Moral identity in psychopathy

Judgment and Decision Making 5 (7):497–505 (2010)
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Abstract

Several scholars have recognized the limitations of theories of moral reasoning in explaining moral behavior. They have argued that moral behavior may also be influenced by moral identity, or how central morality is to one’s sense of self. This idea has been supported by findings that people who exemplify moral behavior tend to place more importance on moral traits when defining their self-concepts (Colby & Damon, 1995). This paper takes the next step of examining individual variation in a construct highly associated with immoral behavior — psychopathy. In Study 1, we test the hypothesis that individuals with a greater degree of psychopathic traits have a weaker moral identity. Within a large online sample, we found that individuals who scored higher on a measure of psychopathic traits were less likely to base their self-concepts on moral traits. In Study 2, we test whether this reduced sense of moral identity can be attributed to differences in moral judgment, which is another factor that could influence immoral behavior. Our results indicated that the reduced sense of moral identity among more psychopathic individuals was independent of variation in moral judgment. These results suggest that individuals with psychopathic traits may display immoral behavior partially because they do not construe their personal identities in moral terms.

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