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Moral Elevation and Economic Games: The Moderating Role of Personality

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Moral Elevation and Economic Games: The Moderating Role of Personality

Rico Pohling et al. Front Psychol.

Abstract

Moral elevation is the prototypical emotional response when witnessing virtuous deeds of others. Yet, little is known about the role of individual differences that moderate the susceptibility to experiencing this self-transcendent emotion. The present experiment investigated the role of personality traits as moderators of elevation and its behavioral effects using economic games as a measure for prosocial behavior. One aim was to replicate prior findings on trait Engagement with Moral Beauty as moderator for experimentally induced state elevation. A second aim was to explore new potential moderators that were found to be connected to the moral realm: Honesty-Humility, Agreeableness vs. Anger, and Need for Cognition. Third, the present study is among the few investigating the effects of elevation on different prosocial actions and intentions. A sample of US American college students (N = 144) was randomly assigned to either watch a morally uplifting or a humorous video clip. Afterwards, all participants played a dictator game and an ultimatum game, and were asked to volunteer in another time-consuming experiment. In line with our hypotheses, experimentally induced state elevation promoted prosocial behavior, however, only within the dictator game. Also in line with our hypotheses, higher levels of Need for Cognition and higher levels of Engagement with Moral Beauty (but not higher levels of Honesty-Humility and Agreeableness vs. Anger) increased prosocial behavior within the experimental group. In contrast to our hypotheses, none of the investigated personality traits moderated the proneness to experience the state of elevation after seeing an elevating video clip; only the behavioral consequences of elevation were moderated. Our results replicate and extend prior findings on moderators for elevation and exemplify the importance of investigating the role of personality traits in the context of the moral elevation phenomenon.

Keywords: dictator game; engagement with moral beauty; need for cognition; ultimatum game; volunteering.

Figures

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1
Mean self-reported feelings and appraisals from participants as a function of video condition. Error bars indicate standard errors. The results depicted are those using the trimmed sample, N = 118.
FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2
Mean amounts of allocated points in the dictator game (active cooperation) and mean minimal accepted points in the ultimatum game (reactive cooperation). Error bars indicate standard errors. The results depicted are those using the trimmed sample; for dictator game: N = 116, for ultimatum game: N = 117.
FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3
Small-multiples depictions of the interaction effect of video condition and Engagement with moral beauty (the moderator) on dictator game generosity (active cooperation). The small multiples illustrate the interaction across the range from 1 SD below to 1 SD above the mean of Engagement with moral beauty. Each graphic shows the computed 95% confidence region (shaded area), the observed data (gray circles), the maximum and minimum values of the outcome (dashed horizontal lines), and the crossover point (diamond). CI = confidence interval; PTCL = percentile. The results depicted are those using the trimmed sample, N = 85.
FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4
Marginal effects (or regions-of-significance) plot: On the y-axis we depicted the simple slope of video condition on dictator game generosity. On the x-axis we z-transformed Engagement with moral beauty for the purpose of this figure. The simple slope is significant and positive when Engagement with moral beauty is above-average. 40.68% of observations in Engagement with moral beauty are within this region. The results depicted are those using the trimmed sample, N = 85.
FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5
Small-multiples depictions of the interaction effect of video condition and Need for Cognition (the moderator) on dictator game generosity (active cooperation). The small multiples illustrate the interaction across the range from 1 SD below to 1 SD above the mean of Need for Cognition. Each graphic shows the computed 95% confidence region (shaded area), the observed data (gray circles), the maximum and minimum values of the outcome (dashed horizontal lines), and the crossover point (diamond). CI = confidence interval; PTCL = percentile. The results depicted are those using the trimmed sample, N = 85.
FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6
Marginal effects (or regions-of-significance) plot: On the y-axis we depicted the simple slope of video condition on dictator game generosity. On the x-axis we z-transformed Need for Cognition for the purpose of this figure. The simple slope is significant and negative when NFC is –2.05 standard deviations away from the mean or further. 0.85% of observations in NFC are within this region. The simple slope of the elevating video condition on dictator game generosity is significant and positive when NFC is 0.05 standard deviations away from the mean or further. 38.98% of observations in NFC are within this region. The results depicted are those using the trimmed sample, N = 85.

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