The malleability of moral identity: You know better who you are through moral self-evaluation

Yi Shi, Fordham University


Research on moral identity shows that high moral self-importance predicts prosocial behavior due to identity-congruent motivations, whereas the moral licensing literature reveals that current moral self-perception lacks prosocial strivings compared to that of a threatened one. Building on the controversial association between moral self and prosocial behavior, we examined the moral identity measuring process, labeled as moral self-evaluation, in reconciling whether consistent or compensatory behavior follow a sense of moral self. In two studies, participants were randomly assigned to receive either (false) positive, negative, or normal feedback about their moral reasoning after the Defining Issue Test (Thoma, 2006). Participants evaluated their moral self-importance either only after feedback (Study 1) or before and after feedback (Study 2). Results showed that in line with compensatory fashion, a threatened moral self due to negative feedback promoted the highest amount of money donation in Study 1; however, in line with consistent fashion, participants' temporary state of moral identity after feedback predicted volunteering in Study 2. In addition, about half of the participants either inflated or deflated their temporary state of moral identity after feedback, and this inflation/ deflation predicted increased/ decreased prosocial behavior in positive and normal feedback conditions, respectively. We posited that moral identity measured before feedback activates identity concerns through a deliberate moral self-evaluation, which helps people know better who they are, such that their subsequent behavior is less affected by external feedback compared to that of their own sense of moral self. Together, these findings suggest the critical role of moral self-evaluation in the relation between moral identity and prosocial behavior. Implications on moral identity measurement issues are discussed for future directions.

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Recommended Citation

Shi, Yi, "The malleability of moral identity: You know better who you are through moral self-evaluation" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1569134.