Investigating the Moral Self

Investigating the Moral Self

PI: Jesse Prinz, Ph.D.

Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center

(Email)

co-PI: Javier Gomez-Lavin

Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center

(Email)

co-PI: Shaun Nichols, Ph.D.

Philosophy, University of Arizona

(Email)

co-PI: Nina Strohminger, Ph.D.

Psychology, Duke University

(Email)

View a proposal of this project, presented at the SMV Project’s 2015 Interdisciplinary Moral Forum. Visit our YouTube channel to view more videos.

What makes you who you are? We all have many psychological traits; our personalities, our interests, our memories. Some of our traits don’t seem especially important for identity. For example, you may dislike brussel sprouts, but if you started liking them, you probably wouldn’t conclude that you had become a different person. Which traits, then, do people consider central to identity? When philosophers and psychologists ask this question, they tend to focus on things such as personality and memory, or perhaps also membership in demographic groups. Until recently, researchers have neglected the role of moral values in identity. In this work, we investigate the moral identity hypothesis: that is, people tend to think their moral values are an essential part of their identity, and a change in these values would be regarded as a loss of identity. Our team has recently found supporting evidence for this view, but two of the most important questions remain. What thought processes underlie the association between morality and identity? For example, is the association based on thoughts alone or also feelings? And, how does the association between morality and identity influence behavior? For example, does it guide us in forming social groups, in punishment and forgiveness, and in doing kind things for each other? To explore these questions we will use a range of innovative psychological methods, including work with diverse populations (both clinical and cross-cultural), “cognitive load” interventions that affect cognitive processes, and new methods to induce thoughts about identity and the self.

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