Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 325-334

First online:

Doing Good Leads to More Good: The Reinforcing Power of a Moral Self-Concept

  • Liane YoungAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Boston College Email author 
  • , Alek ChakroffAffiliated withHarvard University Department of Psychology
  • , Jessica TomAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Boston College

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What is the role of self-concept in motivating moral behavior? On one account, when people are primed to perceive themselves as “do-gooders”, conscious access to this positive self-concept will reinforce good behavior. On an alternative account, when people are reminded that they have done their “good deed for the day”, they will feel licensed to behave worse. In the current study, when participants were asked to recall their own good deeds (positive self-concept), their subsequent charitable donations were nearly twice that of participants who recalled bad deeds, or recent conversation topics, consistent with an account of moral reinforcement. In addition, among participants reporting good deeds, those who did not note whether they were recognized or unrecognized by other people donated significantly more than participants who took note of others’ responses. In sum, when people are primed to see themselves as good people, who do good for goodness’ sake, not to obtain public credit, they may be motivated to do more good.