and why feeling watched brings out the better angels of human nature.
Using two 3-month diary studies and a large cross-sectional survey, we identified distinguishing features of adults with low versus high levels of moral character. Adults with high levels of moral character tend to: consider the needs and interests of others and how their actions affect other people (e.g., they have high levels of Honesty-Humility, empathic concern, guilt proneness); regulate their behavior effectively, specifically with reference to behaviors that have positive short-term consequences but negative long-term consequences (e.g., they have high levels of Conscientiousness, self-control, consideration of future consequences); and value being moral (e.g., they have high levels of moral identity-internalization). Cognitive moral development, Emotionality, and social value orientation were found to be relatively undiagnostic of moral character. Studies 1 and 2 revealed that employees with low moral character committed harmful work behaviors more frequently and helpful work behaviors less frequently than did employees with high moral character, according to their own admissions and coworkers’ observations. Study 3 revealed that adults with low moral character committed more delinquent behavior and had more lenient attitudes toward unethical negotiation tactics than did adults with high moral character. By showing that individual differences have consistent, meaningful effects on employees’ behaviors, after controlling for demographic variables (e.g., gender, age, income) and basic attributes of the work setting (e.g., enforcement of an ethics code), our results contest situationist perspectives that deemphasize the importance of personality. Moral people can be identified by self-reports in surveys, and these self-reports predict consequential behaviors months after the initial assessment.
In response to Graham’s comments, we attempt to clarify aspects of the Model of Moral Motives (MMM). The columns of our model represent three primary contexts for morality, involving behaviors focused on the self, another person, and one’s group. The rows of MMM represent proscriptive morality and prescriptive morality, which broadly reflect motives to protect (from harm) and provide (help); these general motives have distinct manifestations depending on context (i.e., the columns of MMM). The article addresses misunderstandings in Graham’s interpretation of MMM and includes discussions of criteria for categorizing prescriptive versus proscriptive moral motives, the central role of restrictiveness in proscriptive moral regulation, an inconsistency that provides support for the inclusion of group-based Social Justice, and further distinctions between Social Order and Social Justice informed by recent cross-cultural research.
Previous theory and research suggests that perceiving shared humanity with others should be a positive force for intergroup relations. The present research considers the alternative possibility, that notions of shared humanity might protect people from feelings of guilt over ingroup perpetrated harm by obscuring the ingroup’s unique role in these events. Consistent with this idea, Study 1 (N = 58) found that perceiving shared humanity with a harmed outgroup was associated with less guilt and stronger expectations of forgiveness among members of the perpetrator group. Study 2 (N = 52) demonstrated that these effects only occurred when the moral integrity of the ingroup was open to question. When ingroup morality was instead secure, defensive use of humanity was not apparent. Together, these studies suggest that perceiving harmful ingroup actions as ‘only human’ can sometimes be a moral defence that absolves group members of feelings of responsibility for wrongdoing.
Moral perfectionism has a long tradition in philosophical inquiry, but so far has been ignored in psychological research. This article presents a first psychological investigation of moral perfectionism exploring its relationships with moral values, virtues, and judgments. In three studies, 539 university students responded to items of the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (Frost et al., 1990) adapted to measure personal moral standards (PMS) and concern over moral mistakes (CMM) and completed measures of moral values, virtues, and forgiveness, gratitude, and wrong behavior judgments. When partial correlations were computed controlling for the overlap between PMS and CMM, PMS showed positive correlations with moral values, virtues, reciprocal helping, forgiveness, and condemnation of wrong behaviors. In contrast, CMM showed a positive correlation only with indebtedness and a negative correlation with self-reliance. The present findings, while preliminary, suggest that moral perfectionism is a personality characteristic that may help explain individual differences in moral values, virtues, and judgments.
In a first psychological investigation of moral perfectionism, Yang, Stoeber, and Wang (2015) adapted items from the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale to differentiate perfectionistic personal moral standards and concern over moral mistakes. Examining a sample of Chinese students, Yang et al. found that personal moral standards showed unique positive relationships with moral values, virtues, and judgments, whereas concern over moral mistakes did not. The present study aimed to replicate Yang et al.'s findings in a sample of Western students (N = 243), additionally including measures of moral identity and moral disengagement. Furthermore, the study examined whether moral perfectionism explained variance in moral attitudes beyond general perfectionism. Results largely replicated Yang et al.'s findings. Personal moral standards (but not concern over moral mistakes) showed unique positive relationships with moral values, virtues, and judgments and a unique negative relationship with moral disengagement. Furthermore, moral perfectionism explained significant variance in moral attitudes beyond general perfectionism. The present findings suggest that moral perfectionism is a personality characteristic that is relevant in both Asian and Western cultures and explains individual differences in moral attitudes beyond general perfectionism.
Lawrence Kohlberg slayed the two dragons of twentieth-century psychology—behaviorism and psychoanalysis. His victory was a part of the larger cognitive revolution that shaped the world in which all of us study psychology and education today. But the cognitive revolution itself was modified by later waves of change, particularly an ‘affective revolution’ that began in the 1980s and an ‘automaticity revolution’ in the 1990s. In this essay I trace the history of moral psychology within the broader intellectual trends of psychology and I explain why I came to believe that moral psychology had to change with the times. I explain the origins of my own social intuitionist model and of moral foundations theory. I offer three principles that I think should characterize moral psychology in the twenty-first century: (1) Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second, (2) There’s more to morality than harm and fairness and (3) Morality binds and blinds.
Genuine moral disagreement exists and is widespread. To understand such disagreement, we must examine the basic kinds of social relationships people construct across cultures and the distinct moral obligations and prohibitions these relationships entail. We extend relational models theory (Fiske, 1991) to identify 4 fundamental and distinct moral motives. Unity is the motive to care for and support the integrity of in-groups by avoiding or eliminating threats of contamination and providing aid and protection based on need or empathic compassion. Hierarchy is the motive to respect rank in social groups where superiors are entitled to deference and respect but must also lead, guide, direct, and protect subordinates. Equality is the motive for balanced, in-kind reciprocity, equal treatment, equal say, and equal opportunity. Proportionality is the motive for rewards and punishments to be proportionate to merit, benefits to be calibrated to contributions, and judgments to be based on a utilitarian calculus of costs and benefits. The 4 moral motives are universal, but cultures, ideologies, and individuals differ in where they activate these motives and how they implement them. Unlike existing theories (Haidt, 2007; Hauser, 2006; Turiel, 1983), relationship regulation theory predicts that any action, including violence, unequal treatment, and “impure” acts, may be perceived as morally correct depending on the moral motive employed and how the relevant social relationship is construed. This approach facilitates clearer understanding of moral perspectives we disagree with and provides a template for how to influence moral motives and practices in the world.
People’s explanations for social events powerfully affect their socioemotional responses. We examine why explanations affect emotions, with a specific focus on how external explanations for negative aspects of an outgroup can create compassion for the outgroup. The dominant model of these processes suggests that external explanations can reduce perceived control and that compassion is evoked when negative aspects of an outgroup are perceived as beyond their control. We agree that perceived control is important, but we propose a model in which explanations also affect perceived suffering of an outgroup, and that perceived suffering is an additional mechanism connecting external explanations to compassion. Studies are presented that support our integrative dual-mediation model and that pinpoint factors—depth of cognitive processing, expansive sense of identity—that modulate the extent to which the external explanation/perceived suffering mechanism evokes compassion.
Automatic responses play a central role in many areas of psychology. Counter to views that such responses are relatively rigid and inflexible, a large body of research has shown that they are highly context-sensitive. Research on animal learning and animal behavior has a strong potential to provide a deeper understanding of such context effects by revealing remarkable parallels between the functional properties of automatic responses in human and nonhuman animals. These parallels involve the contextual modulation of attitude formation and change (automatic evaluation), and the role of contextual contingencies in shaping the particular action tendencies in response to a stimulus (automatic behavior). Theoretical concepts of animal research not only provide novel insights into the processes and representations underlying context effects on automatic responses in humans; they also offer new perspectives on the interface between affect, cognition, and motivation.
Recently, social psychology has become central in the study of morality. This turn to morality as a topic builds on social psychologists' long-standing interest in issues closely related to morality, such as cooperation, empathy, fairness, social norms and deviance. The present paper introduces a (virtual) special issue on morality by highlighting some of the 41 articles on “moral” or “morality” that have appeared in the European Journal of Social Psychology from 1973 to the present. The nineteen highlighted papers are organized into the main topics covered in research on morality published in EJSP: Emotion, Impression Formation and Trait Inference, Norms and Deviance, Stereotypes, and Reasoning and Judgment. A description of the historical trends that characterized research on morality in EJSP is also provided.
The emotion of disgust can influence people’s moral judgments, even if this emotion objectively is unrelated to the moral judgment in question. The present work demonstrates that attentional control regulates this effect. In three studies, disgust was induced. In an unrelated part of the studies, participants then judged a moral transgression. Disgust resulted in more severe moral judgments when attentional control (either measured by means of individual predisposition or manipulated with experimental control) was weak as opposed to strong (Studies 1-3). Findings further showed that attentional control mediated the positive relation between the intensity of participants’ disgust responses and the severity of their moral judgments (Study 2). Moreover, attentional control has its effects through the regulation of affective processing (Study 3). Taken together, the findings suggest that unrelated influences of disgust on moral judgments are contingent on the attention system.
The Values in Action (VIA) classification of character strengths and virtues has been recently proposed by two leading positive psychologists, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman as “the social science equivalent of virtue ethics.” The very possibility of developing this kind of an “equivalent,” however, is very doubtful in the light of the cogent criticism that has been leveled at modern moral theory by Alasdair MacIntyre as well as the well argued accusations that positive psychology, despite its official normative neutrality, is pervaded by specifically Western individualism and instrumentalism. In order to evaluate whether the VIA project can be considered as substantially rooted in virtue ethical tradition, the classification was assessed against two fundamental features of the classical version of the latter: (1) the substantial interconnectedness of individual virtues, as expressed by the thesis of the unity of virtue, and (2) the constitutive character of the relationship between virtue and happiness. It turned out, in result, that the two above features are not only absent from but also contradicted by the VIA framework with the latter's: (1′) construal of individual virtues and character strengths as independent variables and (2′) official endorsement of the fact/value distinction. As soon as the arguments for the superiority of the classical virtue ethical perspective are provided, the potential responses available to the VIA's proponents are discussed.
Previous research on moral identity (the use of moral values to define the self) suggests that implicit measurement of moral identity better predicts real-life moral actions than explicit measurement. We extended this work by considering the relation between explicit and implicit measures of moral identity, moral outrage, and religion. Implicit, but not explicit, moral identity predicted increases in heart rate and diastolic blood pressure in response to moral violations, whereas explicit but not implicit moral identity predicted religiosity. These results help to validate the use of implicit measurements of moral identity while also identifying a relation between moral identity and physiological reactions to moral violations.
Although punishment and forgiveness frequently are considered to be opposites, in the present paper we propose that victims who punish their offender are subsequently more likely to forgive. Notably, punishment means that victims get justice (i.e. just deserts), which facilitates forgiveness. Study 1 reveals that participants were more likely to forgive a friend's negligence after being primed with punishment than after being primed with inability to punish. In Study 2, participants were more forgiving towards a criminal offender if the offender was punished by a judge than if the offender escaped punishment, a finding that was mediated by the just deserts motive. Study 3 was in the context of actual recalled ongoing interpersonal relations and revealed that punishment predicted forgiveness indirectly via just deserts, not via victims' vengeful motivations. It is concluded that punishment facilitates forgiveness because of its capacity to restore a sense of justice.
A new method for assessing situations is employed to examine the association between situational similarity, personality, and behavioral consistency across ecologically representative contexts. On 4 occasions across 4 weeks, 202 undergraduate participants (105 women, 97 men) wrote descriptions of a situation they had experienced the previous day. In addition, they rated its psychological features using the recently developed Riverside Situational Q-Sort (RSQ) Version 2.0 (Wagerman & Funder, 2009) and their behavior using the Riverside Behavioral Q-Sort (RBQ) Version 3.0 (Funder, Furr, & Colvin, 2000; Furr, Wagerman, & Funder, 2010). Independent judges also rated the situations using the RSQ, on the basis of the participants’ written descriptions. Results indicated (a) participants’ ratings of their behavior were impressively consistent across the 4 situations; (b) the 4 situations experienced by a single participant tended to be described more similarly to each other than to situations experienced by different participants; (c) situational similarity, especially from the individual’s own point of view, strongly predicted behavioral consistency; and (d) personality characteristics predicted behavioral consistency even after controlling for situational similarity. Relatively consistent persons described themselves as ethically consistent, conservative, calm and relaxed, and low on neuroticism. These results imply that behavioral consistency in daily life stems from multiple sources, including situation selection and the distinctive influence of personality, and further suggest that tools for situational assessment such as the RSQ can have wide utility.
We present a new six-cell Model of Moral Motives that applies a fundamental motivational distinction in psychology to the moral domain. In addition to moral motives focused on the self or another, we propose two group-based moralities, both communal in orientation, but reflecting distinct moral motives (Social Order/Communal Solidarity vs. Social Justice/Communal Responsibility) as well as differences in construals of group entitativity. The two group-based moralities have implications for intragroup homogeneity as well as intergroup conflict. Our model challenges the conclusions of Haidt and colleagues that only conservatives (not liberals) are group oriented and embrace a binding morality. We explore the implications of this new model for politics in particular and for the self-regulation versus social regulation of morality more generally.
Dishonest behavior can have various psychological outcomes. We examine whether one consequence could be the forgetting of moral rules. In 4 experiments, participants were given the opportunity to behave dishonestly, and thus earn undeserved money, by over-reporting their performance on an ability-based task. Before the task, they were exposed to moral rules (i.e., an honor code). Those who cheated were more likely to forget the moral rules after behaving dishonestly, even though they were equally likely to remember morally irrelevant information (Experiment 1). Furthermore, people showed moral forgetting only after cheating could be enacted but not before cheating (Experiment 2), despite monetary incentives to recall the rules accurately (Experiment 3). Finally, moral forgetting appears to result from decreased access to moral rules after cheating (Experiment 4).
Assumptions regarding the importance of empathy are pervasive. Given the impact these assumptions have on research, assessment, and treatment, it is imperative to know whether they are valid. Of particular interest is a basic question: Are deficits in empathy associated with aggressive behavior? Previous attempts to review the relation between empathy and aggression yielded inconsistent results and generally included a small number of studies. To clarify these divergent findings, we comprehensively reviewed the relation of empathy to aggression in adults, including community, student, and criminal samples. A mixed effects meta-analysis of published and unpublished studies involving 106 effect sizes revealed that the relation between empathy and aggression was surprisingly weak (r = −.11). This finding was fairly consistent across specific types of aggression, including verbal aggression (r = −.20), physical aggression (r = −.12), and sexual aggression (r = −.09). Several potentially important moderators were examined, although they had little impact on the total effect size. The results of this study are particularly surprising given that empathy is a core component of many treatments for aggressive offenders and that most psychological disorders of aggression include diagnostic criteria specific to deficient empathic responding. We discuss broad conclusions, consider implications for theory, and address current limitations in the field, such as reliance on a small number of self-report measures of empathy. We highlight the need for diversity in measurement and suggest a new operationalization of empathy that may allow it to synchronize with contemporary thinking regarding its role in aggressive behavior.
Many theories of moral behavior assume that unethical behavior triggers negative affect. In this article, we challenge this assumption and demonstrate that unethical behavior can trigger positive affect, which we term a “cheater’s high.” Across 6 studies, we find that even though individuals predict they will feel guilty and have increased levels of negative affect after engaging in unethical behavior (Studies 1a and 1b), individuals who cheat on different problem-solving tasks consistently experience more positive affect than those who do not (Studies 2–5). We find that this heightened positive affect does not depend on self-selection (Studies 3 and 4), and it is not due to the accrual of undeserved financial rewards (Study 4). Cheating is associated with feelings of self-satisfaction, and the boost in positive affect from cheating persists even when prospects for self-deception about unethical behavior are reduced (Study 5). Our results have important implications for models of ethical decision making, moral behavior, and self-regulatory theory.
Creativity is a common aspiration for individuals, organizations, and societies. Here, however, we test whether creativity increases dishonesty. We propose that a creative personality and a creative mindset promote individuals' ability to justify their behavior, which, in turn, leads to unethical behavior. In 5 studies, we show that participants with creative personalities tended to cheat more than less creative individuals and that dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence (Experiment 1). In addition, we find that participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly than those in a control condition (Experiment 2) and that greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior explained the link between creativity and increased dishonesty (Experiments 3 and 4). Finally, we demonstrate that dispositional creativity moderates the influence of temporarily priming creativity on dishonest behavior (Experiment 5). The results provide evidence for an association between creativity and dishonesty, thus highlighting a dark side of creativity.
The trait and social cognitive perspectives are considered disparate approaches to understanding personality. We suggest an integrative view in which three elements derived from the social cognitive perspective (i.e., situations, behaviors, and explanations [SBEs]) form the basis of personality traits. Study 1 demonstrated strong associations between traits and SBEs across the Big Five dimensions. Studies 2 through 7 tested the discriminative validity, internal structure, and unique contributions of the individual components of SBEs. Studies 8 and 9 demonstrated that the strong associations between traits and SBEs generalize to different cultures. The present work suggests that SBEs may be a universal folk psychological mechanism underlying personality traits.
The five experiments reported here demonstrate that authenticity is directly linked to morality. We found that experiencing inauthenticity, compared with authenticity, consistently led participants to feel more immoral and impure. This link from inauthenticity to feeling immoral produced an increased desire among participants to cleanse themselves and to engage in moral compensation by behaving prosocially. We established the role that impurity played in these effects through mediation and moderation. We found that inauthenticity-induced cleansing and compensatory helping were driven by heightened feelings of impurity rather than by the psychological discomfort of dissonance. Similarly, physically cleansing oneself eliminated the relationship between inauthenticity and prosocial compensation. Finally, we obtained additional evidence for discriminant validity: The observed effects on desire for cleansing were not driven by general negative experiences (i.e., failing a test) but were unique to experiences of inauthenticity. Our results establish that authenticity is a moral state—that being true to thine own self is experienced as a form of virtue.
Forgiveness has received widespread attention among psychologists from social, personality, clinical, developmental, and organizational perspectives alike. Despite great progress, the forgiveness literature has witnessed few attempts at empirical integration. Toward this end, we meta-analyze results from 175 studies and 26,006 participants to examine the correlates of interpersonal forgiveness (i.e., forgiveness of a single offender by a single victim). A tripartite forgiveness typology is proposed, encompassing victims’ (a) cognitions, (b) affect, and (c) constraints following offense, with each consisting of situational and dispositional components. We tested hypotheses with respect to 22 distinct constructs, as correlates of forgiveness, that have been measured across different fields within psychology. We also evaluated key sample and study characteristics, including gender, age, time, and methodology as main effects and moderators. Results highlight the multifaceted nature of forgiveness. Variables with particularly notable effects include intent (r̄ = −.49), state empathy (r̄ = .51), apology (r̄ = .42), and state anger (r̄ = −.41). Consistent with previous theory, situational constructs are shown to account for greater variance in forgiveness than victim dispositions, although within-category differences are considerable. Sample and study characteristics yielded negligible effects on forgiveness, despite previous theorizing to the contrary: The effect of gender was non-significant (r̄ = .01), and the effect of age was negligible (r̄ = .06). Preliminary evidence suggests that methodology may exhibit some moderating effects. Scenario methodologies led to enhanced effects for cognitions; recall methodologies led to enhanced effects for affect.
Taxonomies of person characteristics are well developed, whereas taxonomies of psychologically important situation characteristics are underdeveloped. A working model of situation perception implies the existence of taxonomizable dimensions of psychologically meaningful, important, and consequential situation characteristics tied to situation cues, goal affordances, and behavior. Such dimensions are developed and demonstrated in a multi-method set of 6 studies. First, the “Situational Eight DIAMONDS” dimensions Duty, Intellect, Adversity, Mating, pOsitivity, Negativity, Deception, and Sociality (Study 1) are established from the Riverside Situational Q-Sort (Sherman, Nave, & Funder, 2010, 2012, 2013; Wagerman & Funder, 2009). Second, their rater agreement (Study 2) and associations with situation cues and goal/trait affordances (Studies 3 and 4) are examined. Finally, the usefulness of these dimensions is demonstrated by examining their predictive power of behavior (Study 5), particularly vis-à-vis measures of personality and situations (Study 6). Together, we provide extensive and compelling evidence that the DIAMONDS taxonomy is useful for organizing major dimensions of situation characteristics. We discuss the DIAMONDS taxonomy in the context of previous taxonomic approaches and sketch future research directions.
We model developmental patterns in the stability of Big-Six personality markers over a two-year period in a multi-cohort panel study of adult New Zealanders (n = 3910). Structural Equation Models testing patterns of linear, quadratic and cubic effects identified considerable variation in the stability of most aspects of personality across the adult age range (20–80 years). Agreeableness showed a slight linear decrease in consistency with increasing age. Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience, and Honesty–Humility exhibited quadratic ‘inverted U’ patterns of rank-order stability. Unlike Agreeableness, the two-year consistency of these other personality dimensions increased from young adulthood towards middle age, then decreased as people progressed toward old age. Implications for personality research and emerging trends are discussed.
Much like unpalatable foods, filthy restrooms, and bloody wounds, moral transgressions are often described as “disgusting.” This linguistic similarity suggests that there is a link between moral disgust and more rudimentary forms of disgust associated with toxicity and disease. Critics have argued, however, that such references are purely metaphorical, or that moral disgust may be limited to transgressions that remind us of more basic disgust stimuli. Here we review the evidence that moral transgressions do genuinely evoke disgust, even when they do not reference physical disgust stimuli such as unusual sexual behaviors or the violation of purity norms. Moral transgressions presented verbally or visually and those presented as social transactions reliably elicit disgust, as assessed by implicit measures, explicit self-report, and facial behavior. Evoking physical disgust experimentally renders moral judgments more severe, and physical cleansing renders them more permissive or more stringent, depending on the object of the cleansing. Last, individual differences in the tendency to experience disgust toward physical stimuli are associated with variation in moral judgments and morally relevant sociopolitical attitudes. Taken together, these findings converge to support the conclusion that moral transgressions can in fact elicit disgust, suggesting that moral cognition may draw upon a primitive rejection response. We highlight a number of outstanding issues and conclude by describing 3 models of moral disgust, each of which aims to provide an account of the relationship between moral and physical disgust.
This series of studies examined the effect of temptation strength on self-regulation processes in the context of eating behavior. Based on the critical level model, it was hypothesized that weak, rather than strong, temptations yield the most unfavorable conditions for effective self-regulation, because the negative consequences of the former are underestimated. In line with the assumptions of this model, Studies 1 and 2 showed that weak temptations inhibited the mental accessibility of the weight watching goal, in contrast to strong temptations. Study 3 showed that exposure to weak temptations lead to higher consumption in comparison to exposure to strong temptations. It is concluded that weak temptations, as compared to strong temptations, have an inhibiting effect on self-regulation processes and may therefore form a bigger threat for long-term goal attainment.
The present research shows in 4 studies that cognitive load can reduce the impact of temptations on cognition and behavior and, thus, challenges the proposition that distraction always hampers self-regulation. Participants performed different speeded categorization tasks with pictures of attractive and neutral food items (Studies 1–3) and attractive and unattractive female faces (Study 4), while we assessed their reaction times as an indicator of selective attention (Studies 1, 3, and 4) or as an indicator of hedonic thoughts about food (Study 2). Cognitive load was manipulated by a concurrent digit span task. Results show that participants displayed greater attention to tempting stimuli (Studies 1, 3, and 4) and activated hedonic thoughts in response to palatable food (Study 2), but high cognitive load completely eliminated these effects. Moreover, cognitive load during the exposure to attractive food reduced food cravings (Study 1) and increased healthy food choices (Study 3). Finally, individual differences in sensitivity to food temptations (Study 3) and interest in alternative relationship partners (Study 4) predicted selective attention to attractive stimuli, but again, only when cognitive load was low. Our findings suggest that recognizing the tempting value of attractive stimuli in our living environment requires cognitive resources. This has the important implication that, contrary to traditional views, performing a concurrent demanding task may actually diminish the captivating power of temptation and thus facilitate self-regulation.
Recently, the personality factor of Honesty–Humility has attracted substantial attention. In particular, it has not only been shown to predict several criteria, but also to entail a specific pattern of interaction with situational factors. Herein, we extend previous research on both findings in linking Honesty–Humility to the quintessential social dilemma, the prisoner’s dilemma. In three investigations, we found support that those high in Honesty–Humility were more likely to cooperate – so long as this was sensible in any way. Those low in Honesty–Humility, by contrast, tended to defect – especially when this behavior was very tempting but not risky. Thus, Honesty–Humility shows promise as a crucial basic personality variable predicting social dilemma decision making, especially in interaction with situational factors.
We examined the psychology of “instigators,” people who surround an unethical act and influence the wrongdoer (the “actor”) without directly committing the act themselves. In four studies, we found that instigators of unethical acts underestimated their influence over actors. In Studies 1 and 2, university students enlisted other students to commit a “white lie” (Study 1) or commit a small act of vandalism (Study 2) after making predictions about how easy it would be to get their fellow students to do so. In Studies 3 and 4, online samples of participants responded to hypothetical vignettes, for example, about buying children alcohol and taking office supplies home for personal use. In all four studies, instigators failed to recognize the social pressure they levied on actors through simple unethical suggestions, that is, the discomfort actors would experience by making a decision that was inconsistent with the instigator’s suggestion.
This article investigates the effect of others’ prior nonprejudiced behavior on an individual’s subsequent behavior. Five studies supported the hypothesis that people are more willing to express prejudiced attitudes when their group members’ past behavior has established nonprejudiced credentials. Study 1a showed that participants who were told that their group was more moral than similar other groups were more willing to describe a job as better suited for Whites than for African Americans. In Study 1b, when given information on group members’ prior nondiscriminatory behavior (selecting a Hispanic applicant in a prior task), participants subsequently gave more discriminatory ratings to the Hispanic applicant for a position stereotypically suited for majority members (Whites). In Study 2, moral self-concept mediated the effect of others’ prior nonprejudiced actions on a participant’s subsequent prejudiced behavior such that others’ past nonprejudiced actions enhanced the participant’s moral self-concept, and this inflated moral self-concept subsequently drove the participant’s prejudiced ratings of a Hispanic applicant. In Study 3, the moderating role of identification with the credentialing group was tested. Results showed that participants expressed more prejudiced attitudes toward a Hispanic applicant when they highly identified with the group members behaving in nonprejudiced manner. In Study 4, the credentialing task was dissociated from the participants’ own judgmental task, and, in addition, identification with the credentialing group was manipulated rather than measured. Consistent with prior studies, the results showed that participants who first had the opportunity to view an in-group member’s nonprejudiced hiring decision were more likely to reject an African American man for a job stereotypically suited for majority members. These studies suggest a vicarious moral licensing effect.
For centuries economists and psychologists have argued that the morality of moral emotions lies in the fact that they stimulate prosocial behavior and benefit others in a person’s social environment. Many studies have shown that guilt, arguably the most exemplary moral emotion, indeed motivates prosocial behavior in dyadic social dilemma situations. When multiple persons are involved, however, the moral and prosocial nature of this emotion can be questioned. The present article shows how guilt can have beneficial effects for the victim of one’s actions but also disadvantageous effects for other people in the social environment. A series of experiments, with various emotion inductions and dependent measures, all reveal that guilt motivates prosocial behavior toward the victim at the expense of others around—but not at the expense of oneself. These findings illustrate that a thorough understanding of the functioning of emotions is necessary to understand their moral nature.
A prominent explanation for antisocial behavior in psychopathic offenders is that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. Using a modified version of the classic Moral/Conventional Transgressions task that minimizes strategic responding, this study evaluated the hypothesis that psychopathic traits are negatively associated with moral classification accuracy. The task, which presents moral and non-moral hypothetical violations, was administered to 139 incarcerated offenders from three U.S. correctional facilities, 41 of whom met clinical criteria for psychopathy. No associations for classification accuracy were found as a function of psychopathy total score or its facets, controlling for age, gender, and race. This finding supports the argument that psychopathic offenders can demonstrate normal knowledge of wrongfulness. Implications for criminal responsibility are discussed.
Inferences about moral character may often drive outrage over symbolic acts of racial bigotry. Study 1 demonstrates a theoretically predicted dissociation between moral evaluations of an act and the person who carries out the act. Although Americans regarded the private use of a racial slur as a less blameworthy act than physical assault, use of a slur was perceived as a clearer indicator of poor moral character. Study 2 highlights the dynamic interplay between moral judgments of acts and persons, demonstrating that first making person judgments can bias subsequent act judgments. Privately defacing a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. led to greater moral condemnation of the agent than of the act itself only when the behavior was evaluated first. When Americans first made character judgments, symbolically defacing a picture of the civil rights leader was significantly more likely to be perceived as an immoral act. These studies support a person-centered account of outrage over bigotry and demonstrate that moral evaluations of acts and persons converge and diverge under theoretically meaningful circumstances.
According to the moral licensing literature, moral self-perceptions induce compensatory behavior: People who feel moral act less prosocially than those who feel immoral. Conversely, work on moral identity indicates that moral self-perceptions motivate behavioral consistency: People who feel moral act more prosocially than those who feel less so. In three studies, the authors reconcile these propositions by demonstrating the moderating role of conceptual abstraction. In Study 1, participants who recalled performing recent (concrete) moral or immoral behavior demonstrated compensatory behavior, whereas participants who considered temporally distant (abstract) moral behavior demonstrated behavioral consistency. Study 2 confirmed that this effect was unique to moral self-perceptions. Study 3 manipulated whether participants recalled moral or immoral actions concretely or abstractly, and replicated the moderation pattern with willingness to donate real money to charity. Together, these findings suggest that concrete moral self-perceptions activate self-regulatory behavior, and abstract moral self-perceptions activate identity concerns.
A long tradition in the help giving literature assumes that mood states determine the level of prosocial behaviour shown by individuals. Most research in this area has been conducted in the context of low cost prosocial behaviour, whereas research has been neglected in which participants were confronted with situations involving potential severe and dangerous negative consequences (i.e., high cost situations) with the help-giver risking his moral integrity and social disapproval (i.e., moral courage). To address this gap in the literature, the present studies investigate differential effects of positive and negative compared with neutral mood states on help giving versus moral courage. Study 1 shows that in situations requiring low cost helping, participants were more likely to help in positive and negative moods than those in a neutral mood, whereas in situations requiring moral courage (high cost), participants were comparably likely to help in each of the three mood conditions. In Study 2, we find that salience of moral norms mediates the interaction between type of prosocial behaviour and mood. Finally, Study 3 investigates whether the apparent discrepancy between help giving and moral courage as established by the differential impact of mood states can be determined still differently. It reveals that justice sensibility, civil disobedience, resistance to group pressure, moral mandates, and anger lead to moral courage, but not to help giving. Differences between these two types of prosocial behaviour are discussed.