The Self-Regulation of Virtue: Reactions to Moral Exemplars

Bella, A. Fabio and Piazza, Jared and McLatchie, Neil (2021) The Self-Regulation of Virtue: Reactions to Moral Exemplars. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Extant research has investigated the response to moral exemplars primarily from an emotion perspective, with a focus on either positive or negative reactions. By contrast, the present project, articulated across four studies (N=1,814) in the US and UK, captured simultaneously the positive and negative response to others’ moral goodness adopting an integrative self-regulation approach that examined how the self negotiates its standards and standing vis-à-vis virtuous people and their actions. Participants viewed and rated a set of real-life moral scenarios portraying agents performing virtuous actions (Study 1), and two suitable vignettes were identified for further investigation. Through EFA (Study 2) and CFA (Study 3), a novel instrument to measure the self-regulation of virtue was assessed and improved. This moral self-regulation inventory consists of a broadening scale measuring the extent that individuals praise the agents, feel uplifted and inspired to better themselves (moral self-improvement), and a defensive scale measuring the extent that individuals experience resentment and even disparage the agents and their actions (moral self-defence). Path modelling (Study 2) and SEM (Study 3) determined that moral comparisons based on opinion and ability (upward/downward) were at the root of these reactions, and motivational dispositions (approach/avoidance and promotion/prevention focus) were associated with them; prosociality (helping behaviour) was linked with moral self-improvement activated by both excellent and lesser good deeds (Study 4). Participants were also clustered in independent latent profiles and groups at various stages of the model (motivation, comparison, self-regulation), and the associations between the profiles/groups across stages reproduced the relational patterns observed through SEM, corroborating robustness of the results. By integrating the literatures on social comparison, motivation, and moral emotions within a self-regulation framework, these findings advance theory in moral psychology, with practical implications on how to maximise the social upsides of moral goodness while containing its possible drawbacks.

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Thesis (PhD)
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16 Jul 2021 17:20
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06 Mar 2024 00:03