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Monday, August 23, 2021

Deconstructing Moral Character Judgments

Hartman, R., Blakey, W., & Gray, K.
Current Opinions in Psychology


People often make judgments of others' moral character-an inferred moral essence that presumably predicts moral behavior. We first define moral character and explore why people make character judgments before outlining three key elements that drive character judgments: behavior (good vs. bad, norm violations, and deliberation), mind (intentions, explanations, capacities), and identity (appearance, social groups, and warmth). We also provide a taxonomy of moral character that goes beyond simply good vs. evil. Drawing from the Theory of Dyadic Morality, we outline a two-dimensional triangular space of character judgments (valence and strength/agency), with three key corners-heroes, villains, and victims. Varieties of perceived moral character include saints and demons, strivers/sinners and opportunists, the non-moral, virtuous and culpable victims, and pure victims.


It seems obvious that people make summary judgments of others’ moral character, but less obvious is how exactly that make those judgments. We suggest that people rely upon behavior, identity, and perceived mind when inferring the moral essence of others. We acknowledge that this list is certainly incomplete and will be expanded with future research. One key area of expansion explored here is the importance of perceived strength/agency in character judgments, which helps provide a taxonomy of character types. Whatever the exact varieties and drivers of moral character judgments, these judgments are clearly an important foundation of social life.