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Remembering moral and immoral actions in constructing the self

  • Matthew L. StanleyEmail author
  • Paul Henne
  • Felipe De Brigard
Article

Abstract

Having positive moral traits is central to one’s sense of self, and people generally are motivated to maintain a positive view of the self in the present. But it remains unclear how people foster a positive, morally good view of the self in the present. We suggest that recollecting and reflecting on moral and immoral actions from the personal past jointly help to construct a morally good view of the current self in complementary ways. More specifically, across four studies we investigated the extent to which people believe they have changed over time after recollecting their own moral or immoral behaviors from the personal past. Our results indicate that recollecting past immoral actions is associated with stronger impressions of dissimilarity and change in the sense of self over time than recollecting past moral actions. These effects held for diverse domains of morality (i.e., honesty/dishonesty, helping/harming, fairness/unfairness, and loyalty/disloyalty), and they remained even after accounting for objective, calendar time. Further supporting a motivational explanation, these effects held when people recollected their own past actions but not when they recollected the actions of other people.

Keywords

Moral psychology Autobiographical memory Temporal self-appraisal theory Identity Self 

Notes

Funding

This project was supported by Duke University thanks to a Bass Connections grant. This project was also supported by the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Declaration of conflicting interests

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.

Supplementary material

13421_2018_880_MOESM1_ESM.docx (43 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 43 kb)

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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew L. Stanley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul Henne
    • 2
  • Felipe De Brigard
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Center for Cognitive NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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