Moral identity and the experience of moral elevation in response to acts of uncommon goodness

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Apr;100(4):703-18. doi: 10.1037/a0022540.


Four studies using survey and experimental designs examined whether people whose moral identity is highly self-defining are more susceptible to experiencing a state of moral elevation after being exposed to acts of uncommon moral goodness. Moral elevation consists of a suite of responses that motivate prosocial action tendencies. Study 1 showed that people higher (vs. lower) in moral identity centrality reported experiencing more intense elevating emotions, had more positive views of humanity, and were more desirous of becoming a better person after reading about an act of uncommon goodness than about a merely positive situation or an act of common benevolence. Study 2 showed that those high in moral identity centrality were more likely to recall acts of moral goodness and experience moral elevation in response to such events more strongly. These experiences were positively related to self-reported prosocial behavior. Study 3 showed a direct effect on behavior using manipulated, rather than measured, moral identity centrality. Study 4 replicated the effect of moral identity on the states of elevation as well as on self-reported physical sensations and showed that the elevation mediates the relationship between moral identity, witnessing uncommon goodness, and prosocial behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Identification*
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult