Self Affirmation of Morality: Do Implicit Meaning Threats Increase Self-Reported Morality?

Student Author(s)

Sabrina Hakim

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

Document Type


Event Date



Humans function best when they have a sense of meaning. They also need to keep that meaning intact, which often includes reaffirming meaning sources following a threat. Van Tongeren, et al. (2011) suggests a theoretical link between meaning and morality. We hypothesized that when people’s meaning is threatened, they restore meaning by viewing themselves as more moral (i.e., moral self-affirmation). In addition, we predicted that moral identity may serve as a moderator; this effect should be stronger for those with a strong moral identity, as morality is more central to their self-concept. Using a 2×2 mixed ANOVA (priming condition × time), we predict that participants in the meaning threat condition will report increased self-reported virtues and overall meaning in life compared to their scores before the threat, and higher scores relative to participants in the neutral condition. By analyzing the interaction between moral identity and priming condition, we predict the reaffirmation of morality will be moderated by moral identity: this compensatory reaffirmation should be stronger among those high in moral identity (i.e., highly value being moral). Our study was composed of 82 participants, 32 males and 50 females with ages ranging from 17-21. Participants filled out a number of measures on the computer that assessed self-reported virtues. They then completed an implicit priming induction, which involved a 20-iteration lexical decision task where before each word, a meaninglessness-related or neutral word was flashed for 50ms. Finally, participants once again filled out the self-report measures. As predicted, the results indicated a significant interaction between the priming condition (meaning threat vs. neutral) and time (before vs. after priming) on self reported virtuousness. Furthermore, there also appeared to be an interaction between moral identity, priming condition, and time for self reported virtuousness, as hypothesized. Implications of these results are discussed.

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