Attainable and Relevant Moral Exemplars as Powerful Sources for Moral Education: From the vantage points of virtue ethics and social psychology

Hyemin Han
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Moral exemplars can work as agents for moral modeling and potentially sources for moral education, given the accounts of virtue ethicists who supported the power of moral modeling (Kristjánsson, 2006; Sanderse, 2012) as well as the previous social psychological studies that showed the effect of moral elevation (Englander, Haidt, & Morris, 2012; Haidt, 2000; Schnall, Roper, & Fessler, 2010), upward social comparison (Smith, 2000; Suls, Martin, & Wheeler, 2002) and vicarious socio-moral learning (Bandura & McDonald, 1963; Bandura, 1969). However, recent social psychological experiments have shown that the mere presentation of extreme moral exemplars can induce negative emotional and behavioral responses (e.g., moral envy, moral resentment, withdrawal from moral behavior) (Monin, Sawyer, & Marquez, 2008; Monin, 2007). In fact, some virtue ethicists have also warned the potential harmful aspects of extreme moral exemplars (Curzer, 2015; Kristjánsson, 2014; Swanton, 2003). Social psychology has suggested that stories of attainable and relevant exemplars are more powerful to promote motivational forces compared to stories of extraordinary exemplars. First, the motivational power of stories became significantly greater when the stories were perceived to be more attainable (Cialdini, 1980; Lockwood & Kunda, 1997). Second, even a presence of a mere relevance (e.g., having the same birthday with an exemplar) significantly improved the motivational power (Lockwood & Kunda, 1997; Walton, Cohen, Cwir, & Spencer, 2012). Thus, the present study tested whether the stories of attainable and relevant moral exemplars are more effective to promote students’ moral motivation compared to extraordinary moral stories through psychological experiments.

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