Moral self-regulation, moral identity, and religiosity

Sarah J. Ward, Laura A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The association between religiosity and morality identified in self-reports has received limited support from studies of actual behavior. We propose that religiosity variables are likely to contribute to moral behavior in the context of moral self-regulation. Five studies examined the prediction that people who strongly endorse the items "I try hard to live all my life according to my religious beliefs" and "My whole approach to life is based on my religion" and people who report strong God belief would exhibit heightened moral emotions and prosocial behaviors after moral self-image (MSI) threats. Study 1 (N = 169) demonstrated that considering a recent moral transgression (the manipulation used in Studies 2-5) resulted in lower MSI, regardless of participants' levels of endorsement of religion-related items. Study 2 (N = 207) showed that following a threat to MSI, religiosity variables predicted heightened negative affect and self-conscious moral emotions. Studies 3 through 5 (combined N = 616) showed that following MSI threats, individuals endorsing intrinsic religiosity and God belief items showed increased prosocial task completion (Studies 3 and 5) and decreased cheating on a word-solving task (Study 4). Study 5 demonstrated that moral identity accounted for the role of religiosity variables in promoting moral self-regulation following MSI threat. Noting that these findings are limited to people representative of the participants in these samples (Mechanical Turk workers; University of Missouri undergraduate students), and to the precise measures and manipulations used, implications of these findings and constraints on their generalizability are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-525
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Moral self-regulation
  • Morality
  • Prosociality
  • Religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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