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Moral Identity: Context, Culture, and Development

The moral values individuals truly care about constitute their moral identity. Moral identities are central to our understanding of morality in everyday life. While this fact has been recognized in moral philosophy for a long time, moral psychology has just began to unravel the many complexities that are associated with the concept of moral identity. It has been demonstrated empirically that moral identities provide an important source of moral motivation and ethical engagement. Individuals' moral identities influence decision-making and behavior at the workplace, they are linked to moral emotions and shape the way we remember our past. The concept of moral identity provides a promising framework for studying the multifaceted nature of morality in an integrative way. It defines the goal of moral education.

             Although promising, research on moral identity needs to be extended in various ways to tap its full potential. Three issues are particularly urgent: First, we need to know how moral identities vary across social contexts (e.g. work, family). What moral values matter most in what social context? Second, we need to understand how culture shapes moral identities. How do moral identities differ across cultures? Third, we need to understand better how moral identities develop over the life span. How do individuals' moral identities change as they grow older and why? In this research these three questions are addressed in three independent but related research projects. Study I investigates the context-specificity of adolescents' moral identities and their relation to feelings of pride and self-satisfaction over acting morally. Study II compares moral identities of young adults growing up in a collectivist versus individualist culture (China and Canada). Study III investigates age related differences in moral identities from emerging adulthood to old age. All projects use a newly developed empirical procedure that integrates previous research into a comprehensive approach. The new measure assesses the content of individuals' moral identity and its level of self-integration in four different social contexts (family, friends, school/work, and community).

             The proposed research is fundamental in nature. It aims at establishing the concept of moral identity as an integrative framework for studying everyday moral functioning across the life span. By doing so it contributes to a growing body of knowledge that ultimately leads to improved programs designed to foster individuals' sense of responsibility towards family, community, civil society and humanity. The project also helps to understand moral identities of different cultures and contribute to the increasingly important dialogue between cultural groups in Canada.

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