Which moral exemplars inspire prosociality?

Philosophical Psychology 35 (7):943-970 (2022)
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Abstract

Some stories of moral exemplars motivate us to emulate their admirable attitudes and behaviors, but why do some exemplars motivate us more than others? We systematically studied how motivation to emulate is influenced by the similarity between a reader and an exemplar in social or cultural background (Relatability) and how personally costly or demanding the exemplar’s actions are (Attainability). Study 1 found that university students reported more inspiration and related feelings after reading true stories about the good deeds of a recent fellow alum, compared to a famous moral exemplar from decades past. Study 2A developed a battery of short moral exemplar stories that more systematically varied Relatability and Attainability, along with a set of non-moral exemplar stories for comparison. Studies 2B and 2C examined the path from the story type to relatively low stakes altruism (donating to charity and intentions to volunteer) through perceived attainability and relatability, as well as elevation and pleasantness. Together, our studies suggest that it is primarily the relatability of the moral exemplars, not the attainability of their actions, that inspires more prosocial motivation, at least regarding acts that help others at a relatively low cost to oneself.

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Author Profiles

Clifford Workman
University of Delaware
Hyemin Han
University of Alabama
Joshua May
University of Alabama, Birmingham

References found in this work

Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement.Ingmar Persson & Julian Savulescu - 2012 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press UK. Edited by Julian Savulescu.
Moral saints.Susan Wolf - 1982 - Journal of Philosophy 79 (8):419-439.
Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind.Joshua May - 2018 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Cultural learning.Michael Tomasello, Ann Cale Kruger & Hilary Horn Ratner - 1993 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (3):495-511.

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